Thursday, 9 February 2017

Little John — The Good Outlaw? #history


Okay, we all know the story of Robin Hood and Little John. Little John was Robin's second in command. He was dependable, always there for Robin. They lived together in Sherwood Forest, and they were a champion for the poor.

But....is any of this true?

We have already talked about a possible real Robin Hood, but was Little John a real person, or was he a character from fiction?

"Robin Hood and Little John" — Louis Rhead.


Little John appears really early on in the ballads and stories of Robin Hood.

In A Gest of Robyn Hode, Robin Hood and Little John's adventures are recorded for the first time, and again In Robin Hood and the Monk, we learn how fiercely loyal Little John is to Robin. The stories are great to read, check them out when you have five!

A sixteenth-century printed edition of A Gest of Robyn Hode.


Little John is portrayed as highly intelligent and a good friend, who was a giant of a man — at least seven feet tall! Sound familiar?!

How did Robin and Little John meet?

Robin and Little John first meet on a narrow bridge. Robin Hood wants to cross the bridge, but John Little will not let him. They end up fighting with quarterstaves. John is an expert at this weapon and defeats Robin. The two of them talk, and John Little agrees to join Robin's band of merry men. Robin jokingly changes John Little's name to Little John — one can assume because he is so tall!


 Robin Of Sherwood ~ Robin vs. Little John

But is there any truth in the story. Was Little John real?

Historian, Michael Wood, seems to think so...

"It is a Kent homicide case of 1313, for example, that we first encounter one of Robin's best loved companions, when a real-life criminal John of Shrone is introduced to court with an intriguing alias: 'also known as Johannes Petit' — Little John..." 
  In Search of England.

Many believe. It is reputed that Little John is buried in a churchyard in the village of Hathersage, Derbyshire. 
Little John's grave in St Michael's Church graveyard, Hathersage.


So was Little John a real historical person or a work of folklore? I think that is up to you to decide.

3 comments:

  1. Ah, that scene from Rbin Of Sherwood! I remember that. It wasn't at all jolly, because John had been enchanted by the evil sorcerer Simon De Belleme and was trying to kill Robin, till Robin washed off his evil symbol...

    Yes, well. Robin had his early companions, just as Arthur's original companions were Cei and Gwalchmai aka Gawain. It doesn't make them real, just a part of the original legend. And of course, quite a lot of the ballads are on the theme "Robin meets a jolly tinker, weaver, potter, whatever, has a fight, is soundly thrashed and invites the man to join his band."

    But then again, if people were determined to give Robin and John graves, there must have been some belief in their reality, even if the graves were set up for the medieval tourist industry, like the graves of Arthur and Guinevere at Glastonbury. ;-)

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    1. Robin of Sherwood was great — a generation grew up on that!!And you are right, Arthur had his Knights and Robin had his merry men and yes, they are both tourist attractions, but if it keeps the stories alive...!!

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  2. Oh, and if Michael Wood thinks so... One of the best, most convincing TV docos I ever saw was his Trojan War one, pre-Tony Robinson.

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