Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Robin Hood is the archetypal English folk hero, an outlaw who, in modern versions of the legend, stole from the rich to give to the poor (some would say from the tax collector to refund the taxpayer). Although most noted for his material egalitarianism, in the stories he also pursues other types of equality and justice. However, as mentioned below, Robin Hood was not originally so generous.
The Robin Hood legend
The stories relating to Robin Hood are apocryphal, verging on the mythological. His first appearance in a manuscript is in William Langland's Piers 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 of Simon 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."
According to The Annotated Edition of the English Poets - Early ballads (London, 1856, p.70):
- "His death is stated by Ritson to have taken place on the 18th of November, 1247, about the eighty-seventh year of his age; but according to the following inscription found among the papers of the Dean of York, and quoted from the Appendix to Thoresby's Ducatus Leodiensis, by Mr. Gutch... the death occurred a month later. In this inscription, which bears evidence of high antiquity, Robin Hood is described as Earl of Huntington - his claim to which title has been as hotly contested as any disputed peerage upon record.
- Hear undernead dis laitl stean
- Lais Robert Earl of Huntingtun
- Near arcir der as hie sa geud
- An pipl kauld im Robin Heud
- Sic utlaws as hi an is men
- Vil England nivr si agen.
- Obiit 24 Kal Dekembris 1247"
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, when King Richard is away at the crusades. (See Mair , Historia Majoris Britanniae). One of the original Robin Hood ballads refers to King Edward (Edward I, II, 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 Tuck, Will 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.
In modern versions of the legend, Robin Hood is said to have taken up residence in the verdant Sherwood Forest in the county of Nottinghamshire. This is a matter of some considerable contention. The original ballads speak of his being in Barnsdale (the area between Pontefract and Doncaster), some fifty miles north of Sherwood in the county of Yorkshire. This is reinforced for some by the similarity of Locksley to the area of Loxley in Sheffield, where in nearby Tideswell, which was the “Kings Larder” in the Royal Forest of the Peak, we find a record of Robert de Lockesly in court, perhaps in his retirement years in 1245AD. Although it cannot be proved this is the man himself, it is believed he had a brother called Thomas, which gives credence to the following reference.
“(24) No. 389, f0- 78. Ascension Day, 29 H. III., Nic Meverill, with John Kantia, on the one part, and Henry de Leke. Henry released to Nicolas and John 5 m. rent, which he received from Nicolas and John and Robert de Lockesly for his life from the lands of Gellery, in consideration of receiving from each of them 2 M. only, the said Henry to live at table with one of them and to receive 2 m. annually from the other. T., Sampson de Leke, Magister Peter Meverill, Roger de Lockesly, John de Leke, Robert fil Umfred, Rico de Newland, Richard Meverill. (25) No. 402, p. 80 b. Thomas de Lockesly bound himself that lie would not sell his lands at Leke, which Nicolas Meveril had rendered to him, under a penalty of L40. (40 marks)”
There is a something of a modern movement amongst Yorkshire residents to try to reappropriate the legend of Robin Hood, to the extent that South Yorkshire's new airport, on the site of the redeveloped RAF Finningley airbase near Doncaster, has been given the name Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield.
This debate is hardly surprising, given the considerable value that the Robin Hood legend has for local tourist industries. One of Nottinghamshire's biggest tourist attractions is the Major Oak, a tree that local folklore claims was the home of the legendary outlaw. There is debate as to whether the tree is old enough: some think its age has been exaggerated, especially as it may be two or more trees fused together, which may have been caused by coppicing. The Sheriff of Nottingham also had jurisdiction in Derbyshire that was known as the “Shire of the Deer”, and this is where we find the Royal Forest of the Peak that roughly corresponds to today's Peak District National Park. The Royal Forest included Bakewell, Tideswell, Castleton, Ladybower and the Derwent Valley near Loxley. The Sheriff of Nottingham possessed property near Loxley, including Hazlebadge Hall, Peveril Castle and Haddon Hall. Mercia, to which Nottingham belonged, came to within three miles of Sheffield City Centre.
Songs, plays, games, and, later, novels, musicals, films, and TV series have developed Robin Hood and company according to the needs of their times, and the mythos has been subject to extensive ideological manipulation. Maid Marian, for instance, something of a warrior maiden in early Victorian novels was reduced in demeanour to passivity during the period of the women's suffrage movement. As the media power of the modern feminist movement gathered momentum, Marian reacquired an altogether more active role.
Robin Hood himself has been transformed from an "outlaw for venyson" with an occasional element of generosity with no particularly notable skill in archery - and no suggestion of political animosity - in the original tales, to the contemporary reading, where he is depicted more as a medieval Che Guevara who is a deadly accurate master archer leading a small rebel force fighting a guerrilla war against Prince John and the Sheriff on behalf of the oppressed and King Richard I.
- Dooh Nibor. Spelling "Robin Hood" backwards yields "Dooh Nibor" — a name that describes the reverse of Robin Hood — a government or politician who "stole from the poor to give to the rich."
- Monty Python parodied Robin Hood in 1973 with Dennis Moore, a bumbling outlaw who distributed unwanted items stolen from the rich and given to the poor, particularly Lupins. He was soon persuaded to steal wealth from them, but overdoes it so badly that even the singers of his theme song mock him as stupid.
Movies and TV series
- 1908: Robin Hood and his Merry Men, first appearance of Robin Hood in film.
- 1922: Robin Hood, directed by Allan Dwan and starring Douglas Fairbanks in this first version, a silent movie, Robin Hood is an athletic swashbuckler. Sam De Grasse played the villainous Prince John.
- 1938: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Errol Flynn is a smarter, more articulate Robin Hood -- very aware of the proto-fascist regime he is fighting and the hard times of people around him in this darker story. Maid Marian accuses Robin: "You speak treason!" "Fluently," he replies.
- 1941: DC Comics introduces its own Robin Hood in the form of the comic book archer Green Arrow (alias Oliver Queen) Who operates in the fictional Star City. He uses 'trick' arrows to foil crime.
- 1946: Bandit of Sherwood Forest
- 1948: The Prince of Thieves
- 1949: Rabbit Hood, a Chuck Jones animated cartoon where Bugs Bunny takes on the Sheriff and is stunned to be greeted by Robin Hood as played by Errol Flynn.
- 1951: Tales of Robin Hood
- 1952: Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, The Miss Robin Hood
- 1955-1960: The British Adventures of Robin Hood TV series (consisting of weekly half-hour episodes, also shown in the U.S.) starring Richard Greene -- episodes of which were written by black-listed Hollywood writers -- also has a high degree of social consciousness. Some of those episodes were combined into feature-length colorized films:
- Robin Hood's Greatest Adventures (1956) (also starring Donald Pleasence)
- Robin Hood, the Movie (1958)
- Robin Hood: The Quest for the Crown (1958)
- 1958: Robin Hood Daffy, a Chuck Jones animated cartoon, where Daffy Duck takes on the traditions of Errol Flynn, and a Friar Tuckish Porky Pig won't take him seriously.
- 1967: Rocket Robin Hood, a space-age version of the Robin Hood legend, where he and his band of Merry Spacemen live in the year 3000 on Sherwood Asteroid and fight the evil Sheriff who rules the space territory of N.O.T.T. (Trillium / Steve Krantz Production)
- 1973: Walt Disney Productions produced the most famous animated version of the legend in 1973, which had the various characters depicted as anthropomorphic animal characters such as Robin Hood and Maid Marian as foxes. See: Robin Hood (1973 movie).
- 1975: When things were Rotten Comedy TV series starring Richard Gautier,Bernie Kopell and Misty Rowe.
- 1976: Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn played the couple at the end of their lives in the 1976 Robin and Marian.
- 1981: Time Bandits, starring John Cleese, Sean Connery, Shelley Duvall; written and directed by Terry Gilliam
- 1984: The made-for-tv spoof The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood in 1984 starred George Segal (Robin), Morgan Fairchild (Marian), Roddy McDowall (Prince John), and Janet Suzman (Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine), and Robert Hardy turned up at the end as King Richard.
- 1984 - 1986: The 1980s British series Robin of Sherwood aka Robin Hood, was a New Age fantasy starring Michael Praed as Robin, later replaced by Jason Connery (son of Sean Connery) as Robert, called Robin. In this version the two Robins actually get to wear hoods occasionally. The series set the template for most of the adaptions that followed, most notably the introduction of a Muslim outlaw.
- 1989 - 1994: The British children's TV show Maid Marian and her Merry Men rewrote the legend somewhat.
- 1991: In the 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Kevin Costner, played the outlaw and Sean Connery performed the customary cameo appearance of King Richard in the finale.
- 1991: John Irwin's 1991 Robin Hood, starring Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman, is a very inventive use of some of the best of the Robin Hood heritage.
- 1993: The Mel Brooks spoof Robin Hood: Men in Tights recycles bits from his short-lived late-1975 Robin Hood tv sitcom When Things Were Rotten. Cary Elwes plays Robin in the movie, and Patrick Stewart appears in the ending, spoofing Sean Connery's take on King Richard the Lionheart.
- 2001: Robin Hood and the Merry Men make a memorable cameo appearance as unwelcome rescuers in the movie version of William Steig's Shrek. Here, they speak with French accents, partake in Irish step-dancing , and are defeated by a girl.
- 2001: Robin Hood's heroic daughter, Gwyn, Keira Knightley on horseback with bow in hand, takes over her father's role and comes to his rescue in the made for tv movie Princess of Thieves.
The character of Robin from the Batman series of comics is reported to have taken both his name and the style of his original costume from Robin Hood.
- Hereward the Wake - A post Norman Conquest, Saxon outlaw with some similarities to Robin Hood.
- Robin Hood's Bay - A small fishing town in North Yorkshire.
- The Robin Hood Battalion - was a British Territorial Army unit.
- Graham Kirkby's site with the emphasis on Loxley, South Yorkshire: http://myweb.ecomplanet.com/kirk6479/default.htm
- Allen Wright's extensive site: Robin Hood, Bold Outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood
- Also extensive, The Robin Hood Project at the University of Rochester
- The Search for a Real Robin Hood
- Some historical corrective to loose mythmaking about Robin Hood, from The Textbook Letter Sept-Oct 1998.
- Rocket Robin Hood fan-page
- The Straight Dope: Was there really a Robin Hood?
- R.H. Hilton, "The Origins of Robin Hood", Past and Present, No. 14. (Nov., 1958), pp. 30-44. Available online at JSTOR.
- J.C. Holt, Robin Hood, ISBN 0500250812
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