Wolfshead: History of Robin Hood

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Wolfshead: History of Robin Hood

Postby EarthWard » 24 Jun 2004, 16:50

"So, you think you know Robin Hood?
You might be in for a surprise. The legend of Robin Hood has changed a lot over the years. "Classic" characters such as Maid Marian, Friar Tuck and Alan a Dale were all later additions to the greenwood folklore. So was the "steal from the rich and give to the poor" motif. The Robin Hood of the early ballads is very different from the Robin Hoods of Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner.

These pages explore the history of the bold outlaw of Nottingham, Barnsdale and Sherwood. They show how, when and why the story of Robin Hood evolved."


http://www.boldoutlaw.com/robages/index.html



Allen Wright, whom I have had the pleasure of talking to over e-mail, designed a great site full of information about our favorite outlaw Robin Hood. Check it out and let's talk about this legend in more detail. Post your feeling on the Bold outlaw and what attracts you to this great legend. Also if you have any books or Robin Hood items that you wish to tell us about please do so. We would be very interested in hearing what you have. Allen may even swing by to see what you have wrote and perhaps give us some more insight on the Legend of Robin Hood.

So let's get talking.

Long live Robin Hood in the hearts of us all!!!!
:robinhood: :robinhood: :robinhood: :robinhood: :robinhood: :robinhood:
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Postby Stormcloud » 24 Jun 2004, 18:22

Thanks for posting that site, theres a lot to go through on there, and I'll be sitting down and going through it when I have more time - I'm at work at the moment.

I live in Nottingham, and my house is a few minutes away from Sherwood, although Sherwood Forest is a little more of a drive - about half an hour I guess. Here you grow up surrounded by images of Robin Hood - my school was called Robin Hood Junior School, and one of the major roads in Nottingham is called Maid Marian Way. And of course the Robin Hood angle is really played a lot here for the tourists, with 'the Tales of Robin Hood' visitor centre in the middle of town, and lots of places selling various Robin Hood souvenirs.

However, I suspect very few people here in Nottingham have ever read any of the stories about Robin Hood :lol:

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Robin Hood

Postby Allen W. Wright » 24 Jun 2004, 21:33

Thanks for the kind words, and the invitation to drop by.

I liked my visits to Nottingham. Last time, I was met with the sheriff (and current Lord Mayor). That interview is available on my website.

And yes, I know it's kind of just a background thing for a lot of people there. But I do know some very big Robin Hood fans from that city.

A really curious thing has happened on a few of my visits. With more than one person, I'd mention my interest in Robin Hood -- and literally the first thing out of their mouths "He's not from Sheffield!"

About the tourist products, never buy an arrow-shaped pen if you actually want something that leaves ink on paper. (g)

Thanks for mentioning my site,

Allen

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Hey Allen

Postby EarthWard » 25 Jun 2004, 16:20

Allen thank you so much for stopping by.
My first question is how do the mythical or magical interpretations of the Robin Hood legend hold up to the few facts that we do know about the Robin Hood story?
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Mythic Robin Hood

Postby Allen W. Wright » 25 Jun 2004, 17:33

Well, I'm not a "mythicist", which is to say that I don't believe that Robin Hood is a watered-down version of Celtic, Saxon or Germanic God.

I do believe that there are some mythic elements in the legend, and some show up quite early. But I don't think it is directly the genesis of the legend.

The main reason for this is that in the early Robin Hood ballads, what seems mythic is largely subtext and interpretative. It's very easy to see the fight between Robin and Guy as a winter vs. summer conflict, and it did like stem from a performance like the 1475 dramatic fragment. There are some vague mythic touches around Robin's death. But to take 1 percent of the stories and say that's the dominant element strikes me as a bit deceptive.

And it's nothing like what we get for stories like those of Eustace the Monk, where he's actually using overt magic. And the thing is -- Eustace was a real guy. His existence is not nearly as murky and disputed as Robin's. So, I have to wonder why Robin's early legend isn't as mythic as the stories of Hereward, Eustace or Fulk Fitz Warrin - people who actually lived but had grand deeds ascribed to them.

I think a lot of the mythic elements in the Robin Hood legend seem to come from his role in the May Games. Now, I don't want to undersell the importance of these games. Since we have more references to these festivals than all other English folk drama of the period (15th and 16th century) combined, well one could say that the Robin Hood of the May Games was THE Robin Hood. But the mythic aspects here predated Robin's involvement in the games. It feels like something that the legend probably acquired here.

Gillian Edwards noted the similiarities between Robin Hood and Robin Goodfellow. Suggesting that the name Goodfellow can also mean thief or boon companion, both adapt descriptions of Robin Hood. And both characters are known for misleading travellers. While "Robin" has some mythic associations in the middle ages, the first instance I could find to the name "Robin Goodfellow" was after the first appearances of the Robin Hood ballads. It makes me wonder if perhaps Mr. Goodfellow is a mythologized version of Robin Hood, rather than the other way around.

The 19th century seems like the big period for the mythic Robin Hood. That's when you start to get pantomimes where he wanders into fairyland or fights characters like "the Gnome demon". And a few children's books use these elements.

It's also when historians really start to view Robin Hood as a folkloric figure, a god or sprite given flesh. Some of these arguments are based on misunderstandings of the Robin Hood legend. One famously argued that Robin was a coven leader because there were always 12 men in the Merry Men. Nice -- except there weren't always twelve. The ballad of Robin Hood and the Monk has Robin being told to take 12 of his best men, which implies he has more. In A Gest of Robin Hode, there are 140 members of the band. And it seems to vary elsewhere. (John Matthews is better informed about the Robin Hood legend, but his own book on the subject contains numerous errors.)

Stephanie Barczewski has argued that the folkloric associations given to Robin in the 19th century might have something to do with Anglo-Saxon "racialism" of the period. Essentially doing for England what Wagner did for Germany. And if some of those Saxons vs. Normans Robin Hood stories give me the wiggins, some being a little too keen on praising the purity of the Saxon race.

I think the biggest promoter of a mythic Robin Hood now was actually a TV show, Robin of Sherwood. And a very good TV show it was, one that film producers and novel writers continually rip off without giving appropriate credit. In that series, Robin is the servant of Herne the Hunter, a personification of the Horned God.

There have been a few other occasions previously where the Horned God legend has intersected with Robins. But not as many as you'd think. It's such a natural fit, that I know many people who assumed that this connection predated the TV series. And yet, the show's creator, Richard Carpenter, has said he was just looking for a Merlin or Obi-Wan Kenobi figure because fantasy seemed popular at the time.

And yet, this TV show has let many to Paganism. Which again, suggests what a good fit the concepts can be.

But they don't have to fit together. Think of all the Robin Hood stories with no magic.

So, where does that leave me? Well, feeling that the legend's origins probably have more to do with real world outlaws, but not completely dismissing the mythic side either.

For an argument from the "mythic" perspective, I suggest people check out: http://hesternic.tripod.com/robinhood.htm

I don't always agree with Hester, but she knows the legend far better than most mythicists who have published on the subject.

In the end, Robin remains a subject for interpretation. Hard to pin down. And viewed different ways by different people.

And I suppose that's what bugs me when I get email complaining about the right-wing Christian movements supressing the truth of the legend. And that anyone who doesn't think Robin Hood is Pagan god made flesh is some evil, anti-Pagan. And yes, I have got those kinds of emails -- and just as dogmatic ones from people who think Robin Hood was based off solely a real person (in some cases, the supposed ancestor of the person writing me.) These emails suggest that there's one right way of looking at things, and I don't believe there is.

Oh, and then there's the Kirklees vampire story. But well... no need to go there.

Allen

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Postby Loosh » 25 Jun 2004, 18:16

Thank you for that! This is fascinating. My only exposure to Robin Hood has been through tv and the movies! But I have been reading a lot of Irish Fairy & Folk Tales lately and the Trouping Fairies always wore green. I see a connection there with Robin Hood trouping through the forest. But I never thought of him connected with magic of the wicca/pagan type. The connection with the Horned God makes sense, too.

So Robin Hood was a real outlaw... and participated in the May games? Are the pagans claiming him as one of their own?
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Postby Wolfwalker » 25 Jun 2004, 23:14

... Aye. Much has been made of the landed but relatively impoverished minor baronet Robyn de Locksley... probably was well liked enopugh that some bard embelished a story of popular uprising about his actual character, ie, dresed in foiester's green and sufficed as his own gamekeeper, etc or some such but was fair in seeing the poor didn't starve either. All I have ever read was that a minor noble of that name as spelled in 20th century transcription existed, but then that's about all one can really say for a many popular figure sof history including Buddha and Jesus, so what's the fuss? Enjoy the tales and believa as you will...
and watch it with that bow laddie buck!
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Postby Nineflowers » 26 Jun 2004, 01:42

I will look at the site tomorrow as it's late now but am looking forward to it as he is one of my big interests.

As a Yorkshirewoman I have to say the Nottingham stuff is definitely a late medieval invention. He's a Yorkshireman. I read somewhere that one of the possible candidates for the historical figure is someone from pretty well the parish I grew up in and somehow I can believe it. :D

He is definitely an historical character, to my mind, not to be confused with Robin Goodfellow. I'm a total *Robin of Sherwood* nerd, by the way - think Richard Carpenter really brought something to it with the *swords and sorcery*.

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Postby marija » 26 Jun 2004, 05:25

Hey Allen,

So you've finally come over to the OBOD message board :D You mentioned today that you're here.

Allen has a deep interest. I'm constantly inundated with whatever he's working on. He's also done some interviews with the local media here in Toronto. Very excellent website.

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May Games and Yorkshire

Postby Allen W. Wright » 26 Jun 2004, 07:17

Hi, Marija.

When I said that the Robin Hood of the May Games was the real one for many people, what I meant was that the Robin Hood performances of the character is how people at the time would have been most familiar with the legend. Not that the original outlaw who inspired the legend participated in them.

The first reference to Robin Hood (the character) playing a part in the May Games comes in Exeter in 1427. Very few of the recorded Robin Hood games took place in Yorkshire. And the first "combined surname" reference comes from Berkshire. (That is to say, in 1261, there was an outlaw named William, Son of Robert Le Fevbre. The next year, he's listed as William Robehod. The theory expounded by Dr. David Crook is that the clerk making the record was alluding to Robin Hood with the name change. Not particularly conclusive.)

A good number of the candidates for the "real Robin Hood" do come from Yorkshire. (For example, the Robin Hood of the court rolls in the 1320s, who may be the same guy as a Robin Hood from Wakefield about a decade earlier.) I think the non-Yorkshire ones get dismissed though, because they aren't from Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire.

Many of the early Robin Hood stories are set in Yorkshire, or to be more precise, Yorkshire AND Nottinghamshire.

Take A Gest of Robyn Hode, in print around 1500 and probably composed about 40 years earlier. Robin's greenwood haunt in that ballad is Barnsdale, which isn't a royal forest, about 6 miles north of Doncaster in Yorkshire. He also inconveniences an abbot from York. And he dies at Kirklees in Yorkshire. However, in the same ballad, he bedevils the sheriff of Nottingham and goes to an archery contest in that city.

In Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne (arguably a medieval ballad, although the surviving copy is a couple centuries later), he refers to himself as Robin Hood of Barnsdale. But in the ballad of Robin Hood and the Monk, surviving from circa 1450, the action clearly takes place in Sherwood.

Sometime between 1400-1425, the Lincoln Cathedral manuscript has the expression "Robin Hood in scherewod stod", but the same expression appears in a 1429 lawsuit as "Robin Hode in Barnsdale stode".

So, by the time the legend is given a location, it's established as being set in both Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire. (To be fair, the Yorkshire locations are usually more obscure and precise than the Nottinghamshire ones. And the older Robin Hood placenames come from Yorkshire. People like Barrie Dobson have theorized that the Sheriff of Nottingham was a much-hated bad guy in a separate set of stories and that they were combined with stories of a Yorkshire outlaw. But that's just guesswork.)

Anyway, over the centuries, the Yorkshire mentions became less frequent. Or they were fictionally shifted to Nottinghamshire, such as Loxley (now a part of Sheffield, in Yorkshire) being referred to as a Nottinghamshire village. There's now reference to a Nottinghamshire Loxley/Locksley, but there are a few others outside of Yorkshire that have tried to claim the legend, such as the Warwickshire Loxley.

People in both counties have often felt slighted. I know folks in Nottinghamshire that have told me they thought Yorkshire folks were trying to steal their legend. And I've known people in Yorkshire who felt Nottingham DID steal their legend. Earlier this year, a Wakefield MP raised the matter in the British Parliament.

My website's name includes both Barnsdale and Sherwood, because I feel it's a big enough legend to share.

Oh, and the issue of when the Robin Hood legend is set? Just as murky. There are times when I can just picture Robin sitting back and laughing at the scholars who try to identify him. Part of the legend's charm, I think.

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Postby Nineflowers » 26 Jun 2004, 11:42

When I just read *Robin Hood in Sherwoode stood*, it struck my mind (As a former scholar of Anglo Saxon and Middle English) that *sher* meant *bright* and was possibly a generic reference to *the bright wood*. The village I am from has *Sher-* in its name too and we are close to the remnants of an old forest which covered more towards the Ferrybridge area, in the past which is where one of the early Robin Hoods appears in court records, I think. We're also only 6 miles from York and I think he's the one that pops up in the York record? Also, wasn't Friar Tuck from St Mary's, in York? For anyone visiting, those are the spectacular ruins in the grounds of the Yorkshire Museum.

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Postby Nimue » 26 Jun 2004, 14:38

Fascinating, I have always been interested in the Robin Hood legend, it strongly resembles the Arthurian legend in the 'many faces of Robin Hood' theme, the fact that a burial place has never been found for him etc.
I also remember being hooked on the TV series as a little girl, Michael Praed - what a fox! :D
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Locations

Postby Allen W. Wright » 26 Jun 2004, 15:27

Actually, Robin has a grave, it's on the old grounds of Kirklees Priory in Yorkshire. The grave was probably shifted a few hundred years ago, and the tombstone was erected after ballad references to the place. But it's a grave. Probably marginally more legitimate than Arthur's at Glastonbury.

Given the Nottingham references strongly tied with Sherwood, I'd assume that it is meant to be the Nottinghamshire Sherwood. (Although there is a Sherwood in Yorkshire too.)

If you were to ask me which likely came first, I'd say it's more likely that the Yorkshire location is older. (For a few reasons - early references to Robin Hood's Stone, the detail of references, the obscurity of locations - it seems more likely that the legend would move to a more famous location than a less famous one.) But it's not conclusive. The first time we get location references (other than the various, debatable real Robin Hoods), it's in both places.

Actually, Friar Tuck is connected with Fountains Abbey, near Ripon. That's mentioned in the ballad "Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar". (Yes, there's also a Fountaindale in Nottinghamshire, but it doesn't show up until after the ballad's been printed.)

And lovely abbey ruins they are too.

St. Mary's Abbey, York, did produce a corrupt abbot and cellarer in the Gest. In the Elizabethan play, The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntington, the evil prior from that abbey is Robin's uncle and responsible for the title's downfall. (In the Gest, the prior is portrayed as being a bit nicer than his fellows in the abbey.)

The truly sad thing is that I've been to both abbey ruins, and spoke to people there. And at neither place were they aware of the legendary connections.

And in all of Yorkshire - which teems with Robin Hood locations - there's only one blue heritage plaque. In Wentbridge, Barnsdale area, on the bridge over the river Went. Only one in the whole county.

As for real Robin Hoods, I think it's completely impossible to know for sure. By the time we get ahold of the legend as a legend, it's grown far beyond the deeds of one man. That said, I think the Robert Hod (aka Hobbehod) in the York records circa 1225 is the most likely. Right location, time and unlike many candidates, we actually know he's an outlaw. But "most likely" doesn't really count for that much with so much uncertainty.

Allen

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Postby Nineflowers » 26 Jun 2004, 17:54

Allen

Funny you should say about people here not being aware of their Robin Hood heritage as I've often thought the same (Although they're building a *Robin Hood* airport in South Yorks, I think, as we speak!)

The Robin Hood's well is probably the best known site, just on the A1, the major road North until the motorways were built.

Just got back from Robin Hood's Bay this week and there's not a single bit of tourist info there, that I'm aware of, that refers to why the town has its name. It's odd because you'd expect them to cash in. I visit there constantly in the summer months as it's just over an hour from our house and is one of the most unspoilt seaside towns and the thing is, compared to other Yorkshire coastal towns, it clearly has more foreign tourists so people do find the place.

Yes, I know about Kirklees, by the way as my father comes from Leeds and that's only half an hour or so away. I think the locals all assume it has no true Robin hood connections. Isn't there a *Little John* grave as well, in Derbyshire?



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Postby Stohornugle » 26 Jun 2004, 18:24

Hi

I live very near Barnsdale Bar and Wentbridge so Robin Hood is part of my local lore. There is also a place nearby on the great north road that is called little Johns well I can remember seeing it as a child but can't seem to find it now. Oh yes and he's a yorkshire man! :lol:

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Yorkshire Tourism

Postby Allen W. Wright » 27 Jun 2004, 02:24

I believe the new Robin Hood International Airport is in Doncaster, just south of Barnsdale. A great name for their airport.

I wish that more could be done about Yorkshire Robin Hood tourism. I gather there are some moves afoot, and I wish them well. I certainly think it would help if the people conducting tours of St. Mary's Abbey didn't say to Canadian tourists in rather patronizing tones "That's Nottinghamshire, lad." when they mention the Robin Hood associations with the abbey.

I just visited the Robin Hood's Bay tourism website the other day, and was struck by how beautiful that village is. I haven't made it there yet on my Robin Hood pilgrimages. I know some Yorkshire folks have done their bit to enshrine the village in fiction. Theresa Tomlinson includes it in her Forestwife novel.

What bothers me is the sense among some that tourism can only exist in one county. I know of one Yorkshireman who advocates hauling the Nottingham Robin Hood statue to Sheffield. Why not build another one in Sheffield? And one in Wakefield, Barnsdale Bar and wherever else one could go?

But as I said, it's sad that some Yorkshire folks aren't aware of their Robin Hood heritage. I imagine that when the next big Robin Hood film gets made, that there will be a killing to be had in tourism. The airport's probably a good first step.

Yes, there's a Little John's Grave in Hathersage, Derbyshire:

http://www.boldoutlaw.com/images/ljgrave.jpg
http://www.boldoutlaw.com/images/melg.jpg

Here's the only blue plaque related to the Robin Hood legend in Yorkshire:

http://www.boldoutlaw.com/images/wentplaq.jpg

Robin Hood's Well, not far away:

http://www.boldoutlaw.com/images/rhwell.jpg

The River Skell leading into Fountains Abbey (reputedly the stream which Friar Tuck carried Robin across):

http://www.boldoutlaw.com/images/fountuc1.jpg

Robin Hood's grave at Kirklees:

http://www.boldoutlaw.com/images/merhgrv.jpg
http://www.boldoutlaw.com/images/rhalla.jpg

And just so the Nottinghamshire crowd don't feel left out:

The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest

http://www.boldoutlaw.com/images/03maj1.jpg

Other Sherwood Trees:

http://www.boldoutlaw.com/images/03sher3.jpg

http://www.boldoutlaw.com/images/03sher4.jpg

The Robin Hood statue outside "Nottingham Castle"

http://www.boldoutlaw.com/images/03rhstat.jpg

Will Scarlet's Grave in Blidworth

http://www.boldoutlaw.com/images/wsgrave.jpg

More can be seen at:

http://www.boldoutlaw.com/robpics/


Allen

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Robin Hood documentary

Postby Allen W. Wright » 27 Jun 2004, 02:27

Oh, for any Canadians on the list, at 6am (Eastern time) on Sunday, June 27, History Television is airing the documentary Robin Hood: The First Outlaw Hero. The interviews are all very accurate, but the voiceover narration isn't. So, some true statements are strung together in a way to create a false impression. Still there's some educational value to be had. (And I have a five or ten second appearance in it.)

Allen

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Postby lupiana » 27 Jun 2004, 02:27

Allen, you site is delightful! I've only scratched the surface and I'm hooked! Are you going to put this into book format someday? Thanks both to you for your research and EarthWard for bringing it to our attention!
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RH Books...

Postby Allen W. Wright » 27 Jun 2004, 02:43

Thanks for the compliment.

I've thought about writing a book. In terms of non-fiction, I'd probably do it on a specific aspect of the legend and leave the website for the really broad range. My thoughts are doing a book on Robin Hood comics, that would be a mixture of text and information from me and reprints of old comic books. (And I have two 1950s comic books reprinted at http://www.boldoutlaw.com/rhbal/ )

On a related topic would be Robin Hood's relationship with authority. It's first something I explore through the comic books, and then on papers about the role of the Sheriff and religion in the modern legend. It does interest me how the outlaw hero is defined in today's world.

But most of all, I'd like to produce some Robin Hood fiction. I want to actually further the legend and add some things to it. I have several ideas. I'd love to do comics or some short stories. One idea is a short story collection where each story has a different version of Robin Hood. In one he's a yeoman, in another an earl, etc. But the story would contain the occasional reference to one of the other short stories, even though they slightly contradicted in setting.

The only idea that's really book length is set in the 17th century and features, among other things, the spirit of Robin Hood encountering Oliver Cromwell. Of course, the research for England in 1649 will be daunting. I think there are a lot of English Civil War (well, just after the war in this case) enthusiasts who probably know what Cromwell and Fairfax had for breakfast each day. I wanted a story set around Whitsun in 1649, preferably in Oxfordshire... and wouldn't it be nice if Cromwell happened to be in the area. I looked in a book, and that's precisely where he was at the time I wanted to set the story and doing something that fits really well with the plot.

Allen

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Postby Fitheach » 27 Jun 2004, 02:53

Thank you, Allen, this is a wonderful site!
Tha gliocas an ceann an fhitich
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