Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Robin Hood

Love is in the greenwood building him a house
Of wild rose and hawthorn and honeysuckle boughs:

Love is in the greenwood, dawn is in the skies,

And Marian is waiting with a glory in her eyes
~from "A Song of Sherwood" by Alfred Noyes

(Artwork courtesy of Clement of the Glen)
Having grown up in a house surrounded by woods, I have always had a fascination with life in the forest, with the solitude, the dangers, the sense of freedom inherent in wilderness dwelling. Robin Hood was one of my childhood heroes. He is essentially a noble character forced by circumstances to rebel against unjust laws. According to Britain Express:

The story of Robin Hood is so well known that it scarcely needs to be reviewed, but don't worry, I'll do it anyway. The "facts ", at least one romantic version of them, are these. In the time of Richard the Lionheart a minor noble of Nottinghamshire, one Robin of Loxley, was outlawed for poaching deer. Now at that time the deer in a a royal forest belonged to the king, and killing one of the king's deer was therefore treason, and punishable by death.

So Robin took to the greenwood of Sherwood Forest, making a living by stealing from rich travellers and distributing the loot among the poor of the area. In the process he gained a band of followers and a spouse, Maid Marian. Despite the best efforts of the evil Sherrif of Nottingham he avoided capture until the return of King Richard from the Crusades brought about a full pardon and the restoration of Robin's lands. In other versions he dies at the hands of a kinswoman, the abbess of Kirklees Priory. That, in a very small nutshell, is the legend, but is there truth behind it?

Well, possibly. Someone, or maybe several someones, named Robin Hood existed at different times. Court records of the York Assizes refer to a "Robert Hod", who was a fugitive in 1226. In the following year the assizes referred to the same man as "Robinhud". By 1300 at least 8 people were called Robinhood, and at least 5 of those were fugitives from the law. In 1266 the Sherrif of Nottingham, William de Grey, was in active conflict with outlaws in Sherwood Forest. It seems most likely that a number of different outlaws built upon the reputation of a fugitive in the forest, and over time, the legend grew.

One thing to note about the early legends is that Robin Hood was not an aristocrat, as he was later portrayed, but a simple yeoman driven to a life of crime by the harsh rule of the law of the rich. As such, it is easy to see how his story soon became a favourite folk tale among the poor.

There is, in the grounds of Kirklees Priory, a old grave stone, marking the final resting place of one "Robard Hude". Proof that part of the tale may be true? It would be nice to think so.

Here is another site which explores the Robin Hood legend and the historical Robin. The most famous of outlaws also found his way into a nursery rhyme.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
Is in the mickle wood!
Little John, Little John,
He to the town is gone.

Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
Telling his beads,
All in the greenwood
Among the green weeds.

Little John, Little John,
If he comes no more,
Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
We shall fret full sore!
There are many tales about Robin Hood, ballads and poems spanning the centuries, as well as many films over the years. A new film with Russell Crowe is in production for release in 2010. Here is an account of Robin's death upon which the tragic film Robin and Marian was based.



Brantigny said...

I like the last rint on this article. It looks like the work of Boutet de Monville.


Sir Red Velvet said...

I haven't gotten around to reading this, yet. But the theory of Robin Hood being Sir William Wallace has always intrigued me. William Wallace Robin Hood Revealed by Anthony and Paul Cooper.

Enbrethiliel said...


I remember seeing the final picture in my first Mother Goose!

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

In England the outlaw chief becomes the hero. In Austria the duke who fights them (Duke Leopold Babenberg fighting the "Hounds of Kuenring") is the hero.

Is it only that the one outlaw is crueller, or is it also that Austrian society was kinder?

Sir Red Velvet said...


The story we grew up with is this. The lord King Richard goes off crusading and leaves his brother Prince John as regent. John has other ideas and proceeds to take the throne for himself and goes on overtaxing the people among other cruelties. The refugees in Sherwood forest band together to fight for King Richard's right and overthrow the brother. They're about to lose, when all of a sudden Richard shows up with his crusading army and Prince John is defeated.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Yes, I know that.

And Austria has other rulers, and other outlaws, approximately same period, and in Austria the rulers are the good guys who fight the cruel outlaws. Which is why I asked.