It may be surprising to learn that among us are scholars who research, investigate, and debate the existence of a real Robin Hood. Academics have combed historical records for evidence, and while modern scholars have failed to turn up solid clues, medieval chroniclers have been tantalized by hints that he was indeed an actual person: English legal records suggest that, as early as the 13th century, “Robehod,” “Rabunhod,” and other variations were common epithets for criminals, and Robin Hood was regarded as a criminal (if you were the Sheriff of Nottingham). Historically speaking, there’s no shortage of candidates for the position, particularly when in some cases, certain pieces of a candidate’s life “fit” with what ballads and legends have alluded to for centuries.
We blame Harriers for having taken us down this rabbit hole, and this is a pun because the original purpose of a Harrier was to track the large, slow European hare. Hare hunting wasn’t just a popular sport in 13th century England, it was one of the few pursuits available to commoners. Without the need for many horses (or even one), anyone would follow a hound on foot. Moreover, ordinary people could add their few Harriers to a “scratch pack” made up of hounds owned by different people and still participate.
Sir Elias de Midhope developed the first Harrier, and packs of these dogs, initially called Penistone Harriers, existed for at least five hundred years and well into the 18th century. Midhope had owned a great estate around Penistone, and it was said not only that the pack was formed to prevent the ravages of wolves from Sherwood Forest, the Peak and other strongholds, but that Robin Hood and his merry men hunted with it.
That the Penistone Pack existed is beyond doubt, and to our knowledge, 19 Harrier packs are registered with the AMHB in the UK. As for Robin Hood, we want to believe.
Harrier image found on Pinterest and happily credited upon receipt of information