Friday, 10 August 2007

In search of Roger Godberd

I've always been a bit obsessed with the whole Robin Hood legend. I've always lapped up anything, fact or fiction, relating to it (not keen on the BBC series, mind you), and I've gradually drawn a few, wholly unoriginal conclusions about it, which are that he's a composite character, albeit heavily based on real historical figures (maybe as many as three, maybe just the one).
Until only a few years ago, though, I had no idea that one candidate for the 'real Robin Hood' was a man called Roger Godberd, who came from Swannington, the next village to where I live, and who led a band of outlaws in Charnwood and Sherwood Forests in the years that followed the bloody suppression of the supporters of Simon De Montfort*. Since I found this out, I've looked everywhere for information on this man, with very little luck. All there is seems to be summed up on a few Robin Hood websites, despite there being absolutely no doubt that he did exist and was a considerable thorn in the side of the authorities. The thing is, there's no trace of him around Swannington, either. There are roads named after a giant called John Talbot, and little local legends about the Red Comyn, one of the Scottish noblemen who once owned Whitwick Castle, but nothing on Roger. Fair enough, 700-plus years are enough to have erased all traces even of a well-known local figure, but you could say the same about lots of folk heroes. When I lived in Bourne, South Lincolnshire, for example, which was probably the home of Hereward the Wake, every second business seemed to use his name. The same is true of Nottingham and Robin Hood, however much South Yorkshire might claim (with justification) that it is the real home of the story.
My search hasn't just been down to historical curiosity. A while ago, I started writing some poems about Godberd. Not really straightforward monologues in his voice, or pieces of historical narrative, but little scraps and fragments of writing, full of anachronisms and the like. It might be I never finish the sequence, and it's even more likely that no one else will ever want to read it, but it's fun, and I want to finish it. However much I want to fill in the gaps by letting my imagination run riot, though, I also need more facts, if they exist, to build the whole thing around. So, if by some slim chance you stumble across this page and happen to have a fund of knowledge about Roger Godberd, get in touch. I can't promise to make it worth your while, but what have you got to lose!
Anyway, here's what our old friend Michael Drayton made of the whole thing, in a little extract from Polyolbion, the masterpiece/folly that gives this blog its name.

*Leicestershire was firmly behind De Montfort - just days after his defeat and death, villagers at Peatling Magna, near Leicester, attempted to arrest some of the newly-empowered king's henchmen, claiming they were "going against the community of the realm". The only thing more remarkable than this highly advanced state of political consciousness among the the peasantry is the fact that they were merely imprisoned for a few months and fined, after a trial which, if not exactly fair, was certainly not a mere kangaroo court.


Anonymous said...

There is a book by Brian Beninson called "Robin Hood, the Real Story" available from Leceister Tourist info.


Matt Merritt said...

Hi Morgan.
I've got that book, thanks very much. From what I remember, it touches on a lot of stuff that I've seen confirmed elsewhere as regards Godberd. The only disappointing thing about it is that he doesn't provide any references, so it's hard to follow up some of the leads.