The Reverend Joseph Hunter, F.S.A., and the Legend of Robin Hood
March 9 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
The Reverend Joseph Hunter, FSA., and the Legend of Robin Hood
Lecture by Dr David Crook FSA
The legend of Robin Hood, a northern medieval English outlaw living at an uncertain date, whose actual existence is disputed by many and who is supposed among other things to have robbed from the rich to give to the poor, is well known throughout the English-speaking world and well beyond it. The subject has since the middle of the twentieth century become increasingly controversial among literary scholars, historians, folklorists and cultural studies practitioners, but the serious origins of these debates began in 1852 with a paper published by a senior Antiquary, several times vice-president of the Society, whose portrait, recently restored, hangs in the Fellows Room at Burlington House. The Reverend Joseph Hunter, originally from Sheffield and later a Unitarian clergyman in Bath, worked in the 1840s in the newly-formed Public Record Office as an assistant keeper, sorting the ancient records of the office of the Queen’s Remembrancer of the Exchequer. Among those records he came across an entry in a household account which suggested to him that a man called Robyn Hod, who is recorded as having worked as a porter in the household of Edward II in 1323-24, might have been the original outlaw.
His idea was initially well-received by at least one fellow Antiquary, but soon became the subject of ridicule by a young American literary scholar, Francis Child, who continued to disparage Hunter’s ideas in publications long after the Antiquary’s death in 1861, and the currency of whose views effectively ended academic research on the subject for a century. There is no doubt that Hunter’s particular suggestion was fanciful in the extreme, but his idea that evidence for an original Robin Hood might be found among the early records of the English state was revived strongly in the 1980s and subsequently by a new generation of historians. Their exploration of the documentary sources, made possible and greatly facilitated by the work of sorting, listing and publication undertaken by several generations of archivists at the Public Record Office, has now resulted in the identification of a new and more plausible candidate for the original outlaw.
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