Educational Travel Lesson Plans

Medieval England (410-1485): Robin Hood: Legend, Myth or Reality?



Through an in-depth analysis of various primary and secondary sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain the different stories relating to Robin Hood, and using those stories will then be able to take a position as to whether or not Robin Hood and his “Merry Men” were real historical figures.


English / Language Arts

European History

World History

Grade Level



90 minutes

Tour Links

  • Sherwood Forest
  • Nottingham Castle

Essential Questions

  • Who was Robin Hood? Was he a real historical figure? 
  • When do the stories of Robin Hood appear in English literature?
  • How do accounts of the different characters of the Robin Hood story change over time?

Key Terms

  • Crusades
  • Legend
  • Maid Marian
  • Merry Men
  • Nottingham
  • Robin Hood
  • Sherwood Forest


About this time it was, as I conceive, that there flourished those most famous robbers Robert Hood, an Englishman, and Little John, who lay in wait in the woods, but spoiled of their goods those only that were wealthy. They took the life of no man, unless he either attacked them or offered resistance in defense of his property. Robert supported by his plundering one hundred bowmen, ready fighters every one, with whom four hundred of the strongest would not dare to engage in combat. The feats of this Robert are told in song all over Britain. He would allow no woman to suffer injustice, nor would he spoil the poor, but rather enriched them from the plunder taken from the abbots. The robberies of this man I condemn, but of all robbers he was the humanest (sic) and the chief.

From John Major, Historia Majoris Brittaniae (History of Greater Britain), 1521

But in an olde and auncient Pamphlet I finde this written of the sayd Robert Hood. This man (sayth he) discended of a nobel parentage: or rather beyng of a base stocke and linage, was for his manhoode and chivalry advaunced to the noble dignité of an Erle. Excellyng principally in Archery, or shootyng, his manly courage agreeyng therunto: But afterwardes he so prodigally exceeded in charges and expences, that he fell into great debt, by reason wherof, so many actions and sutes were commenced against him, wherunto he aunswered not, that by order of lawe he was outlawed, and then for a lewde shift, as his last refuge, gathered together a companye of Roysters and Cutters, and practised robberyes and spoylyng of the kynges subjects, and occupied and frequentede the Forestes or wilde Countries. The which beyng certefyed to the King, and he beyng greatly offended therewith, caused his proclamation to be made that whosoever would bryng him quicke or dead, the king would geve him a great summe of money, as by the recordes in the Exchequer is to be seene: But of this promise, no man enjoyed any benefite. For the sayd Robert Hood, beyng afterwardes troubled with sicknesse, came to a certein Nonry in Yorkshire called Bircklies, where desirying to be let blood, he was betrayed and bled to deth. After whose death the Prioresse of the same place caused him to be buried by the high way side, where he had used to rob and spoyle those that passed that way. And upon his grave the sayde Prioresse did lay a very fayre stone, wherin the names of Robert Hood, William of Goldesborough and others were graven. And the cause why she buryed him there was for that the common passengers and travailers knowyng and seeyng him there buryed, might more safely and without feare take their jorneys that way, which they durst not do in the life of the sayd outlawes.

From Richard Grafton, Chronicle at Large, 1569

Robin Hood! Robin Hood! a lawgiver good,
Kept his High Court of Justice in merry Sherwood.
No furr'd gown, or fee, wig, or bauble had he;
But his bench was a verdant bank under a tree!

And there sat my Lord of his own good accord,
With his Peers of the forest to keep watch and ward;
To arbitrate sure between rich and poor,
The lowly oppress'd and the proud evil doer.

His nobles they are without riband or star,
No 'scutcheon have they with a sinister bar;
But Flora with leaves them a coronet weaves,
And their music is -- hark! when the horn winds afar.

The chaplain to shrive this frolicsome hive
Is a fat curtail Friar, the merriest alive!
His quarter-staff, whack! greets a crown with a crack!

And, 'stead of rough sackcloth, his penance is sack!
The peerless in beauty receives their fond duty,
Her throne is the greensward, her canopy flowers!
What huntress so gay as the Lady of May?
The Queen of the Woodlands, King Robin's, and ours!

His subjects are we, and 'tis centuries three
Since his name first re-echo'd beneath this roof-tree!
With Robin our King let the old rafters ring!
They have heard their last shout! they have seen their last spring!

And though we may sigh for blythe moments gone by,
Yet why should we sorrow, bold foresters, why?
Since those who come after their full share of laughter
Shall have, when death's sables have veil'd you and I.

George Daniel, “Robin Hood” from Merrie England in the Olden Time, 1842

The sheriff dare to love me? me who worship Robin the great Earl of Huntingdon? I love him as a damsel of his day might have loved Harold the Saxon or Hereward the Wake. They both fought against the tyranny of the kings, the Normans. But then your sheriff, your little man, if he dare to fight at all, would fight for his rents, his leases, his houses, his moneys, his oxen, his dinners, himself. Now your great man, your Robin, all England's Robin, fights not for himself but for the people of England. This John--this Norman tyranny--the stream is bearing us all down, and our little sheriff will ever swim with the stream! but our great man, our Robin, against it. And how often in old histories have the great men striven against the stream, and how often in the long sweep of years to come must the great man strive against it again to save his country and the liberties of his people! God bless our well-beloved Robin, Earl of Huntingdon!

(Marian speaking), from the play The Foresters: Robin Hood and Maid Marian by Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1892

Robin Hood…

To many people in modern western countries, the mention of “Robin Hood” brings with it images of an English nobleman, after years of fighting for God and King Richard the Lionheart in the Crusades, after suffering through the hell of a Moorish prison, finds himself finally making it back to Britain to find Richard’s evil brother John has usurped the throne.  His family lands have been unjustly confiscated by the Sheriff of Nottingham and the love of his life, Lady Marian, in a deep despair over the state of the kingdom.  Once a headstrong and argumentative young man, years of hardship have changed Robin.  He has lost his youthful enthusiasm for war and bloodshed, which was so deeply ingrained in the young man when he left to follow his king to Jerusalem years earlier.  Finding himself suddenly destitute and heartbroken, Robin ends up in Sherwood Forest, a wild and perhaps even haunted wood, where he meets up with other “outlaws”, mostly peasants of common birth.  “Robin of the Hood” organizes the “Merry Men” into a force for good.  They subsequently go about waging a campaign of thievery and robbery against wealthy travelers, a campaign designed specifically to hurt the Sheriff of Nottingham and his minion, Guy of Gisbourne.  When the sheriff’s men try to stop the outlaws, Robin and his men outsmart the forces of evil and simply slip back into the woods like ghosts.

In this story, instead of keeping the money they steal, Robin and his men give everything away to the poor and destitute peasants and townsfolk in Nottingham.  It is a gesture of Christian charity that rivals the ancient apostles and early Christian martyrs.  Called outlaws and brigands by the authorities, Robin and his men see themselves as enjoying a freedom and a sense of equality not often seen in medieval society.  It is almost as though they understand that every man, regardless of his position at birth, is equal under the sight of God and should therefore have equal opportunities.  Even Robin’s main weapon, a longbow, was a weapon wielded by common men, as opposed to the broadsword of a knight.

Eventually, in order to avoid the sheriff’s romantic advances, Marian joins Robin in the woods and they create an idyllic, utopian and almost democratic micro-society based on true Christian values in Sherwood Forest.  There is even a possibility that Maid Marian might be related somehow to King Richard himself. 

Is the story true?  

Tales of a “Robin Hood” figure have been around since the late medieval / early Renaissance period (13th / 14th century).  Some early writers and poets described him as a warrior fighting against the sheriff.  Some depicted him as a yeoman.  Others saw Robin as a peasant outlaw.  Still others portrayed him as a lord, with his men kneeling before him in obedience.  Even the outlaw’s name is not definitely known: Robin, Robyn, Robert, Loxley, Longshire and many others.  By the 19th century, an age of Victorian romanticism when many writers looked back to a simpler time, Robin Hood’s story began to coalesce around the tale that many people know today.  Over the last 100 years, many different films and television programs have been made about Robin and his men, including a cartoon version by Walt Disney studios in 1973.  Since the 1980s, it has even been common in many stories for Robin to be accompanied by a Muslim warrior he befriended in the Holy Land, lending a sense of racial and religious equality to those accounts. 

With dozens of different stories, is there a kernel of truth to any of them?  Was Robin Hood a real historical figure?  What about the “merry men”, the sheriff of Nottingham and Maid Marian?   

Through an in-depth analysis of various primary and secondary sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain the different stories relating to Robin Hood, and using those stories will then be able to take a position as to whether or not Robin Hood and his “Merry Men” were real historical figures.

educational tour image
  1. Students will identify, analyze, understand and be able to explain the basic story of Robin Hood and how the stories have changed over the centuries.
  2. Students will identify, analyze, understand and be able to explain whether Robin Hood was a real historical figure, using evidence from the sources investigated to support their position.

To view resource web pages, download the lesson plan PDF above.

I. Anticipatory Set

  • Writing / Question: How do legends and myths help define a society? (5 min)
  • Handouts – Copies of the primary sources and readings from the websites listed. (5 min)

II. Body of Lesson

  • Lecture / PPT – Brief overview of Robin Hood. (20 min)
  • Video – Real Sherwood Forest (15 min)
  • Independent Activity – Students read the primary sources and articles on Robin Hood and the stories surrounding the iconic character, taking notes as appropriate. (20 min)
  • Suggestion: Have the students read some of these articles for homework to prepare for class discussion.
  • Suggestion: Break students into groups and assign different articles to each group.
  • Suggestion: Students should consider the writer’s possible bias when evaluating sources on each character to determine whether the writer has an agenda other than just relating facts.
  • Group Activity – Socratic Discussion: Discuss the different stories relating to Robin Hood, and using those stories take a position as to whether or not Robin Hood and his “Merry Men” were real historical figures.

III. Closure

  • Assessment – Essay / DBQ:  Explain in detail the different stories relating to Robin Hood, and using those stories take a position as to whether or not Robin Hood and his “Merry Men” were real historical figures.


On tour: Nottingham Castle and Sherwood Forest

While on tour in Great Britain, students can visit Nottingham Castle and Sherwood Forest where they can see for themselves two important places connected with the story of Robin Hood.  Sherwood Forest contains the Major Oak, a tree over 1000 years old that is connected to the Robin Hood legend.  Many of its branches today are so big that they are supported by a system of wooden poles and planks.  One can almost imagine the Sherwood Bandit and his love Marian lounging under its shady branches on a warm summer’s eve (sounds idyllic).  Nottingham Castle, only a few minutes away to the south of Sherwood Forest, is the traditional site associated with the Sheriff of Nottingham.  Historical records show that in 1194, King Richard the Lionheart, recently back from the Crusades, led an army to Nottingham Castle, after rebels loyal to King John held out against the monarch.


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