Was there a real Robin Hood?

Revealing Robin Hood

According to folklore, the venerable Major Oak in Sherwood Forest served as a hideout for Robin Hood and his band of merry men.
According to folklore, the venerable Major Oak in Sherwood Forest served as a hideout for Robin Hood and his band of merry men.

While some historians claim Robin Hood is based on an actual historical person, most remain skeptical. Verifiable hard facts haven't been uncovered, so claims are based solely on peripheral data and interpretations of the earliest known surviving works that allude to him. These medieval literary pieces include the first passing mention of the hero in William Langland's "Piers Plowman" circa 1377, as well as the first lengthy incarnation, a ballad whose title now ranges from "A Lytyll Geste of Robyn Hode" all the way to the "Gest of Robin Hood," encompassing nearly every possible spelling in between. A trio of three other ballads round out the ranks of the early works: "Robin Hood and the Monk," "Robin Hood and the Potter" and "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne."

However, there has been little shortage of hypotheses that suggest potential candidates for the man behind the legend -- whether they match the narratives of the original stories or not. Some medieval chroniclers, such as Andrew of Wynton and Walter Bower, believed Robin Hood was a real person, but their claims are not accepted at face value nowadays.

Since then, many other names have been tossed into the ring. A Robyn Hod, a Robert (or Robertus) Hood and a Gilbert Robynhood have all been pulled out of the past and fleetingly cast in the spotlight as the inspiration for the Robin Hood story. Such names sounded promising until researchers started stumbling across a whole host of potential candidates with similar surnames like Robynhood, Robinhood and Robinhud. In at least one instance, a judge ordered a man's name changed to Robinhood to denote his outlaw status.

Still other candidates have been drawn from the shadows of history by scholars attempting to determine the identity of the real Robin Hood based on similar deeds rather than relatively close names. Hence, the unlikely monikered Fulk Fitz Warine (or possibly Warin or Waryn) has also been considered briefly, since his life story roughly matches that of the legend. Another man with a flickering glimpse of promise was Robert Fitz Odo, also known as Fitzooth. Sadly for Fitzooth, having a "Fitz" in your name meant you were illegitimate. But if the Fitz is yanked out, you're left with Robert Odo. And that takes us right back to it -- a skewed spelling of "Hood," perhaps?

You get the idea -- the possibilities are endless, and the chances of coming to the end of the search seem unlikely. However, on the next page we'll take a closer look at one such attempt, and consider the overall implications for the modern version of Robin Hood.