John Major's dating is purely arbitrary, and two of his contemporaries give Robin's dates as or ; while the full date on the Kirklees gravestone, 25 Kalends Decembris , is impossible as there is no 25 Kalends in the Roman calendar. The only thing to be said in favour of Major's dating is that it fits well with the only two firm pieces of evidence we have, the court rolls of and On this basis, I think we would be fully justified in saying that Robin Hood was active during the reign of King John, but that his fame and popularity were such that within a generation his true identity had been obscured by legend.
Another historical outlaw of John's time suffered similar identity problems even during his lifetime, but he dealt with them in no uncertain fashion. Fulk fitzWarin was furious when he discovered that a northern robber, Piers de Bruville, was using Fulk's name to cover his banditry. He ambushed Piers and his men in a house they were raiding and forced Piers to tie his men to their seats and behead every one of them with his own hands. When the ugly task was finished, Fulk struck off Piers' head himself, saying: 'None shall ever charge me falsely with theft. Fulk is in fact a far more interesting character than Robin Hood, with a personal link to King John.
He was a childhood friend of John's, but their relationship was a stormy one. One day, whilst playing chess, John broke the chessboard over Fulk's head. In retaliation, Fulk kicked John in the stomach, and when John went crying to his father, it was John who was beaten for complaining. On the death of his father in , Fulk took over his ancestral holding at Whittington; but when John came to power, he gave the honour to Fulk's old enemy, Morys fitzRoger. Fulk reacted by murdering Morys and fleeing into outlawry, where he levied war against John and his agents for 3 years. Pardoned in November , he recovered Whittington and remained in the king's peace until joining the baronial rebellion in support of Magna Carta in He was not reconciled to the king until , and died c.
Around these bare facts a wonderfully fanciful romance has been woven in an Anglo-French chronicle which dates to the C13th. The same is true of another historical outlaw, Eustace the Monk, who seized control of the island of Sark in and terrorised the Channel with piracy until killed at Sandwich in Both of these interweave magical incidents and anecdotes reminiscent of the tales of Hereward the Wake; but they also contain stories which can be directly compared to some of the tales of Robin Hood. Eustace, like Robin, disguises himself as a potter in order to confound his enemies: Fulk disguises himself as a charcoal-burner.
Fulk robs the king's merchants, at the king's expense, and forces them to dine with him. Eustace pulls exactly the same trick as Robin when he asks those he waylays how much they are carrying, and lets them off if they tell the truth; and like Robin with the Sheriff of Nottingham, Fulk lures the king into the forest, where he kidnaps him, invites him to dinner and eventually lets him go. These parallels are not mere coincidences, they are exact analogies, and they share much of the same mythological basis as the earlier tales of Hereward the Wake who himself uses disguises and trickery.
If our dating of Robin Hood is correct, then the tales are contemporaneous, and what we can see here is the development of a popular mythology which eulogises those men who stood out against the excesses of John's rule.
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In the reign of Henry II, the outlaw was a villain. Warin de Wolcote was a parasite on society, and Henry did everyone a favour when he marched into Sherwood Forest, dragged him to Northampton and stuck his head on the city gates. By the time of John, all this has changed. Now the likes of Fulk fitzWarin no relation , Eustace the Monk and Robin Hood are the gadflies of authority, who turn injustice on its head.
Robin Hood -- Wolfshead Through the Ages: The History of a Legend
They may not rob the rich to feed the poor, but they do beat the strong to help the weak. This explains the enduring popularity of the Robin Hood legends; they are the little man's way of striking back. Search term:. Read more. This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets CSS enabled. In the Gest Robin is depicted as a Yeoman of the King who, despite his privileged position, misses the forest and so chooses to abandon the court.
Robin Hood takes on a role as an administrator of justice for the underclass in the Gest. When Little John consults his leader for guidance on whom to beat, rob, and kill, Robin Hood provides him with a code divided along the lines of rich and poor. No peasants, yeomen, and virtuous squires were to be harmed. In the Gest the type of villains has widened to include more figures at odds with the lower classes. The Robin Hood legend also takes a bloodier turn than in previous versions as vengeance is delivered to villains.
In the Gest Robin shoots the sheriff with an arrow and then slits his throat with a sword. In a 15th-century manuscript of Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne , Robin is not content with just killing his opponent, Guy. He also mutilates the corpse with a knife, a deed he carries out with considerable relish.
Scholars sometimes explain these recurring themes of duping and punishing corrupt people in power as reflecting a struggle between dispossessed Saxons of the countryside and the powerful Norman rulers in the cities. In the centuries when the Robin Hood legend was taking shape, the English government was beset by a number of crises that upended the social order.
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A civil war in the 12th century, later known as the Anarchy, led to a catastrophic breakdown in law and order. In the 16th century Robin Hood lost some of his dangerous edge as he and his men were absorbed into celebrations of May Day. Every spring, the English would herald in the spring with a festival that often featured athletic contests as well as electing the kings and queens of May.
As part of the fun, participants would dress up in costume as Robin Hood and his men to attend the revels and the games. It is during this period that Robin Hood also became fashionable among the royalty and even associated with nobility. There, accompanied by his noblemen, he entertained the queen and ladies-in-waiting with his exuberant dancing and high jinks. Several more characters begin to appear in the Robin Hood stories at this point.
One is Maid Marian, and the other is Friar Tuck. The two enter into the legend at around the same time. Like Robin Hood, these two were also popular figures at the May games, and they begin appearing in literary works as well.
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His popularity grew in the coming years, and he appeared more frequently in later works, such as Robin Hood and the Friar from the s. This work features an episode where the monk bests Robin Hood and tosses him in a stream. In the Elizabethan era Robin Hood became a popular presence in plays staged for the upper classes. Several playwrights, such as William Shakespeare , featured him in their works. Most notable was Anthony Munday, who wrote two plays centered around Robin Hood. Munday reinvents the outlaw as an aristocrat: Robert, Earl of Huntington, whose uncle disinherits him.
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