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Robin Hood rewritten: Long lost book ‘exposes legendary hero as overhyped criminal’

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Robin Hood was believed to have been a masterfully skilled bowman who stole from wealthy corrupt officials to redistribute funds to the poor. While there have been hundreds of TV and film adaptations, including one by Disney, to tell this story, very little evidence justifies he existed. The main two documents often used to back-up the claims are ballads, which were written from UK folklore tales and word-of-mouth accounts. However, one expert believes he has found evidence that could pinpoint the origins of Robin Hood, explain his notoriety and give a damning verdict on his character. 

Dr Julian Luxford, a manuscript expert at the University of St Andrews, believes a long lost book that was buried in the Eton College library places the legendary hero in the late 13th Century. 

But far from the mythical beliefs about his good deeds as an anti-hero-type figure, the expert suggests the account tells a different story. 

He said: “The newest piece of evidence is an inscription inside a history book and it mentions that Robin was a hardened criminal.

“[It claims] that he and his accomplices infested Sherwood and other law abiding regions of England with continuous robberies.”

The document detailed that Robin Hood’s crimes were committed between 1294 and 1299.

Dr Luxford said: “Why it’s interesting and useful is that it takes him seriously as an actual historical figure.

“It’s not like the ballads, which are essentially folktales, and don’t try to prove his historical existence. 

“This is a document that says ‘This guy lived at this time and this is what he did at this time’.”

Despite this, Dr Luxford suggests the man detailed in the manuscript might not be the original Robin Hood. 

He said: “By the mid-13th Century you get criminals being called a ‘Robin Hood’, so it’s a sort of nickname being applied to – or adopted by – criminals. 

“Now it’s extremely unlikely that this name would be just invented out of nothing.

“There was likely a criminal called Robin Hood probably in the early 13th Century who was sufficiently notorious to then pass his name on, as it were, to later criminals.”

This account, which was revealed in a 2010 episode of Amazon Prime’s ‘Mystery Files’, may be supported by other documents that also claim the archer came from Yorkshire.

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Dr David Crook, from the University of Nottingham, discovered a man named Robert Hood featured in a Latin document from 1226 – someone he suspects may have inspired later copycats.

He said: “He is a fugitive from justice and his chapels – that is the moveable goods he left behind when he fled – are accounted for by the Sheriff, which is why they appear here in this account.

“But in 1227 something very strange happens, the name Robert Hood that appears in the original entry appears again but it’s in a different form – it’s changed by the clerk who wrote the roll as ‘Hobby Hood’.

“I think the person who wrote the roll had heard some kind of story or legend – growing legend – about a man called Robert Hood and changed the name to Hobby Hood, a sort of pet form.”

That account was discovered in Westminster, London, which Dr Crook believes could show how far myths about the anti-hero had spread – tales that likely inspired others to adopt to name. 

He added: “Do I think this is probably the real Robin Hood? Yes indeed.”

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