Robin Hood

A Legend: Robin Hood

Do some research to discover the truth about Robin Hood.

1. Find out something about the history of England in the 12th century.
King Henry II (1154-1189) made many changes in England.
– made everyone obey the law so that the rich barons could not be as cruel to the common people
– let the rich barons pay money instead of going to war as soldiers, and the king used the money to hire knights
– so the barons became less experienced at fighting and the king had soldiers who were loyal to him
– required every freeman to have his own weapons and these people were also more loyal than the barons
– divided his kingdom into circuits and sent judges around to listen to problems and punish criminals
– so the barons couldn’t make people – innocent or guilty –  pay money to be freed
But Henry II died and life in England changed.
– his oldest two sons had died and Richard, the third son, became king
– he was a knight who liked fighting and travelling
– he decided to go on a Crusade with King Philip of France and Duke Leopold of Austria
– he taxed people and let people have important jobs if they would pay him, all to get enough money to afford his journey
– but during the journey, he quarreled with Philip and Leopold and they went home
– he gave up and set off for home, too, but was captured by Leopold who gave him to the emperor of Germany who held him for ransom
– so England had to pay more money to set Richard free
– he was only home for two months and he set off again for France, to fight Philip
– Richard got killed in battle
– while Richard had been away, people in England got used to governing themselves
– and they admired knights: obedient to people higher in rank, courteous to women, appreciative of poetry and music
Richard had no children and so his younger brother, John, became king.
– but the people in France thought that Arthur, the son of John 2nd oldest brother, should be king
– Arthur mysteriously died and King Philip of France accused John of murder
– John refused to go to France to be tried, so Philip confiscated all the land John owned in Normandy, France
– John wanted to choose the head of the church in England, took wealth away from the monasteries and sent many monks away
– the pope said that the priests would no longer hold mass, marry people or bury them
– in revenge, John took away the property of the priests
– the pope said he would give all the land in England to King Philip and Philip got his army ready to fight
– John backed down and said he would be loyal to the pope
– John had been so cruel to everyone that he had no support anymore
– in 1215, the barons demanded that he sign a ‘charter’ stating that he would no longer tax people without the consent of the ‘Great Council’, no longer take property away from people; he would set up courts, let people be tried by a jury of their peers and let the clergy choose their own leaders
– John signed the Magna Carta, but he did not keep his promises: he stole, he had people tortured and murdered
– one day, his army was crossing a river when the tide came up suddenly and washed away John’s baggage, along with many of his jewels and a lot of money
– John was enraged and died a few days later; but almost a thousand years later, we still benefit from the Magna Carta: it gave us our court system, in which one is innocent until proven guilty and which provides trial by a jury of peers, and our Parliament, which comes from a French word meaning ‘talking’

2. Find out something about land in the 12th century.
– until William the Conqueror came to England in 1066, people had a right to use the land: hunt, fish, graze sheep, farm, build homes, find firewood
– William said all the wild animals belonged to him
– he declared certain areas to be Royal Forests which meant that commoners could be forbidden to use the land
– people were angry at this foreign king and resisted: they snuck into the forests, anyway
– criminals started to hide in the forests, too
– so there was no longer land freely available “in common” for all the ordinary people, the “commoners”

3. Find out something about the earliest writings about a Robin Hood.
– Robert was a common name in the 12th century, and the nickname was Robin
– a nobleman, Robin of Locksley Hall who had been loyal to King Richard, was treated unfairly by King John and so ran away to the forest about 1160
– some scholars say he was really the Earl of Huntingdon, Robert Fitzooth
– he was said to have the traits of a true knight: a soldier, kind to women, enjoying music and poetry
– his name as Robin Hood appears in a poem, ‘The Vision of Piers Plowman’, in about 1378
– his name appears in ‘Canterbury Tales’ by Chaucer in about 1387
– the first story about him comes from a story around 1500
– a story about him appears in a novel, ‘Ivanhoe’, by Sir Walter Scott in 1819
– was said to live in Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire

4. Find out something about the purpose of legends.
– legends are usually based on an actual event or person
– they change over time
– events and character traits are exaggerated
– the purpose is to keep alive a memory and to convey a cultural belief
– they serve to hold a people together and make them feel as if they belong together

Then read one or more of these stories about Robin Hood:

Calcutt, David. Robin Hood. Cambridge, MA : Barefoot Books, 2012.

Green, Roger Lancelyn. The Adventures of Robin Hood. London : Puffin, 2010, 1956.

Lee, Tony. Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood: a Graphic Novel. Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2009.

Morpurgo, Michael. Outlaw: the Story of Robin Hood. London: HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2012, c1996.

San Souci, Robert D. Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow: Based on the Traditional English Ballad. New York : Orchard Books, 2010.

Yolen, Jane. Sherwood: Original Stories From the World of Robin Hood. New York : Philomel Books, 2000.

Finally write an essay about your discoveries:

Every child has heard of Robin Hood, the great English hero who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. But who was he? Did he ever really live? Or is he just a figment of our imagination?

Here is how the story goes…..

But here is what historians really know….

So why has Robin Hood become such a legend?… 

Legends are stories that keep cultural memories alive. They change over time, becoming greatly exaggerated versions of the facts. But they contain a value that is important to a society, a belief that helps hold people together. And the story of Robin Hood holds a central truth that is still important today:…

Include a bibliography of your sources of information.

For further research:
Find out more about the years when Robin Hood movies and stories have been especially popular. Has it been a time when middleclass people have felt that they are paying too much in taxes or that large corporations are making too much money?



Bullfinch’s Mythology. New York: Gramercy Books, 1979.
Drabble, Margaret, ed.. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.
History of England for Public Schools. Toronto: Macmillan Company of Canada, 1928.
Lindahl, Carl. “Robin Hood.” World Book Advanced. World Book, 2013. Web.  11 Apr. 2013.
Maitland, Sara. Gossip From the Forest: the Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales. London: Granta, 2012.

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