Robin Hood

Which King?

To accept that the king of the Robin Hood saga was an Edward has two notable effects on the legend. Firstly, it removes the idea that Robin Hood was an ally of Richard I. In total, Richard spent less than eight months of his ten-year reign (1189-1199) in England, choosing instead to embark on the unsuccessful third crusade of the 1190s and defending the Duchy of Normandy. Richard’s commitment to England in his earlier life is equally dubious. When still a prince he is recorded as having rebelled against his father and even joined Philip II of France in waging war against England.

Secondly, it means if there was a historical Robin Hood, he must have lived during the reign of an Edward. There are three likely candidates here. The reign of Edward I lasted from 1272 until he died in 1307. His son, Edward II succeeded him and ruled for twenty years before being murdered by his wife Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, and subsequently replaced by his son, Edward III, who ruled until 1377. While each is possible, the identity of the king in question can be narrowed down further. The early ballads would not have been in print until the early 15th century. Still, by 1354 there is a clear indication the legend was already well known when a man arrested in Rockingham Forest for poaching and trespassing answered with a quick wit that he was Robin Hood. Although doing little in terms of finding the legendary figure, it does at least demonstrate that a legend was already in place by the reign of Edward III.

According to the Gest, the king personally travels to Nottingham in a bid to capture Robin Hood. Potentially each king could have done this. Edward I was known to have passed by Nottingham in 1300; Edward II is recorded as being present twice, first in 1323 and then again in 1324, while Edward III was in Nottingham in 1330 when preparing to kidnap his mother and Mortimer. The personality of the king may also provide a clue. In the Gest, the king, disguised as an abbot, feasts with the Merry Men and is entertained by their archery. This king tends to enjoy the company of the yeomen outlaws, a strange personality trait for a king. Yet it is curiously in keeping with the character of one King of England who was known to favour the lower classes throughout his reign. This same king has the most likely connection to Nottingham. All signs point to Edward II.