Dec 06, 2020 I Paul Seaburn

Two New Books Debate the Birth and Death of Robin Hood

The recent passing of actor Sean Connery brought to mind one of his later films, the critically panned (but still beloved by many) “Robin and Marian.” As was so often the case, the Scottish actor was playing an English character, but a new book claims the legendary Robin Hood may actually have been Scottish too. “Robin and Marian” is based on the ballad “Robin Hood's Death,” one of the oldest existing tales of Robin Hood, but another new book suggests that the real Robin had a different ending to his life – one much more gruesome that may have been ordered by King Henry III. Which, if any, of these accounts is the real story of the birth and death of Robin Hood?

“In a way the story begins when Robin’s great-great grandfather David married the English countess, Matilda of Huntingdon. David went on to become King of Scots when his big brother Alexander died in 1124 so, for the next hundred years or more, the Earls of Huntingdon were closely related to the Scottish kings.”

While many of the ballads depict Robin as being of noble birth, it’s an English heritage. Thor Ewing, author of the new book “The Original Robin Hood: Traditional ballads and plays, including all medieval sources (Songs and Plays of Britain),” suggests that Robin was of Scottish noble heritage. In an interview with The National, he follows the lineage to the Earl of Huntingdon who was Robin’s uncle John of Scotland, and says Robin should have inherited the earldom upon his uncle’s death, but was disinherited because his father was a commoner. Instead, it was divided up, with apart of it going to his brother-in-law, John de Balliol, who was appointed Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire from 1261 to 1262. John de Balliol was also the father of John Balliol, King of Scots from 1292 to 1296 and better known as Toom Tabard (Empty Coat). Of course, this all assumes that Robin was not a literary invention but a real person, and not Robert Hod of York, the outlaw Roger Godberd, Robyn Hode or any of the other historical figures proposed as being the real Robin Hood.

“The concluding chapters deal with the administration of criminal law in medieval England, and the evidence that points to the possible origins of the legend in the activities of a notorious Yorkshire criminal, tracked down and beheaded in the county in 1225.”

While “Robin and Marian” ends with Robin being wounded and Marian poisoning him and herself, British historian Dr. David Crook says in his new book, “Robin Hood: Legend and Reality,” and in an interview with the Independent, that the real Robin Hood was a Yorkshire outlaw named Robert of Wetherby or Robert Hod who was ordered by Henry III to be captured and beheaded for his crimes – stealing tax money -- and his decapitated body strung up in chains. What’s more, the Sheriff of Yorkshire who carried out the orders had been Deputy Sheriff of Nottinghamshire in his previous job.

Connect the dots and drop the mic -- Robin Hood was beheaded and disgraced, not poisoned by his lover. Except … none of the many ballads about or referring to Robin Hood mention this at all. Why not?

“The answer to that question is very straightforward. On the whole, medieval people didn’t like their heroes’ enemies to succeed in killing them.”

So, the legendary Robin Hood, protector of the poor and hero of so many ballads and tales, was saved from a real gruesome death by poetic license. Well, that’s the theory proposed in Crook’s new book.

Which story do you like the best? The “Robin and Marian” tragic romantic ending is easier to accept, but Errol Flynn in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” is the story most people prefer, keeping Robin in England. Except … Errol Flynn was Australian!

Time for another book?

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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