The myth of Robin Hood occurs frequently in English and as a result American popular culture. Being immortalised in movie greats such as the Disney film of 1973 and not-so-greats such as the spandex-clad 1991 film starring Kevin Costner. This was a film that unleashed the Bryan Adams cheese-fest “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” on the unsuspecting [read, undeserving] world. As entertaining as both these films may be, how much of the tale is rooted in truth and what, if any, is pure fiction?
|Source: Daren Green|
There is one fact that stands clear above all in the Robin Hood debate and that is that his existence has never once been proven. But with such a rich tale there surely must be some basis of truth in it. The UK short break specialists Center Parcs, whose head office is in Sherwood Forest, know a thing or two about forest holidays and have asked me to look into the matter and split fact from fiction.
How Old Is He?
That there is a definite change in the roles of Robin Hood throughout the centuries is unquestionable. The first mentioning of the outlaw comes in the 15th Century where these words are written, “Robyn hode in scherewode stod”. But even this most simple fact seems debatable. The modern Robin Hood is depicted as being the leader of a band of outlaws that live in Sherwood Forest. But many of the early tales place him up and down the country, with a particular focus on the Yorkshire area with some sources placing him as north as Whitby on the Yorkshire coast. This obviously runs against what modern retellings would have us believe. I believe this location shift came about in the time when he was pitted against his archenemy, the Sherriff of Nottingham.
The Sherriff of Nottingham is of course renowned for his cruel and exploitative reign of terror over the poor peasants of Nottingham. He ran an extortion racket that Don Vito Corleone would be proud to call his own, whether or not he made the peasants an offer they couldn’t refuse is unfortunately lost to the annals of history. This strand of the tale plants itself in the reign of King Richard I, who in absentia (off crusading) imparted the power of tax collection on the Sherriff. This addition definitely came about later than the 15th Century mentioning quoted above. Other than Richard I’s reign, Robin has been placed in the era of King Edward, handily without any clarification of exactly which one. Considering there has been eight King Edwards this really does throw the cat amongst the historical pigeons and make it very hard to accurately date our favourite bandit. A good assumption would be to place him in the era of one of the first three who all directly succeeded one another after the death of King Richard I.
Robin’s Merry Men (And Woman)
So, if even the era in which our outlaw lived is debatable then surely the rocks by his side, his most prized allies were based in reality? I’m sorry to say that even this appears questionable. With the exception of Little John all the prominent members of his band of merry men are added on at a later date. Maid Marian may well come from an oral tradition originating in France of a shepherdess named Marion and her shepherd lover Robin. Friar Tuck is also added at around the same time as Marian. Both Marian and Tuck find their roots in the May Games, a pagan celebration for the beginning of spring. Robin himself is mentioned throughout these tales and so it is probably in the lines of these songs that the band unites rather than in the forests of Nottingham.
Robin The Philanthropist
So far I have pretty much knocked a lot of the truth out of the Robin Hood story, but surely his famed charitable ways have some basis in truth? What of “Take from the rich and give to the poor”? Well you will be pleased to hear that this seems to be as pivotal to the whole tale as Robin himself. This kind nature goes back to the earliest books written about the man.
Unfortunately it appears that a lot of the Robin Hood myth is exactly that, a myth. But that is not to say there can be no element of truth in it, far from it in fact. For a figure to have proven so irresistible to storytellers and writers alike there must be a grain of truth in it somewhere. That his story has been twisted throughout the centuries is inevitable as the oral tradition of storytelling as something akin to Chinese Whispers. Maybe it’s just the romantic in me, but I want to believe in our swashbuckling hero and I’ll be darned if the lack of facts will get in my way. What do you think? Fact? Or fiction?
Disclosure: This is a featured guest post in association with Center Parcs. Please see my disclosure policy for further details.