What have historians said about Robin Hood, who he was, and the social and political context in which the early tales emerged?
When Ritson first started his job as High Bailiff of the Liberty of the Savoy, no one really knew what the job entailed. So Ritson decided to research the subject.
The following lines were written by the antiquary Joseph Ritson (1752–1803) and were first printed in the Newcastle Miscellany in 1772, then later as a standalone tract.
It would have fallen to the lot of a poorly paid Victorian governess to practice playing Robin Hood with children in the nursery.
‘The truth and nothing but the truth’—it’s a well-known phrase used in courts of law and most of us have heard it on TV dramas. But where did the phrase first come from?
Historians and literary critics previously assumed that Joseph Ritson (1752-1803) had no knowledge of a 15th-century poem of “Robin Hood and the Monk”. They are quite wrong.
In 1832, the publisher Charles Knight had a bright idea: every Saturday he would publish a new magazine which whose aim was to educate working-class readers about their world. It would not contain news, and would therefore be exempt from the Stamp Tax (the much-hated “tax on knowledge”), meaning that its retail price would be very low at only 1d.
In the 18th century, a man could vote twice. He also expected to be paid expenses if he had to travel to vote. He also expected to be wined and dined by the
Joseph Ritson was a man of humble beginnings, a great scholar, a friend to the poor, and a radical, and his work had a profound influence on 19th- and 20th-century Robin Hood novels and films.
“A general spirit of discontent has long been increasing among the people: it has at last broken out among the lower class in London.”
Joseph Ritson stated that the poem was “a dull performance and scarcely merits the care of a modern impression.”
Robin Hood has always been an awkward socialist figure, but according to William Morris (1834-1896), he prepared the way for the radical preacher, John Ball (d.1381).
In 1865 the penny dreadul “Little John and Will Scarlet” appeared, full of ideas of democracy and egalitarianism.
Paper Presented to the Women’s History Network Conference, Leeds Trinity University, 16-17 September 2016.
Abstract: The earliest ballads of Robin Hood such as A Gest of Robyn Hode (c.1450) and Robin Hood and the Potter (c.1450) give no clue as to the manner of Robin Hood’s birth. This was still the case when Joseph Ritson published his influential ballad anthology entitled Robin Hood: A Collection of All the Ancient Poems, Songs, and Ballads (1795). Five years after Ritson, however, Robert Jamieson published Popular Ballads and Songs, from Tradition, Manuscripts, and Scarce Editions (1806). In that collection two new never-before-seen Robin Hood ballads appeared entitled The Birth of Robin Hood and The Wedding of Robin Hood and Little John. Jamieson had transcribed the ballads from Anna Gordon Brown of Falkland, Scotland. Although twentieth-century Robin Hood critics have derided Mrs. Brown’s ballads as being of little merit compared to earlier material, Mrs. Brown enjoyed a ‘literary afterlife’ in the tradition as Goody – the old woman who recites Robin Hood stories to dinner guests – in the first ever Robin Hood novel entitled Robin Hood: A Tale of the Olden Time (1819). The proposed paper, therefore, is intended to fit into the panel ‘Women Collectors and Collected Women’.
In Thomas Miller’s novel ‘Royston Gower’ (1838), Robin Hood is portrayed as a medieval Chartist activist.
Walter Scott’s novel “Ivanhoe” (1819) is perhaps the best Robin Hood story ever written.
An atheist, monarchy-hating, Robin Hood scholar.
Examining how Scott’s fictional interpretation of the Middle Ages, in particular the notion that Robin Hood was a Saxon yeoman, influenced historical scholarship in the early-to-mid nineteenth century.
In the 16th century there was an understanding among some thinkers that Christ may have died on a simple wooden stake or tree, rather than a two beam cross, and similarly the Geste of Robyn Hode makes reference to “Cryst that dyed on a tree”.
This is a copy of the paper I gave at the British Association for Romantic Studies International Conference, 19 – 19 July 2015.