Guest writer KAI ROBERTS, author of Grave Concerns: The Follies and Folklore of Robin Hood’s Final Resting Place, explains why it is so hard to nail down where the historical outlaw is actually buried
Whilst most people today associate the legendary outlaw Robin Hood with Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, the place most consistently connected with his name from the earliest medieval ballads has been Kirklees Priory in the industrial heartlands of West Yorkshire.
The oldest surviving narrative sources record that after falling ill, the elderly Robin travelled to Kirklees Priory to receive medical attention from his cousin, the Prioress. However, in league with Sir Roger Doncaster—a local enemy of the outlaw—she betrayed her kin, for the harm he had done to the church
Bloodletting was a common treatment for many ailments in the Middle Ages but after opening Robin’s vein, the Prioress abandoned her cousin and allowed him to bleed to death.
Accounts of his subsequent burial differ. In one version, the Prioress inters him by the side of the highway as a warning to other outlaws. In another, Robin uses his final strength to summon his comrade Little John, who he instructs to lay him to rest nearby.
Meanwhile, in romantic retellings of the story from the 18th Century onwards, Robin fires a last arrow from the Priory window and commands his friend to bury him where it falls.
Kirklees Priory was destroyed following the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the land subsequently occupied by the Armytage baronets. However, traces of the old Priory can still be seen, including a monument known as “Robin Hood’s grave”.
The legitimacy of the site is controversial and some writers have dismissed it as an 18th Century folly. Yet whilst the current enclosure was constructed in the 1700s, references to the site of the grave date back to the 1530s, hinting at its greater antiquity.
During the 20th Century, the Armytage family has consistently refused public access to the grave and the monument has been left to wrack and ruin. Today, it is an eerie sight; a mass of twisted railings and crumbling stonework rotting beneath a canopy of yew trees.
Since the late 1980s there has been an acrimonious campaign for greater public access led by the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society. It was also during this period that the grave acquired a darker reputation.
Stories had always circulated about the uncanny nature of the site: a 17th Century story recounts how a local knight attempted to use the grave-slab for his hearthstone, only to find that every night it was moved out of place by mysterious forces, forcing its return to its original location.
Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s, people began to witness the phantom of the murderess Prioress herself. One illicit visitor to the grave encountered “a wraith with red eyes, staring and horrible”, whilst another described “black nun’s robes flapping eerily while her eyes flashed red and venomous”.
These reports were exploited by Bishop Seán Manchester—who had famously investigated the Highgate Vampire two decades earlier—to suggest that a vampire was loose at Kirklees. He claimed the mode of Robin’s death had been vampiric and the unquiet spectre of the outlaw’s killer stalked the grave site still. This led to the gravesite becoming a new battleground in Manchester’s long-running feud with David Farrant, another former player in the “Highgate Vampire” saga. (READ Bishop Seán Manchester’s response to these claims here.)
As a result, it is difficult to say to what extent the paranormal experiences at Kirklees are genuine, and how much has been exaggerated and distorted to suit the agendas of interested parties. Yet one thing is certain: as long as the grave lies neglected and unseen, it will continue to attract a sinister reputation.
Kai Roberts is a freelance writer and researcher based in West Yorkshire with an interest in folklore, earth mysteries and the occult. He runs the blog “Ghosts and Legends of the Lower Calder Valley” and his book “Grave Concerns: The Follies of Folklore of Robin Hood’s Final Resting Place” can be purchased from here.