The Weald is a horizontal slither of land in southern England that, in the Middle Ages, was a hilly, wooded area. The word “weald” is related to our modern word for woods, as you can easily see. 1000 years ago, the Weald sheltered robbers and legends. One of the legends that come from that part of England is the story of William of Cassingham. In fact, some documents of the period refer to him as Willikin of the Weald.
William (let’s go with the more standard name) was actually a landowner from that area. During the 12th and 13th Centuries, England was caught up in wars and pestilence, famines and plagues. Much of society lived hand to mouth. Fear gripped the people by their throats. One of the threats to stability came from France, where princes from there hoped to take England as William the Conqueror had some 200 years before. What William of Cassingham did was save England from some of these incursions by the French.
He was loyal to King John of England and his successor, King Henry III. As a loyal subject, he organized a small group of fighters from the Weald to attack French forces of Prince Louis that had marched on London. These were woodsmen who were skilled huntsmen, men used to going through the Weald stealthily and able to kill swiftly at distance. Using his assembled archers, William was able to strike Louis from afar and immediately retreat silently into the woods, seriously crippling Louis’s army and forcing him to return to France for reinforcements.
When Louis returned to England some time later, he found that his army bases there had been destroyed by William and his men. For his service to the Crown and country, William was granted more land an a pension from the grateful young King Henry. William was proclaimed the Warden of the Weald, and he held his post proudly until his death sometime in the 1250s. He saved the day and got the girl in the end. A later chronicler would call William, “a Worthy man of English blood!”
So, you’ve probably been piecing together the various clues in this story to figure out exactly who this William of Cassingham is. Let’s look at the clues again: Weald (woods). Time of war and uncertainty. Small band of archers who live in and know the woods well. Story ends with our hero winning victory and being granted land and respect.
While we have no true record of who the person behind the legend is, I will suggest to you that this Willikin of the Weald is the model for the legend we know as Robin Hood.