Was Robin Hood real? Most evidence (it’s lack) suggests no. He seemed real enough to medieval people. And stories about Robin may have been based on three real medieval outlaws: Hereward the Wake, Eustace the Monk, and Fulk Fitzwarin.
Hereward the Wake
Hereward was an Englishman, a resistance leader against William of Normandy’s forces (who invaded England in 1066).
Several historical records of Hereward exist, but most are conflicting, contradictory, and often written by authors with a clear bias.
Like most good legendary figures, it’s not clear when Hereward was born or who his parents were (though his mother might have been Lady Godiva). Most likely he was born in the 1030s or 1040s to English parents in Lincolnshire, though he might have been Danish (or part Danish).
Hereward is mentioned in the Domesday Book:
Tallboys, Ivo – Also called ‘cut-bush’. Married Lucy. In charge of siege of Hereward the Wake at Ely, 1069. Steward to William II. Holdings in Lincs. and Norfolk.
Around the age of 18, Hereward was exiled for disobedience to his father and declared an outlaw. It is possible he became a mercenary for Flanders. Around the time of the Norman Invasion (1066), Hereward returned to England.
In 1070, he joined a combined force of Englishmen and Danes (sent by the Danish king) and sacked Peterborough Abbey.
The following year, Hereward and the other man faced off with William of Normandy’s forces at the Isle of Ely. The Normans won and Hereward escaped into the marshes.
Unfortunately, it’s unclear what happened to Hereward. Perhaps he was pardoned. Perhaps he continued to lead a resistance against William. Perhaps he returned to exile.
Eustace the Monk
Another popular outlaw figure was Eustace (or Eustache) the Monk, a real person who also passed into the annals of legend.
Eustace was born in the late 1170s.
The legend says he went to Toledo, Spain to study black magic, then returned to France to be a Benedictine monk. His father was murdered and Eustace left the monastery to avenge his death.
However, the reality is more likely his father simply died. Eustace was the Count of Boulougne’s bailiff; the two had a falling out in 1204 and Eustace was declared an outlaw after fleeing.
In 1205, Eustace became a pirate along the English Channel and Strait of Dover, sometimes as a mercenary. For several years, he served King John of England, raiding Normandy (and the occasional English village, too). Their relationship ended in 1212, and Eustace started working against John.
In 1217, Eustace was captured by an English ship. Despite a large ransom, the crew decided to execute him.
Sometime between 1220 and 1280, a romantic biography was written about Eustace. In this bio, he hides in the forest and dupes the nobility. The story became linked to Robin Hood.
Fulk Fitzwarin (also Fouke, Fitzwaryn, etc) was another outlaw in the time of King John. The Robin Hood Stories didn’t spring up until the 1300s or so, but it’s no surprise they were often set during this time, with Fulk and Eustace running around.
Fulk rebelled against King John from 1200-1203 over his right to an estate. Fulk and about 50 followers rebelled against King John, who sent a small force to meet them. However, by 1204, Fulk was able to regain his lands.
Not really much of a story.
Sometime later (c. 1320s), an anonymous poet wrote a life of Fulk. In this tale, Fulk and John were childhood friends-turned-enemies. One an adult, John stripped Fulk of his lands and so Fulk turned to the woods as an outlaw.
The romance is usually titled Fouke le Fitz Waryn.
This text originally appeared in slightly altered form on Mirous Worlds.