By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2020-09-07. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2021-02-11.
'Robertsmen', in primary use in sources dating from the 14th to the 17th century, and subsequently used mainly historically, as a synonym for 'robbers'. Recorded spellings include Robert(e)s men, Roberd(e)smen, Robersmen and Robert's men; rarely used in the singular (e.g. Roberdesman). As the OED notes, the first element of the word is apparently the genitive of the proper name 'Robert' (or 'Roberd'), while the last element is (of course) the common noun man. The dictionary explains 'Roberdsmen' as a term for 'marauding vagrants or outlaws' in 14th century England, noting that it has been popularly taken as alluding to Robin Hood. While it is easy to see why the latter interpretation should have arisen, this cannot very well reflect the actual etymology of the term. As the OED notes, the first element is Robert, not Robin, and two 13th century sources use the Christian name 'Robert' ('Robertus') as a designation for a robber. Thus the term 'Roberdsmen' must have arisen due to the similarity of the Christian name and the noun 'robber'.
From the Whitehall Evening Post.
Whereas an Advertisement was published in the Whitehall Evening-Post, on Thursday last, intimating that a Court of Common Sense would be held on Monday the 28th of this Instant, at the Sign of the Robin-Hood in the Butcher Row, for my Trial, requiring all Archbishops &c. to make strict Search for me, &c. with a Promise of clear Stage and all Favour: This is to give Notice, That as I never was fond of Them, so I never will be found of Them, not expecting any more Favour from a Gang of Robertsmen, assembled in the Butcher-Row, than from a Portuguese or Spanish Inquisition; but am resolved to abscond and hide myself till the Commencement of the Grand Milennium, when I will make a full Display of myself, like the Day spring from on High, and will mount the Shoulders of wicked Will. Wh–st–n, who shall carry me Headlong to Jerusalem, when I shall be found of all Men. CHRISTIANITY
N. B. The above Advertisement being sent on Saturday, was too late to be inserted in this Paper.
- Allusions, especially of the 14th to 17th cent.