The Many Legends of Robin Hood: A Genealogy Story


When I say ‘Robin Hood’, several things immediately pop into my head. Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, the animated version by Disney (which is my favorite- Robin Hood is a fox <3) You probably know that Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood was published in 1883, and Sir Walter Scott wrote Ivanhoe in 1819. There have been hundred of retellings since these novelizations.

And you probably know that the infamous character of Robin Hood was based on historical figures. (More than one? Yes, that’s right.)

I just so happen to be related to 3 separate individuals, all of whom were a spark in the evolution of Robin Hood as we know him today.

Sir John Conyers: (1432-1469)

From the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses came Robin of Redesdale or Robin Mend-All, leader of a rebellion in Yorkshire in the spring of 1469. ‘Robin of Redesdale’ was likely a pseudonym for Sir John Conyers, who held the position of steward of the lordship of Middleham, the engine-room of Earl Warwick’s power in Yorkshire. Robin of Redesdale’s rebellion was supported by Warwick, known as ‘Kingmaker’, and the former was apparently alongside him at the battle of Edgecote in July of 1469, where Conyers met his end. Interestingly, Conyers is rumored to have killed a dragon also during his lifetime. [Note: There seems to be some confusion about him; there seems to be two John Conyers active during the Wars of the Roses]

Sir Fulk FitzWarin III: (1160-1258)

The tale of Fulk begins at King Henry II’s court, where Fitzwarin spent time as a child. Fulk and the young Prince John came to blows over a game of chess; John was to brood on this perceived injustice for many years, eventually taking his revenge when he ascended the English throne in 1199. He prevented Fulk from claiming his rights as heir of Whittington Castle, instead passing the FitzWarin estate to a rival, Morys FitzRoger. Fulk retaliated by murdering FitzRoger and branding himself an outlaw. For three years he stalked the woods of Shropshire, ambushing the unwary and robbing them. His moment came when he accosted King John and his hunting party; disguised as a charcoal-maker, he lured the King into the forest by promising to show him a particularly fine stag. On capturing the King he struck a bargain: he would release John and his men in return for his rightful ownership of the Whittington estate. John agreed but soon reneged on his bargain; Fulk remained an outlaw for several years, and stories of his exploits during this time vary wildly. Some portray him as a crusader for the poor, distributing the spoils of his robberies among them, while others claim he was a dangerous, bloodthirsty criminal. He eventually received a pardon in 1203, when King John permitted him to return to his ancestral home.

Wikipedia says this: After Foulk’s death he became the subject the famous “ancestral romance” known as Fouke le Fitz Waryn, which contains a highly embellished account of his life and family history.

The biography of Fulk III survives in a French prose “ancestral romance”, extant in a manuscript containing English, French and Latin texts, which is based on a lost verse romance. A 16th-century summary of a Middle English version has also been preserved. The work is part of the Matter of England. [The outline of the work is as follows: As a young boy, Fulk was sent to the court of King Henry II (1154–1189), where he grew up with the king’s younger son, the future King John (1199–1216). John became his enemy after a childhood quarrel during a game of chess. As an adult, King John retained his animosity toward Fulk whom he stripped of his ancestral holdings. Fulk thereupon took to the woods as an outlaw and lived a life of adventure. The story may in fact have confused aspects of the lives of two FitzWarins, Fulk I (d. 1171) and Fulk II (d. 1197), father and son. The romance of Fulk FitzWarin is noted for its parallels to the legend of Robin Hood.]


William & John Bradburn:  (the 1300s)

John and William Bradburn, from a family of Derbyshire landowners, saw their uncle Sir Henry de Bradburn drawn through the streets of York and hanged following the revolt against Edward II on March 16th, 1322. Having also participated in the rebellion, they were pardoned but did not return to polite society. Instead, they became part of the infamous Coterel gang. The Bradburns themselves had form for burglary, but as members of this gang, they were involved in far more infamous deeds, including murder and the robbing of churches. (Recognise the last name? Though I’m not directly descended from William or John (neither married, as far as history knows), I am descended from one of their uncles. Not Henry- he was killed fairly early)

There are more legends of Robin Hood- did you know there were so many? Have you worked on your genealogy at all? You might be a descendant of Robin Hood too!


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