Robin Hood’s Merry Men: Robin Hood
To wind up this romp through Sherwood Forest, I’m giving you a sketch of Robin Hood himself, the heart and soul of legend, ballads, poetry, folklore, and modern media.
Robert Locksley, displaced Earl of Huntington (or Locksley) is a Romantic (in the classic literary sense) and compelling hero. He is a larger than life and has evolved along with his audiences. There is little if any evidence that such a figure ever existed. The naysayers pluck out truly ancient lore about Puck or Robin Goodfellow from oral tradition and fragments of crumbling scrolls to identify him.
In a way, this makes sense. Robin Hood is intrinsically linked to Sherwood Forest and a communal life amongst the trees, along with any of the fae that might linger there. Robin’s archery skills are often considered supernatural, and so he becomes an Elf who can take human form. His ability to hide among the greenwood is preternatural, so make him a gnome, or a hobgoblin, or even a dryad.
The nobles who lost money and tax revenues to the outlaw Robin Hood would agree with that. And if he’s a supernatural being, he’s not subject to mortal laws. Shoot him on site.
But what if Robin was a real person, not just a literary character, but a person?
When Robin Hood begins to appear in ballads and poems, his life is set in the time of Richard the Lionheart’s reign while he was away from England. The king left England and his French domain for his Crusade to the Holy Land. Then on the way home he was kidnapped and held for ransom by the Holy Roman Emperor. This is a period of severe discontent in England. Prince John, Richard’s younger brother, was left as regent. Depending upon the biographer, John was much disliked by his nobles for a number of reasons—everything from his uncontrollable sexual appetites, to the fact that he stayed in England and managed his domains with hands-on personal control.
Romantics have made a gracious and beloved king out of Richard. He was tall, blond, and a charismatic leader who inspired intense loyalty. John was shorter, darker, and too suspicious of others to make friends. He didn’t trust anyone, and few trusted him. He’s an easy villain, along with his one true friend, Sir Philip Marc the Sheriff of Nottingham, and former French merenary.
Many men went missing for years after the Crusades. Some made it home again carrying fabulous wealth (loot) with them
Some never returned and were declared dead by relatives that wanted to inherit any wealth, land, or titles the Crusader might have carried.
So, it is easy to imagine a minor nobleman (for him to be real, the bloodlines of Earls and other great nobles is too easy to trace, so make him a lesser baron with only a small holding) being delayed in his return to blessed England and his loving, or betraying, family. Without DNA, fingerprint, or photographic evidence to back up his claim, a retreat into Sherwood Forest with a few outlaw friends would be a natural course of action. Prince John and later King John was always short of cash to fund his wars in France. Theft was the only way Robin could earn money quickly to buy back what he’d lost.
Robin Hood becomes a plausible character. Each of his Merry Men, and his lady love Marion, then becomes a symbol or metaphor for other people in the period.
Times of strife are times when people need heroes and champions. When the poems and ballads began general circulation during the Wars of the Roses, they may have been part of the oral tradition before this, but were not recorded. During this period, kings on both sides of the conflict were often… lacking in leadership qualities. Finding Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart in history must have seemed soothing, and exhilarating, giving the audience something to cheer about, long for, and believe that the past truly was a better time and place.
And so, we have a character to lead the merry adventurers down through the ages.
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