If Robin Hood was god, I’d be agnostic. I kind of want to believe, but the lack of evidence means I struggle to nail my colours to the mast. We’re living in an era where people frequently say, “I’ll Google it,” if they’re unsure of something. Information (accurate or otherwise) is at our fingertips. The difficulty with the Robin Hood myth is that it was created and evolved in an age when very few people were literate, and so stories were passed on orally. A lot of details were probably assumed. In modern satirical radio and TV comedy sketches, there isn’t a great deal of exposition. If — for example — a royal family member is featured, we would have to assume that the audience is aware of his racial insensitivity and short-temperedness. The joke will rely on it. To stop and explain this would be dull, and so it would have been in olden times. For us, though, this presents a problem as we are trying to analyse the tales and place a historical context around them. We lack the assumed knowledge of the original audience, and so are somewhat adrift. Many other details could have easily been forgotten or altered (either intentionally or deliberately). The stories started around seven centuries ago, so it’s fairly reasonable to think that some warping of the details may have occurred. Anyone working in an office will know how Monday morning’s reports of Friday evening’s after work drinks can often bare little resemblance to what actually occurred. If such confusion can occur over two days, imagine what seven hundred years will do to a tale.
Within Rock Cemetery is an area known locally as Robin Hood’s Caves. Is there anything to substantiate that these caves were utilised by the outlaw? Not that I can find. In Sneinton, there’s both Robin Hood Street and Robin Hood Terrace. Why are they named so? Not sure. Maid Marion Way sits on the south side of the city centre. If you want to try to discover if Maid Marion ever travelled this road, you’d have to first find out who Maid Marion was. There’s little to suggest she was a real person, and her first appearance as Robin’s beau was not featured in the five or so earliest ballads.
Conversely, though, there are tantalising snippets of information here and there, and the vagueness perhaps adds to the mystique of the myth. I’ll leave you with my favourite such clue. In the Geste of Robyn Hood, there are repeated references to Robin’s hideout being in the forest and a mile from the town centre. In medieval times, the town centre was smaller than it is now, and forest covered much of the surrounding area. To travel one mile out from the town boundaries under the forest could take you to a great many places; St Ann’s, Mansfield Road (maybe there’s something to be said for the authenticity of those caves after all), Forest Fields, Radford, Lenton, The Park, The Meadows, or Sneinton.
Perhaps the great triumph of Hood is in his elusiveness, and his most fantastic gesture to the ordinary folk he defended so stoutly was the honour that he may have had his hideout in the place that is now your back yard. Sure, he might NOT have, but even the possibility that he did is glorious.