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Robhoods of Walsham le Willows (links)

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2013-09-09. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2018-07-12. Information from Robert Lynley.

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Walsham le Willows.
Willows in Walsham le Willows (photo: Bob Jones)

"Robhood" is in evidence as a family name in Walsham le Willows (Suffolk) from 1283 to 1628.[1] By 1577 and probably already by the mid-15th century, "Robwood" had become the standard form of the name.[2] For other examples of 'Wood' for 'Hood', see the page on Wood for Hood. Entries relating to the Robhoods occur frequently in the local court rolls from 1317 to 1350.[3] The form found there is almost exclusively "Robhood" (or "Robhod"). This also is the form used in the first (1283) citation.

Below I include links to the known record references to the Robhoods of Walsham le Willows that use the form Robhood ("Robehod", "Robhode" etc.) and date from 1350 or earlier. I have made only one entry of a record citing the "Robwood" form of the name as these tend to occur later and have very little direct bearing on the early history of the Robin Hood tradition.[4]

While the evidence relating to the Robhoods of Walsham does not throw any light on the etymology of this rare surname, it is of considerable interest for other reasons:

  • some members of the Robhood family were also called "le Fenere", i.e. Fenner, during the first half of the 14th century (see under Alice Robhood below). This illustrates an important fact which some historians have sometimes forgotten: a person at this time could be referred to by more than one secondary identifier. We cannot really call the latter a surname at this time, for surnames only evolved gradually as words or phrases used to uniquely identify persons in contexts were this was required, i.e. records of payments, debts, crimes, land owned, services owed etc. etc. If two or more descriptive phrases could each be used to identify a person uniquely or at least with sufficient precision, that person can be said to have (potentially) had more than one surname, but talk of surnames is somewhat anachronistic when dealing with this period. The lesson to take away is this: a given person can figure in the records under a "Robinhood" type "surname" as well as another "surname" without one being his "real surname" and the other a "nick name". As names they are both equally real or, if you like, unreal. It is probably a fair generalization to say that the use of surnames started among the higher social classes and gradually percolated to the lower classes.
  • Robhood becomes Robwood. In view of Robin Hood's sylvan abode and later sporadic occurrences of the form "Robin Wood" ("Robin Whood" etc.), this is an interesting development (or vacillation). "Robwoodes" occurs as a field name in Newbury, Berkshire, in 1567.[5] No etymology has been suggested for this. Could it be a possessive of this form of the surname?
  • the Walsham le Willows court rolls for 1344 twice mention a road called Robhodway. It is of course nearly unthinkable that this should be entirely unrelated to the local Robhood family name. Of course, if the road name was inspired by the surname, any connection it might have with Robin Hood is indirect and dependent on any connection between the surname and the outlaw. If we had not known about the existence of people with the surname Robhood in Walsham le Willows, we should have been much more inclined to regard Robhodway as a bona fide Robin Hood-related place-name. This case thus provides a salutary warning against assuming a priori that every single place name that includes "Robin Hood" or "Robinhood" is necessarily named after the outlaw.
  • in view of the surname and the place name it is intriguing to find also in the court rolls what appears to be a reference to a Maypole at Walsham le Willows at a quite early date. However, analysis of the evidence has led me to conclude that the court roll entry in all probabability refers to a maple (tree). See below under the heading "Maypole or maple".

R. Robehod

R. Robehod (fl. 1283) is the first person we know of with this surname in Walsham le Willows. McLaughlin refers to him as Robert Robwood.[6], but the published record (see 1283 record listed below) cites the name as "R. Robehod", and as pointed out by Robert Lynley, there does not seem to be any record evidence citing his Christian name.

See the following entry:

William Robhood (I)

When the Robhoods of Walsham le Willows first appear in the court rolls, the first known Robhood, William Robhood, has died and we know of him only because entries relating to his wife Alice refer to her as "Alice, widow of William Robhood" or similar (see section on Alice Robhood below). I have designated this man "William Robhood (I)" as he is the first known person of that name at the locality. He may have had ancestors with the same name. The first entry relating to William Robhood (I) refers to him as William Fenner ('le Fenere'), a surname for whích the etymologies "huntsman" or "fen-dweller" have been suggested[7]

See the following entries:

Alice Robhood

Alice Robhood is referred to in the court rolls chiefly as the widow of William Robhood (I), but in 1317 she is mentioned as Alice Robwood.[8] The first entry relating to Alice Robhood refers to her as the widow of William Fenner ('le Fenere'), a surname for whích the etymologies "huntsman" or "fen-dweller" have been suggested[9]

See the following entries:

William Robhood (II)

William Robhood (II), was the son of William Robhood (I) and Alice Robhood.

See the following entries:

Peter Robhood (I)

It is not clear how this Peter Robhood was related to the other Robhoods. It is possible but does not seem likely, in view of the somewhat large gap in time, that he should be identified with Peter Robhood (II) below.[10]

See the following entry:

John Robhood (I)

John Robhood (I) died shortly before Mar 20 1365 (see 1365 entry below). It is not clear how he was related to the above Robhoods. He is referred to as a villein in the 1329 entry. He had six sons (see 1365 entry below): Robert, Nicholas, Peter, Walter, Richard and John (II).

See the following entries:

Robert Robhood

Robert Robhood was one of the six sons of John Robhood (I); see 1365 entry relating to John Robhood (I) above.

See the following entries:

Nicholas Robhood

Nicholas Robhood was one of the six sons of John Robhood (I); see 1365 entry relating to John Robhood (I) above.

See the following entries:

Peter Robhood (II)

Peter Robhood (II) was one of the six sons of John Robhood (I); see 1365 entry relating to John Robhood (I) above. It is possible, but not probable, that he is identical with Peter Robhood (I) above.

See the following entries:

Catherine Robhood

Catherine Robhood was the wife of Peter Robhood (II) (see preceding section).

See the following entries:

Walter Robhood

Walter Robhood was one of the six sons of John Robhood (I). The editor of the court rolls does not explicitly identify the Walter Robhood of the first (1336) entry with the person figuring in the subsequent entries, but they may well have been the same person.

See the following entries:

Richard Robhood

Richard Robhood was one of the six sons of John Robhood (I); see 1365 entry relating to John Robhood (I) above.

See the following entry:

John Robhood (II)

John Robhood (II) was one of the six sons of John Robhood (I); see 1365 entry relating to John Robhood (I) above.

See the following entry:

Agnes Robhood

It is not clear how Agnes Robhood was related to the other Robhoods. She married Walter Norreys in 1338 (see entry of that date).[11]

See the following entry:

Matilda Robhood

It is not clear how Matilda Robhood was related to the other Robhoods. She married William Cook in 1350 (see entry of that year).[12]

See the following entries:

Olivia Robhood

Olivia, daughter of Walter Robhood married Roger Prede in 1364 (see entry below). The latter occurs frequently in the records.[13]

See the following entry:

Robhood – without Christian name

The two 1318 entries probably refer to William Robhood (I) or William Robhood (II). It is debatable whether "Robhood" in the 1328 entry should be construed as a surname or place-name.

See the following entries:


In view of the uncertain etymology of the surname Robhood it is perhaps worth noting that there were in Walsham le Willows and its immediate neighbourhood from the late 13th century to 1354 at least two persons with another surname beginning with "Rob". R. Robetel figures under the township of Langham, c. 3 km SW of Walsham le Willows, on the 1283 Suffolk lay subsidy roll,[14] and a Robert Robetel occurs in the Walsham le Willows court rolls for 1327, 1328, 1332 and 1334, at which latter date he had died.[15] I have no evidence that R. Robetel of 1283 and Robert Robetel of the 1330's were one and the same person, but this is obviously possible. A John Robetel makes his only appearance in the Walsham le Willows court rolls on his death in 1354.[16]

Maypole or maple

The Walsham le Willows court rolls for 1318 include this entry:

Surrender: Nicholas Goche to William Chapman and his heirs, 1r. of land at the Maypole ['le Mapol'], granted to him to hold in bondage by customs and services, fine 9d., pledge John the Hayward; William swore customary fealty[17]

I feel fairly certain this is in fact a reference to a maple, i.e. a tree of the genus acer. If "Mapol" means "maypole", we note that:

  • the use of a maypole as a landmark implies that it remained in situ year round and had already been there for some time. I believe stationary maypoles are found mainly in towns and cities with less easy access to trees.
  • the reference antedates by several decades the earliest record evidence for the use of maypoles (under any name) in England.[18]
  • the reference antedates by 235 years the first use of the word "maypole" cited in OED2.[19]
  • the maypole, an object which served as the focus for communal dancing and feasting, was nonetheless located on or immediately adjacent to a piece of land used for agricultural purposes by its possessors.
  • the use of a capital 'M' in 'Mapol' might be taken to indicate that 'Ma' is 'May', the name of the month. Names of months are of course spelled with an initial capital in modern English, but this is by no means always the case in Middle English.
  • the editor of the court rolls, Ray Lock, supplied the exact MS reading in brackets, indicating perhaps that he felt uncertain "maypole" is the intended word.

Assuming, on the other hand, that 'Mapol' means 'maple', we note that

  • the word has been in documented use since at least as early as 1300, while the compound "maple-tree" is documented already in OE[20]
  • large solitary trees are conspicuous objects which due to their (potential) longevity make excellent landmarks.
  • spellings cited in MED are: maple, mapole, mappil, mapul(le).[21]
  • the use of a capital 'M' in 'Mapol' indicates that the scribe regarded the word as a name. Lock in fact assumes it is a name.[22]
  • at least one other tree in the area was regarded in this period as conspicuous and significant enough to serve, we might almost say, as an address: the court rolls contain a single reference to "Richard of the Peartree" and at least ten to "Robert of the Peartree", one of them occurring during the same court session as the entry on the "Mapol".[23] On one occasion Lock gives us the exact MS reading: "del Pertre".[24] Peartree Farm still existed in Walsham le Willows around the turn of the 20th century,[25] as did several other localities named after trees and plants, e.g. The Beeches,[26] Ivy Cottage,[27] Chestnut House,[28] Cherry Tree Inn[29] Four Ashes Farm, [30] Elm Low Barn,[31] Appletree Farm.[32]

Taking all this into consideration I do not think it would be reasonable to insist that the 1318 court roll entry is the first record evidence for a Maypole on English soil. If, as I believe, Lock is mistaken in reading "Mapol" as "Maypole", he is not the first scholar to make this mistake. In her 1951 study of maypoles, May trees and May customs, the Swedish ethnologist Mai Fossenius took for granted that a late 14th century boundary mark mentioned by Dugdale, the "Lostock-mepul" was a maypole,[33] but a natural object such as a large maple tree makes a rather better boundary mark than a manmade, moveable one, and although little is downright impossible in Middle English "orthography", "me" would be a somewhat unusual spelling for the name of the month.




Also see


  1. See entry: 1283 - R Robehod of Walsham le Willows; Dodd, Kenneth Melton, ed. The Field Book of Walsham-le-Willows 1577 (Suffolk Records Society, vol. XVII) ([Ipswich], 1974), p. 165, s.n. 'Robwood, John'; p. 166, s.n. 'Robwood, John'; Lock, Ray, ed.; Bailey, Mark, general ed. The Court Rolls of Walsham le Willows 1303-1350 (Suffolk Records Society, vol. XLI) (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1998), p. 355, s.n. 'Robhood'; McLaughlin, Audrey. 'The Beeches and it’s Occupants', Walsham Village History Group Quarterly Review, No,. 16 (January 2001).
  2. Dodd. op. cit., p. 165, s.n. 'Robwood, John', and p. 166, s.n. 'Robwood, John'.
  3. Lock. op. cit., pp. 59, 334, and as per index of persons, p. 355.
  4. Several references to John Robwoods are found in McLaughlin, Audrey. 'After the Plague', Walsham Village History Group Quarterly Review, No,. 32 (January 2005); Turner, James. 'Mary Martin – A Seven Year Old Apprentice', Walsham Village History Group Quarterly Review, No,. 13 (April 2002); McLaughlin, Audrey. 'The Early History of The Six Bells (medieval name Fullers)', Walsham Village History Group Quarterly Review, No,. 29 (April 2004).
  5. Gelling, Margaret. The Place-Names of Berkshire (English Place-Name Society, vols. XLIX-LI) (Cambridge, 1973; [s.l.], 1974-76), pt. I, p. 261, and I, 257 for parish.
  6. op. cit.
  7. Lock. op. cit., p. 56 [item 6] and n. 10.
  8. See page on the record entry 1317 - William Robhood of Walsham le Willows (1).
  9. Lock. op.cit., p. 56 [item 6] and n. 10.
  10. Lock. op. cit. inadvertently omits Peter Robhood from the index of persons (p. 355).
  11. For this Walter Norreys, see Lock. op. cit., p. 352, s.n. 'Noreys, Walter' [1]. There are no further entries relating to Agnes Robhood in the court rolls; the 'Noreys, Agnes' listed in the index, Lock. op. cit., p. 352, is a distinct person.
  12. This William Cook occurs frequently in the court rolls; see Lock. op. cit., p. 344, s.n. 'Cook, William(2)' [sic].
  13. See Lock. op. cit., p. 221, s.n. 'Prede, Roger'.
  14. Powell, Edgar, ed. A Suffolk Hundred in the Year 1283 (Cambridge, 1910), table 20 (skin 8).
  15. Lock. op. cit., pp. 103, 116, 148, 168.
  16. Lock (2002), p. 40.
  17. Lock. op. cit., p. 68. "1r." is one rood, i.e. one quarter of an acre.
  18. See Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun (Oxford and New York, 1996), pp. 233, for the earliest evidence of maypoles in England.
  19. OED2, s.n. maypole, 1. There are no occurrences in MED, s.n. Mai (n.2). The latter dictionary has no entry for the compound "maypole".
  20. MED, s.n. māpel (n.)
  21. loc. cit. IRHB's italics.
  22. Lock's index of places has a reference to the passage under 'Maypole' (p. 65), but it is not found under 'Trees' in the index of subjects (p. 373). No occurrence of a word denoting a (kind of) tree, as per index of subjects, p. 373, s.n. "Trees", has a capital first letter.
  23. Lock. op. cit., index of persons, p. 353 s.nn. "Peartree, Richard of the", "Peartree, Robert of the".
  24. Lock. op. cit., p. 64 (17 Jan. 1318, item [1])
  25. 6" O.S. map Suffolk Sheet XXXV.NW (1905, rev. 1903) (at NLS).
  26. 6" O.S. map Suffolk Sheet XXXV.NW (1885, surveyed 1885) (at NLS).
  27. Ibid.
  28. Ibid.
  29. 6" O.S. map Suffolk Sheet XXXV.NW (1885, surveyed 1885) (at NLS).
  30. 6" O.S. map Suffolk Sheet XXXV.SW (1885, surveyed 1884) (at NLS).
  31. 6" O.S. map Suffolk Sheet XXXV.SW (1905, rev. 1903) (at NLS).
  32. Ibid.; also showing Peartree Farm
  33. Fossenius, Mai. Majgren Majträd Majstång: En Etnologisk-Kulturhistorisk Studie (Lund, 1951), p. 90. Fossenius's italics.