The Robber Dunne, the Staple and the Ring - origins
How did the story arise?
Crossroads in a wood
As in many legends, it is hard to know what is true and what is not true. There is no writing left from that time that tells what happened. The monk who told the story, was writing about 150 years later, in the 13th century. The monk wrote that King Henry I built the town of Dunstable 'to prevent the mischief of one Dunne', a famous robber and his gang; 'and that from this Dunn, the place was called Dunstable'.
Who was King Henry I?
King Henry I
King Henry I was a Norman and the 4th son of William the Conqueror, who won the battle with the Saxon King Harold. He was king of England from 1100 to 1135. He was known as a very clever king and called called Henry Beauclerc, because he liked to learn.
It does not seem likely, however, that a Norman king would really have let a town be named after a 'notorious' Saxon robber. Some people think that the land once belonged to a man named Dun, who put in a post, or staple, to mark out his lands. Others say that the name comes from old words, which mean 'the market place on the hillside'. Dun is an old word for hill and staple, as in the story, means a wooden post. So there may have been a post to show the site of the market.
Is there any truth in the story?
Dunstable Coat of Arms
Like many legends, there may be some true part that has been added to in the telling. What is known for sure is that many Saxons had their lands taken away from them by Normans and were left to try and live as best they could - crime was one way!
It was sensible to cut down trees, to make it harder for robbers to ambush (jump out at) travellers. A family named Dunne or Dun may well have lived; rows over who owned land and King Henry's interest in the growth of the town, may all have become part of how the legend grew.
Was Dunstable an important town?
Dunstable crossroads today
It is a fact that, in early times, Dunstable was quite an important place. Where the wood had been, a busy market town grew up with a royal palace and a priory. In the town, some of the most important decisions in history were announced, including the 'annulment' of the marriage of King Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon.