Illustration by Louis Rhead, 1912

The Sheriff of Nottingham is the main antagonist in the legend of Robin Hood. He is generally depicted as an unjust tyrant who mistreats the local people of Nottinghamshire, subjecting them to unaffordable taxes. Robin Hood fights against him, stealing from the rich, and the Sheriff, in order to give to the poor; it is this characteristic for which Robin Hood is best known. The Sheriff is considered the archenemy of Robin Hood, as he is the most recurring enemy of the well-known outlaw.

It is not known whom this character is based on. The legend of Robin Hood (which is at least as old as the 14th century), traditionally referred to the Sheriff of Nottingham only by his title. The post of Sheriff of Nottingham (position) only came into existence in 1449. However, there has from very early Norman times been a High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests, appointed by the king, which became High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire in 1568. The character in the legend could therefore have been based on the royal appointee responsible for law enforcement in the Royal Forests (which included Sherwood Forest).


It is the task of the holder of the office of Nottingham's Sheriff to capture outlaws such as Robin Hood, either to ensure the safety of trade routes through Sherwood Forest or to keep them from poaching the King's deer. In some stories, the Sheriff of Nottingham is portrayed as having a lecherous desire for Robin Hood's lady Maid Marian. He is widely considered to be the principal villain of the Robin Hood stories, appearing frequently alongside such enemies of Robin Hood as Sir Guy of Gisborne or John, King of England (though rarely both).

The legends are generally set far from Nottingham; this fits the historical position of High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests (from 1068 until 1568). In the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the Sheriff's influence outside the region of Nottingham has grown so great, he attempts to take control of the throne.

In some versions, the Sheriff is a cowardly schemer while his assistant, Sir Guy of Gisborne, is a more competent and determined physical threat to Robin. In other versions, the Sheriff answers to Prince John.

Possible historical basis

If one treats the legend as having had its origins in real events (despite the fact that the earliest known version of the legend appears 200 years later), the character could have been based upon one of (or a composite of multiple of) the real life people who occupied the post of High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests at the relevant time. If, as in many versions of the Robin Hood legend, the action of the story is placed during the absence of King Richard I of England in 1190–1193 during the Third Crusade and his subsequent holding to ransom in Austria, the character could be identified with the little-known William de Wendenal, who was High Sheriff from 1191 to 1194. In some versions, the Sheriff is identified with Philip Marc, who held the office of High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests from 1209 to 1221, during the later years of the reign of John, King of England (who ruled from 1199 to 1216).[1] However, the Sheriff usually remains either anonymous or pseudonymous, and the earliest version of the legend takes place during the time of "Edward our comely king".


On stage

In film and television

Alan Wheatley as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1950s television series, The Adventures of Robin Hood
The Sheriff of Nottingham (voiced by Pat Buttram) in the 1973 Disney animated film, Robin Hood

In literature

In other media


  1. ^ Search for a real Robin Hood, Retrieved 13 July 2022.
  2. ^ Pictorial History of the American Theatre:1860-1985 p.40 c.1985(this version updated to 1985) by Daniel Blum;Crown Publishers
  3. ^ Thomas, Frank, Johnston, Ollie (1986). The illusion of life: Disney animation. Disney Book Group. p. 344.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "Robin and Marian" review by Roger Ebert Archived 24 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine Chicago Sun-Times 21 April 1976 Retrieved 19 March 2019
  5. ^ Carpenter, Richard (1984). Robin of Sherwood. Puffin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-031690-2.
  6. ^ The Screening Room's Top 10 British Villains Archived 24 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine, CNN. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  7. ^ McFerran, Ann (9 August 1991). "Alan Rickman: Villain". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 21 October 2019.
  8. ^ Rainer, Peter (28 July 1993). "Men in Tights': A See-Through Laugh". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 October 2010.
  9. ^ "Ethan Reiff -- Interviews in Sherwood".
  10. ^ "BBC One - Doctor Who, Series 8, Robot of Sherwood - Robot of Sherwood: Fact File". BBC.
  11. ^ Kroll, Justin (13 December 2016). "'Rogue One's' Ben Mendelsohn to Play Sheriff of Nottingham in 'Robin Hood: Origins' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 22 December 2016.
  12. ^ "Review-The Adventures of Maid Marian". Peterborough Evening Telegraph, 26 March 2022, (p. 56)