Robin Hood - Death at the Priory Gatehouse

Robin Hood - Death at the Priory Gatehouse Famous People Geography Medieval Times Social Studies World History Disasters

According to British ballads, and the "Percy Folio," Robin Hood (sometimes called Robin Longstride or Robin of Locksley) died a treacherous death.  It was, apparently, a case of blood-letting gone deliberately wrong.

In medieval times - and long before that - sick people would visit physicians who "bled" them.  What, exactly, was that process?  According to "A Brief History of Bloodletting," by Gilbert R. Seigworth:

Bloodletting is a procedure that was performed to help alleviate the ills of mankind. For an operation with a 3,000-year history, bloodletting has attracted little attention in recent historic accounts of medicine. Bloodletting began with the Egyptians of the River Nile one thousand years B.C., and the tradition spread to the Greeks and Romans; its popularity continued throughout the Middle Ages. It reached its zenith during the beginning of the nineteenth century, but had virtually died as a therapeutic tool by the end of that century.

What was it supposed to do?

Bloodletting was a method for cleansing the body of ill-defined impurities and excess fluid. The early instruments included thorns, pointed sticks and bones, sharp pieces of flint or shell, and even sharply pointed shark's teeth.

Robin Hood, as the story goes, believed he was dying and decided he should be bled.  He went to a religious person - the prioress of Kirklees Nunnery, part of Kirklees Abbey (in West Yorkshire) - who had experience in bleeding people.  That was also common because:

The physician and priest were one and the same since disease was thought to be caused by supernatural causes.  (See, Seigworth.)

In Robin's case, he happened to seek help from a religious person who was also his relative.  He did not realize, however, that she was angry with him (for opposing corruption in the church). 

Barbara Green, an expert on Robin Hood and Kirkless Priory, has written an easy-to-understand summary of the medieval legends of Robin Hood's demise.  Hereafter are a few excerpts from her booklet, The Mystery of Robin Hood's Grave:

The circumstances of Robin Hood's death are fairly well known.  Realizing he is dying, Robin decides to be bled by his kinswoman, the prioress of Kirklees, a woman "skilled in physic."  Will Scarlet is against this, but Robin sets out on the journey accompanied by his faithful comrade in arms, Little John.  On the way to the priory, they meet an old hag by a stream who curses Robin...

On arrival at the nunnery, the prioress takes Robin into the gatehouse and sends Little John away. She then proceeds to bleed Robin accompanied by her lover, the convent priest Red Roger of Doncaster.

Growing weaker, Robin comprehends that his relative has harmed, not helped, him.  Using a prearranged signal, the dying man summons Little John.  He has one last job to do, but he needs Little John's help:

When he realizes that he is dying Robin summons Little John to his assistance by blowing three blasts on his hunting horn.  When Little John arrives it is too late to save Robin, but he helps his beloved leader fire his last arrow from the gatehouse window, promising Robin that he will bury him where it falls.  Little John vows to raze the nunnery to the ground and put all the nuns to the sword in revenge for the princess's vile deed, but Robin forbids him, reminding his distraught friend that it was their code never to hurt women.

This image depicts the rear view of the gatehouse, at the Priory of Kirklees, from which Robin Hood reportedly shot his last arrow - then died.

Click on the image for a better view.

Media Credits

Image online, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.  PD

Quoted passages, from The Mystery of Robin Hood's Grave, online courtesy Barbara Green and the BBC.

Quoted passages, from A Brief History of Bloodletting" by Gilbert R. Seigworth, online courtesy PBS.


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"Robin Hood - Death at the Priory Gatehouse" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Feb 27, 2020.
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