For the third month in a row, images from a Parker Library manuscript are used to illustrate an article in History Today. This article, by Sean McGlynn, puts forward yet another candidate for the real-life inspiration behind the famous mythical outlaw. The new contender is not from Yorkshire, Nottingham or Lincoln but Kent. And his name is not Robin.
McGlynn sets out the documentary evidence that the name Robert or Robin Hood was being applied to criminals and outlaws by the early-mid thirteenth century, suggesting that the legend was well-established by this time. Hollywood tends to set the legend in the reign of Richard I (r. 1189-99) when the king was held captive and his loyal servant, Robin, lived in the woods and fought injustice.
However, McGlynn identifies a figure from a slightly later but equally turbulent episode of English history, the first barons’ war of 1216-17, when nobles unhappy with John’s rule invited Louis, son of the King of France, to invade England. A minor royal official, William of Kensham or Cassingham, took to the Kent and Sussex woods and led a band of bowmen who loyally served the crown, acting as a resistance force in the area under French occupation. He was celebrated as ‘Willikin of the Weald’.
One of the key sources for these events is the Chronica Maiora of Matthew Paris (CCCC MS 16). Here is his illustration of Louis arriving in Kent at the start of his occupation in 1216.
For more on William and his possible connections with the legend of Robin Hood, see the March issue of History Today.