While the precise meaning of this term changed over time, including free retainers of an aristocrat and small landholders, it always referred to commoners.The essence of it in the present context was 'neither a knight nor a peasant or "husbonde" but something in between'.By the early 15th century at the latest, Robin Hood had become associated with May Day celebrations, with revellers dressing as Robin or as members of his band for the festivities.
No extant ballad early actually shows Robin Hood 'giving to the poor', although in a "A Gest of Robyn Hode" Robin does make a large loan to an unfortunate knight, which he does not in the end require to be repaid; As it happens the next traveller is not poor, but it seems in context that Robin Hood is stating a general policy.
The first explicit statement to the effect that Robin Hood habitually robbed from the rich to give the poor can be found in John Stow's Annales of England (1592), about a century after the publication of the Gest.
It is not certain what should be made of these latter two absences as it is known that Friar Tuck, for one, has been part of the legend since at least the later 15th century where he is mentioned in a Robin Hood play script.
In modern popular culture, Robin Hood is typically seen as a contemporary and supporter of the late-12th-century king Richard the Lionheart, Robin being driven to outlawry during the misrule of Richard's brother John while Richard was away at the Third Crusade.
The character of Robin in these first texts is rougher edged than in his later incarnations.
In "Robin Hood and the Monk", for example, he is shown as quick tempered and violent, assaulting Little John for defeating him in an archery contest; in the same ballad Much the Miller's Son casually kills a 'little page' in the course of rescuing Robin Hood from prison.
It has been argued that the fact that the surviving ballads were preserved in written form in itself makes it unlikely they were typical; in particular, stories with an interest for the gentry were by this view more likely to be preserved.
The story of Robin's aid to the 'poor knight' that takes up much of the Gest may be an example.
Within Robin Hood's band, medieval forms of courtesy rather than modern ideals of equality are generally in evidence.