Was there a real Robin Hood?

Robin Hood: Then and Now

Surprisingly, contemporary enthusiasts still sometimes come out with claims that they've nabbed the elusive outlaw. Here's an example of one such candidate. In his 2004 book "Robin Hood: The Real Story," Brian Benison claims Robin Hood is actually a nickname similar to Billy the Kid and that a fellow named Roger Godberd is the man behind the mystery. According to Benison, Godberd lived in the 13th century and started off as a friend and hunting buddy of the sheriff of Nottingham, Reginald de Grey, until local politics forced the two into different camps. After four years as an outlaw (and sans a seductive Maid Marian) Godberd was finally captured, jailed and eventually pardoned. He returned to his farm and lived out his remaining days peacefully.

Whether or not Robin Hood really existed, one thing is for certain: The details of his life probably would have been vastly different from what is presented in movies, books and plays today. Many researchers have tracked the evolution of the Robin Hood saga over the centuries and the earliest known texts describing the outlaw do not closely resemble modern iterations. For example, early tales and ballads of Robin Hood did not take place during the rule of Richard the Lionheart, nor did they contain any mention of Maid Marian. The Gest ballad described only two grand gestures modestly resembling the altruism that later became a fundamental staple in the Robin Hood legend. Also, Robin Hood was a yeoman, not a fallen nobleman; and his main haunts were areas of Yorkshire as opposed to Nottinghamshire and Sherwood Forest. Those additions, seemingly so integral to the story today, were invented by later authors -- although that's not to say the original Robin Hood's traits don't pop up now and then, casting him in all his free-spirited outlaw glory.

The living myth has evolved and expanded during the many intervening years in the hands of countless creative storytellers, so the Robin Hood we know today exists outside the realm of the original creation -- and apart from the man himself, if indeed he existed.

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