Little John's Grave

I recently walked in the beautiful Peak District, along Stanage Edge. Close by the rocky cliff is a cave associated with Robin Hood, and in the nearby parish church of Hathersage is a grave which tradition ascribes to that of Little John. For those unfamiliar with the ballads and legends of Robin, Little John was one of his merry men known for his humour and large stature, giving his name an ironic twist. The grave itself is somewhat unremarkable; the stone is modern but the burials of ordinary medieval folk had nothing but wooden markers if anything at all. Wrote antiquarian Roger Dodsworth in 1618:

Little John lies buried at Hathersage in Derbyshire where he hath a fair tombstone with an inscription.


What happened to that older ‘fair’ tombstone, one cannot tell. I like local legends and I’m happy to believe that by this old Yew lies the feted outlaw.


The outlaw is an interesting concept. A criminal refusing to attend court or accept his sentence was outlawed- he was no longer protected by law and was fair game to any who cared to hunt him down. The Romans had a similar sentence of declaring one Homer Sacer, meaning a man accursed or set part, rather than the more literal ‘sacred’ with its positive overtones. In one respect, we became outlaws at the Fall. Though the Law of God continued to condemn us, our fleeing from it merely denied us its liberty and protection. Although Paul, and subsequently Luther, emphasised the Law’s retributive and condemnatory function towards the sinner, James beholds its freedom-giving beauty:

But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25)

One of the joys of heaven will be our desire and ability to observe, keep and enjoy God’s holy law. Although the gospel frees us from its penalties and punishments, it also fits us for obedience. I believe the ceremonial aspects of the old law were fulfilled and completed by Christ; its national and civil elements fulfilled and concluded by physical Israel. Its ethical and moral requirements, though, we believers are called to obey. This is not works-religion; we are entirely saved by grace and not be works, lest any man should boast. Yet we are saved to be holy, to be good, to be pleasing to God. This means no longer being outlawed, but enjoying all the benefits of godly obedience.


I don’t know if outlawed John Little was really buried by at Hathersage, but when my own death and burial occur, mark this: I will be in heaven with Christ, perfectly fitted to serving and obeying Him, in every possible way. Would that I could do so here on earth, where I still too often play the outlaw.

Robin Hood's Cave