Stories of brave outlaws who fought against tyranny and injustice appear regularly in human history. One famous outlaw who has survived the test of time is Robin Hood. Stories of him "robbing from the rich and giving to the poor" have made Robin a hero to numerous readers. He is understood by most to have been an outlaw of the Middle Ages who lived in Sherwood Forest with his Merry Men and served the poor. These legends are nice to hear, but how much of these stories are true? The society of the Middle Ages created outlaws who lived in the forest with gangs and robbed helpless travelers. These outlaws often hid in the king's hunting grounds where they knew the woods would be safe because the king visited the woods rarely and travelers were forbidden to wander into them. Around this time the famed character Robin Hood emerged, however, his real identity is still uncertain. Historical records show many outlaws with names similar to "Robin Hood", and any of them could have been the basis for the tale. Censuses show outlaws named "Robyn Hood", "Robin Hode", and many other phonetically similar sounding names but evidence does not prove any of them to be the notorious "Robin Hood." Even the literature of Robin Hood contradicts itself as to where and when Robin Hood lived. Many stories have Robin living in Sherwood Forest, but they vary as to what king was in power. Other tales have him living in other parts of England spread out over hundreds of years. No hard evidence exists to declare any of these stories to be accurate. Because of the culture of the Middle Ages and the contradictory evidence in the historical documents and in literary citing, it is difficult to determine who the "real" Robin Hood was.
The Middle Ages was an era when kings ruled the lands with knights and armies. The kings were all powerful and could make life as miserable or as pleasant for their kingdom as they saw fit. Kings had their castles and all the luxuries that came with them, and they also made use of the land within their kingdom. "The forest in the Middle Ages included very extensive areas of cultivated land as well as wood and waste land. They were the private preserve of the king and his officers, and were protected by a harsh series of forest laws" (Ibeji). These laws limited where common folk could go inside the forest and what areas could be used for lumber. The king set these laws so that travelers going down forest roads would not wander into his hunting grounds. Forest law was extremely unpopular, among all sections of society, but it achieved its purpose of retaining vast areas of semi-wild landscape over which the king and his court could hunt. Yet the very wildness of the land made it a perfect place for fugitives to hide out, and this is why areas such as Sherwood Forest and Barnsdale feature so prominently in outlaw legend (Ibeji).
It is plausible that Robin Hood was outlawed from the kingdom and sought refuge in these forests like many other outlaws did. These outlaws made their living targeting travelers riding down the Great North Road that cut through both Sherwood Forest and Barnsdale Forest. This was common practice for outlaws as well as for victims of tyranny in the Middle Ages. These outlaws created communities in the forest and relied on each other to survive. This is why Robin Hood is often referred to as robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Robin Hood became popular because "those who put themselves outside the law had become popular heroes" (Ibeji). Robin became popular because people knew that living in the woods was a very crafty thief who robbed from wealthy travelers and gave to his small community of outlaws who had no other way to survive. "People in Robin's time saw the forest as a dangerous place and traveled mostly in large groups for fear of ambush and theft. To Robin and the outlaws, Sherwood Forest was a place of safety from the Sheriff's...
Cited: Ibeji, Dr. Mike "Robin Hood and His Historical Context" 20 December 2006
"Robin Hood" Literary Encyclopedia (2005) Literary Reference Center 10 December 2006
"Robin Hood" Robinhood.ltd.uk 20 December 2006
"Real Robin Hood" Boldoutlaw.com 10 December 2006 http://www.boldoutlaw.com/realrob/
Wilcox, Debbie "Robin Hood—The Prince of Thieve?" Contemporary Review 265.1545(1994)
Literary Reference Center. 10 December 2006
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