Robin Hood’s Grave 6

Joseph Hunter mentions the Stainton (or Staynton) family of Woolley in his South Yorkshire of 1831. He tells us of an indenture witnessing that Hugh de Tutehill had married Joan, formerly the wife of John de Staynton, and had in his possession the four daughters and heirs of the said John, the elder of them being under the age of twelve years; and with the consent of Joan his wife, he married two of the daughters to two of his sons, and the other two, Elizabeth and Alice, he placed in the order of nuns at Kirklees, and there, they being  under the age of twelve years, he caused them to take a religious profession, so that his two sons might enjoy the entire inheritance that had descended to the four sisters. William de Notton having the care and custody of the said daughters, perceiving the poverty of the house of nuns of Kirklees, and that the profession had been made by the two ladies before they were capable of distinguishing between a spiritual and a temporal life, and also, that it had not been promoted by the said Hugh, through devotion or charity, had taken proceedings to annul so wicked and intolerable a deed. The two ladies hearing of this, being under the age of thirteen, came to the said William, and in the presence of the said Hugh, begged him not to revoke their profession, if Hugh would grant them certain rent for their support, out of the tenements which had descended to them. An agreement was made with Hugh de Tutehill, William de Staynton prior of Monkbretton, William de Notton (and others), whereby Elizabeth and Alice remained at Kirklees and benefited from an annual payment; executed at the priory of Monk Bretton, 20 December, 1344. Hunter mentions that there were four copies made of this curious instrument (indenture), and that one was in the possession of the family of Cotton of the Haigh. He also states that Elizabeth de Stainton became, in due time, the prioress of Kirklees; and  her gravestone bearing a French inscription, was discovered among the ruins of the nunnery.

Hunter recorded similar details of the fourteenth century Staynton family in his paper, The Great Hero of the Ancient Minstrelsy of England, Robin Hood (1852), and he suggested that they could have been related to Robert Hood of Wakefield. Hunter believed that this Robert was the original Robin Hood (see The Many Robin Hoods pp. 7-10), and he therefore assumed that Elizabeth de Staynton was the prioress who murdered him. (The Gest tells us that Robin was murdered by his relative, the prioress of Kirklees, and her lover, Sir Roger of Donkester). He hinted that Robert Hood may have been related to the Stayntons because their home village of Woolley is near Wakefield;  this idea is a long way from being probable.

The indenture mentioned by Hunter in 1831, was basically repeated by J. W. Walker in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal of 1944, however he states that it was executed at the Priory of Monk Bretton in 1347;  Hunter’s date was 1344. Walker claimed his information came from a deed at Woolley Hall, in the possession of Lieut.-Commander Wentworth. He also discovered a record of a Roger of Doncaster who was a chaplain in 1302,  but admits, ‘whether he was the lover of the prioress of Kirklees it is impossible to say’.

The date Elizabeth became prioress is unknown, but on the back of a charter dated 1373/4 granting licence to acquire lands, the following was written: ‘Orate pro Elizabetha de Staynton quondam priorissa de Kirklese quia in tempore illius ista carta fuit adquista’. Pray for Elizabeth de Stanyton former prioress of Kirklees because that charter was acquired in her time. According to David Hepworth, the application was  made in 1371/2, so Elizabeth must have been prioress at this time; it would appear that by 1374, she was deceased. Her tomb can still be seen at Kirklees in a somewhat dilapidated state, it was discovered during excavations  carried out at the ruins of the nunnery in 1706, when Samuel Armytage had the ground beneath Robin’s grave slab dug a yard deep. Elizabeth’s grave slab was shown in Camden’s revised Britannia of 1789; like Robin Hood’s it is a flat stone with a raised cross surrounded by the inscription: ‘DOVCE JHV DE NAZARETH FILS DIEV AYEZ MERCI A ELIZABETH STAINTON PRIORES DE CEST MAISON’. Sweet Jesus of Nazareth grant mercy to Elizabeth Stainton, formerly prioress of this house.

Little John’s supposed grave is in the churchyard of the Derbyshire village of Hathersage,  it is nearly fourteen foot long and is marked by two stones, one at the head and the other at the foot. The grave was exhumed to a depth of six feet in the eighteenth century and a thigh bone of extraordinary length was reportedly found. His supposed cuirass of chain mail and his bow and arrows hung in the chancel of Hathersage church, but all have since disappeared.

In the eighteenth century Joseph Ismay noted that there were wooden statues of Robin Hood, Little John, Will Stukely and Midge ye Miller’s son standing in the hall at Kirklees. He also measured Robin’s grave slab and gives the dimensions as ‘seven foot long, two broad and near one foot thick’. It was badly vandalized in the nineteenth century, and this was recorded in 1893 by  historian Horsfall Turner: ‘His gravestone has not only had to be strongly railed to a great height, but bars were riveted across the top to keep vandals away, who for various reasons, one being as a charm against toothache, desired fragments of the stone’. This was mentioned again by J.W. Walker in the same edition of the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. ‘Only a small portion of this stone now remains, for a superstition existed that a chip from it was an effectual cure for toothache. When the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway was being constructed in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, pieces of the gravestone were carried away by the navvies engaged on the work, not as mementoes of Robin Hood, but to place under their pillows as a cure for toothache’.

Robard Hude may have been laid to rest at Kirklees long before 1569, but it would be wishful thinking to believe that he was the Robin Hood of legend. In the words of  John Watson, tradition is the only proof for it.

Prioresses of Kirklees and their approximate dates:

Lecia* 1170-90   Isabella (Bosville)* 1437
Sybil 1234   Cecilia Hyk 1472-91
Alice le Mousters 1299-1306   Joan Stansfield 1491-99
Margaret Claworth 1306   Margaret Tarlton 1499-1501
Alice Screvyn 1307-50?   Margaret Fletcher 1501-27
Margaret Savile 1350-58   Cecilia Topcliffe 1527-38
Elizabeth Stainton 1371/72 ?   Joan Kypax 1538-39
Alice Mountenay 1395-1428      

 

*Supplied by David Hepworth