The Prioress of the Kirklees Priory is Robin Hood's treacherous cousin who killed Robin when he came to her for help and treatment by abusing bloodletting to bleed him to death, and in the earliest tellings poisoning him as well. In some versions of the tale she then helped her lover Sir Roger of Doncaster sneak past those of Robin's Merry Men standing on guard outside at which point Sir Roger stabbed him to death while he was too weak to defend himself . It has been proposed that the Prioress and Robin's death were added to the end of the Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode after the death in 1347 of the suspected author Stephen II Le Waleys.
Robin Hood's Death
After Robin becomes ill late into his career as an outlaw he traveled to Kirkless (or Kyrkely) to ask his cousin for aid. Despite Will Scarlet urging him to take a bodyguard Robin did not consider his cousin or the trip a threat and brushed off Will's concerns. Upon his arrival at the Priory the Prioress willingly offered him aid but used the opportunity to kill him. Robin only realized her betrayal after there was nothing that could be done to save him and according to tradition he was buried on the grounds of the Priory in the place where his last arrow fell.
Roger of Doncaster
Despite the fact that she was head of a nunnery she had a lover by the name of Sir Roger of Doncaster who went by Red Rodger who was also her co-conspirator in Robin's death.
Robin was her cousin though at the time the word could be used to refer to any closely related retaliative so she could have been an aunt or second cousin. She abused his trust in her to murder him. When Little John asked to be allowed to kill her and burn the nunnery in retaliation he requested that his ally not do so as he had always treated woman with respect and would not have John raise a hand against any in his name. She does not appear to have put up a fight about Robin being buried on the grounds of her Priory after he requested his bow so that he could mark out a spot and be buried in the place where his last arrow fell.
Little John was accompanying Robin on the day of his murder and but the Prioress was able to keep him from the side of his lifelong friend until Robin realized her treachery and called for him. Once John realized what had happened he asked his dying friend for permission to retaliate against the Prioress but permission was denied for Robin had always done his best to treat woman well and would not have another murder a woman in his name, even in revenge.
Possible Historical Figure
The Historian Joseph Hunter proposed that Elizabeth De Staynton, whose grave where she is buried with two other nuns can be found near the supposed grave of Robin Hood, was the unnamed careless nurse of the Geste as she can be linked as kin to Robertus Hood of Wakefield through marriage. However she would have been only 15 at the time of the death date given for Robin his nearby headstone and it is unknown whether Elizabeth was ever actually the Prioress, evidence supporting the theory that she was is tenuous at best. In addition Robin's headstone is much newer than the dates on it and rests above soil that has no evidence of being disturbed and no evidence of a burial beneath it.
Margaret De Savile or Margaret Seyvill was known to be the acting Prioress by 1348 and was recorded as Prioress again in 1350 and 1359 by Ralph Thoresby. As these years partially coincide with the bloody Elland Feud and as she was kin to the murderous High Sheriff of Yorkshire Sir John de Eland she has also been proposed to be the inspiration behind Robin's fictional murderess.
In any case the inclusion of any historical Prioress would have been symbolic and not considered historic even at the time. "Kyrkely", the place name from the ballad, was quite possibly never intended to reflect a real location though it has now been connected to Kirklees for centuries.
Appearances in Media
- c.1460 Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode/A Gest of Robyn Hode
- Robin Hood's Death
- 1852 The Ballad Hero : Robin Hood by Joseph Hunter
- 2014 Robin Hood (Myths and Legends) by Neil Smith