He was born Robert Flower (Floure or Fleur), the son of Touk Flower, mayor of York, in York in 1160. Very early in his life he became a sub-deacon and a novice at the Cistercian abbey of Newminster, but he only stayed there a few months. Seeking a life of solitude, he visited a knight/hermit who lived by the river Nidd at Knaresborough. At first he had to share his cave with a knight who was hiding from Richard 1, on the death of the king the knight returned home to his family leaving Robert on his own. The cave had a small chapel dedicated to St. Giles built around it. He continued to live there for some years, until a wealthy widow, Juliana, offered him a cell at St. Hilda's Chapel in Rudfarlington, near by. There he developed a reputation as a wise and holy man who cared for the poor. He stayed there just a year before his hermitage was destroyed by bandits. Robert dispossessed of his home lived, for a time under the church wall at Spofforth and then he tried living with the monks at Hedley, near Tadcaster, but he found them far too easy going for his style of life. By this time the area had calmed down and he returned to Rudfarlington.
For a time Robert prospered, having four servants and keeping cattle. But he was soon in trouble again this time with William de Stuteville, the constable of Knaresborough castle who accused him of harbouring thieves and outlaws. Robert was well known for his charity to the poor and destitute. His favorite form of charity was to redeem men from prison. Having his hermitage destroyed for the second time, this time by the forces of law and order under William de Stuteville, Robert returned to the cave at Knaresborough, where he stayed for the rest of his life. Although living as a recluse, his piety soon attracted followers and gifts from local benefactors which included land alongside the river.
A number of stories of St. Robert exist both in Latin and Early English verse. One concerns his complaining about the King’s deer eating his crops. Sir William, making fun of the saint, invites Robert to catch the offending beasts. Robert not only manages to herd the deer into his barn as if they were a tame flock of sheep, but also harnesses them to his plough and sets them to work.
Robert died on 24 September 1218. Before his death St Robert established an order of Trinitarian Friars at Knaresborough Priory, but he warned them that when his time came the monks of Fountains abbey would try to carry his body away to their own establishment, he urged his followers to resist them, which they did and so St Robert was buried in his chapel cut from the steep rocky crags by the river, where it was said that a medicinal oil flowed from his tomb and pilgrims came from near and far to be healed by this.
Images of St Robert's cave can be found here.
Churches are dedicated to St. Robert at Knaresborough in North Yorkshire, and at Pannal, Harrogate.
2. Clay, Rotha, Mary. Hermits and Anchorites of England, p. 42, Methuen & Co., Ltd., London, 1914 (https://archive.org/stream/hermitsanchorite00clayuoft#page/42/mode/2up)
3. St. Robert's Church, Pannal, Harrogate (www.strobertschurch.co.uk)
4. "St. Robert's Well", Yorkshire Holy Wells (www.halikeld.f9.co.uk/holywells/north/robert1.htm)
5. Dr. Maurice Turner A Brief History of Knaresborough 1990
6. "St. Robert's Cave, Knaresborough", Harrogate Borough Council(www.harrogate.gov.uk/info/20153/knaresborough_castle_and_museum/715/st_roberts_cave_knaresborough)