Medieval outlaws: the real Robin Hoods

As Ridley Scott's film Robin Hood hits the big screen with Russell Crowe as the legendary hero, Hugh Doherty looks at the judicial process of outlawry in medieval England and examines what it really meant to be declared an outlaw

Seal of Robert Fitz-Walter. Leader of the baronial opposition against King John and one of twenty-five sureties of Magna Carta. Died 9 December 1235.  (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

This article was first published in the June 2010 edition of BBC History Magazine

In January 1213 Robert fitz Walter, Lord of Dunmow in Essex and Baynard’s Castle in London, was outlawed in the shire court of Essex. So, too, were nine of his men and accomplices, including a canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, Gervase of Howbridge. We know this because an inquest into the outlawry was ordered by King John in the summer of 1213 and the return was copied on to the close roll (a record of the king’s correspondence). The return recites the king’s writ ordering the shire court to summon Robert fitz Walter to answer charges of plotting the king’s death and betrayal. It also names the knights who delivered the judgement of outlawry and the names of those great men present in the court – the Earl of Essex, two other earls, and three of the king’s leading officials – when judgement was delivered.

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