Nottinghamshire ran under the same Shrievalty with Derbyshire until the 10th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Below is a tentative list of those early Sheriff’s compiled from existing medieval documents.
1157: Sir Robert Fitz Ranulph
1170: William Fitz Ranulph
1189: Ralph Murdoc
1195: William Brewer
1204-8: Robert de Vieuxpont
1208-9: Gerard De Athee
1209: Philip Marc
1224: Ralph Fitz Nicholas
1233: (April) Eustace of Lowdham
1233: (October) Simon De Hedon
1235: Robert De Vavasour
1236: Hugh Fitz Ralph
1240: Robert De Vavasour
1255: Sir Walter De Eastwood
1255: (May) Roger De Lovetot
1258: Simon De Hedon
1260: Simon De Asselacton (Aslockton)
1264: John De Grey
1265: Reginald De Grey
1266: Hugh De Stapleford
1267: Simon De Hedon
1267: (Michaelmas) Gerard De Hedon/Hugh De Stapleford
1268: Hugh De Stapelford
1270: Walter Archbishop of York
1271: Hugh De Babinton (Under Sheriff to Walter, Archbishop of York)
1271: (Michaelmass) Walter Archbishop of York
1274: Walter De Stirkelegh
1278: Reginald De Grey
1278: (Michaelmass) Gervasse De Willesford
1285: John De Anesle
1290: Gervase De Clifton
1290: (Michaelmas) William De Chaddewich
1318: Henry De Faucumberg
1319: John Darcy
1323: Henry De Faucumberg
1327: Robert De Ingram
1329: Henry Faucumberg/ Edmund De Cressy
1330: John Bret
© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007
Robyn hod in scherewod stod, hodud and hathud and hosut and schod
Four and thuynti arowus he bar in hits hondus.
This rhyme is scribbled in a manuscript from Lincoln Cathedral dated about 1410 and it is Sherwood Forest that is the backdrop to nearly all modern day productions of the Robin Hood legend. On a summer weekend approximately 40,000 tourists visit the remnants of what is now left of the most famous forest in the world, where, once amongst those beautiful woodland glades, its hard not to believe Robin Hood existed. But what was the medieval Sherwood Forest like?
In 1218 Henry III instructed a jury of knights and free men to set out and define the boundaries of Sherwood Forest. Its northern boundary was marked by the River Meden, twenty miles from Nottingham. From east to west it varied between seven and nine miles wide. From the River Trent between Gunthorpe and Wilford in the South, to Worksop and the River Meden in the North; from the Leen valley in the west to the Dover Beck in the East. The forest was roughly triangular in shape and occasionally there were slight changes to its boundaries, but during the thirteenth century it covered about 19,000 acres, (7,800 hectares) approximately a fifth of Nottinghamshire. Imagine the bird song! The name suggests ‘wood belonging to the shire’ and from ancient times Sciryuda, as it originally was called, had been divided; one part known as Thorneywood the other High Forest. The bounds of the Royal Forest of Sherwood were regularly perambulated.
Sherwood’s soil was sandy and infertile, consequently the trees, mainly of Birch and Oak grew to girth rather then height. It was this infertility that accounted for its survival as woodland. It did consist of areas of deep forest, but there were also large areas of pastureland and heath like Ashdown Forest in Sussex. But because of its red deer and its strategic position in the North Midlands, Sherwood was immediately afforested soon after the Norman Conquest and William I enforced the Laws of the Forest ruthlessly with savage penalties:
“Whoever shall kill a stag, a wild boar, or even
A hare, shall have his eyes torn out.”*
*Henry of Huntingdon (1137-1147)
Sherwood was a Royal Forest (Royal Forest covered one fifth of the land area of England at this time) and like many others it had its own laws, not based upon common law, ‘but solely on the kings will’. Richard Fitz Nigel in the Dialogus describes these laws, not based upon the common law of the realm,
“…..but upon the arbitrary decree of the king; so that what is done in
accordance with the forest law may be termed not ‘absolutely’ just but
‘just according to the law of the forest’.
The forest also are the sanctuaries of kings and their chief delight.
Thither they repair to hunt, their cares laid aside, in order to refresh
themselves for a short while.
There, renouncing the arduous, but natural turmoil of the
court, they breath the pure air of freedom for a little space; and that is why
those who transgress the laws of the forest are subject solely to
the royal jurisdiction.”
The term forest that we use today, did not necessarily mean an area of densely wooded land during the medieval period. Royal Forests usually included large segregated areas of wetland, heath or grassland, anywhere that was a safe refuge for the royal game, such as stags, harts and boars. In 1184, Henry I’s Assize of Woodstock was the first official act of legislation relating wholly to the Royal Forest. Forest offences would henceforth be punished not just by fines but by full justice as exacted by Henry I. No person shall have a bow, arrows or dogs within the Royal Forests. Dogs living near the forest had to be clipped, to prevent them from hunting. In each county with a Royal Forest there shall be chosen twelve knights to keep the venison and the vert. The twelfth chapter recommended the death penalty only for the third offence. There were two seasons for the royal hunting of the deer, November to February and June to September. But Summer was the best season when the deer was fat (or in grease).
It was the chief forester who had the responsibility of preserving the laws of the royal forest and in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries members of the distrusted and disliked Neville family held this post. The chief forester travelled the country holding forest eyres, or courts, in the different counties. From 1239 his job was divided and two justices were appointed, one for the forests north of the River Trent, one for those south. Sherwood’s forest courts during the early medieval period, were originally held at Mansfield where, between 1263-87 the average cases for trespass of venison were about eight a year. Illegal hunting was either quite small or, probably the efficiency of the foresters and verderers was poor!
At the king’s command, the chief forester protected the beasts of the forest, the red and fallow deer, the roe and wild boar. He earned a shilling a day and was permitted to have a bow bearer. Although the early Robin Hood ballads are deficient of any references to medieval forest law and its wardens, there does seem to be two allusions to this practice.
In stanza 9 of Robin Hood and the Monk, Robin Hood says:
But Litull John shall beyre my bow,
Til that me list* to drawe.
*that me list=it pleases me
And stanza 5 of Robin Hoode his Death:
And Litle John shall be my man,
And beare my benbow by my side.
Below the chief forester came the wardens, then the verderers. But maintenance of the forest and its game was the task of the ordinary, riding and walking foresters.
On Palm Sunday 1194, Richard I , whilst staying in Nottingham rode off into Sherwood Forest to enjoy two days at the royal hunting lodge at Clipstone.
On the 3rd March, Richard King of England set out to see Clipstone and the forest of Sherwood, which he had never seen before and it pleased him much and he returned to Nottingham.
John Manwood (?-1610) a gamekeeper, forest justice and writer during the reign of Elizabeth I, is said to have found, in a tower of Nottingham Castle, an aunciente recorde which he included in his Forest Laws in 1598:
In anno domini King Richard being a hunting in the forest of Sherwood did chase a hart out of the forest of Sherwood into Barnsdale, in Yorkshire, and because he could there recover him, he made proclamation at Tickill and diverse other places that no other person should kill, hurt or chase the said hart, but that he might safely return into the forest again, which hart was afterwards called a hart-royal proclaimed.
Clipstone became the principal royal hunting lodge in Sherwood Forest and was later known as King John’s Palace. It was probably built in 1160 and eventually spread over an area of at least two acres. In the first year of his reign, King John took up residence here and by the fourteenth century it had been extended to include a number of chambers, Kitchen, King’s Kitchen, Great Hall, Queen’s Hall, Great Chamber, Great Gateway, Long Stable etc. Part of it still stands today. During this time all the English kings hunted there, Henry II at least twice, Richard I once, John six times and Henry III made three visits. Between the reigns of the three Edwards, the royal hunting in Sherwood reached its peak. With five visits from Edward I, his son Edward II came six times and Edward III was the most frequent visitor with nine visits. But alas, no document survives of any of these kings meeting Robin Hood in the royal forest!
After Richard’s coronation, Prince John received Clipstone and Sherwood Forest, which was formerly part of the old estates of William Peveril. At the time of the Norman Conquest, Peveril had been granted extensive properties in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, including the High Peak and Sherwood Forest. But in 1155 the possessions of this family were forfeited to the crown and were administered on behalf of the monarch, by the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
Between 1212 and 1217 the notorious Philip Marc, High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, had custody of Sherwood Forest. Marc came from Touraine, just south of Loire and together with Gerard De Athee, Brian De Lisle, Robert De Vieuxpont and others, became part of King John’s hated newly imported foreign agents. He was later condemned like others in Magna Carta, but was never removed from his position as High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and Constable of Nottingham Castle. The protection racket passed down from Philip Marc and the successive Sheriff’s of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire was not stopped until 1265.
One of the well documented criminal bands that terrorised Nottinghamshire and hid out in Sherwood Forest from 1328-1332 were the Coterel gang. Their leader James Coterel was said to have recruited twenty members of his outlaw band from Sherwood Forest and the Peak District. It was said, he and his brothers rode armed, publicly and secretly, in manner of war, by day and night and committed acts of murder, rape and extortion. But la compagnie sauvage, as the gang members were referred to, also served in Edward III’s wars against the French and Scots and some even later served in the government!
In 1328 John, James and Nicholas Coterel with their gang, robbed Bakewell Church of ten shillings. Sixty inhabitants of Bakewell were accused of aiding and abetting them. Two years later it is recorded that Sir William Knyveton and John Matkynson were murdered by the Coterel brothers who, by that time had links with another equally murderous and violent outlaw band, the Folville brothers of Leicestershire.
Members of the Coterel brother’s gang included an Oxford don, bailiffs, chaplains, vicars a knight, a soldier, and a counterfeiter. An ally of this infamous band of outlaws, was none other than Sir Robert Ingram, High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
Who can tell truly,
How cruel Sheriff’s are?
Of their hardness to poor people,
No tale can go too far.
If a man cannot pay,
They drag him here and there.
They put him on assizes,
The jurors oath to swear.
He dares not breath a murmur,
Or has to pay again.
And the saltness of the sea,
Is less bitter than his pain.
In Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham was played by Peter Finch who, as part of a long line of famous actors in that role, brought a snide threat, to the villainous character. But what was the real Sheriff of Nottingham like?
In fact the first Sheriff of Nottingham was not appointed until 1449, well after Robin Hood is supposed to have existed. It was Henry VI who in 1448 gave Nottingham a Royal Charter that gave it County Status and from 1449 the Mayor and Burgesses had the power to elect every year, two prominent Burgesses of the two old boroughs, to be Sheriff’s. (For a short time in 1682 it even had four).
These two Sheriff’s of Nottingham were intended to replace the High Sheriff who had since the Norman Conquest been the representative of the king’s government in sole charge of Crown Law. From 1155 this High Sheriff inherited the old Peveril estates and was until Elizabethan times the kings officer and representative of both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. As the shire-reeve, the sheriff and his officials were responsible for dispensing justice in the county court as the highest law in the county, administering the king’s estates and collecting the income from the shire to pay into the exchequer. He also had to maintain a military force for the king. This power was very often exploited by many for their own financial gain. So it is this High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire who is linked with Robin Hood:
These bisshoppes and these archebishoppes,
Ye shall them bete and bynde;
The hye sherif of Notyingham,
Hym holde ye in your mynde.
Twice a year the High Sheriff made a tour of his county, where amongst many things he heard presentments of criminal activities. The sheriff and his bailiffs had to find and arrest suspects, which was not an easy task. If an accused failed to appear in court after four consecutive sessions to answer the charges he was outlawed, which up until the fourteenth century, meant he could be killed on sight.
When Henry II returned to England in 1170 after four years on the continent he commissioned an inquiry into the behaviour of his royal officials, known as The Inquest of Sheriffs. Almost all the sheriffs were removed along with their bailiffs after complaints against their conduct and accused of exploiting their power and maltreating the men of his realm. In Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, Robert son of Ralph was removed, William son of Ralph came in. Some of these sheriff’s returned back to power eventually and their political power continued to trouble later monarchs. During the reign of Richard I (1189-1199) Ralph Murdoc was High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
After the loss of Normandy, King John (1199-1216) removed many of the old sheriffs and began to appoint new foreign agents, in his attempt to regain his families lands and repay the debts inherited from his brother Richard. These new sheriff’s’ were mercenary captains that became more like royal officials with an expense account.
Few of these foreign interlopers were more hated than the family of Gerard d’Athee, Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire between 1209-9 with his notorious distant cousin Philip Marc as his understudy. Philip Marc was castellan of Nottingham 1209, had custody of Sherwood Forest and held the office as Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire between 1209-1224. His conduct included robbery, false arrest, unjust invasion of property and persistent attacks on local landed interests, both secular and ecclesiastical. As late as 1263 it was discovered that Marc had accepted an annual fee of £5 from the burgesses of Nottingham in return for his good will and the maintenance of their liberties.
By February 1213, feelings were running very high and King John summoned the sheriff’s to his side at Nottingham. Letters had been sent out stating that the king had heard many complaints, which have moved us not a little, of the extortion of the sheriff’s and their men.
The animosity felt for these foreign mercenaries later found its way into Magna Carta in 1215 and in article 50 of the charter it states:
We will remove completely from their offices the kinsmen of Gerard d’Athee………….Philip Marc and his brothers and his nephew, Geoffrey together with all their adherents, so that henceforth they shall have no office in England.
But King John defiantly re-appointed Marc as Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in 1216.
Well over a century later, the corruptibility of local sheriffs had not gone away and in 1330 many were removed along with their subordinates for their habit of empanelling the jurors and summoning jurors of their choice, procuring wrongful indictments and making false returns. Four years later John de Oxenford, himself a Sheriff of Nottingham, was outlawed for not appearing to answer charges of taking bribes and making unlawful levies.
The early medieval ballads of Robin Hood do not give a name to the High Sheriff of Nottingham, but we do not have to look far to see the candidates that provided the centuries of deep seated hatred and loathing and prompted the minstrels to create the stories about his arch enemy.
Lye thou there, thou proude sherife,
Evyll mote thou cheve:*
There might no man to the truste
The whyles thou were a lyve.
*Evyll mote thou cheve:evilly must you end
(A Gest of Robyn Hode)
© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007
When Walt Disney’s film, The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men hit the silver screen during its world premiere in London’s West End in March 1952 it joined a long list of movies based on the outlaws adventures, dating right back to those early pioneers of the motion picture industry. Here is a list of Robin Hood movies before the Disney magic:
1908/1909: Robin Hood and His Merry Men. Dir. Percy Stow. Clarendon Films. (Alternate Title: Robin and His Merry Men) Robin rescues a man from the gallows. (Silent)
1912: Robin Hood Outlawed. Dir. Charles Raymond. With A. Brian Plant. British and Colonial Films. Starring William Thomas? (Silent)
1912: Robin Hood. Dir. Étienne Arnaud and Herbert Blaché. With Robert Frazer, Barbara Tennant, Alex B. Francis and Arthur Hollingsworth. (Silent)
1913: In the Days of Robin Hood. Dir. F. Martin Thornton. With Harry Agar Lyons. Kinematograph. (Silent)
1913: Robin Hood. Dir. Theodore Marston. With William Russell, as Robin Hood , Gerda Holmes as Maid Marian, Harry Benham, James Cruze and William Garwood. Thanhouser (Alternate Title: Robin Hood and Maid Marian) Filmed with a static camera amid the cardboard Sherwood bracken. (Silent)
1919: My Lady Robin Hood. Dir. Jay Hunt. A Western. (Silent)
1922:Little Red Robin Hood. Dir. Joe Rock. (Silent)
1922: Robin Hood. Dir. Allan Dwan. With Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood, Enid Bennett as Maid Marian, Wallace Beery and Alan Hale. William Lowery as the Sheriff. United Artists/ Fairbanks. (Silent)
Fairbanks spent $750,000 on this movie, in which he produced, vaulted palisades and swung through the trees. It featured a specially built ‘medieval’ castle with a 450ft. banqueting hall. Alan Hale was to play Little John three times over 30 years.
1923: Robin Hood Jr. Dir. Clarence Bricker. With Frankie Lee as the young Robin Hood and Peggy Cartwright as Maid Marian. Philip Dunham as the Sheriff. The movie was dedicated to Douglas Fairbanks. East Coast Productions. (Silent)
1924: Robin Hood no yume. Dir. Bansho Kanamori. With Fujio Harumoto. Toa Kinema. (Silent) (Japan)
1932: The Merry Men of Sherwood. Dir. Widgey, R. Newman. With John Thompson, Eric Adeney and Aileen Marston. Delta Pictures.
1933: Robin Hood (Animation) Dir: Frank Moser.
1934: Robin Hood Junior. (Animation). Dir. Ub Iwerks.
1934: Robin Hood Rides Again. (Animation)
1935: Robin Hood (Animation) Dir: Joy Batchelor
1936: The Robin Hood of El Dorado Dir. William A Wellham. An unusual B Western. Starring Warner Baxter.
1936: An Arrow Escape (Animation) Dir. Mannie Davis/ George Gordon
1938: The Adventures of Robin Hood. Dir. Michael Curtiz and William Keighley. With Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Olivia De Havilland, Melville Cooper and Alan Hale.
Then the most expensive movie ever made by Warner Bros at two million dollars and interrupted by Flynn’s yachting trips. But, it remains for many, the definitive Robin Hood movie. The only part of the castle built for the movie was the portcullis, the rest was created by the matte process (by painting on glass).
1941: The Chinese Robin Hood. Dir. Wenchao Wu.
1941: Robin Hood of the Pecos. Dir. Joseph Cane. A Western with Roy Rogers and George ‘Gabby’ Hayes.
1942: Red River Robin Hood . Dir. Lesley Selander. A Western with Tim Holt and Cliff Edwards.
1943: Robin Hood of the Range. Dir. William A Burke. A Western with Charles Starrett.
1946:The Bandit of Sherwood Forest. Dir. George Sherman and Henry Levin. With Russell Hicks as Robin Hood, Cornel Wilde as his son, Anita Louise and Jill Esmond.
1946: Robin Hood of Texas. Dir. Lesley Selander. A Western with Gene Autrey and Lynn Roberts.
1947: Robin Hood of Monterey. Dir. Christy Cabanne. A Western with Gilbert Roland.
1948:The Prince of Thieves. Dir. Howard Bretherton. With Jon Hall and Patricia Morison.
1948: Robin Hood-Winked. Dir. Seymour Kneitel. Animation with Popeye as Robin Hood.
1948: Nu luo bin han. Dir. Pengnian Ren. Made in Honk Kong. A female Robin Hood .
1950: Rogues of Sherwood Forest. Dir. Gordon Douglas. With John Derek, Alan Hale and Diana Lynn.
1950: Trail of Robin Hood. Dir. William Witney. A Western with Roy Rogers.
1951: Badal. Dir: Amyra Chakrabaty. An Indian version of the legend. With Premnath and Madhubala.
1951: Tales of Robin Hood. Dir. James Tinling. With Robert Clark as Robin Hood and Mary Hatcher as Maid Marian.
1952: Miss Robin Hood. Dir. John Guillermin. A British comedy starring Margaret Rutherford and James Robertson Justice.
1952: The Story of Robin Hood. Dir. Ken Annakin. With Richard Todd and Joan Rice. RKO-Disney. (Alternate Title: The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men)
© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007
This is reflected in the fifteenth century ballad Robin Hood and the Potter, where Robin Hood dressed as a potter rides to Nottingham and sells five penny potts for the price of 3d:
Yn the medys of the towne,
There he schowed hes ware;
‘Pottys! pottys!’ He gan crey foll sone,
‘Haffe hansell ffor the mare!’*
Ffoll effen agenest the screffeys gate
Schowed he hes chaffare;#
Weyffes and wedowes abowt hem drow,
And chepyd ffast of hes ware.
*you will have a present the more you buy
# chaffare: merchandise
The screffeys gate (the sheriff’s gate) suggests the sheriff’s house, known in Nottingham as the Red Hall, near Angel Row, a manor house in the Norman borough of the town where Bromley House now stands.
Robin Hood’s links with Nottingham and its sheriff, go back to the very earliest surviving ballads. Robin Hood and the Monk, preserved at Cambridge University, is one of the most distinguished and oldest and has about 2,700 words. In the tale, Robin Hood regrets not having been to hear Mass for a fortnight, so he decides to go to Nottingham, only accompanied by Little John.
Whan Robyn came to Notyngham,
Sertenly withouten layn,
He prayed to God and myld Mary
To bring hym out save again.
He gos in to Seynt Mary chirch,
And kneled down before the rode;
Alle that ever were the church within
Beheld wel Robyn Hode.
Rising 126 feet, in the heart of the old Lace market, St Mary’s Church is the finest medieval building in Nottingham. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book, although a religious building was on the site well before the Conquest.
The original settlers around what is now known as Nottingham seemed to have occupied an outcrop of sandstone to the east. The earliest recorded name for what is now Nottingham is the Celtic, Tuigobacu, which means Cave Dwellers. (the caves were still being occupied during the medieval period). The modern name first appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 868 A.D: a Danish Army spent the winter in Snotta ing ham ‘a village belonging to Snotta’. The hame (home) of the ing (people) of Snot (The Wise). This original village seems to have been at the first point where the River Trent could be crossed safely.
Towards the end of the ninth century, Snotingehame was fortified with a ditch around the settlement, a rampart and a wooden palisade. In about 920 King Alfred The Great’s son, Edward the Elder built a fort at West Bridgford and a bridge over the River Trent. So the Tenth Century saw Nottingham become one of England’s new trading town’s its population grew to several hundred and the town’s western limit reached as far as Bridlesmith Gate.
After the Norman Conquest, King William ordered a castle to be built on the huge rocky red sandstone, on the site of the original Danish tower, to the south-west of the settlement. Sparing the local Saxons of the loss of their homes and property rights. It was originally made of wood and later re-built in stone in the twelfth century. Nottingham Castle remained outside the towns boundaries until the nineteenth century.
So a Norman settlement grew up around the shelter of the new wooden castle, leaving the Saxons largely undisturbed in their area around St. Mary’s Hill. For administrative purposes, two boroughs were set up, one French and one English, each had its own language and customs with a boundary wall running through the market place. To this day two maces are borne before the Sheriff of Nottingham, representing these two boroughs. The church of St. Peter was founded alongside St. Nicholas, both were in the French borough, whilst the pre-conquest church of St. Mary’s , visited by Robin Hood, was in the English.
Under this Norman protection in 1086 the two boroughs had between 600-800 people. The first of the Plantagenet king’s, Henry II commenced to re-build the castle and its fortifications around the town in stone. He also gave Nottingham its first Royal Charter in 1154 allowing the Burgesses (leading citizens) to try thieves, levy tolls on visiting traders and hold markets on Fridays and Saturdays. This charter also gave them the monopoly in the working of dyed cloth within a radius of ten miles.
The Market Square (the largest in England) quickly became a focal point of the town, it also had an annual fair and from 1284 Edward I permitted extra fair days and one of these days became what we now know as Goose Fair, when people from as far away as Yorkshire would come for the two day event.
During the medieval period, Nottingham’s main industry was wool manufacture. But there were many craftsman in the town and some of those occupations can be identified by the remains of its old street names, such as Wheelwright Street, Pilcher Gate, Boot Lane, Bridlesmith Gate, Blow Bladder Street, Gridlesmith Gate, and Fletcher Gate.
Because of its royal castle, Nottingham now gained importance. Almost all the medieval kings were visitors at one time or another. The importance of the castle is no better illustrated than by the continuous disputes over its ownership during the reign of Richard the Lionheart and his brother John. It was also under King John that the castle witnessed one of its most ghastly chapters, when in about 1212 he allegedly hung twenty eight young sons, of Welsh noble families, from the castle ramparts. Today, the area is still said to be haunted by the cries of the young boys.
As the power base of the midlands and the north, the monarch mobilized armies there, kept court, summoned councils and parliaments, or simply rode forth to enjoy the hunting in the vast woodland of Sherwood Forest that came to the edge of the common fields bordering the town.
The harsh laws of the forest were often a cause of tension and no more so, than in August 1175, when Henry rode into Nottingham in a rage accusing local people of breaking those laws. His son Richard I later set the cruel penalty for killing the king’s deer as mutilation by removal of the offenders eyes and testicles. The only authority in the town during this period was that of the king, via his chosen nobleman, the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007
Drawing his sword, the Sheriff rushed towards the outlaw leader, but Will Scarlet, carrying a forester’s quarter staff, sent the Sheriff’s sword spinning out of his hand.
The square was now filling with acrid smoke and undercover of all this, some of Robin’s men released the unconscious Scathelok.
From the steps of his house, the Sheriff watched the outlaws riding away and called angrily for his foresters. But the townspeople now began to show their contempt, by pelting him with vegetables from the various stalls.
“Drive the cattle out of the square!” He commanded. His foresters moved forward and attempted to force the angry townsfolk back. But the arrival of a grim faced Prince John dispersed the crowd almost immediately.
“Where is the force of a hundred new foresters you’ve been boasting about?” The Prince asked the stunned Sheriff.
“Throughout the countryside,” he replied, “gathering the tax money it takes to maintain them.”
“Meanwhile,” the Prince raged, “a handful of outlaws dare to enter Nottingham in broad daylight, mock our justice and shames us before the townsmen!”
The Sheriff paused for a moment, “my lord, I have been guilty of holding this Robin Hood too lightly. On the morrow, I myself will lead a full force against him. Before I return, I will rid Sherwood Forest of the outlaw and every last one of his band.”
But this is definitely in-tune with medieval society, as punishment of this kind was thought to be the solution to every criminal or social offence, from stealing to adultery and heresy.
The stocks, as used for Scathelok, were a very common form of medieval punishment and had been used from Anglo-Saxon times till the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1405 a law was passed that required every town and village to have a set of stocks. Normally they were placed by the side of a roadway or on or near a village green.
The offenders foot wear was removed, exposing their bare feet, which was considered a form of humiliation during the middle ages. Their ankles would be placed between the holes of two pivoting boards of wood or iron, hinged at one corner with a lock at the other. Unlike the pillory, the offender was kept in a sitting position with their hands either chained or free.
Often the person could be punished for many days or even weeks in all weathers, during the heat of the summer or the freezing winter, living only on bread and water and exposed to the often very harsh treatment of the local townspeople. Apart from being pelted with stones and rotten fruit and vegetables, punches, cuts and even urination over the victims body was very common.
They were abolished in England along with pillories in 1837.
© Clement of the Glen