The legend of Robin Hood has its roots in medieval English folk tales. The earliest known versions likely gained popularity through bards, or wandering musicians, who roamed from hamlet to hamlet. The first known mention of the folk hero in a manuscript was in William Langland's poem "Piers Plowman," written in 1377. The next known reference was in 1420. The earliest surviving poem about the heroic outlaw was written around 1450 and is usually referred to as "Robin Hood and the Monk." From the latter years of the fifteenth century to the middle of the sixteenth century, at least five editions of a Robin Hood poem, referred to as "A Geste of Robin Hode," made their way into print.
The elusive early Robin Hood was a yeoman who became an outlaw and took up residence in the forest. No details were ever given as to how or why he became an outlaw, but his conflict with a local sheriff was well known and further assured his reputation as a bandit.
Scholars do not agree on whether or not Robin Hood was an actual historical figure. Two Scotsmen in the 1400s mentioned the outlaw in separate documents, indicating that he was a real person who lived in the 1200s who may have been a rebel supporter of Simon de Montfort, who was defeated and killed in 1265. A third document by another Scotsman in 1521 suggested that Robin Hood and Little John were active in the late 1100s after Richard I had returned from his crusade and was a captive in Germany.
Theories on Robin Hood's true identity abound, but as time passed, the stories about the bandit changed. Originally said to be from the middle class, Robin Hood later gained social status: by the mid-1500s he was described as a nobleman who was committed to saving England from the barbarian hordes. Some scholars believe the name "Robin Hood" was simply a nickname given to all outlaws who lived in the forest and survived by eating the king's deer, as such events did indeed occur.