“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.”
1848. The Chartists were down and despondent. Their third petition had been rejected by the government outright. What they needed was a new sense of purpose and, perhaps, a “Tyler” to speak to them.
This article examines the teaching and reception of British medieval history in Guyana. It takes an interdisciplinary approach by conducting textual analysis of Guyanese school textbooks to determine precisely what aspects of British medieval history were taught, which included events such as the Norman Conquest (1066), King Stephen’s reign, as well as medieval folk talks such as Dick Whittington, Robin Hood, and Old King Cole.
An associate of mine, Dr Howard Williams, gives his account of the lies and defamation spread about him at the hands of certain medievalists in the journal Postmedieval.
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.
“He unites the exactness of the [medieval] chronicles, the majestic grandeur of history, and the all-compelling interest of romance.”
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?
Revolution is humanity’s surgeon, it cuts out the tumour, it cuts off the gangrened limb—What! would you have pity for the virus? For the gangrened limb!
“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.”
“Karl has a wife and a child—if you consign him to death, you kill three persons at once;—if you give me up to the executioner, my fate will redound so terribly on no one!”
The following poem was written by George W.M. Reynolds and originally appeared in his novel Alfred: The Adventures of a French Gentleman (1838), which was originally serialised in the Monthly Magazine. The poem is about the deeds of a knight errant in medieval Palestine during the crusades.
Selfish, haughty and arrogant…and can merit nothing but the severest censure. All his actions, when closely scrutinized, fill us with the most unequivocal contempt.
His memory, unrelieved by one noble trait, one magnanimous action, or one pure sentiment, comes down to us in chronicles, lay and secular, as one violent and tyrannical. A perfidious friend, an encroaching neighbour, a heartless and ungenerous relation.
Legend has it that Ragnar composed his “Death Song” as he lay in the pit of snakes waiting to die, the sentence upon him having been passed by the Anglo-Saxon Northumbrian King Aelle. Stephen Basdeo examines the publication of this ancient song.
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.
“Ah!” said the bookseller, after a pause; “nothing now succeeds unless it’s in the comic line. We have comic Latin grammars, and comic Greek grammars; indeed, I don’t know but what English grammar, too, is a comedy altogether. All our tragedies are made into comedies by the way they are performed; and no work sells without comic illustrations to it. I have brought out several new comic works, which have been very successful. For instance, The Comic Wealth of Nations; The Comic Parliamentary Speeches; The Comic Report of the Poor-Law Commissioners, with an Appendix containing the Comic Dietary Scale; and the Comic Distresses of the Industrious Population. I even propose to bring out a Comic Whole Duty of Man. All these books sell well: they do admirably for the nurseries of the children of the aristocracy. In fact they are as good as manuals and text-books.”
In 1817 the press, politicians, and the public had Robert Southey in their sights; a play, written nearly 2 decades previously and containing “problematic” ideas, was unearthed. A media storm ensued. But instead of pandering to the media mob Southey refused to apologise and, what is more, called out his critics’ hypocrisy.
Although Wat Tyler’s rebellion failed, the story was retold in plays, poetry, novels, and the rebels’ names were used as aliases in protests through the ages—this post looks at the first every play written about the events of the Peasants’ Revolt.
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.
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.”