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Little John becomes a surprise contender in the fame game!

Now everyone knows that Little John was Robin Hood's loyal lieutenant who was always close by the outlaw leader's side in many a classic adventure and that he was also the one who was there at the end, supporting the dying Robin when he fired his last arrow to mark his burial place. However, it turns out that in today's internet-driven world of electronic communication, Little John has been giving Robin Hood and the rest of the Merry Men a run for their money and the "gentle giant" has become quite a celebrity, discreetly building his reputation to astonishing levels!

When I typed the word "Robin Hood" into the Google search engine on the day I wrote this article, it came up with 66,700,000 results – but when I typed in "Little John", it came up with a staggering 1,210,000,000! That's over a billion more results than for Robin Hood himself! So how does Little John apparently manage to create such phenomenal global interest that puts Robin and his merry band well and truly in the shade?

There are probably several factors that account for Little John's elevated, celebrity status on Google but one of the main reasons is that, as you no doubt know, information technology search engines operate on recognising "key words" and when we look closely at the information available we find that, just as with Robin Hood, Little John's name appears in many, many different connections, spanning numerous locations and place names situated around the world, including a host of public houses, hotels, restaurants - plus an extensive range of company names in the business and commercial sector. Closer to home, the big bell in the Council House clock is also nicknamed "Little John". The results of the Google search may well have also been "skewed" by the fact that "Littlejohn" is a widely used surname (including Daily Mail columnist and controversial commentator, Richard Littlejohn) which will no doubt further add to the total number of results attributed to a "Little John" search of the internet.

We also know that there is a massive global interest in all things associated with the Robin Hood legend – not just the history and mystery of the outlaw's origins but also the vast wealth of popular culture connections embracing art, literature, film, music, sport, charitable organisations, comics and computer games etc. Wherever the Robin Hood legend gets a mention, then other key characters, like Little John, also get referred to.

But let's not steal the thunder from Little John's global popularity, because he is a likeable and much-loved character in the traditional Robin Hood story who clearly has a substantial international following of fans eager to find out more about their hero. So just what do we know about Little John and what really happened to him after the tragedy of Robin Hood's death? Well here's a brief selection of some key facts:

Mockingly named Little John or John Little because of his tall, broad stature, it is claimed that he was originally called John Nailer/Naylor because of his trade as a nail maker. Although it cannot historically be authenticated, local tradition has it that Little John's Cottage once stood somewhere along Peafield Lane between Mansfield Woodhouse and Edwinstowe in Nottinghamshire. Several theories have been put forward as to what happened to Little John after Robin Hood's death but the truth, just like the legend itself, still remains an intriguing mystery!

His "traditional" grave is reputed to be the one in St Michael's and All Angels church yard in Hathersage, Derbyshire, the village that claims to be his birthplace and to where he supposedly retired and at length died. In the Eighteenth Century the grave was opened up and several large bones were found but there was the inevitable controversy as to whether they truly belonged to Little John or, as some critics suspected, were those of an oxen? In 1929, the Ancient Order of Foresters agreed to take care of the grave and marked it with two stones bearing inscriptions. However, his eventual fate and final resting place continues to be the subject of dispute and confusion. Immediately after Robin Hood's death at Kirklees, Little John is said to have fled to Ireland to escape persecution and in his "History of the City of Dublin" John T. Gilbert records the legend of an astonishing feat of archery performed by the burly henchman in about 1189. He states that "There stands in Oxmantown Green a hill, named "Little John his shot" and he goes on to say that when the citizens of Dublin discovered him to be an excellent and powerful archer, they coaxed him to try to see how far he could shoot an arrow. Apparently he obligingly proceeded to shoot from Liffey Bridge to the hill, covering an incredible distance of some seven hundred yards!

Other accounts say that he was actually found guilty of theft in Dublin and executed at Arbour Hill. However Holinshed's "Chronicle", of which William Shakespeare made much use, claims he left Ireland and went to Moray in Scotland, where according to Scottish historian Hector Bruce, he died and was buried at Pette. Other traditions have Little John buried at Thorpe Salvin, near Worksop and Wincle in Cheshire - all facts that weave further strands into the mystery and intrigue that surrounds the global popularity of the Robin Hood legend!

Click here to read the Life after Little John article.