THE LEGEND Robin Hood lived in the 1100's during the reign
of Richard I. He is best known for his bravery and agility in his
fight for justice, for the poor and oppressed.
MAN OR MYTH To answer the question "Who was he?" is
very difficult. Apart from a few references in medieval chronicles
and court transcripts - there is very little original evidence
for his existence. Instead, most of the information is derived
from tales told before 1500 and ballads sung by minstrels after
1600. These have been adapted for audiences throughout the world
in the form of films and stories.
THE ORIGINAL TALES Only 5 tales are known to have existed
before 1500 'A Gest of Robin Hood', 'Robin and the Monk', 'Robin
Hood and the Potter', Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne' and 'Robin
Hood, his death'. These tales are the main source of evidence for
HIS HOME Robin Hood roamed Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire
as an outlaw in order to avoid being captured by the Sheriff. During
this time, it was one of England's finest royal forests, reserved
exclusively for the King's hunting.
HIS FRIENDS Robin Hood was the leader of
a band of fellow outlaws who helped in his fight against the sheriff
and were also his loyal friends. Little John was Robin's right
hand man and faithful companion. Don't be fooled by his name -
he was famous for his great strength and size. Robin was romantically
linked with the beautiful Maid Marian - legend has it that they
married at Edwinstowe Church on the outskirts of Sherwood Forest.
Friar Tuck - the jolly round friar who loved feasting and fighting!
Also mentioned in the ballads are Will Scarlet - Robin's trusted
henchman and kinsman, and, Allan A Dale who entertained the group
with his songs and harp.
HIS FOES The Sheriff of Nottingham was Robin's arch-enemy
throughout the tales - a man to be hated and feared. As the King's
representative, he terrorised the people into giving him money
for taxes. Surprisingly, The outlaws respected the King and saw
him as a source of justice. He even eventually pardoned Robin and
offered him his blessing for his wedding.
The stories relating to Robin Hood are
apocryphal, verging on the mythological.
His first appearance in a manuscript is in William
Plowman ( 1377)
in which Sloth, the lazy priest boasts "I ken [know] 'rimes
of Robin Hood."
The next notice is in Wyntown's Scottish
Chronicle, written about 1420, where the following lines occur—without any connection,
and in the form of an entry—under the year 1283:— "Lytil
Jhon and Robyne Hude Wayth-men ware commendyd gude: In Yngil-wode
and Barnysdale Thai oysyd all this tyme thare trawale."
In the year 1439, a petition was presented
to Parliament against one Piers Venables of Aston, in Derbyshire, "who
having no liflode, ne sufficeante of goodes, gadered and assembled
unto him many misdoers, beynge of his clothynge, and, in manere
of insurrection, wente into the wodes in that countrie, like
as it hadde be Robyn Hude and his meyne."—Rot.
Parl. v. 16.
The first historical mention of Robin Hood
is in a passage of the " Scotichronicon",
written partly by John
Fordun between 1377 and 1384, and partly by his pupil Walter
Bower, about 1450, who largely interpolated the work of his
master. Among his interpolations, is a passage translated as follows.
It is inserted immediately after Fordun's account of the defeat
de Montfort, and the punishments inflicted on his adherents:
"At this time, [sc. 1266,]
from the number of those who had been deprived of their estates
arose the celebrated bandit Robert Hood, (with Little
John and their accomplices,) whose achievements the foolish
vulgar delight to celebrate in comedies and tragedies, while the
ballads upon his adventures sung by the jesters and minstrels are
preferred to all others."
Printed versions of Robin Hood ballads
appear in the early 16th century — shortly after the advent
of printing in England. In these ballads, Robin Hood is a yeoman
which, by that time, meant an independent tradesman or farmer.
It is only in the late 16th
century that he becomes a nobleman, the Earl of Huntington,
Robert of Locksley, or later still, Robert Fitz Ooth.
His romantic attachment to Maid
Marian (or "Marion") (originally known as Mathilda)
is also a product of this later period and probably has something
to do with the French pastoral
play of about 1280, the Jeu de Robin et Marion. Aside
from the names there is no recognizable Robin Hood connection
to the play.
The late 16th
century is also the period when the Robin Hood story is moved
back in time to the 1190s,
Richard is away at the crusades.
(See Mair, Historia
Majoris Britanniae). One of the original Robin Hood ballads
refers to King Edward ( Edward
and III ruled
England from 1272 to 1377).
The idea of Robin Hood as a high-minded Saxon fighting Norman
Lords originates in the 19th
century, (see e.g Thierry, Histoire
de la Conquête de l'Angleterre par les Normands, livr.
xi) most notably in the part Robin Hood plays in Sir
Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1819),
chapters 40 - 41, where the familiar modern Robin Hood—"King
of Outlaws and prince of good fellows!" Richard
the Lionheart calls him—makes his debut.
The folkloric Robin Hood was deprived of
his lands by the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham and became
an outlaw. The Sheriff does
indeed appear in the early ballads (Robin kills and beheads him),
but there is nothing as specific as this allegation. Robin's
other enemies include the rich abbots of the Catholic
Church and a bounty hunter named Guy
of Gisbourne. Robin kills and beheads him as well. The early
ballads contain nothing about giving to the poor, although Robin
does make a large loan to an unfortunate knight.
In the ballads, the original "Merry Men" (though
not called that) included: Friar
Scarlet (or Scathlock), Much
the Miller's Son, and Little
John — who was called "little" because he wasn't.
Alan-a-Dale is a later invention in Robin Hood plays.