The Kirklees Connection -
And dyde pore men
Kyrkesly, Kirkleahs, Kyrkesley, Church Lee, Churchlee, Church-lees,
Churchlees9, Kirklees, the clearing with a church.
|Yet he was
Through a wycked woman,
The pryoresse of Kyrkely,
That nye was of hys kynne,
|Than bespake good Robyn,
In place where as he stode,
"To morow I muste to Kyrkely,
Craftely to be leten blode."
'Kyrkely' of the Robyn Hode ballad A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode
has long been thought to be Kirklees in West Yorkshire. The ballad collector
Child in fact used 'Kyrkesly' and 'Kirklees' interchangably without any corroborating
evidence. There is good reason to doubt this connection.
At Kirklees lies the site of an early Anglian church and a later priory
or "nunnery". Kirklees as it is known today was situated in the what was
the western division of the manor of Wakefield. In later embellishments to
the tales Robin Hood allegedly shot his arrow from the nunnery's gatehouse
window, just before his death, the arrow's resting place being
also that of Robin's2. This fanciful tale helped to build a mountain
on an already doubtful foundation. If Robin had shot the arrow from the
then the grave should be further north. The present grave site is some 600
yards away which is believed to be far too distant for a longbow shot, especially
uphill. Pointedly, some have claimed an upper limit of 200 yards for the flight
of an arrow from a longbow. If the hilltop had been cleared at the time of
interment then the grave would have had a commanding position looking eastwards
into Calderdale and this is probably the reason why it is so located, not
because of an apochryphal tale, requiring an as yet, unimaginably powerful
A = Nunnery Gatehouse [mostly Tudor] B = Former
C = Iron Age fort D = 'Robin Hood's Grave'
This indicates that the presently accepted burial
site on the ridge was deliberately chosen for its vista and position
rather than being chosen by an arbitrary and impossible bow shot. The
nearby earthwork as described on Ordnance Survey maps has been suggested
by some as the site of a "Roman encampment". However, little
evidence substantiates this assertion. It does not appear as a site
on the O.S. map of Roman Britain nor early Anglian times and is therefore
more likely to be the site of a pre-Roman British [Iron Age] encampment
situated in an elevated position guarding the entry to the upper Calder
valley. In this case it is likely that the inhabitants would have been
able to communicate with the British encampment at Castle Hill near Almondbury.
The site of this so called Tower Hill would bear suitable archaeological
excavation in its own right, as has occurred at Castle Hill.
In relation to the supposed site of the ballad hero's burial, "In
1795 The late Sir Samuel Armytage, owner of the premises caused
the ground to be dug a yard deep and found that it had never been disturbed"4.
It could be argued that perhaps the stone had been removed from an original
site nearby. This would appear to solve the arrow distance problem
as well as the lack of any skeletal remains and gives greater prominence
to the siting of the suposed grave. However, the lack of evidence for a body
renders the Corpus delicti of low quality.
The proximity to the grave of the pre-1815 "Kings
Highway", now a track, was mentioned in Grafton's Chronicle
|"The prioresse of the same place caused
him to be buried by the highway-side where he used to rob and spoyle
those that passed that way."
Grafton also states:
|"And upon his grave the sayd prioresse did
lay a very fayre stone, wherein the names of Robert Hood,
William of Goldsborough and others were graven. And the cause
why she buryed him there was for the common passengers and travailers
knowing and seeying him there buryed might more safely and without
fear take their jorneys that way, which they durst not do in the
life of the sayd outlawes. And at eyther end of the sayd tombe was
erected a crosse of stone, which is to be seene there at this present"
However this seems confounded later by the following in Camden's
Britannica, 1607 7 :
|"At Kirklees nunnery Robin Hood's tomb with
a plain cross on a flat stone is shown in the cemetery. In the
ground at a little distance by two grave stones, one which has the
inscription for Elizabeth de Staynton, prioress there"
In 1665 almost 100 years after Grafton had recorded these comments,
Dr. Nathaniel Johnston3 made a drawing at Kirklees
in which the Robin Hood grave slab bore an inscription which was
much weathered by the doctor's time:
* Some have supposed that this was Will Scarlet's real name?
Note that the crosslets on the Armitage
Coat of Arms appear to be taken from the purported grave slab of
Robert Hude. That Elizabeth de Stainton's grave is now in the priory
garden there is no doubt, so was one of the graves moved? Certainly
they now are separated and it is unlikely that an outlaw's grave would
be included in consecrated ground. The ridge position for the present
site of Robin's supposed grave is set amongst other gravestones,
perhaps this is a later cemetery for the laity who died at Kirklees
priory and were buried either side of the roadway. We can perhaps exclude
the Armitage family using this cemetery as they appear to have had
their vault at St. Peter's, Hartshead. There is a definite need for a
grave site map and list. Steven Hill's grandfather worked on the Kirklees
estate as a tenant farmer and left letters which described how he
ploughed a field and turned up some bones at the lower end of this
field. Sir George, the owner at the time, indicated this could have
been the site of a cemetery. Steven describes this site as being in
the field just below the wood before The Three Nuns. Barbara Green states
that part of a stone cross originally described as being part of
the grave of Robin Hood may be found in the cemetery of St. Peter's,
Hartshead and that the grave may have been moved during the English
Civil War.7 By the 1800's the grave slab [on the ridge?]
had been cut off by railway workers and later in the century the
grave was excavated [by Sir Samuel Armytage7] but nothing
was found. An iron railing fence on a low brick wall was placed around
the grave site on the ridge by Sir George Armytage. There are numerous
other stone crosses, empty stone coffins and sarcophogi on the same hillside,
nothing has been done to catalogue or conserve them7.
Three side-linked maps of Kirklees from
Map 3 [detail]
and conserve the site:
The site of the 1800's edifice purported to be Robin
Hood's grave is shown on the map at + The
grave site lies between 200'-250' above sea level near the S.E.
end of a spur or ridge of land. This spur has been given a very steep
S.W. slope by the lateral N.E. migration of the river Calder. This
steep slope, a formidable six foot wall, almost impenetrable undergrowth
and wooded cover have frequently sheltered the site from the ravages
of historic invaders, plunderers and later, cultists and souvenir hunters.
In an effort to protect
such a precious site, the present owner, Margarete Armytage has
maintained until now a stoical resistance towards the invasion
of tourists and other interested parties, although as the owner who
runs the estate as an agricultural business, she states that visits may
be granted by appointment only. The state of the grave in recent times
would indicate that it requires some urgent repair work.
Perhaps a more fitting investigation may be
caried out by archaeological excavation of the priory and its
foundations in order to determine, without preconception, the history
and function of this relatively undisturbed former religious site.
On the death of her husband, Lady Armytage sold Kirklees Hall in 1983
which now forms luxury residential units. Her new residence is on
the site of the priory and garden. Elizabeth de Staynton's grave is
now in the residence garden6. This "new site" is approximately
where the original Armytage residence at Kirklees was established in
Elizabeth I's time [Baines-see below].
The original priory cloister, church, garden and consecrated cemetery
were situated on the north side of Nun Brook. Any archaeological study
is likely to reveal more about the legend of Kirklees as the death place
of Robin Hood, rather than the area being used by local entrepreneurs
trying to make money from tourism or even, God forbid, a Theme Park. Please
leave the theme parks in Nottingham !
KIRKLEES HALL [Description from Baine's Directory of the County of York 1823]:
|"The seat of Sir George Armitage [Armytage],
Bart. in the township of Hartishead [Hartshead] with Clifton.
This place is memorable, on account of a Nunnery
founded here in the reign of Henry II. for Benedictine Nuns. After
the dissolution, the site and demesnes about the house, were granted
to the Ramsdens. In the 1st of Elizabeth , it became the property
of the Pilkintons [Pilkingtons], and in the
8th of the same reign , was alienated by Robert
Pilkinton to John Armitage, and in this family it has continued
to the present day.
The site of the Priory appears to have been inhabited
by the family during the rest of Elizabeth's reign, and an uncertain
portion of that of King James [1603-1625], when,
as appears from his arms in the hall, they removed to their present
more airy and conspicuous situation.
The situation of this Nunnery was in a warm and
fertile bottom, on the verge of a deep brook to the south, and
on an elevation just sufficient to protect the house from inundations.
A square depression in the ground distinctly marks the cloister court,
nearly thirty yards square. North of this was the body of the Church,
and eighteen yards or thereabouts, to the east, are the tombs of Elizabeth
de Stainton, and another protected by iron rails, immediately eastward
from which, the choir has evidently terminated. The nave, transept,
and choir, must have been at least 150 feet long.
Kirklees is also famous for being the sepulture
of the renowned Robin Hood, an out law and free booter, who lived
in the beginning of the thirteenth century, and who, according to
tradition, was suffered to bleed to death by one of the Nuns, to
whom he had applied to be bled. The spot pointed out for the place of
his interment, is beyond the precinct of the Nunnery, and therefore
not in consecrated ground. --Whitaker's Loidis et Elmete.
The following inscription over his remains, preserved
by Dr. Gale, Dean of York, Thoresby says, was "scarce legible,"
and Dr. Whitaker seems to think spurious: [various authors state
anywhere from 1500's-1700's- T.M.]
* Font size 10
type sourced from Camden's Britannia, 16077.
"Hear, undernead dis latil
underneath dis laitl stean*
Laiz Robert, Earl of Huntington;
laz robert earl
Nea arcir vir as him sa geud,
arcir ver as hie sa geud
Ne'er arcir ver az hie sa geud
An pipl kauld him Robin Heud;
An pipl kauld
im robin heud
Sick utlawz as hi, an iz men,
as his as iz men
Sick utlawz as hi an iz men
Vil Inglande nivr si agen:
Vil england nivr so
Vil england nivr si agen
Obit. 24. Kal Dekembris, 1247."
Obiit 24 kal: Dekembris 1247
Font size 8 type other
A statue of this renowned free booter, large as
life, leaning on his unbent bow, with a quiver of arrows and
a sword by his side, formerly stood on one side of
the entrance into the old hall. "
Does anyone have any knowledge of the whereabouts
of this statue? email contact
The date from the epitaph above puts the death date in Henry III's
time. The oldest reference to the above epitaph comes from
Martin Parker in 16318 who apparently saw it and gave
it a death date in the time of Richard I.
Parker gave the following rendition:
|"Decembris quarto die 1198, anno regni Richardii
Robert, Earl of Huntington lies underneath
this little stone
No archer was like him so good, His
wildness named him Robin Hood,
Full thirteeen years and something
more, these northern parts he vexed sore
Such outlaws as he and his men, may
England never know again"
The similarity to the epitaph stone now in the brick wall of the
"Robin Hood" grave on the ridge is strong, which may indicate
that the present epitaph may be a copy of this apparently earlier
version. The reference to Robin Hood being the 'Earl of Huntington' is taken
straight out of Anthony Munday's plays, there is no evidence that the ballad
hero was such, it being a later embellishment of the story.
Was the ballad hero buried here?
English folklore is an extremely colourful if dishonest portrayal
of historical events. One might surmise that the hero is purely
a character of The Geste, the imaginings of the ballad-muse based
on [a] real-life inspiration[s]. The Kirklees connection in the Geste
with Barnsdale seems incongruous. This connection is made in the later
verses of the ballad and is likely to have been added as an after thought,
perhaps by a different person to the one who began the tale. Why would Robyn
and Little John have travelled all this way from Barnsdale when there was
an equally suitable Cistercian nunnery at Hampole? It seems that the
person who completed the Geste was using his local Barnsdale knowledge
and shifting it to Kirklees. Why? Perhaps to avoid a legal suit or more
likely it cast, once again, dark clouds over the lands of the manor of Wakefield,
within whose lands the Kirklees nunnery lay. Scandalous behaviour in the
monasteries at this time was rife, and this helped move the spotlight from
Hampole to Kirklees, neither of which were blameless. The two nunneries were
in contact with each other for in history there appears to have been an
exchange or transfer programme operating between one Cistercian nunnery and
the other. This was probably carried out to move the scandal away from its
source. In the 1300's the prioresses were very busy covering up their in-house
scandals, something certain aspects of today's tabloid media would welcome
if only to increase the sales of their lurid efforts. In 1323 a nun, Agnes
de Swystane, was sent from Kirklees, for an unknown reason, to Hampole nunnery.
The prioresses at the time were Margaret
de Screvyn [Kirklees priory] and Margaret de Hecke
If the author of the Geste was resident in Burghwallis as we
have suggested elsewhere, then they were writing from the perspective of
a liegeman of the De Laci family or their inheritor within the honour of
Pontefract. The manor of Wakefield, under the Warrenes and Pontefract under
the De Lacis and later Thomas earl of Lancaster had been in constant local
dispute since at least 1317 after the 'abduction' of Thomas Plantagenet's
wife, Alice de Laci, heiress to Pontefract. There were plenty of persons
appearing in the Wakefield Court Rolls in the late 1200's and early 1300's
with names similar to 'Robert Hood' of Sowerby, Wakefield and Newton near
Wakefield. This allowed the author/compiler to again utilise the poor social
behaviour of the manor to castigate his local opposition whilst garnering
a name for his hero. When we feed in the name 'De Doncastre' of the later
verses we also see the use of an actual persons name, Roger De Doncaster,
who was most probably related to John De Doncaster, a local justice and
steward to the abbot of St. Mary's York and John the eighth earl of Warrene
in the manor of Wakefield . It was earl Warrene's knight who had Alice De
Laci 'abducted' and taken to the Warrene castle at Reigate in Surrey.
Thus it is considered here that from the ballad and the ballad only,
the notion that a non-historical character called Robyn Hode was
buried here, gained momentum and was greatly enlarged upon in subsequent
SOME TRIVIA FROM AROUND
Found on a British tourist site the following:
1. To be confirmed: "Easter 2001 to 1st October
2001. Tours of Robin Hood's grave at Kirklees in Yorkshire conducted
by Lady Armytage. Prospective visitors should contact Lady Armytage
in advance by telephoning 01484 713016. Important - The grave is
on private property and visits must be arranged in advance by telephoning
the above number" - One Foot on the Grave for the public!
2. In the list of Yorkshire sheriffs
there are named:
Joh. Armitage, de Kirklees, arm.1614
Sir S. Armytage, bart.1740
Sir George Armytage 1775
Sir George Armytage /Armitage,
Also a Welter Fawkes esq. in 1789 [This Fawkes name
is in the Fawkes Middlesex household which the Armytage's were
visiting during the1881 census]
These appointments would no doubt have spurred them
on to investigate the nexus between the title and the local stories
and structures concerning "Robin Hood" and "The Sheriff of Nottingham"
Did their titles also include that of the Sheriff of Nottinghamshire
as with some other sheriffs? [Note There was never was a sheriff
of Nottingham but there was a keeper of Nottingham Castle [constable]
and a Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire - the counties]
3. From : Bibliomania.
"Bow and arrow of Robin Hood: The [supposed] traditional
bow and arrow of Robin Hood are religiously preserved at Kirklees
Yorkshire, the seat of Sir George Armytage; and the
site of his grave is pointed out in the park".
This rivals Little John's bow at Hathersage Church
which was later moved to Cannon Hall, Cawthorne. The last I heard,
the bow of Little John was held by a laird in Scotland. Does anyone
have any more recent knowledge of this?
Steve who at one time operated the Hartshead web site says that
in 1938 his grandfather was invited to take up the tenancy of
Home Farm, on the Kirklees Park property. Steve's father recalled
a room in the old Gatehouse. This was a small room with a bed in the
centre, by the window to the right a small table with a candle. To the
right of this stood a full suit of armour beside which stood a bow
and three arrows. Ritson in 1795 mentioned, that Robin's bow and arrows
were preserved at Fountains Abbey. Thus it is likely that the alleged
bow and arrows were removed, perhaps by one of the new land owners. However
according to the ballad, Robin asked Little John to bury him with his
sword, bow and arrows.
A comparison of two images of the Gatehouse:
Note that Ritson's 1795 drawing [right hand image]
probably appears closer to the appearance of the original gatehouse.
Its form is essentially Tudor and may therefore have been extensively
modified over the period of its life ending in 1538. The gate can
just be seen between the left and right wings. There seems to have
been considerable modification to the right wing and the upstairs
windows of the left wing and the gateway seems to have been filled
4."The extensive family and estate papers of the Armytage family
of Kirklees Hall are already held in
Calderdale Archives, but an item recently received
refers to the very early period of Kirklees Priory. It is a facsimile
of a quitclaim dated 1234 by Sibil, prioress of Kirklees, to the
monks of Rievaulx Abbey, relating to lands in Harden, Cullingworth
and elsewhere. The small Cistercian priory of Kirklees was
founded in 1155. At the Dissolution there was a scattering of its lands
and possessions. The site of the priory was granted in 1544 to John
Tasburgh and Nicholas Savile. The Saviles were a noted family in the
area and much of the Kirklees estate was acquired by various family members.
In 1565 Robert Pilkington and his wife, Alice Savile, conveyed the manor
of Kirklees to John Armytage of Farnley Tyas, and the Armytage family
maintained possession until the twentieth century.
Note: A Margaret de Savile was at one time a prioress
at Kirklees. Her father was Sir John Savile who married the heiress
Isobel de Eland, relative of Sir John de Eland, the wicked Yorkshire
sheriff and John earl Warrene's steward for the manor of Wakefield.
See Elland Feud.
5. At the Heritage Web the following reference was found :
:" ARMYTAGE, G. ACCOUNT OF THE EXCAVATIONS
AT KIRKLEES PRIORY,
YORKSHIRE. Proc. Soc. Antiq. 21, (1),1905-1906.
14pp, 2b/w pls, 1 folding plan, £4.00"
6. Dr. David Hepworth of Huddersfield University has taken
photographs of the "Robin Hood" grave. His photographs definitely
look better than those taken in the previous decade although there
is some evidence that the best aspect has been portrayed.
Further recent investigation indicates
that the Kirklees burial site is a hoax perpetrated, knowingly or unknowingly
by John Armitage, sheriff of Yorkshire in the 1600's. Having newly acquired
the Kirklees estate from Pilkington and also having an interest in the office
of sheriff, he assumed 'Kyrkely' in the Geste to be Kirklees. From
this nucleus of conflation a hoax burial site was constructed to commemorate
the supposed outlaw's last resting place. This hoax has created a monster
in itself, not the least for the Armitage family, who whilst trying to
run a farming business have been inundated and bombarded with requests
for entrance to visit the site by the superficially curious and the downright
mentally unhinged. In fact the person who inspired the ballad hero is buried
far away in another county, lost, forgotten and profoundly uncelebrated.
1. Copeland,William., A Mery Geste of Robyn Hood,
2. Death and Burial of Robin Hood in "A Geste of
3. Gough, Richard., Sepulchral Monuments
of Great Britain,1786.
4. Ritson, Joseph., Robin Hood: A collection
of all the ancient poems, songs and ballads now extant and relating
to that celebrated
outlaw,1795, Reprinted E.P. Publishing, 1972.
also a facsimile reprint of the 1865
edition, Broomhead Publishing*. 2000.
* From Broomhead Publishing,
1, Cromwell St., Heaton Norris, Stockport, Cheshire, SK4 1LY
5. Email communication with Barbara Green who kindly
supplied information from the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society.
6. Green, Barbara., Secrets of the Grave,
Palmyra Press, 2001.
7. Ibid. p. 21.
8. Parker, Martin., A Tale of Robin Hood,
9. A late and framentary version of the death of
Robin Hood, preserved in the Percy
Folio Manuscript, ed. Hales and Furnivall, I, 53.
Other references if you can find them:
i] Pobjoy, Harold, Rev., A History of the Ancient
Parish of Hartshead cum Clifton, 1930's. Reprinted. in Ridings Magazine 1972.
ii] Pobjoy, Harold, Rev., The Merry Pageant of Robyn
Copyright © 1998. Tim Midgley, revised 11th September