Robin Hood has been portrayed in several TV shows and Hollywood movies throughout the years. The romantic notion of taking from the rich and giving to the poor still resonates to this day. However, historians are split on who this man was and whether or not he actually existed.
The very legend of Robin Hood is taken from tales and ballads, all written before the year 1550. Several published works written in the 1400s all gave accounts of the actions of a brave and noble Englishman, fighting for the rights and freedoms of the oppressed. While many believe these works to be pure fiction, there are many who believe these stories are accounts of real events.
England's most famous outlaw lived in and around the English city of Nottingham. Evidence uncovered in the area paints a compelling picture and suggests that such a high profile outlaw did exist after all. The evidence also supports that legend's claim of a band of 'merry men' including the infamous names of Little John, Maid Marion and Friar Tuck.
During medieval times, only the rich and educated could read or write. This is why so little is known about the man. Much has been passed down the generations in the form of stories told to children and gossip. However, it is believed that much of the legend may be accurate. This includes the man's desire to live as an outlaw in Sherwood Forest and poach deer from the King's land. The references to a Sheriff of Nottingham are also thought to originate from the truth.
The earliest reference to the legend appears in a poem written by William Langland in 1377, some 200 years before the time of William Shakespeare. Although historians cannot be completely certain, they place Robin between the years of 1190 and 1307.
While many historians believe Robin came from elsewhere in England, they agree that he made his home in Sherwood Forest at some point in his life. The forest covered an area of several thousand acres and was the location of the famous Major Oak, or 'council tree' used by Robin Hood and his band of outlaws. Incredibly, this tree still exists and visitors can still visit this ancient meeting place.
Historians believe Robin traveled to a Priory in England and was killed by Sir Roger of Doncaster after being double-crossed by his cousin, the prioress. There is a grave at Kirklees Priory to this day. The medieval gravestone at the grave bears the chilling words, "Here Lies Robard Hude".
At the time, the man would most probably have been a wanted man across all of England. His acts of defiant theft from the King's land would have been punishable by death. The fact that the man continued to provide for the poor suggests the man was compassionate and brave, a far cry from the man described by the Royal Court. The legend is much more than a man however. The legend represents the fight for freedom and equality. It represents the fight against tyranny and dictatorship which many people around the world will identify with, 800 years later.