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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 September 2020

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Summary

When my interest in the legend of Robin Hood and its possible historicity was first aroused over thirty years ago, it seemed obvious that the best place to look for evidence of the temporal and geographical context of an infamous criminal was to study whatever contemporary records of criminal law and administration had survived until the present day. That point seemed, surprisingly, to have escaped the notice of historians until relatively recent decades, and is still largely disregarded by literary scholars, concentrating as they do mainly on the surviving tales of the outlaw and their social and cultural context. This is so despite the fact that those tales are generally acknowledged to be very late in date, somewhere between two hundred and three hundred years later than the period where the most recent historical research on the subject places the original outlaw, the early thirteenth century. The approach seems to veer between the view that it is too difficult to try to identify the original Robin and his temporal and geographical context, so that the attempt is not worth making, and a feeling that it does not matter anyway. If one's interests are focused on the literary merits of the fifteenth-century tales and how they relate to what is known about English society in that period, indeed it does not matter. If one's concern is to try to explain how the legend began, and to identify the period and context of its origin, it matters a great deal. My point is that, although it is certainly extremely difficult to identify the original outlaw from surviving evidence, and no attempt can ever be conclusive or sufficient to satisfy the critical enquirer, it is worthwhile to make the search. That is what this book sets out to do.

The context within which the Robin Hood story rightfully belongs has been a matter of dispute between folk-lore enthusiasts, literary scholars and some historians since the nineteenth century. The early proponents of Robin Hood as myth were rebuked in 1889 by the great editor of the Robin Hood tales, Francis Child, who opined that ‘I cannot admit that even a shadow of a case has been made out by those who would attach a mythical character to … Robin Hood’.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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  • Introduction
  • David Crook
  • Book: Robin Hood: Legend and Reality
  • Online publication: 16 September 2020
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781787449411.002
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  • Introduction
  • David Crook
  • Book: Robin Hood: Legend and Reality
  • Online publication: 16 September 2020
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781787449411.002
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Introduction
  • David Crook
  • Book: Robin Hood: Legend and Reality
  • Online publication: 16 September 2020
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781787449411.002
Available formats
×