Albie’s input on this site regarding the history of Nottinghamshire and in particular Sherwood Forest has been invaluable. One of the many interesting topics he has raised is the ancient history of the Nottinghamshire village of Wellow. A while ago Albie sent in some great pictures of the May Day celebrations around its unique, permanent maypole by the village children. The tradition still remains to this day that whenever a new pole is needed, it is cut from nearby Sherwood Forest.
And it is the links with Sherwood and the legend of Robin Hood that make the ancient village of Wellow fascinating. In particular is the knight who owned the castle near the village. Today it is known as Jordan Castle, but Wellow Castle, as it was once known, was owned by a local Nottinghamshire knight called Sir Richard Foliot whose conduct had remarkable similarities with Sir Richard at the Lee in one of the oldest ballads of Robin Hood.
In the Geste of Robyn Hode (1495), the knight protects the outlaws in his:
A little within the wood,
Double ditched it was about,
And walled by the road.’
Jordan Castle, as it is known locally, was the inheritance of a Yorkshire knight known as Jordan Foliot who had served in the armies of King John. It came to him in 1225 and later was often visited by Henry III and his retinue when travelling north. Because of his hospitality to the monarch, Jordan was rewarded with deer to stock his park at his nearby lands at Grimstone. After Jordan’s death in 1236 his young son Richard Foliot (d.1299) was allowed to immediately inherit his father’s lands in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, followed in 1252 with a charter of free warren. This gave him the right to control the hunting of the beasts on his estates. In 1268 King Henry III granted Foliot permission to hold a market and fair near his castle at Wellow.
Foliot’s castle did match the description in the Geste of Robyn Hode very closely. It was a ringwork castle of the late 11th and 12th century and included a ditch, a wall of stone and lime, and a moat. It stood on high ground just outside the boundary of Sherwood and was probably the manorial centre of the nearby village of Grimstone. In March 1264 Foliot was given licence by the king to fortify and crenellate it.
In the Geste Robin is betrayed by the Sheriff of Nottingham after an archery contest. A hue and cry is raised and eventually Little John is wounded in the knee. They take refuge in the castle of Sir Richard at the Lee, who welcomes them - the castle gates are shut and they feast in safety. But eventually the castle is put under siege by the sheriff.
It appears that Richard Foliot also had connections with outlaws, in particular the notorious Roger Godberd and his partner in crime Walter Devyas. Godberd, a former member of the garrison at Nottingham Castle led a large outlaw band that had poached in Sherwood, murdered and robbed throughout Nottinghamshire between 1266 and 1272. He is often put forward by scholars as a possible prototype of Robin Hood.
The Sheriff of Nottingham, Reginald de Grey was given £100 by the Royal Council to capture Godberd, which he did ‘manfully’. In October 1271 Foliot was given power of safe conduct and ordered to ‘conduct Walter Deyvas charged with divers trespasses to the king.’
But Richard Foliot refused to do so and was shortly afterwards accused of harbouring both Godberd and Devyas and other wrongdoers. The Sheriff of Yorkshire seized his lands and as he advanced on Fenwick, Foliot surrendered both the castle and his son Edmund as sureties that he would present himself as a prisoner at York on an agreed day. It seems that Godberd, Devyas and the other outlaws, like Robin and his men, must have slipped away.
When Foliot appeared before the king at Westminster, he was able to give the names of twelve barons as guarantors for his behaviour. With that he appeared in the Court of the King’s Bench on the 13th October and the king instructed the sheriff to return his lands to him.
Jordan Farm near the site of the castle.
Trying to identify the ballad heroes and events in the Robin Hood legend is impossible. But there are some interesting parallels here between the historical evidence and the Geste of Robyn Hode. What is also intriguing is the location of the Foliot lands, first pointed out by Professor J. C. Holt in his ‘Robin Hood’. Apart from his properties on the eastern side of Sherwood at Wellow and Grimston, Sir Richard Foliot also held lands near another area with strong connections to the Robin Hood legend - Wentbridge. These places were in the valley of the Went at Norton, Stubbs and Fenwick. Barnsdale, Robin’s other traditional haunt; lay just five miles from Fenwick. This link between the Foliot lands near Sherwood and Barnsdale could explain how the legend was transmitted between his various households and the locations of the ballad hero were conflated. Holt put it rather romantically when he described how Sir Richard Foliot, ‘from his castle at Fenwick, on a spring evening, would see the sun go down over Barnsdale, no more than five miles away.’
Castles of Nottinghamshire... James Wright (2008)
On The Trail of Robin Hood...Richard de Vries (1988)
Robin Hood...J.C. Holt (1982 and 1989)
Robin Hood and the Lords of Wellow... Tony Molyneux-Smith (1998)
Robin Hood...David Baldwin (2010)