Tag Archives: Robin Hood

Lord Pembroke

Lord Pembroke. In fiction, especially with regards to the legend of Robin Hood, Lord Pembroke can refer to:

  • William Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke, also called William The Marshal, served in five Regency Governments, including Henry II and his sons, namely The “Young King” Henry, Richard I, John, as well as John’s son Henry III.
  • Philip Herbert, the 4th Earl of Pembroke, who travelled with Anthony Munday in the Low Countries, while the latter wrote a number of plays, including The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntington (written between 1597-8 and printed in 1601) and The Death of Robert Earl of Huntington (written between 1597-8 and printed in 1601).

The Character of Lord Pembroke has appeared in the following fictional productions:

  • Robin Hood (2018 Movie)
  • The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1945 Movie)

Law and Order in the Middle Ages

If a person committed a crime, they were punished at the Manor Court by their lord or at the Shire Moot by the Sheriff. The Chief Forester could also punish them at a Forest Court such as Edwinstowe or a Forest Eyre such as Nottingham.

Many of those lacking the money and influence to ensure a fair trial hearing in the courts failed to appear before the judges, and became outlaws like Robin Hood.

There were still some Saxon customs in use after the Norman Conquest. If someone was accused of a crime, they might suffer Ordeal by Combat, Ordeal by Fire or Ordeal by Water.

Ordeal by Combat meant that a noble had to fight the person that accused them. Both were given special axes and shields and would fight until one of them shouted “Craven“. The one who lost was put to death.
Ordeal by Fire involved carrying a piece of red-hot iron for three paces. the person’s hand was then bound up and if when this was undone three days later there were no blisters, they were innocent. If they had blisters they were punished or killed.

Ordeal by Water meant that they were tied up and thrown in the river. If they stayed under the water for several minutes, they were innocent. If they floated, they were guilty of the crime.

When Henry II came to power, he made new laws and stopped these cruel ways of trial. He ordered Trial by Jury. This meant that twelve good people could swear that they knew about the person who was accused of a crime. People sometimes bribed others to say things that were not true.

Law in the Town

The Mayor and the Alderman kept Law and order in the towns. They paid 1/4d. a day to the Common Sergeant and the Watchman to do the work for them.

When the Normans conquered England they introduced ‘curfew’ (cover fire) to make the Saxon locals go to bed early. During curfew, no one was allowed out on to the streets, or the watchman would arrest them. Curfew was at eight o’clock in the winter and nine o’clock in the summer.

Forest Law

Hunting Venison.

Hunting Venison.

The Chief Forester enforced all of the Forest Laws and was responsible for each of the royal forests, including Sherwood Forest. He was represented by Foresters , who looked after the forest and Verderers (wardens) who made sure that Forest Law was not broken.

The Forest Laws were designed to protect both hunting animals and woodland from all but the king and his followers. Offences against ‘vert’ included cutting down saplings, branches and especially, of course, full-grown trees. Offences against “venison” included the hunting of red, fallow and roe deer, but also of wild boar. It was forbidden for anyone to carry bows and arrows in the royal forests and if a forest beast were found dead, an inquest was held.


There were many strange punishments at this time. If someone stole they would be put in the pillory (by standing on the platform with their head and hands through the holes) or in the stocks (with their feet locked through the holes).

A woman who nagged her husband was called a ‘scold’. She was tied to a chair and dipped in the pond. This chair was called the “ducking stool”. She might also have to wear a scold’s bridle, which had a piece of iron to go in the mouth to keep her tongue down. In Nottingham these punishments took place in the Market Square, where many people could laugh at those in the pillory and stocks. The dunking stool was kept in Cook Stool Row, which is now called Pillory.

A baker who made poor bread would be dragged on a sledge, with a loaf tied to his neck. If a fishmonger sold bad fish, he would be taken around the town with stinking fish hanging from his neck. A bad priest would have to ride through the streets sitting facing his horse’s tail and wearing a paper crown.

The courts also imposed some savage punishments meaning that the threat of prosecution acted as a powerful deterrent. People who cut firewood from the royal forests would be whipped or fined. Those who murdered or killed a royal deer may have their ears or hands cut off, or worse still, hanged in public for everyone to see. Nobles could choose to be beheaded instead of being hung.

Artwork in the Middle Ages

It was not only churches that were built in the Middle Ages, but castles as well and the barons and feudal lords to whom the castles belonged occasionally employed artists. It is easy to forget such works as castles were often destroyed when churches were spared. Nottingham Castle for example, was burnt to the ground in 1831 and many of the contents of the were either destroyed or looted. Religious art was treated with greater respect and looked after more carefully than those used to decorate residences such as the Royal Castle of Nottingham.

One of the greatest examples of eleventh century art that still exists (because it was preserved in a church) is the Bayeux Tapestry. It depicts the campaign and victory of the Norman Conquest. In the section of the Tapestry below, the inscription clearly tells of how Harold swears his oath to William and how he returns to England. William is on his thrown watching Harold laying his hand on the sacred to swear allegiance. It was this oath which served William as pretext for his claims on England.

The Bayeux Tapestry c.1080

The Bayeux Tapestry, c.1080

Practice at the archery butts was an important activity in England during the Middle Ages. The scene below is from the Luttrell Psalter of about 1340. Practice or competition at the butts was an occasion, as with Robin Hood, for showing off, and the figure proudly demonstrating the garland is hooded. Were it from the eleventh or twelfth century, one might be tempted to identify the hooded figure who has just planted the arrow in the very centre of the bull, as Robin Hood himself.

Practice at the Butts c.1340

Practice at the Butts, c.1340

The Church in the Middle Ages

This section is about the church and its importance in medieval society.


During the Middle Ages, many Christians went on religious journeys called pilgrimages. Pilgrims travelled to holy places called shrines, which are where saints were buried or sacred objects were kept.

After the murder of Thomas Becket, pilgrims went to Canterbury to pray on his grave. During the long journeys, pilgrims sang songs and told each other stories such as those in the medieval poem, “The Canterbury Tales“.

Holy Days

May Games, 1692

May Games, 1692

The only holidays in Anglo-Norman England were Holy Days, such Christmas Day, May Day and Midsummerís Eve. The villeins went to church on these days, and afterwards a Sports Day was held on the Castle Green, with races, wrestling, jumping, archery and throwing lances. Children danced around the maypole and the grown-ups went to an alehouse such as the Trip to Jerusalem and made merry.

At Christmas everyone went to the manor house for a feast in the hall. There were rough games afterwards, like Hoodman Blind.

In the later part of the Middle Ages, the stories of Robin Hood had become popular and he was incorporated into many festivals including the May Games.

Town Life in the Middle Ages

After the Norman Conquest, towns grew bigger, especially Nottingham. Even so, they were not very large towns, for there were not as many people in England as there are today. The streets were narrow and the houses were built close together.

The Chapel Bar

The Chapel Bar

The Chapel Bar

Around each town there was a thick wall for safety against enemies, and the town gates were locked every night at sunset. The Chapel Bar (pictured here) was the last surviving town gate of Nottingham before it was demolished in the 18th century. Merchants who travelled to Nottingham to sell goods would have to pay money, called a toll, before they were allowed in.

The townsfolk were freemen who had paid their lord a sum of money to be free and they had to look after themselves. They chose a Mayor, who, with the help of his Aldermen, ruled the town. Every town had its own laws and punishments. The Mayor told the people what they must do through the town crier, who called out messages and news at the Market Square.

Streets in Nottingham

The narrow streets in big towns like Nottingham were very dirty. There were cobbles outside the shops, but in the middle of the road was a kind of gutter into which everyone threw their rubbish, even sweepings from the stables, dead dogs and other smelly things. People threw dirty water from upstairs windows, and pigs and chickens wandered in and put of the rubbish looking for food.

Water had to be fetched from the River Trent or drawn up from well in the town. It could also be bought from water-carriers that took it round the streets in carts or buckets. Food was bought from traders or merchants. People working in the same trade usually lived in the same street.


During the Middle Ages, people enjoyed watching plays, which, at first, were acted in the church porch. This was how the priests taught people the Bible stories. Sometimes these religious plays were acted in the Market Square or on a cart that went round the town. They were called Miracle Plays. By the later part of the Middle Ages, stories of Robin Hood had become widespread and many plays and games were based on him.


Two Knights Jousting

Two Knights Jousting

There were often tournaments held in the grounds of Nottingham Castle. The most popular sport at the tournament was jousting. In a joust, two knights charged at each other and each knight tried to knock his opponent to the ground. There was a Marshall, who made sure that everyone played by the rules and didnít cheat.

At a tournament, children and grown-ups also played games, some of which were rather rough. They liked to play football, handball, marbles and tops. They also liked archery and the cruel sport of bear baiting.

Bearward Lane (now Mount Street) in Nottingham was where the town bears were kept in cages, before being taken to the Market Square or castle grounds to be attacked by fierce dogs in front of a crowd of people.

Ballads of Robin Hood

Robin Hood and the Monk, Robin Hood and the Potter, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, Robin Hoode his Death, and A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode, existed in the fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries. A Lytell Gest of Robyn Hode, the longest of the ballads, was printed between 1492 and 1534.

This came from the press of the English printer Wynken de Word, but the Gest could have been written down as early as 1400. There are at least five printed versions of the Gest, which is divided into eight sections or ‘fyttes’. The word Gest meant a tale of exploits or a romantic story.

In a text of William Langland’s Piers Plowman, the character named Sloth says:

I do not know my paternoster perfectly as the priest sings it. But I know rhymes of Robin Hood and Randolph Earl of Chester.

This was written about 1377, which proves there were ‘rhymes’ of Robin Hood in the fourteenth century.

The Gest begins with:
Lythe and listin gentilmen
That be of frebore blode
I shall you tel of a gode yeman
His name was Robyn Hode
The third fytte begins with:
Lyth and lystyn gentilmen
All that nowe be here
Of Litell Johnn that was the knightes man
Goode myrth ye shall here

Robin Hood and the Monk was originally described as the ‘talkyng of the munke and Robyn Hode.’ These two ballads and perhaps the other three as well, were in all likelihood written by minstrels, who recited or read them to an audience.

Yeomen in the Middle Ages

The Scotsman Walter Bower wrote of Robin Hood and Little John in the Scotichronicon, a history of Scotland and England written in the 1440s.

The foolish common folk eagerly celebrate the deeds of these men with gawping enthusiasm in comedies and tragedies, and take pleasure in hearing jesters and bards singing (of them) more than in other romances.

This suggests that in the fifteenth century, tales of Robin Hood were entertainment for the common man. Bower was probably referring to the labourers and craftsmen in the towns and villages of Scotland and northern England. There were other forms of entertainment such as cockfights and bull baiting, and archery was a skill shared by all social classes that would practice or compete at the butts.

Authority Figures in the Middle Ages

Robin Hood has little regard for authority, (apart from the king) his enemies in the Gest include Bishops and Archbishops and the sheriff of Nottingham.

The ballads do not explain why Robin became an outlaw, and his animosity towards the sheriff is taken for granted, although some believe the story of the sheriff of Nottingham may have originally been separate and later added to the legend of Robin Hood.

In the Gest Robin says:

If he be a pore man of my good he shall have some.

This theme would appeal to the common man, but Robin does not rob from the rich to give to the poor.

He gives a loan of four hundred pound to a knight who is in debt to the abbot of St Mary’s York, but later takes eight hundred pound from two monks of the same abbey. When the knight returns to repay his loan, Robin gives him another 400 pound above the initial loan then keeps the rest. The ballads do not show us a real Robin Hood, whose origins are lost in time.

In the Gest, Robin shoots the sheriff of Nottingham then beheads him. In Robin Hood and the Monk, Little John beheads a monk, then Much the Millar’s son does the same to the monk’s little page. The outlaws kill with vigor, and their ruthlessness cannot be overlooked, but Robin and his merry men were still seen as ‘good’ outlaws. In contrast, the Gest tells us that Robin is religious. He hears mass, is devoted to the Virgin Mary, and would never harm a woman. The sheriff’s wife, Sir Richard’s wife, and the prioress of Kirklees are the only women mentioned in the ballads.

The Bow in the Middle Ages

The bow in its many forms, has been used both in hunting and in battle long before recorded history, and has been part of English warfare since Roman occupation.

Its full potential as the longbow may not have been realized in England until the thirteenth century when it was to become a devastating weapon in battle. The longbow stood as tall as a man and could shoot an arrow more than two hundred yards. The arrows were carried in the archer’s belt, not in a quiver slung over the shoulder. This could have been the weapon used by Robin Hood.

Robyn and Gandelyn survived in a manuscript collection of the mid-fifteenth century. It begins with Robyn and Gandelyn going to the woods to hunt deer. They find a herd and Robyn shoots the fattest deer, and then is himself shot and killed. The assassin turns out to be Wrennok of Donne.

After verbal interaction Wrennok shoots at Gandelyn and misses. Gandelyn in reply shoots Wrennok through the heart. There is nothing to connect Robyn and Gandelyn with the Tale of Gamelyn that was composed in about 1350.

In this anonymous poem, Gamelyn is cheated out of his inheritance by his brother John, Gamelyn then flees to the forest to become an outlaw. John becomes sheriff and tries to capture his brother.

The Tale of Gamelyn is similar to the later Robin Hood story. Gamelyn is a disinherited nobleman who is cheated by his family, he becomes an outlaw, his main adversary is the sheriff, and the king pardons him.

Society in the 15th century

In the fifteenth century local society was divided into different groups. First there were the knights, then came the squires, gentlemen, yeomen and husbandmen. Robin Hood, his merry men, and some of the other characters are classed as yeomen. The term ‘yeoman’ is used extensively in the ballads but definition is not easy, as the meaning had changed over the years. Originally, a yeoman could be a farmer or leaseholder with a small income, or an employee of the estate such as a forester or gamekeeper. By the fifteenth century, the term could also apply to a craftsman such as a potter or weaver.