England- A Problem with Legends
As it will have been recalled in Part 7 True History of The Isles – Part 7 – Legends and Heroes England has had this trouble with a dearth of truly memorable folk heroes. Whereas Irelands had annals full of them, Wales had everything carefully complied in the Mabinoigion and the Scots were creating an impressive catalogue of laments, the English were still getting sorted out from being Anglo-Saxons, Normans and Anglo-Normans and because as such a culture of heroes had just not gelled. And you can only rely on saints for just so long, anyhow they are rather saintly and thus not much material for good old ale-house questionable ballads.
Some had suggested Beowulf only to be told rather forcefully that he was at least Swedish or Norwegian, if not a Viking and that was that, even if some kings liked to have the poetry read out at court, they’d not been on the business end of a Viking raid had they? Hereward The Wake showed promise but as shown in Part 18 A True History of The Isles Part 18- The Rule of William The Conqueror (and also The I) William (the Norman who Conquered) on finding out the lad was possibly legendary had made it known Hereward had fled to Europe and gone into hiding, which made Hereward look like a bit of slacker. And having to rely on Tales of Arthur was pretty humiliating, since everyone knew he was either a Briton or Arthr-Briton which made him Welsh. Thus the search was on.
A Number of Robins
Somewhere around the 12th and 13th centuries because there were more records being kept (as there were more monks and more courts,) some potentially interesting men called Robin arose. They lived hard lives, some up trees others in hedges; they seemed to go in for robbing which possibly gave rise to the name and also killing. A few had a tendency to castrate naughty members of the clergy, naturally this put them at odds with the Church, though maybe some priests wouldn’t have minded if they had restricted this part of their activities to Bishops. Eventually good taste and sensibilities weeded out those Robins who killed the not-so-Merry Men, murdered page boys, and never even heard of Maid Marian, then placed him with a loyalty to Good King Richard and a religious streak. This also saved the problem of trying to make acceptable either Fulk fitzWarin or Eustace The Monk who although contemporaneous who Robin led such rebellious and questionable lives, after all how can you tell respectable tales of a member of the clergy who was a pirate or a man called Fulk?
Robin The Socially Acceptable Hood
In order that the lower orders of nobility could also enjoy the tales it was asserted that Robin was actually a lord who was very loyal to GOOD King Richard and so had his lands stolen away by evil followers of BAD King John. Being a good sort rather than raise a retinue of rough and unseemly soldiers and ravage (the usual response). He fled, from wherever he was dispossessed and hid in an area so thick with trees it was known as Sheerwood located in the Nottingham area. He soon encountered a very tall man who was obviously called Little John, as was the social norm of the times they fought each other over the right to balance on a log across a stream and hurled each other in the water so many times they became great friends. With his entry into Nottingham society assured Robin made good company with Alan-a-Tale an itinerant folk singer who would produce several album’s worth of ballads about Robin; a lad who was so proud of his father that he was only known as Much-The-Miller’s-Son and Will Scarlet who obviously being an early socialist convinced Robin of the need of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. He also encountered one Tuck a member of the clergy with a mysterious past, it was likely he was a hedge-priest as friars hadn’t been invented. These were very unpopular with the nobility and the church as they tended to leap out from behind foliage and organise impromptu Masses and preach about the rights of the poor. Thus with theological backing, a socialist doctrine and men who knew their way about the forest Robin set about re-distribution of the wealth winning archery contests by splitting marrows and telling everyone how GOOD King Richard was.
Although the work of apprehending, imprisoning, trying and executing Robin (and as many Merry Men as possible) was down to the local authorities, in this case the Sheriff of Nottingham; this seemed beyond their capacity; probably due to Spending Cuts imposed by the Chancellor. Thus typically this job was put out to private tender and as one Guy of Gisborne put forward the cheapest bid he was hired. Accounts are sketchy, in some cases he is colourfully killed by Robin, in others he gives up on the task and tries to woo-
Maid Marian; who despite being titled A Maid and a lady of gentle birth was wont to go wandering into Sherwood Forest all by herself. Eventually she met Robin who was naturally noble to her and they naturally fell in love, in some versions Robin finds out her name is actually Matilda and he has her change it to Marian straight away as that would simply not do See Part 21.A True History of the Isles Part 21- 1135-1154 Who Is Who and Who is in Charge of England Anyhow?
Robin became so famous that Richard The GOOD King stopped off slaughtering folk and made his way back to England (being captured on the way) just so that he could meet Robin in disguise and have Robin kneel before him in Homage (or Sherwood). What Richard wouldn’t do for publicity.
The latter was Robin’s downfall, for on finding out Richard was sneaking about the country, John (then Just A Prince) decided to take a hand himself, knowing that Robin was registered with local prioress for medical treatment, who had a (ahem) romantic attachment to Sir Roger of Doncaster. John made himself known to Sir Roger who took the hint. The naughty prioresses poisoned Robin, Roger stabbed Robin and Robin died, shooting one last arrow, missing Sir Roger and Little John who turned up too late. Marian became a nun, the Merry men stopped being Merry and John eventually became king. Thus Robin’s heroic status was made certain having correctly died of betrayal, treachery and leaving a tragically unhappy ending.
As there were so many ballads, gestes (dunno, your geste is as good as mine) folk-tales and mid-summer plays about Robin, Shakespeare didn’t bother. That was left to writers of the 19th and subsequent centuries. He also made it impossible for any other English folk- heroes to get a look-in. But that’s Show-Biz.
In the next and last chapter of this volume we shall end off the era with the most formidable, the most astute, the most (for misogynistic male writers) unavoidable Eleanor of Aquitaine!!