Robin Hood's Grave (Kirklees Priory)
|Adm. div.||West Riding of Yorkshire|
|Vicinity||Kirklees Priory, Brighouse|
|Interest||Robin Hood name|
|First Record||c. 1500 (Gest)|
By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2013-07-06. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2021-05-31.
Situated in a wooded spot within Kirklees Park, c. 650 m. SW of Kirklees Priory gatehouse, in the grounds of the long gone Kirklees Priory, this is one of the most well known and important localities connected with Robin Hood. As noted under Kirklees Priory, traditions connecting Robin Hood with the priory go back at least to the late 15th century. It is possible that there was originally at Kirklees a grave in which a person named Robert Hood (or similar) was buried. If this was the case, the belief that this was the grave of the famous outlaw may have originated as an etiological myth, a myth of origins. It does not seem anybody was ever buried under the existing monument, but it is likely the original grave was located elsewhere within the priory grounds.
The garland version of the ballad of Robin Hood's Death (c. 1767) includes the earliest version of the famous death scene where Robin Hood shoots an arrow at random, asking to be buried where it lands. Although the ballad does not say so, it was a widespread belief that the Gatehouse at Kirklees Priory was the scene of his death. Several other pairs of localities are connected in popular tradition through arrows shot by Robin Hood and/or Little John. See the page on Places connected by bowshot.
Kirkley monasterium Monialium, ubi Ro: Hood nobilis ille exlex sepultus.
Kirkley Nunnery, where that noble outlaw, Ro. Hood, is buried.
This yere also king Richard was assoyled, [sic] of the rebellion that he vsed against his father. In recompence whereof (sayth Guydo) he voluntarily tooke vpon him and promised to warre vpon Christes enemies, but to speake truly, it was at the request of the Pope.
And this yere, as sayth Fabian, king Richard gaue ouer the Castelles of Barwike, and Rokesborough to the Scottishe king, for the summe of ten thousand pound, for the exployte of his voyage to Jerusalem.
And about this tyme, as sayth John Maior, in his Chronicle of Scotland, there were many robbers and outlawes in England, among the which number, he specially noteth Robert Hood, whom we now call Robyn Hood, and little John, who were famous theues, they continued in woodes, mountaynes, and forestes, spoilyng and robbing, namely such as were riche. Murders commonly they did none, except it were by the prouocation of such as resisted them in their rifelynges and spoyles. And the sayde Maior sayth, that the aforesaid Robyn Hood had at his rule and commaundement an hundreth tall yomen, which were mightie men and exceedyng good archers, and they were mainteyned by suche spoyles as came to their handes: And he sayth moreouer, that those hundreth were such picked men, and of such force, that foure hundreth men who soeuer they were, durst neuer set vpon them. And one thing was much commended in him, that he would suffer no woman to be oppressed, violated or other wise abused. The poorer sort of people he favoured, and would in no wise suffer their goodes to be touched or spoyled, but relieued and ayded them with suche goodes as hee gate from the riche, which he spared not, namely the riche priestes, fat Abbotes, and the houses of riche Carles. And although his theft and rapyne was to be contemned, yet the aforesayd Aucthour prayseth him and sayth, that among the number of [p. 85:] theeues, he was worthie the name of the most gentle theefe.
But in an olde an auncient Pamphlet I finde this written of the sayd Robert Hood. This man (sayth he) discended of a noble parentage: or rather beyng of a base stocke and linage, was for his manhoode and chiualry aduanced to the noble dignitie of an Erle, excellyng principally in archery, or shootyng, his manly courage agreeying therevnto: But afterwardes he so prodigally exceeded in charges and expences, that he fell into great debt, by reason whereof, so many actions and sutes were commenced against him, wherevnto 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 kinges subiects, and occupied and frequented 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 whosoeuer would bryng him quicke or dead, the king would geue him a great summe of money, as by the recordes in the Exchequer is to be seene: But of this promise, no man enioyed and benefite. For the sayd Robert Hood, beyng afterwardes troubled with sicknesse, came to a certein Nonry in Yorkshire called Bircklies, where desiryng to be let blood, he was betrayed & bled to death. After whose death the Prioresse of the same place caused him to be buried by the high way side, wher he had vsed to rob and spoyle those that passed that way. And vpon his graue the sayde Prioresse did lay a very fayre stone, wherein the names of Robert Hood, William of Goldesborough, and others were grauen. And the cause why she buryed him there, was, for that the common passengers and trauailers knowyng and seeyng him there buryed, might more safely and without feare take their iorneys that way, which they durst not do in the life of the sayd outlawes. And at eyther ende of the sayde Tombe was erected a crosse of stone, which is to be seene there at this present.
Gerardus Marcator in his Cosmographie and discription of England, sayth that in a towne or village called little Morauie in Scotland, there are kept the bones of a great and mightie man, which was called little John, among the which bones, the huckle bone or hip bone was of such a largenesse, as witnesseth Boethus, that he thrust his arme through the whole thereof, and the same bone being conferred to the other partes of his body, did declare the man to be .xiii. foote long.
But before the king tooke his iourney [to Jerusalem], great preparation was made for money.
22 jan. 1712-13
Robin Hood the famous Out-law was buried in the Nunnery Church of Kirkley in ye County of York. Leland. ibid. p. 53.
Kirkleys Nunnery, towards Wakefield, now in the Possession of Sir John Armitage. A very learned Writer seems to be mistaken, in calling it Birkleys where (says he) Robin Hood was bled to Death in the Time of King Richard the first. But if we believe Mr. Camden, it must be Kirkleys aforesaid, which he confirms, by declaring, that in the same Nunnery that genteel Robber had a Tomb over him; tho' others write, it was where his Arrow fell, in the Highway-side. This Story has been told me, That his Tomb Stone, having his Effigy thereon, was order'd, not many Years ago, by a certain Knight to be placed as a Harth Stone in his great Hall. When it was laid over the Night, the next Morning it was surprizing removed one Side; and so three times it was laid, and as successively turned aside. The Knight thinking he had done wrong to have it brought thither, order'd it should be drawn back again; which was perform'd by a pair of Oxen and four Horses, when twice the Number could scarce do it before. But as this is a Story only, it is left to the Reader, to judge at pleasure.
WRITTEN AT THE GRAVE OF ROBIN HOOD.
Here while I linger near the silent spot
Where Sherwood's hero slumbers in his grave,
O'er which the indeciduous yew doth wave
Its melancholy shade—a peaceful grot—
My mind reverts to days of monkish pride,
Which often trembled at thy bold career;—
Thou rang'dst, with comrades brave, the forest wide,
With well-strung bows, and slew the mountain deer.
The swift-wing'd shaft—sent with unerring eye—
The wild romantic scenes by thee past o'er, [p. 135:]
Long, long shall charm the heart;—but ah, I sigh,
'The age of Chivalry is now no more!'—
Long may this moss-grown stone*—this uncouth strain,
A brief memorial of thy feats remain.
[Note:] * This celebrated outlaw was interr'd in a sequester'd spot in Kirklees Park, about six miles from Halifax, and five from Birstall. The stone [...] is enclosed by a wall and a railing about ten feet in height. Several large yews and forest-trees grow contiguous, which give to the whole a very imposing and romantic appearance.
A clear rock spring, in a gloomy dell below the Hall [sc. Healey Hall], is still called “the Spaw," and often frequented by youths and maidens on May mornings. Hence some have imagined, that this Dene and its Spaw may have given to the river running hrough it the name of Spodden, or Spaw-Dene. Another spring, higher up, is called Robin Hood's Well, from that celebrated outlaw, who seems to have been the favourite champion of these parts, and who, according to some authorities, lies buried at Kirklaw, in the West Riding of York.
Such holy wells were, in more superstitious, if not happier ages, the supposed haunts of elves, fairies, and other such beings, not unaptly denominated the rabble of mythology.
"Nea arcir vir as him sa geud
An pipl kauld him Kobin Heud;
Sic utlauz az he, an iz men,
Vil Inglonde nivr si agen."
We must now turn our attention from the very general and enlarged view, in which we have been lately compelled to give the history of Tamworth, to subjects of more particular and limited interest. And this course of proceeding we adopt with the greater pleasure, as we enter into a ﬁeld freer from the dry details, which have demanded our chief consideration, since the period of the conquest. The ﬁrst point, which will occupy our regard, is one connected with tales and legends, heard with intense interest and gratification in the vernal days of childhood, and remembered with pleasure, when the winter of life has chilled the energy of youth, and hoary made the head. [p. 60:]
According to the common tradition of the locality, Tamworth and the surrounding neighbourhood were the frequent resort of the famous outlaw, Robin Hood. By the name of his butts, have ever been known the Roman tumuli at Wigginton and Elford. It has been suggested that they might have received this appellation, merely from their being the common archery grounds, where the people practised the noble art, once so highly prized in this kingdom. But, had it been usual for such places to be so named, every town and village would have boasted of its Robin Hood’s butts. There is not the least improbability in his visiting this place, as he so constantly haunted localities within about thirty miles distant. The extensive royal woods around this town would doubtless form a rich ﬁeld for his adventures. The tale, however, that he was able to shoot from one of these butts to the other seems to have been a modern addition, in order to account for their designation. It was in fact a total impossibility, as the distance is nearly two miles. The longest shot which Robin is recorded to have made, was when he was requested to exhibit his dexterity with the bow by Richard, abbot of Whitby, with whom he and his lieutenant, Little John, went to dine, most probably without waiting for the formality of a special invitation. From the top of the abbey, he and his companion let two arrows ﬂy, which fell, one on either side of a lane, not far from Whitby laths. The distance was about a mile and a quarter; and it must have been very considerably increased by the elevated situation which the shooters occupied, as the abbey stood on the summit of a cliff. This feat occurred in 1188. In memory of the transaction, the abbot caused [p. 61:] two pillars to be erected, where the arrows fell, on each of which was inscribed the name of the shooter.
We are, indeed, unwilling to lose the connection of Tamworth with the bold rover of the forests. He is the only malefactor, whose memory reﬂects no disgrace on those places, with which his name is associated. On the contrary, it has attached an almost sacred character to them; for the very crimes of the outlaw were rendered hallowed to succeeding generations. His constant opposition to the tyranny of the Norman lords and his principles of equality endeared him, in the strongest manner, to the Saxons, who formed the great mass of the population. For, according to the old historians, though an arch-robber, he was the gentlest thief that ever lived, and a man of unbounded charity. The opulent and noble he deprived of their wealth, to enrich the poor; and for the oppressed, he frequently obtained the redress, for which they vainly ought elsewhere. He was not destitute of the deep religious temper of those olden times, which inﬂuenced every action of life, and, however anomalous it might be thought, gave a peculiar tinge even to the commission of misdeeds themselves. The same source of all the reﬁned feelings, which characterize Christianity, gave him, in common with the rest, that generous and noble disposition towards the tenderer sex, so universal in the days of chivalry, whence it as descended to our times. For, according to the old ballad,
Robin loved our dere Lady;
For doute of dedely synne,
Wolds he never do company harm
That any woman was ynne.
[p. 62:] There has been much dispute respecting the title which Robin Hood is said to have possessed of earl of Huntingdon. His real name is conjectured to have been Robert Fitz-ooth; and the common-people, dropping the Norman Fitz, modiﬁed it into Hood. Robin might probably have been an alteration of Roving,–a title most appropriate to him, on account of the unsettled and wandering life which he led. All the ballads concerning him present the marks of changes in orthography, at different periods. If these opinions be correct, he most certainly was connected with the family of Simon de St. Liz, earl of Huntingdon. But in the old legends, he is often styled simply a yeoman. Thus one, entitled "a lytell geste of Robyn hode and his meyne, and of the proude sheryfe of Notyngham" begins
"Lithe and lysten, gentylmen,
That be of fre-bore blode:
I shall you tell of a good yeman,
His name was Robyn hode."
This circumstance has formed the foundation of one of the greatest objections, which has been urged against his having held the title. A little consideration, however, will remove the difficulty, in a very great measure. A yeoman he might have been; for he does not appear to have possessed any estates. It is probable that the family property was conﬁscated in his father’s time, in consequence of the rebellion of Robert de Ferrers against Henry II., in 1173. According to the collection, called "Robin Hood’s Garland," he was a native of Loxley, which belonged to the Ferrers’ family. He [p. 63:] could not have assumed the title until the death of John Scott, tenth and last earl of Huntingdon (also of Chester), in 1237. He was, at that time, an old man; and his deeds of renown were almost brought to a close. Hence the ballads relating to exploits which occurred previously to this time might rightly denominate him a yeoman.
But even supposing that Robin Hood were Fitz-ooth, his right to the earldom of Huntingdon was of a very dubious nature. It would rather descend with the sisters and coheiresses of John Scott, than pass to him. It is not improbable that he might have assumed the title whilst it lay dormant, or it was assigned to him by the people, rather than that he properly possessed it. In fact, without regarding any other point, he was incapable as an outlaw of holding it. But here we are entering so deeply into the wide region of conjecture, that we shall draw this part of our subject to a conclusion.
Bold Robin died when he must have attained an age of upwards of eighty years. The stone over his humble tomb, near the nunnery of Kirklees, in Yorkshire, still remains. It once bore this inscription, now effaced by time.
Hear, undernead dis latil [sic] stean,
laiz robert, earl of huntingtun;
nea archir ver az hie sae geud,
an pipl kauld im Robin Heud.
sick utlawz as hi an iz men
vil England nivir si agen.
obiit 24 kal. dekembris, 1247.
- Dobson, R. B., ed.; Taylor, J., ed. Rymes of Robyn Hood: an Introduction to the English Outlaw (London, 1976), p. 309.
- Roberts, Kai. Grave Concerns: the Follies and Folklore of Robin Hood's Final Resting Place (Woolsery, Bideford, © 2011)
- Smith, A.H. The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire (English Place-Name Society, vols. XXX-XXXVII) (Cambridge, 1961-63), pt. III, p. 5, referring to Greenwood's 1771 Map of Yorkshire.
- Greenwood's 1771 Map of Yorkshire; not seen, but cf. A. H. Smith, loc. cit..
- Jefferys, Thomas, cartog. The County of York. Survey'd in MDCCLXVII., VIII., IX., and MDCCLXX (London, 1772), sheet 7, row 3, tile 2
- 6" O.S. map Yorkshire Sheet 246 (1854, surveyed 1848-50) (at NLS).
- 6" O.S. map Yorkshire Sheet CCXLVI.NE (1894, surveyed 1888-92) (at NLS).
- 6" O.S. map Yorkshire Sheet CCXLVI.NE (1908, surveyed 1905) (at NLS).
- 6" O.S. map Yorkshire Sheet CCXLVI.NE (1934, surveyed 1930) (at NLS).
- 6" O.S. map Yorkshire Sheet CCXLVI.NE (1947, surveyed 1938) (at NLS).
- 6" O.S. map Yorkshire Sheet CCXLVI.NE (1949, surveyed 1948) (at NLS).
- Crump, W. B.; [Hepworth, Geo.]. 'The Site of Robin Hood's Grave', Yorkshire Archæological Journal, vol. 37, part 1 (1948), pp. 105-107.
- Hepworth, David. 'A Grave Tale', in: Phillips, Helen, ed. Robin Hood: Medieval and Post-Medieval (Dublin, 2005), pp. 91-112.
- Hepworth, David, ed. 'Appendix: written epitaphs of Robin Hood', in: Phillips, Helen, ed. Robin Hood: Medieval and Post-Medieval (Dublin, 2005), pp. 188-90.
- Phillips, George Searle. Walks round Huddersfield (Huddersfield, 1848), pp. 29, 46.
- Turner, J. Horsfall. The History of Brighouse, Rastrick, and Hipperholme; with Manorial Notes on Coley, Lightcliffe, Northowram, Shelf, Fixby, Clifton and Kirklees (Bingley, Yorkshire, 1893), pp. 198-205.
- Nathaniel Johnston's famous drawing of the slab formerly at Robin Hood's Grave is reproduced in most illustrated monographs on the Robin Hood tradition. The original is found in volume 16 of William Stukeley's MS Diary, among his papers in the Bodleian Library.
- Brentnall, Margaret. 'Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest', [Unknown British travel and tourism magazine] (1963-12), pp. 15-17, 58, see p. 58
- Stukeley, William; [W.C. Lukis, ed.] The Family Memoirs of the Rev. William Stukeley (The Publications of the Surtees Society, vols. LXXIII, LXXVI, LXXX) (1882-87), vol. III, p. 500 (item No. 130).
- Anonymous. 'Meetings of Antiquarian Societies', The Antiquary, vol. III (1881), pp. 226-31, see p. 229
- Harris, P. J. 'William of Goldsborough', Notes & Queries, vol. CXCV (1950), p. 150. Asks if there are any other references to the William of Goldsborough mentioned by Grafton.
- Kirklees place-name cluster
- Brighouse place-name cluster
- Places named Robin Hood's Grave
- Places connected by bowshot
- Place-names in Gest of Robyn Hode
- Robin Hood's Death
- Prioresses of Kirklees.
- See Wikipedia: Myth of origins.
- Leland, John; Hearne, Thomas, ed. Joannis Lelandi antiquarii de rebus Britannicis collectanea. Editio altera (Londini, 1774), vol. I, p. 54.
- [Grafton, Richard]. A Chronicle at Large and Meere History of the Affayres of England and Kinges of the same, deduced from the Creation of the VVorlde, unto the First Habitation of this Ilande: and so by Contynuance vnto the First Yere of the Reigne of our Most Deere and Souereigne Lady Queene Elizabeth: collected out of Sundry Authors, whose Names are expressed in the Next Page of this Leafe (London, 1568-69), vol. II, pp. 84-85.
- Hearne, Thomas; Rannie, D.W., ed. Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne, vol. IV (Oxford Historical Society, vol. XXXIV) (Oxford, 1898); see p. 57, and p. 56 for date.
- Gent, Thomas. The Antient and Modern History of the Famous City of York (York and London, 1730), p. 234.
- Crossley, Thomas. Poems, Lyric, Moral, and Humorous (London, [1829?]), pp. 134-35.
- Lewis, Samuel, compil. A Topographical Dictionary of England, comprising the Several Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Corporate and Market Towns, Parishes, Chapelries, and Townships, and the Islands of Guernsey, Jersey, and Man, with Historical and Statistical Descriptions (London, 1831), vol. II, p. 538, s.n. Kirk-lees.
- Roby, John. Traditions of Lancashire. Second Series (London, 1831), vol. I, p. 116
- Crabtree, John. A Concise History of the Parish and Vicarage of Halifax, in the County of York (Halifax: London, 1836);see pp. 310-11.
- Palmer, Charles Ferrers. The History of the Town and Castle of Tamworth, in the Counties of Stafford & Warwick (Tamworth; London, 1845), pp. 59-64.
- Lewis, Samuel, compil. A Topographical Dictionary of England, comprising the Several Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Corporate and Market Towns, Parishes, Chapelries, and Townships, and the Islands of Guernsey, Jersey, and Man, with Historical and Statistical Descriptions. Seventh Edition (London, 1848), vol. II, p. 700, s.n. Kirklees.
- See Stukeley, William; [W.C. Lukis, ed.] The Family Memoirs of the Rev. William Stukeley (The Publications of the Surtees Society, vols. LXXIII, LXXVI, LXXX) (1882-87), vol. III, p. 500 (item No. 130). For access etc., see Bodleian Library: Collection Level Description: Papers of William Stukeley.
Click any image to display it in the lightbox, where you can navigate between images by clicking in the right or left side of the current image.
Robin Hood's Grave / Walker, J. W. 'Robin Hood Identified', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. 36, part 1 (1944), pp. 4-46, plate facing p. 35. Public Domain. Repr. from J. Horsfall Turner, History of Brighouse (1893), p. 202.
Nathaniel Johnston's drawing of Robin Hood's grave / Walker, J. W. 'Robin Hood Identified', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. 36, part 1 (1944), pp. 4-46, first illus. on plate facing p. 43. Public Domain.
Robin Hood's grave slab / Thoroton, Robert. The Antiquities of Nottinghamshire: Extracted out of Records, Original Evidences, Leiger-books, Other Manuscripts, and Authentic Authorities. Beautified with Maps, Prospects, and Portraitures. 2nd ed. (Nottingham, 1790), vol. II, plate inter pp. 170-71.
Robin Hood's grave slab. See text in image / Walker, J. W. 'Robin Hood Identified', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. 36, part 1 (1944), pp. 4-46, plate facing p. 41. Public Domain.
Photograph of the spurious epitaph with faux Middle English text / Walker, J. W. 'Robin Hood Identified', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. 36, part 1 (1944), pp. 4-46, second illus. on plate facing p. 43. Public Domain.