ROBIN HOOD’S MERRY MEN: Alan a Dale
Here we go again with the multiple spellings of character names. Alan is the current favorite, but Allen, Alen, Allin and others also appear. In my book, the sequel to Walk the Wild With Me, DAW Books 2019 by Rachel Atwood, I chose Alain, the French version. The surname of a Dale is sometimes a Dayle or O’Dayle.
Alan doesn’t appear in the Robin Hood mythology until the mid-14th C. In that tale he is a sorry minstrel about to wed the love of his life, but at the last minute she is given to a much older, and sometimes cruel, knight. Robin and his band stop the wedding, best the old knight and Alan is married to his lady. She is rarely given a name but Ellen is the most common one. One of the band dons the bishop’s robes and then performs the wedding ceremony. Sometimes it is Robin himself, or Little John, or more logically Friar Tuck—the only one who can make it legal unless we abide by a common law marriage.
A wife is not a likely person to join the Robin Hood’s band and thus Alan’s story often ends here.
The minstrel often wears scarlet and is therefore confused with Will Scarlett, they seem interchangeable in the later stories. They are also both singers. But Alan is not a fighter. His only, and infrequent, role seems to be entertainment at feasts in the wildwood and to carry the tales of Robin Hood to the rest of the world.
There is a version of Alan’s story that stems from the early 19thC, when dark and gothic romanticism was at its height. When King Richard left the Holy Land at the close of his Crusade, he was kidnapped and eventually imprisoned by the Holy Roma Emperor. The ransom demand was enough to cripple the English economy along with the wealthy provinces held by Richard.
Richard’s imprisonment was not in some dark and dank castle dungeon. He was probably treated graciously with only his word of honor preventing his escape. However, in the early 1800s it was more romantic to think of him languishing in a prison cell in an unknown German castle. Enter the wandering minstrel Alan a Dale.
A troubadour could wander Europe with impunity. He could gather information without seeming a spy. Only he could find King Richard the Lionhearted and help him escape before England was bankrupted.
And the Romantic hearts of the era added a blood kinship between Alan and Richard. Either as Richard’s illegitimate son, or illegitimate brother, Alan had the motivation to endure great hardship in his quest. In these stories, Alan sits outside the castle and sings a favorite song from Richard’s childhood. But the song is also a code, so the two men plan and effect Richard’s escape so that he can return to England, and and save the land, and Robin Hood, from evil Prince John’s greedy manipulation.