Robin Hood is no fictional character as this pardon in the Public Records Office at Kew proves. It reads "Robert Hode (Hood) otherwise known as Robert Dore of Wadsley (Yorkshire) given the King`s pardon on 22nd May 1382." Loxley and Wadsley commons were held by the De-Wadsley family.
This was during the Peasants Revolt when Robin Hood was involved in the municipal riots at York between Simon de Quixley and John of Gisburne during the contest for the position of Lord Mayor of York. Gisbourn was surrounded by scandal, there was rioting, Gisburne had to flee the city and the king was obliged to intervene to restore order.
Robin Hood supported Simon de Quixley against Gisbourne and those familiar with the legendary outlaw will know that his arch enemy was Guy of Gisborne. The opposition of Robin Hood to Gisbourne will not have endeared the two men to each other and Robin Hood was outlawed and locked up with others in the city prison tower. Robin Hood’s involvement in the Peasants Revolt rings true with the image we have of him today.
Medieval history abounds with ‘robin-hoods,’ there was Robin Hood and Little John at Evesham in 1265AD among the brambles and briar's, there was Robin Hood who was pardoned at York in 1382AD and many more including William-le-Fever who was also the leader of a gang of outlaws. When William appeared in court the clerk wrote 'Robehod' in the margin of the Plea Roll at the side of his name, no doubt indicating he was a robber in the same way as knights belong to the knighthood and priests belonged to the priesthood. The author Mark Twain used the term 'robberhood' in the same context. Originally 'Hood' appears to have been derived from the Saxon word "houdt" meaning "the whood" which when combined with 'robber' becomes 'robberhood.' Later it became corrupted to Robin Hood and we can see the transition between the old and the new when we look at the old manuscripts.
People turned to outlawry for many reasons and the law of primogeniture had a part to play in this. Primogeniture meant the eldest son inherited everything on the death of his parents causing the younger members of the family to become homeless. Hopefully the daughters made good marriages or failing that might enter the church as nuns while the young men of the family survived as best they could. The infamous Folville and Cotteril gangs are two examples of well educated family members of the nobility who became outlaws due to their eldest brother inheriting the estate. Those who fought on the loosing side in battle were automatically outlawed and it was better to escape to the woods for fear of being put to death or alternatively being put to work building castles and the like and living as serfs under conditions of slavery on the estates of the barons. Also living in the woods were the unemployed and the unemployable and of course there was the criminal element. Whatever the reason for people being in the woods they were 'home' to many. There was shelter, concealment and food and in addition there was always the proceeds of highway robbery with which they could perhaps buy a pardon and return to society.
ROBIN HOOD WAS KNOWN TO THE KINGS OF ENGLAND
The deeds of Robin Hood were well known to the kings of England. King Edward II in his visitation of the northern counties c. 1323 went after Robin Hood when he discovered the devastation caused to the king's deer.
King Henry VII knew of Robin Hood and in 1487 the account of his journey to Pontefract Castle recorded "Robin Hood's Well" at Barnsdale between Pontefract and a little beyond Doncaster which pinpoints its position very precisely.
King Henry VIII knew about Robin Hood. His printer Richard Grafton and his historian John Leyland both visited Kirklees Priory. Richard Grafton in his influential history "Chronicle at Large" c.1569 drew a sketch of Robin Hood's grave at Kirklees as it was then and tells us the legendary outlaw had the king's price on his head and his lands confiscated. This he said can be verified from records in the King's Exchequer along with an "olde and aunciente pamphlet." As the kings printer and associate of the kings historian he will have had access to these records.
One surviving "olde and ancient pamphlet" is the handwritten Sloane Manuscript which appears to be an early version of the 'Geste of Robin Hood.' It would be nice to think it is in the handwriting of the author of the Geste who Joseph Hunter claims was Richard Rolle 1290-1349. It begins with Robin Hood in Loxley, Yorkshire and ends with Little John's burial at Hathersage. This is a short extract:-
"After which tyme he continued that course of lyfe about XX years, tyl, distempered with could and age, he had great payne in his lymes, his bloud being corrupted; therefore, to be eased of his payne, by letting blud, he repaired to the priores of Kyrkesley, which some say was his aunt, a woman very skylful in physique and surgery; who, perceiving him to be Robin Hood, and way'ing howe fel an enemy he was to religious persons, toke reveng of him for her owne howse, and al others, by letting him bleed to death; and she buryed him vnder a greate stone, by the hy way'es side. It is also sayd, that one Sir Roger of Doncaster, bearing grudge to Robin for some injury, incited the prioress, with whom he was very familiar, in such manner to dispatch him, and then al his company was soone dispersed. The place of Little John's burial is to this the celebro. For yielding of excellent whetstones." [These are some of the whetstones (grindstones) for which Hathersage in the valley below is famous.]