Robin Hood, the gentleman knight who lost his title when he dared to cross Prince John, was probably no more than a lowly forester.
New research suggests that the outlaw was not the romantic nobleman of legend, but a sort of civil servant whose misdemeanours later forced him to live in the greenwood.
The research, to be published in the journal of the Past and Present Society, is based on an analysis of the 15th-century Robin Hood rhymes by two academics.
"A huge amount has been written about Robin Hood over the past 100 years, but most of it has been about whether or not there was such a character," said Richard Almond of Darlington College, who wrote the report with Professor Tony Pollard of Teesside University.
"Our work is aimed at trying to pinpoint the social level which he came from.
"Until now there have been two schools of thought, that he was an aristocrat or that he was a peasant. We say he was in the middle."
Almond, one of the world's leading experts on medieval hunting, examined the poems for clues to Robin Hood's real background. "People had looked at the poems but not at the significance of the language," he says.
"Our suggestion is that he was a forest official who had done something wrong and who had fled into the greenwood. It is based on the use of hunting and falconry terms in the rhymes."Reuse content