In Michael Morpurgo's short novel Robin of Sherwood (1998), republished in 2012 as Outlaw: the True Story of Robin Hood, the band of outlaws in Sherwood forest starts off as outcast misfits including a significant number of albinos (including Robin's wife Marion) who are sometimes referred to as cagots:

Look around you, Robin. A motley bunch of misfits, aren’t we? There’s every mutation you could imagine here. There’s me, a hunchback, and there’s half a dozen more the same. There’s white-haired cagots, albinos, call them what you will, like Marion. There’s simple folk who talk to the moon in puddles. There’s lepers, there’s one-legged beggars. Blind, deaf, dumb – we’re all here, all misfits, all Outlaws.

There was a girl with him too, a cagot, with hair as white as snow. There were dozens of them, some said hundreds, a small army of dwarfs and jibberers and more albino cagots; men, women and children with hunchbacks and harelips, and lepers too.

When I first heard this tale in an audiobook version, I thought "caggo" was a slur word for albino people. After rediscovering the story and reading it as a written text, I learned the true spelling and discovered that Cagots were a persecuted minority in the area of the Pyrenees, nowhere near England. What's more, the Wikipedia page has no mention of them being albino, and the "last Cagot" suggests they may even have been darker than the other people around them.

Why did Michael Morpurgo use the word "cagot" in this story? It's set in England, far away from where Cagots lived in reality, and the word is used for albino people rather than members of a distinct ethnic group like the real Cagots.

1 Answer 1


The Cagots weren't a distinct ethnic group, but a very unusual social group, sometimes compared to the Dalits of India, who lived in southwest France and northern Spain. For many years they were treated as outcasts or subhuman, without an obvious reason. Their history is obscure, and following the French Revolution they seem to have assimilated into society.

Two specific things are important. First, their status as outcasts, which links them to Robin Hood's outlaws. Michael Morpurgo mentioned this as a reason to include them in his version of the Robin Hood story:

I came across the stories of the Cagots in South West France, a group of people very often distinguished by the whiteness of their hair, the foreshortened fingers and their lack of earlobes. Historically they were treated as a race apart. They even had their own separate door to come into church and sit separately, and they were made to live outside town walls. Throughout history in most societies there have been outcast groups like this, Gypsies, Jews amongst them. These have always been the most downtrodden, and it was therefore from such groups that I felt Robin would have recruited many of his supporters. Merry Men they were not.

Secondly, they seem to have been known for their pale complexion. They were a subject of several 19th century works. Thomas Gratten's The Cagot's Hut (1823) apparently portrayed them as very pale, in an account that emphasised their monstrosity. A factual and more sympathetic account is found in Elizabeth Gaskell's essay "An Accursed Race". She notes their pale complexion and writes (my emphasis):

Cagots are more liable than any other men to a kind of skin disease, not precisely leprosy, but resembling it in some of its symptoms; such as dead whiteness of complexion, and swellings of the face and extremities.

Hence there was a traditional belief that they were very pale. So they might be mistaken for albinos, particularly by people who hadn't seen an albino. (Albinism is a distinct condition.) Morpurgo is doubtless taking some poetic licence with something that is historically very obscure; and doubtless those of Robin Hood's time would be unlikely to understand the precise medical definition of albinism.

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    I found an interview with Morpurgo where he speaks about how/why he came to include Cagots in his version of the Robin Hood story. Maybe this quote would make a useful addition to your answer?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 19:06
  • I've taken the liberty of editing in that Morpurgo quote, since it directly supports one of your main points. Hope you don't mind; I wanted to get that info included before accepting.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 7:47

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