Who is Robin Hood?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Robin Hood is an English folk hero of the Middle Ages. According to most legends, he lived and worked out of the Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire with his band of Merry Men. The Sheriff of Nottingham is traditionally his nemesis. He is an archetypal outlaw figure, though he transformed over the centuries from a vicious rebel to a vigilante seeking justice and a champion of the poor. No historical Robin Hood has ever been identified, but even if one existed, the mythical version has certainly become an important entity in its own right.

Robin Hood worked out of Sherwood Forest.
Robin Hood worked out of Sherwood Forest.

The earliest recorded references to Robin Hood, or outlaws with a similar name, appear in legal records from the 13th century. The name seems to have been a generic term for an outlaw, and its origins are unknown. Literary sources from the medieval period suggest that the character was a popular subject in minstrel ballads and a sort of hero of the common folk, if a bane to law enforcement. Written stories and dramas specifically about him did not appear until the 15th century, but the stories undoubtedly predated that era in the oral tradition.

Robin Hood has no known historical basis.
Robin Hood has no known historical basis.

In early stories, Robin Hood is cruel and self-interested and holds complete control over his followers. Nevertheless, he was still a hero and a trickster figure, and people often dressed as him during May Day celebrations. It may be because of this tradition that Robin's romantic interest is Maid Marian, a mythological figure associated with May Day, in many stories.

Beginning in the 16th century, Robin Hood tales make mention of his stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, and the figure became increasingly gentrified and conservative as the centuries wore on. He became a knight, though earlier stories identify him as a yeoman, and Maid Marian became the object of his courtly love. Though he was still an outlaw, he was also a moral figure, as he fought against the usurper of the throne, Prince John, and his crony, the Sheriff of Nottingham, while King Richard the Lionhearted was away fighting the Crusades. This detail places Robin Hood in the late 12th century, though earlier legends are not specific as to the time that he was active. The legends about the character also changed over the years to depict the band of Merry Men as an egalitarian group motivated by justice rather than self-interest.

The character's popularity as a subject for literature, theatre, and film continues to the present day. A BBC mini-series titled Robin Hood aired in Britain in late 2006 and began showing on BBC America on 3 March 2007. The University of Nottingham began offering a Master's degree in Robin Hood scholarship in 2007.

In later stories, Robin Hood often thwarts attempts to usurp King Richard the Lionhearted.
In later stories, Robin Hood often thwarts attempts to usurp King Richard the Lionhearted.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


@anon147983: I don't know that very many images of Robin Hood are available. There may be some drawings or tapestries depicting the stories, but there's no evidence Robin Hood actually existed. And in the Middle Ages, portraits were not common.

Most of the images that exist of people then are contemporary drawings of historical events, or figures sculpted of them for their tombs. Portraiture really didn't take off until the Renaissance.


one thing I'm looking for is who could have been robin hood. a photo would help, but who is he?


@anon2676: Allen-a-Dale was a wandering minstrel. He later became a member of Robin Hood’s outlaw band known as the “Merry Men”.

The story between Robin Hood and Allen-a-Dale was Robin Hood rescued Allen’s sweetheart from having to marry an old knight. Robin Hood had dressed in a bishop robe and married Allen and his sweetheart. Later versions of the story stated that Friar Tuck performed the ceremony.


What is the story of Robinhood and Allen-a-Dalle all about?

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