“Talk of Robin Hood and Little John, and their dingy imitators in this metropolis described by Dickens and Ainsworth … The same man passes from one form into another – developing, according to the changes in society, from a forester to a mountaineer, thence to a highwayman, thence to an instructor of pickpockets and the receiver of their day’s work in St. Giles.”
All of the newspapers which covered the event paid significant attention to the panel on Robin Hood, which, if it happened to a Robin Hood conference today, would be a significant publicity coup.
The following poem, written by “J.A.” and titled “Robin Hood’s Grave” appeared in the Newcastle Magazine in November 1827. It has been transcribed by Stephen Basdeo.
What have historians said about Robin Hood, who he was, and the social and political context in which the early tales emerged?
“when our happy credulity in all things is woefully abated, and our faith in the supernatural fled, we still retain our taste for the adventurous deeds and wild lives of brigands.”
With hideous face, and tuneless note, A ballad-singer strains his throat; Roars out the life of Betty Saunders, With Turpin Dick, and Molly Flanders; Tells many woeful tragic stories, Recorded of our British worthies.
Robin Hood scholars consistently publish excellent new peer-reviewed research in edited volumes, and the latest offering from editors Valerie Johnson and Lesley Coote is no exception to this. This new book entitled Robin Hood in Outlaw/ed Spaces: Media, Performance, and Other New Directions contains essays written by a number of different scholars on varying topics. There truly is something for Robin Hood scholars and medievalists of any calling, whether they work in the field of medieval studies, nineteenth-century literature, or twentieth-century culture, and this review only picks up on a couple of the highlights from the collection.
The strongest sympathy was manifested by the men of Saxon origin for Robin Hood, whom they looked upon as their chieftain and defender,—“I would rather die,” said an old woman to him one day—I would rather die than not do all I might to save thee; for who fed and clothed me and mine but thou and Little John.”
Bad Will Scarlet and the Good Sheriff: “Robin Hood: A Tale of the Olden Time” (1819) | Stephen Basdeo
Few Romanticists are aware of the two-volume historical romance Robin Hood: A Tale of the Olden Time, published in Edinburgh in July 1819. A cynic might say that our anonymous author had initially written a generic inheritance drama but decided late in the game, for marketing purposes, to change it into a Robin Hood novel.
The “Glorious Trio” first appeared in Leno’s collection titled Drury Lane Lyrics and Other Poems (1867). It celebrates three of England’s greatest medieval heroes: Robin Hood, Wat Tyler, Hereward the Wake.
Almost all western societies hold in reverence two “anonymous” figures: the worker and “the unknown soldier.” Ernst Jünger would have us venerate a third figure: The Forest Rebel. The Forest Rebel has been present in nearly every society and is a symbol of resistance to tyranny.
It would have fallen to the lot of a poorly paid Victorian governess to practice playing Robin Hood with children in the nursery.
St George’s Day seems as fitting time as ever to publish a “new” Robin Hood poem I found titled “Saxon Grit” in the archives of a long-defunct Christian socialist magazine titled The Labour Prophet in 1892.
1660: England’s great republican leader, Oliver Cromwell, had died. A new king ascends the throne. Theatres had reopened. What better way to enjoyn yourself than watching the latest Robin Hood play?
Dorothy found that the hardest subject to teach her children was history. “They had never heard of Robin Hood,” she remarked, “and never played at being Cavaliers and Roundheads.”
Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley were outlaws who were as famous as Robin Hood. Now they’re entirely forgotten!
“The story had been amended [by the tramps] … just as children amend the stories of Samson and Robin Hood … It was oral tradition lingering on, like a faint echo from the Middle Ages.”
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.
John Mathew Gutch is often overlooked by modern Robin Hood scholars but, for a brief period in the Victorian era, he was the UK’s most famous Robin Hood historian.
Most authors promise themselves they’ll never look at reviews of their book, but we can never help maybe sneakily wondering if our ‘average star’ count on Amazon has gone up or whether a feature has been done on your book on the local radio (and let me tell you, Goodreads reviewers are the harshest taskmasters). But I was lucky enough to have my Robin Hood book featured on an Australian radio station
The summer of 1791 was an unusually wet one. The young schoolboy, and future Poet Laureate, Robert Southey, therefore had a lot of time on his hands. It was probably the weather that induced him to stay inside longer than usual and write a romance entitled “Harold; or, The Castle of Morford” (Bodleian MS Misc. Eng. e.21. Summary Catalogue 31777).
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.
Robin Hood is significant, not because of the life of any real person but because he is a symbol. So, appropriations of his name in later centuries are significant because they highlight what the name meant to people like you and I in times past.