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February 2003
Dead in West Yorkshire? Robin Hood
Robin Hood at Kirklees by Barbara Green

Barbara Green from Brighouse has written extensively about Robin Hood and his connection to Kirklees Priory in West Yorkshire.

The following is from her booklet on The Mystery of Robin Hood's Grave.

SEE ALSO

Discovery backs real Robin Hood

Robin Hood in Nottingham

WEB LINKS
Robin Hood: His Yorkshire Legend
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The Death of Robin Hood

Deep in the heart of an ancient woodland in West Yorkshire, hidden beneath a formidable barrier of fierce thorns and dense undergrowth, there is a hidden grave. Here rest the mortal remains of Robin Hood, the Prince of Robbers. England's outlaw hero, bloodily slain by the prioress of Kirklees Nunnery 600 years ago, and cast into an unhallowed grave.

Today, Robin lies forgotten and unmourned in his lonely and desolate sepulchre for few people know of the grave's existence or its whereabouts...

Silhouette of Robin Hood statue
Robin Hood is more usually associated with Nottingham

The circumstances of Robin Hood's death are fairly well known. Realising he is dying, Robin decides to be bled by his kinswoman, the prioress of Kirklees, a woman "skilled in physic." Will Scarlet is against this, but Robin sets out on the journey accompanied by his faithful comrade in arms, Little John. On the way to the priory, they meet an old hag by a stream who curses Robin...

On arrival at the nunnery, the prioress takes Robin into the gatehouse and sends Little John away. She then proceeds to bleed Robin accompanied by her lover, the convent priest Red Roger of Doncaster.

The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest
The Major Oak at the heart of Sherwood Forest

When he realises that he is dying Robin summons Little John to his assistance by blowing three blasts on his hunting horn. When Little John arrives it is too late to save Robin, but he helps his beloved leader fire his last arrow from the gatehouse window, promising Robin that he will bury him where it falls. Little John vows to raze the nunnery to the ground and put all the nuns to the sword in revenge for the princess's vile deed, but Robin forbids him, reminding his distraught friend that it was their code never to hurt women.

Robin's grave, 60 yards from the (Kirklees) gatehouse - thought to be an improbable arrow shot for a dying man - is, today, neglected and overgrown and enclosed in rusted, twisted iron railings, erected in Victorian times. The inscription in pseudo-gothic reads:

Here underneath dis laitl stean
Laz Robert Earl of Huntingtun
Ne'er arcir ver as hie sa geud
An pipl kauld im Robin Heud
Sick utlawz as him as iz men
Vil England nivr si agen

 

Kirklees Priory

Kirklees Priory was founded in the 12th century by Reinor de Fleming, manor lord of Clifton, near Brighouse. The Rule was Cistercian and at first very strict but, as time passed, the White Ladies (so called because of their woollen habits) became less dedicated to the religious ideal. Many of them were the unwanted daughters of the gentry with no real vocation to the cloistered life. The sisters were often admonished by visiting bishops for indulging in worldly ways, keeping dogs..., going out dancing and for inviting men onto holy premises!

Scene from The Legend of Robin Hood
From The Legend of Robin Hood, BBC Tv, 1975

... In 1315 there were scandalous reports in circulation about the nuns of Kirklees. It was reported that one "Alice de Raggid, deceived by the allurements of frail fresh, in great levity of mind, hath gone forth from her house and had wandered, in great peril, having long ago put off her religious habit."

Later two more nuns, Elizabeth de Hopton and Joan de Heton, along with the rebellious Alice were accused of admitting both clergy and laymen to the "secret places of the monastery... from which there is suspicion of sin and great scandal arises." No wonder Robin came to a sticky end among such flighty creatures!

The nunnery was finally dissolved, along with other Yorkshire monasteries by Henry VIII in 1539, after which Kirklees Hall was built on the nearby hillside using the stones of the fallen priory. Only the gatehouse, where Robin died, was left standing. Today, like the grave, it is in danger of being lost to our heritage as it slowly crumbles away, unchecked and unhindered by any official attempts to prevent the deterioration.

The Riddle of the Prioress

Finally, why did the prioress kill Robin? Venesection, or "bleeding" was common medical practice in the Middle Ages. Many people must have died as a result, but it was an ignominous end for the swashbuckling Robin, whether by accident or design. The ballads state that the prioress and her lover, 'Red Roger of Doncaster,' murdered Robin in revenge for his opposition to the corruption in the Church.

robin Hood
Actor Patrick Troughton as Robin Hood in 1953

If it was murder, for whatever reason, it was a particular treacherous and gruesome act. It has even been suggested that, in the symbolic spilling of his blood, Robin's death could have been linked with pagan sacrifice, vampirism or Christ's death on the cross.


There is a fascinating mystery here, still waiting to be solved but until all the evidence is uncovered this part of Robin's legend will remain shrouded in darkness - Yorkshire's buried treasure in more ways than one.

You can find out more about Robin Hood and Kirklees Priory at Barbara's website at
http://www.robinhoodyorkshire.co.uk/

Kirklees Priory is situated on private land. Contact Hebden Bridge Tourist information Centre for more information on permitted access.





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