Robin Hood has enthralled generations of readers and movie goers. This English outlaw-hero has become of symbol of freedom against tyranny, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. But who was Robin Hood? How much is grounded in myth and how much is reality?
Who Was Robin? Better Yet…Who Wasn’t He?!
Robin’s identity has been disputed by scholars for years. Scraps of evidence from various documents pointing to different men in different periods during the Middle Ages. So which guy was actually Robin? Well, Robin wasn’t just one guy, he was more like 5! There was a Robin of Loxley (appearing as “Robert de Locksley” in 1245 in court rolls). There’s a Robin Hood of York who appeared in the York Assizes when he was declared an outlaw in 1226. There is also a Robin Hood of Wakefield, dated to the 14th century, and even a “Roger Godbeard” who was a supporter of Simon de Monfort in the 1260s but never definitively proven to be the outlaw. So many Robins!
Robin Hood and King Richard the Lionheart
What entrenched Robin as a contemporary of Richard wasn’t any hard and fast historical evidence, but a whim. Up until the 16th century, Robin was placed in many different periods, ranging from the rule of from Richard I to Edward III. In the 16th century, Scottish philosopher John Mair proposed this new date (the 1190s) and it stuck. Robin was now permanently associated wit the late 12th century.
Victorian Robin Hood
The Victorians were obsessed with the Middle Ages, so in the in the 19th century, it came as no surprise that Robin’s tale took on added bits and pieces. During this period, the notion of Robin as a Saxon fighting an evil Norman Lord evolved. It was thought that this idea was influenced by the popular medieval novel by Sir Walter Scott, “Ivanhoe”. Victorian illustrator Howard Pyle also contributed to the myth. Pyle was well known for his depictions of Robin Hood and was credited with developing several characters in the legend.
The Merry Men
Although in some tales, there were well over 100 “Merry Men” lurking about Sherwood forest with Robin, the original outlaw band only consisted of: Little John, Will Scarlet (Scarlock), and Much the Miller’s Son. Friar Tuck and Alan-a-Dale didn’t come along in the legend as prominent players until much later. Friar Tuck didn’t appear until 1475, and Alan-a-Dale, the minstrel, first appeared in a 17th century ballad alongside David of Doncaster, Arthur a Bland, and Will Stutely. The latest member to join the Merry Men occurred in the late 20th century with the addition of a Saracen, Nasir. The band as we know it in Hollywood films today has been cobbled together with members stretching across several centuries.
Robin’s sweetheart was initially associated with medieval May Day celebrations. Marian was originally symbolic of the Virgin Mary and it wasn’t until the 16th c. century that she was firmly established as Robin’s love interest. At this point, she was also turned into a medieval noblewoman. In later adaptations, Marian became rebellious, and is often depicted as a strong female character.