In summer when the leaves spring, /The blossoms on every bough,
So merry doth the birdes sing /In woodes merry now.
Hearken good yeomen, /Comely, courteous and good;
One of the best that ever bore bow, /His name was Robin Hood.
(The Ballad of Robin Hood and the Potter – traditional)
Everyone has heard of Robin Hood, the bold outlaw who, with his Merry Men and Maid Marian, dressed in Lincoln Green, lived in Sherwood Forest. In 1521, nearly three hundred years after Robin’s exploits were supposed to have happened, John Major (or Mair) in his History of Greater Britain says,
“The feats of Robin are told in song all over Britain. He would allow no woman to suffer injustice nor would he rob the poor, but rather enriched them from the plunder taken from Abbots….. of all thieves he was the prince and the most gentle..”
The Real Robin?
It remains uncertain whether Robin was a real person. He is usually dated to the twelfth century. Accounts of his birth range from being the son and heir of the Earl of Huntingdon to being the illegitimate child of a servant of one “Earl Richard”.
Stories about Robin are located not only in Sherwood but also in various places in the North of England, including Barnsley and Wakefield. There were certainly outlaws in the great forests that were found in England then. It may have been that ‘a Robinhood’ was the generic name for outlaws from the 13th Century onwards.
Myth and magic
In his recent book Robin Hood Green Lord of the Wildwood, John Matthews also looks at the probable association of Robin Hood with the faery people, and mythical figures of huge importance to the English psyche such as the Green Man and Robin Goodfellow or Puck (most memorably portrayed in Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Robin has an almost supernatural power in his daring deeds mixed together with a tricksterish element which certainly chimes with ideas of a deeper mythological origin for the figure.
Robin Hood Rises Again
Now, in the early 21st Century, powerful corporate interests threaten Sherwood Forest with seismic testing and possible fracking. What more appropriate than that Robin Hood should return with his Merry Men (and, it being 21st Century) his Merry Women and Children. In the Middle Ages, Robin’s targets were the Church and Monastic Orders which in those days had huge landholdings and much wealth. He also took the wealth of the Norman aristocrats who ruled the land and who kept the game in the forest for themselves. They enforced their rule with cruel severity, including blinding and hanging people caught poaching.
Now, we have to protect the rights of the people to clean air and water and all the benefits that healthy forests bestow: recreational, psychological and above all environmental.
Who better to help us than Robin Hood?
On 18th March 2017, there will be a public ritual to protect Sherwood Forest from the frackers. The location will be announced soon, on Facebook and via local Nottinghamshire networks. It will be somewhere in Sherwood Forest. So please watch out for this and tell your friends.
Come one, come all. We’ll see you there!
The Green Man flares in my head
Like a song of seasons
And Robin is come to the Green again ….
I could not have written this blog without John Matthews’ excellent book – many thanks to him.)