Sherlock Holmes & The Mystery Of The Green Archer
A few years ago I wrote a tongue-in-cheek Sherlock Holmes mystery for a group of Robin Hood researchers. It went down rather well, so I thought I would share it with my blog readers:
It is only now after careful consideration that I deem it appropriate to write of this most unusual case. At the time of the investigation it was decided unpalatable to report and was therefore not published along with the many others that I have written in the Strand Magazine concerning the investigations of my associate Mr. Sherlock Holmes. But it is only right that the general public should at last read of Mr. Holmes’s discovery of England’s most illusive outlaw.
The fog had started to clear as I approached 221B Baker Street in the September of 1882. My professional work had taken me away from my friend and colleague Sherlock Holmes, but with some spare time at last, I was now very keen to make amends. Mrs. Hudson greeted me warmly at the door and showed me up the stairs, to the gas lit room in which I had witnessed the great detective at work for many years.
“He is with someone at the moment Doctor, a very important visitor indeed”, whispered Mrs. Bridges respectfully. “But I am sure Mr. Holmes will be pleased to see you.”
As I reached for the door, it was suddenly swung open and a stout, bearded gentleman came striding out and began to descend the stairs.
“I will be in contact with you in the next couple of days!” Called Holmes as the gentleman disappeared from my view.
“Ah! Watson, do come in,” greeted the detective, beckoning me towards the sitting room. "I have interesting news!”
Mrs. Bridges laid a fresh pot of tea at the table and Holmes sat back, cross-legged and thoughtful.
“Was the gentleman requiring your services Holmes?” I asked as I placed the warm cup of tea to my lips.
“Indeed Watson, it is a case of the most peculiar kind, in fact a considerable challenge,” he replied. With that Holmes sprang to his feet and commenced in pretending to fire an imaginary bow and arrow.
“What on Earth?” I chuckled.
“None other than Alfred First Lord Tennyson himself has asked me to take on this case,” Mr. Holmes gloated. “Our illustrious client states that he has grown somewhat tired of the continual fruitless debates, on both sides of the Atlantic, about the existence of the outlaw Robin Hood. The Baron says he has grown a fondness for our empires legendry bandit and as he was so impressed by the reported cases of my work, by your good self, in The Strand magazine, he has decided to ask me to try and solve the mystery of that illusive green archer once and for all!”
“But Holmes,” I stammered, “with respect, is Robin Hood nothing more than fiction, a mere fantasy, fit for novels and pantomime?”
Holmes turned and raked over the red, glimmering coal, making it crackle and spit in the hearth.
“Watson, very often than not, there is no smoke without fire!”
He walked towards his heavily packed bookshelf, tossing loose paper folders and files onto the floor. I rose to my feet and turned ready to leave, feeling that in a case like this the great man would be best left alone to begin his investigations.
“I suppose a train journey to Nottingham will have to be booked?” I asked anticipating a task for myself.
“Not straight away, Watson. Firstly I will meet you in the cafe opposite the records office in Chancery Lane at noon tomorrow.”
My journey through the rain drenched London streets in a hansom cab towards Chancery Lane was slow. My time was spent thumbing through a book by Joseph Ritson on the celebrated outlaw. It included some early ballads of the bandit and his idyllic life under the warm shady glades of Sherwood Forest. A far cry I thought, from the slate grey skies and grim terraced housing around me at present.
The Kirkby Coffee Shop was busy. There was no sign of Holmes as I paid my driver half a crown and entered; I noticed the only vacant table by the window and made my way towards it. After sipping an extremely hot coffee, I espied Holmes, hunched against the wind and rain, weaving in and out the carriages across the road and making his way to the steamy coffee house doorway.
I stood and called him over. He hung up his wet coat and sat opposite me, with a stern and troubled look upon his face. His manner was agitated.
“This is indeed a case, Watson, which will test me to my limits.” He sighed.
“I am not at all surprised,” I said, as I beckoned over the waiter. “The merry fellow has been probably dead some seven hundred years!”
Holmes put his long, thin finger to his lips very thoughtfully and then calmly said, “Indeed Watson, but although we are dealing with a problem of many centuries ago, the noble science of deduction can still be engaged.”
The waiter brought over two freshly made cups of coffee and Holmes sat staring out the steamy window to the gloomy, gothic buildings, which made up the Public Record Offices.
“I have met with a Professor Hepworth, curator of the place and he informs me of the work by the sub commissioner, Joseph Hunter whose findings are extremely interesting.” Holmes showed me a copy of Hunters book, published some thirty years ago.
“This chap looks quite convincing,” I said, having quickly skimming through the pages.
“A Robert Hood, born in Wakefield, outlawed after the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322 and in the kings service in 1324!”
The great detective looked me straight in the eye and said, “But my dear friend, Hunter could find no evidence to prove that the Hood from Wakefield and the king’s porter were one and the same. The suggestion he was ever outlawed is also unproven and the cause of ceaseless controversy.”
“But Holmes this is probably as close to the fellow as we are ever likely to get!” I deduced. But Holmes rose to his feet.
“Come Watson, let us depart!”
In his dimly lit apartment in Baker Street, Holmes and I sat upon a raw and foggy night on either side of a blazing fire in the sitting-room. The detective sat back in his chair with his pipe. His eyes were closed, deep in thought as the smoke swirled its way to the ceiling. I decided to make some use of my spare moments by trying to make some sense of my hastily penciled notes.
“William Langland is our first witness; he mentions rhymes of Robin Hood in 1377.” I muttered. “Langland was born in Shropshire. Then we have the great Geoffrey Chaucer hinting at him in Troilus and Criseyde three years later.”
There was no response from Holmes who remained completely still until there was gentle tap at the door.
“Yes!” He called very abruptly.
“Sorry to be bothering you so late in the evening, Mr Holmes," said Mrs Hudson, stepping in the room wearing her coat. “But I was just leaving for the night, when this gentleman came to the front door; he says it is very urgent.”
“Then show him in! Show him!” Exclaimed a now very animated, Holmes.
Into the room stepped a rather shy young man who was introduced to us by Mrs. Hudson as Mr. David Pilling.
“I have in this last hour just left the Public Records Office,” he said timidly. “My master, Professor Hepworth thought you might like to see this.”
He lifted up a rather battered briefcase and lifted out a blue envelope containing what looked like a medieval document and placed it on the table near the lamp. Holmes lifted out his magnifying glass and with the aid of the table lamp proceeded to read out the contents.
“It is a request to the king dated about 1322 from a Katherine Hod. It states that the king owed her father Robert Hod 28.8s 5d.”
Holmes excitedly moved his looking glass to the bottom of the velum manuscript.
“Look at that Watson!” He exclaimed. “This Katherine goes on to use the surname Robynhod.”
“This is indeed most intriguing!” I gasped. “She is using the name Robin Hood as her very own surname, I have never seen anything like that before.”
I must admit at this stage I was somewhat confused by all this. But for the first time since we had started the investigation Holmes seemed more light-hearted. He moved sharply to the door, placing the ancient document back into the young messenger’s hands.
“Mr. Pilling, your visit has been of great assistance to Mr. Watson and me. Please send my regards to Professor Hepworth." With that David Pilling nervously picked up his well-worn briefcase and left the shadowy room.
The next couple of days were spent away from the crowded streets of London on an arranged visit by Lord Tennyson to the beautiful county of Nottinghamshire. After a rather tedious journey by train we arrived in the late evening at a small but pretty tree-lined village called Edwinstowe. We lodged at an old ivy covered manor house known as Lees Cottage owned by the Nottinghamshire Councilor Cornelius Henshaw, which overlooked the church where Robin Hood is commonly said to have married Maid Marian. After a hearty breakfast the next morning we were joined by our client Lord Tennyson for a guided tour by our host.
The morning was crisp and bright. Edwinstowe is pleasantly set on the river Maun, it is a gateway to some of the loveliest haunts of old Sherwood forest. The four of us travelled on horseback with the golden crushed oak leaves as our path through the stunningly picturesque Birklands. Within a mile of the church we stopped at what they called the Queen or Major Oak. Holmes remained on his horse as the rest of us dismounted to take a closer look at this remarkable specimen.
"No one knows how many years it has weathered," said Councilor Henshaw. "But this monarch of the forest has a hollow trunk 30 feet round, strong enough to support unaided the mighty limbs which make a ring of about 260feet."
“Remarkable!” said Lord Tennyson. “Is this where the wily outlaw hid from the sheriff?”
“Indeed,” answered Henshaw.
“Shall we continue?” Interrupted Holmes rather abruptly, who seemed somewhat removed from the enjoyment the rest of us were experiencing.
We rode singularly through Silver Birch trees a mile and a half west of what is now called the Major Oak to Robin Hoods Larder, the remnant of another great oak in which Robin is said to have hung his game. Cornelius Henshaw once again alighted from his saddle to explain some facts about this tree. "The shell of three-quarters of its hollow is left, 24 feet round and still giving life to the green above. Near this tree, where the ways through the Forest divide, you will espy a charming one-storeyed Russian cottage."
He climbed back onto his horse turned and said, "Gentleman, pray let’s continue."
We made our way back past an old chapel where King John had paid a hermit to pray for his soul. Ahead we could see the spire and pinnacles of the local church with its 700 year old tower. Holmes was now lagging behind the rest of us and seemed somewhat oblivious to all that was around him.
It was at this lovely landmark that our journey was nearly over. Lord Tennyson, Cornelius Henshaw and I tied the horses, watched by a couple of carved heads of some medieval bishops on the tower arch. Holmes approached the small wooden church gate and dismounted. Then the four of us removed our hats and slowly opened the heavy oak door and entered the old church.
Councilor Henshaw and I sat amongst the pews to take in the ancient architecture, whilst Lord Tennyson and Holmes looked up at the beautiful stained glass windows.
“How is your progress with my case, Mr Holmes?” His Lordship asked tentatively.
“I believe, my Lord I am as close as I will ever be likely to get,” Holmes replied in a hushed manner.
“Perhaps then, you would be able to enlighten us to your findings”, said the Lord as he joined Henshaw and myself amongst the pews, somewhat excitedly.
“Then my Lord and gentleman, let me introduce you to Robin Hood!” Holmes said turning his tall thin figure around, so that his outline was framed by the brilliantly sunlit stained glass windows of Gabriel, Michael and Raphael.
“As you are probably aware, through acquainting yourselves with the written reports of my friend and colleague Dr Watson, my methods have always demanded a thorough investigation of all the relevant facts and witnesses. In this unique case, presented to me by my Lord Tennyson, this particular course has proved impossible. I was left therefore with the only avenue left open to me which was to engage the noble science of deduction on evidence that has survived the many centuries of destruction. My conclusion therefore rests on the chance survivals that have come down to us and I must stress my results are not conclusive.”
Holmes slowly walked towards the fourteenth century font, his footsteps echoing around the church and placed his hand upon the carved stone.
“Our first encounter with the tales of our illusive outlaw as you are all aware, gentleman, is in the writings of William Langland in 1377. But not, please note, in his earlier version, written about fifteen years earlier. The other witness to the evolution of this legend is Geoffrey Chaucer, writing approximately three years after Langlands last text. The only way I could find to unravel this case, was to find a common thread between these two giants of English Literature.”
“Did you find anything?” I asked.
“Indeed, Watson, the connection lies not here in the Midlands or in Yorkshire but where we started our search, in the narrow foggy streets of London!”
Lord Tennyson looked at Henshaw somewhat astonished.
“It was while I was waiting to see Professor Hepworth at the Public Records Office when I noticed a copy of an eighteenth century map hanging on a wall in his waiting room. It showed the division of parishes taken in a survey of Queen Hithe Ward and Vintry Ward in London. Upon the map it clearly showed a Robin Hood Court.”
“But many places are named after the popular outlaw!” Exclaimed Henshaw somewhat agitated.
“The connection with Robin Hood in Vintry Ward, Councillor, goes right back to the late Thirteenth Century.” Holmes said, detecting the unease amongst his listeners.
“Vintry Ward was one of twenty six wards of the city to the west of the Walbrook on the bank of the Thames, extending north to Cordwainer Ward, and bounded on the east by Dowgate Ward and on the west by Queenhithe Ward. The ward itself was apparently first mentioned in 1285 but was identified in 1276 as the ward of Henry de Coventry. By 1320 it was the second richest ward in the city of London. It was an area of wine merchants, who included Gascons and Italians as well as English.”
Holmes moved back towards the brilliantly sunlit stained glass windows.
“Enough existing historical evidence,” he continued, “reveals the obvious fact, that this councilor was probably the most popular, that the noble city has ever witnessed. So much so, that shortly after his death they took the then unusual step, of perpetuating his memory by naming a local Inn after him, Hostil Robin Hod. His daughter Katherine, in great honour of her much loved father, later respectfully used his whole name as her surname, Robynhod. An existing document shows that the Robin Hood Hostel is mentioned in a London Subsidy Roll of 1292. How many discovered Robin Hoods, gentleman, have we found in historical records that can be shown to have had the love and admiration of the common people?”
“That’s clear enough, Holmes,” said Lord Tennyson, “But where is the connection between Chaucer and Langland. William Langland lived in Shropshire didnt he?”
“That is correct my Lord,” replied Homes, raising his hand to his chin, “he was probably born at Cleobury Mortimer, but to try and beat back the dilemma of poverty, he came to the City of London, where his tall, thin, protesting figure was seen as he tried to eke out a living selling masses and copying documents. He ended his life in poverty. I am sure it was in those medieval London streets and inns where he would have first heard of and probably visited the tavern of Robin Hood, his knowledge of which he shares with us in 1377.”
“And what of Chaucer?” asked Councilor Henshaw,
“Ah! Now he is the most interesting witness of all,” Holmes enthused. “Geoffrey was the son of John Chaucer a Vintner. Geoffrey Chaucer was born around 1340 in Thames Street, Vintry Ward surrounded by wealthy European wine merchants and the aristocracy. It was here that he no doubt he continually overheard stories of the name bearer of the Robin Hood Hostel, which was on his doorstep. Chaucer was later to refer to jolly Robin in around 1380.”
“Remarkable, my dear Holmes!” I said as the pieces of the puzzle started to fit. But I could see that my other two companions were showing the outwardly signs of disappointment.
“But that does not explain the many ballads, legends and stories of his involvement with the Sheriff of Nottingham, Little John, Friar Tuck and Maid Marian,” Lord Tennyson said, with a deeply furrowed brow.
“As my friend and colleague Dr Watson will verify. My knowledge of literature and its evolution is inadequate, my Lord, but I will emphasize the fact that we are dealing with seven hundred years of storytelling. My case was to attempt to find the man behind the source of the entertainment. I believe I have found him.”
We stepped outside the church and the four of us climbed once again upon our horses.
“Not since Study in Scarlet have I come upon such a complex case, Watson!” Holmes said as he placed his firmly upon his head.
“Or so delicate,” I replied as I watched our companions returning to Lees Cottage.
It was during a sumptuous supper supplied by our good host, that I put it to the gentleman present that we should perhaps keep the findings of Mr. Sherlock Holmes classified for the present, which was unanimously agreed upon. The mood had changed by this time and the gentlemen were beginning to appreciate the importance of Mr. Holmes’s discovery.
“Even if Robin Hood did end his life in London,” said Lord Tennyson, looking out the window at Sherwood Forest, “I think these oaks at dawn and even or in the balmy breathings of the night, will whisper evermore of Robin Hood.”
“That summed it all up beautifully,” acknowledged Sherlock Holmes.
© Clement of the Glen 2008
Labels: Clement's Cogitation