‘Robyn bent a full goode bowe, /An arrowe he drowe at wyll;/
He hit so the proude sherife /Upon the grounde he lay full still.’
A GEST OF ROBYN HODE
‘Who present’, asks the renowned medievalist J. C. Holt, ‘has never read a tale of Robin Hood or listened to one being read, or seen a film or television programme featuring his adventures? Answer: no-one.’ From 13th-century ballads to the romanticised version that continues to thrill new generations today, the legend of Robin Hood has an enduring appeal. But was there ever a skilled archer who battled Guy of Gisborne and the Sheriff of Nottingham, or was Robin Hood pure invention?
J. C. Holt’s authoritative exploration of the myth and history of England’s greatest folk hero is considered the definitive work on the subject. Holt brings his academic rigour to bear on the fragmentary records of the early Middle Ages to examine Robin’s first appearances, not only in ballads, romances and pageants, but also in court records and rolls. He looks at various historical figures who contributed to the legend in turn. We find tantalising clues in the story of the outlaw Robert Hode whose chattels were seized by Eustace of Lowdham (later Sheriff of Nottingham) and Roger Goldberd, whose life contains many parallels with one of the earliest known ballads – A Gest of Robyn Hode. Holt shows where favourite characters like Little John, Much the Miller’s Son and Friar Tuck entered the tales. The myth was constantly evolving as Robin Hood also started to appear in plays, becoming so popular a figure that even Shakespeare alluded to him. He eventually found a home as an essential character in Victorian children’s books. Along the way Robin was transformed from plain yeoman to nobleman, from ruthless outlaw to agent of social justice.
New elements in the story reflected the changing times: poaching deer reveals medieval resentment over the king’s forest law, while giving to the poor was an 18th-century addition as radical political ideas emerged. Later still, 19th-century Romanticism recast Robin as a rebel who opposed Norman tyranny. In the final analysis, each incarnation of the tale reveals as much about the society that told it as about the characters themselves.
Review by Nightstalker1 on 14th Jan 2013
"I found this book an interesting read and entertaining as well. J.C Holt traces several aspects of the Robin Hood legend; such as status, where the outlaw had his domain, as well as the audience who ..." [read more]