Robin Hood of the Lennox
WILLIE SCOBIE writes: As a small boy, living in Dumbarton in the 1950s, long before I had seen a television, I was well familiar with Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest from the screen of our local cinema – “La Scala”. In my mind’s eye, in those days, I saw Robin and his merry men living out their adventures in the little strip of woodland at Dalmoak, which surrounded the Renton road, just a mile north of Dumbarton. Curiously, I was to discover, in recent years, that during the medieval period some land in that very location had been dedicated to the upkeep, in Dumbarton Parish Church, of the altar of Saint Sebastian – the Patron Saint of archers. Nothing more, of course, than one of those pleasing coincidences.
In May of the year 1547 the Governor of Dumbarton Castle granted the sum of forty-eight shillings to “certain minstrels of the town and their Robin Hood”. We may take it that this Robin Hood was a character who had a role in the traditional May Day rituals. Indeed, legal measures to outlaw the inclusion of Robin Hood in the May Day celebrations were unsuccessfully attempted some few years prior to the Reformation.
But these are mere footnotes. The fact is that we do not even know if the legendary Robin Hood was an actual historical person or an imaginary character. Numerous attempts have been made to identify him, or the person upon whom his legend was based – none conclusively. There have also been conflicting accounts as to his “real” geographical sphere of operation. Sherwood forest has been, of course, his most famous hunting ground, but there are Robin Hood stories set in other locations.
In the Shakespearian era the writer Anthony Munday stated that the original Robin Hood had actually been the Earl of Huntingdon. This assertion, which became widely accepted, holds out fascinating possibilities …
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The Register of Paisley tells us that when Alwyn, Earl of Lennox, died in 1155, the Lennox came into the keeping of the Earl of Huntingdon. This was because Alwyn’s children were still minors and the King of Scots warded this earldom to his own brother David, then Earl of Huntingdon. Not until 1199 did Alwyn, the second Earl of Lennox, finally succeed his father. For some forty-five years, therefore, the earldom of Lennox was held by the Earl of Huntingdon. So, to be quite clear – the Earldom of Lennox was the responsibility of the Earl of Huntingdon from 1155 – 1199. This David, who was Earl of Lennox as well as Earl of Huntingdon, would have been Prince David (1144-1219) the grandson of King David I of Scots. David had a son, Robert, who is recorded as having “died young”… but we might know him as Robin Hood. So, Robert of Huntingdon (born circa 1180) was the son of David Earl of Lennox. Significantly the tales of Robin Hood are generally set in the years around the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries, when Robert would have reached manhood. The main centre of power in the earldom of Lennox was Dumbarton Castle, which had not yet become a royal possession. So, if Robert of Huntingdon, son of the Earl of Lennox, really became Robin Hood, it would not have been so unreasonable, after all, for at least some of his activities to have occurred within the earldom of Lennox – even close by Dumbarton.
The Church of St Serf
“Between 1208 and 1233, the Church of Cardross with its lands and fishings was granted to Walter, Bishop of Glasgow by Maldoven, Earl of Lennox. The church originally stood in the eastern extremity of the parish opposite to Dumbarton, and separated from it by the River Leven…” (Orig Paroch Scot 1850) “Thus in 1188 when Pope Clement III declared the Scottish Church to be independent of England, Dumbarton Parish Church… was one of fifteen Medieval Parish Churches in the Deanery of Lennox or Levenax, Bonhill, Cardross, Kilmaronock, Luss and Roseneath within the Sheriffdom of Dumbarton; Caldernock, Balfron, Buchanan and Inchcaillach, Campsie, Drymen, Fintry, Killearn and Strathblane within the old Sheriffdom of Stirling.”
(“Dumbarton Parish Church in History” Edward McGhie)
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Although there may have been an earlier Celtic Church presence, 1188 appears to be the earliest date of reference to Cardross Parish and its Church of St Serf. We must assume, therefore, that the mediaeval church, beside the ancient holy well of St Serf, was founded shortly prior to that year as a result of the zealous ecclesiastical reorganising influence of King David the First, who died in 1153. Surviving architectural features of the little church support this dating. The Parish of Cardross took in the land to the north of the River Clyde and the west of the River Leven. As indicated above, with the grant to the Bishop of Glasgow, it is almost a certainty that St Serf’s Church would have been established under the patronage of one of the earls of Lennox. So who was the Earl of Lennox at the time in question? None other than David, Earl of Huntingdon, father of Robert, our proposed Robin Hood! It is a probability that Earl David of Huntingdon actually founded St Serf’s Church sometime between 1155 and 1199. This is, of course, the very site of the subsequent burial of the viscera of King Robert the Bruce, the Hero King having died at his manor house, which was situated within the old Parish of Cardross. Why then, or how, did the Robin Hood stories come to be based predominantly in England ? Well, in the first place it would not be the only time that a legend was dislocated from its true setting. For example, King Arthur, who was almost certainly based in Southern Scotland, was “acquired” by the English and recreated in Wales and Cornwall. Also, some of the very earliest references to Robin Hood appear in Scottish, rather than English, literature. (Indeed, a quite plausible case has been argued for the Robin Hood character actually having been based on the Scots hero William Wallace !) Additionally, of course, it is reasonable to accept that many (or even most) of Robin Hood’s activities may have been undertaken in the English earldom of Huntingdon.
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William the Lion, King of Scots—————-David (his brother)
Earl of Huntingdon
(Keeper of Lennox from 1155)
Robert (David’s son)
born circa. 1180
To be quite clear, then – Robin Hood may have been the nephew of William I of Scots.
Note: “Alan McArkill, second Earl of Levenax, having accompanied David, Earl of Huntingdon, King William the Lion’s brother, to the Holy Land, assumed upon his undertaking that expedition, as a badge, a red St. Andrew’s Cross in a white field, which, with the addition of four red roses, became the armorial bearings of his successors.”
(McFarlane of McFarlane – antiquary of the 18th century – quoted in “Memoirs of John Napier of Merchiston”).
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The question remains, however, – Was Anthony Munday correct about the Earl of Huntingdon? Certainly many authors, cinema and television scriptwriters continue to think so.
If the answer is “Yes”, then we have the extraordinary revelation that Dumbarton Castle was a possession of “Robin Hood” (or, indeed, of the father of Robin Hood). Restated in the soberest terms – This is at least a reasonable possibility. Also, St Serf’s Church, the ruins of which stand to this day in Dumbarton’s Levengrove Park, may well have been founded (among other ancient Dunbartonshire places of worship) by that same legendary figure.
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So maybe, when I was a wee boy, travelling along the Renton road on an SMT double-decker bus, with the green-leaved branches brushing along its windows, I wasn’t so very far from the mark in sensing the spirit of Robin Hood in the woodlands of Dalmoak in the old parish of Cardross.
“David is a possible inspiration figure for the Robin Hood legend because the legend plays at the same time as David lived in the 1190s. Another similarity is the Earl of Huntingdon question, because a historian names Robin Hood as a possible Earl of that area. Also both had taken part in the Third Crusade and by 1194 David had taken part at the siege of Nottingham Castle where the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derby County was taken captive. His son Robert who died young was also a possible inspiration for Robin Hood.” (Wikipedia)