ROBERT III BUTLER OF SKELBROOKE, YORKSHIRE
A CRIMINAL OPERATING IN BARNSDALE IN THE 1290's
Following twelve years of research into the ballad character of 'Robin Hood', it emerged that the folkloric character seemed at first a creation of a fertile imagination. Even the name Robyn Hode [Robin Hood] was found to have originated from what is now recognised as a cryptic political song A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode. This observation alone explains the difficulty of identifying such a person with this epithet and has confounded many genuine researchers looking for an historical inspiration for the ballad character.
However there was a real person living in Skelbrooke in an area commonly called 'Barnsdale' upon whom the character of the ballads at first appears to have been conceived. This young man was convicted of a number of heinous crimes in the Barnsdale area in the late 1200's. From research of the local families it has been recognised that they were not only understandably in direct contact with each other, but to some extent intermarried. This is important because in a culture of criminality, these families operated within a closed network.
Probably the most important name in the grouping is FitzWilliam of Emley and Sprotbrough. It is speculated that a member of the Le Waleys [Wallis/Walleis/Wallace] family authored the Geste. This person was possibly Sir Stephen II Waleys of Burghwallis [d.1347] a descendant of Sir Richard I Le Waleys the first rector of Burgh [Wallis] whose son Sir Stephen I is thought to be the cousin to Robert III Butler of Skelbrooke, a plunderer and murderer from 'Barnsdale. Burghwallis is a village alongside the Great North Road near Skelbrooke, what in the Geste was called 'Watling Street'.
The FitzWilliam family was anciently seated at Emley and gained Sprotborough by marriage with the De Lizours line. In the next generation the line of Plantagenet from Hamelyn Plantagenet [b ~1129] of nearby Conisbrough Castle was married to that of the FitzWilliams. Hamelyn was an illegitimate son of Geoffrey of Anjou and probably Adela [Ela] Talvas, Geoffrey of Anjou's concubine, for we see this first name in Adela Plantagenet, one of Hamelyn's daughters.
Adela Plantagenet was Robert III Butler's great grandmother whilst Hamelyn Plantagenet and Isabel De Warrene were Robert's great x 2 grandfather and grandmother who were buried far away from South Yorkshire in the Chapter House at Lewes, Sussex. Hamelyn was thus a half brother to Henri Curtmantel, one of the Norman Angevin Kings of England. Two generations later Robert II Butler of Skelbrooke appears to have been married to Agnes FitzWilliam. Their union produced Robert III Butler of Skelbrooke. This line of noble descent supports the ideas that developed in the 1500's that 'Robyn Hode' was born of the nobility [i.e. Agnes FitzWilliam] who descended from Geoffrey of Anjou through the illegitimate Hamelyn Plantagenet of Conisbrough to his daughter Adela Plantagenet [alias Ela De Warrene]. Adela Plantagenet married Sir William FitzWilliam who descended from Charlemagne, these two were Robert III Butler's great-grandparents.
Thomas FitzWilliam [b 1205-9, d 1266] is identified as Robert III Butler's maternal grandfather. We have a reasonable amount of knowledge about Thomas for it is likely to be his Purbeck marble effigy which is found in Blyth Chapel, just across the South Yorkshire boundary in Nottinghamshire. This effigy is dated to before 1240.1
Image source : http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/articles/tts/tts1924/effigies/effigies1.htm
showing early FitzWilliam arms Lozengy argent and gules.
In Yorkshire, Thomas is known to have held lands at Woodhall, Darfield and Barnborough besides Emley, Hampole and Sprotborough. His father,William, who married Adela Plantagenet [Warrene] probably started the line of hereditary stewards to the Lords of Conisborough. Thomas was granted a free wareren at Plumtree, Nottinghamshire, held lands at Harworth near and other lands near Blyth [Notts.] and was probably taken prisoner at the Battle of Chesterfield in 1266.2
"It is not carved like later effigies to stand out from the base slab, but is worked to only about half the usual depth. Unfortunately the effigy is in a sadly dilapidated condition, but when perfect the knight lay within a canopy, consisting of an arch over the head and shafts with moulded capitals and bases at the sides. The legs have not been crossed, and the feet, to which spurs were attached, rest on two grotesque beasts. The sword lies diagonally underneath the shield, which is placed directly in front of the body and covers almost the whole of the upper part. The position of the arms is difficult to determine, but perhaps the right lay down that side whilst the left was bent upwards under the shield. The surcoat is short and both it and the shield are charged with the knight’s arms—lozengy. To find the surcoat thus ornamented with coat armour at this early date is very unusual and the writers cannot recall a parallel instance. Another point of exceptional interest is that the figure is depicted wearing a heaume, which completely covers the head and face... The heaume at Blyth is flat-topped and belongs to a type which appears to have come into use in the reign of Richard I and continued for about fifty years. There can be no doubt that it represents a member of the great South Yorkshire family of Fitzwilliam, whose arms were lozengy argent and gules. Roger [of Woodhall, Darfield], younger son of Sir Thomas Fitzwilliam, was living about this time at Braithwell, which though in Yorkshire is no great distance from Blyth."1
The film, 'Robin Hood' appears to be once again falsely associated with Richard I 'Coeur de Lion' and the often maligned King John. It is directed by The Englishman, Ridley Scott and the script, as with the film of 'A Knights Tale', is written by Brian Helgeland but again, it is without any historical basis whatsoever. The false trail perpetrated by the film industry continues ever such.
descendant of Henry II's father we might recognise
some of the qualities of Henry in Robert Butler :
Footnote: In our search for a real person who modelled for the ballad character Robyn Hode, we may look to the criminal network of the 1290's in the Barnsdale area exposed by the trial of Robert III Butler of Skelbrooke. Skelbrooke is situated near where the vill of Barnsdale was sited at Barnsdale Bar, now marked by a round-about for the A1. However, further research leads us on to a far greater well-spring, the findings of which I hope to publish in the near future.