Historical Annotation Paper: The Legend of Robin Hood
The legend of Robin Hood has been around for centuries. This story of an outlaw hero, a generous criminal, the “Prince of Thieves,” is a popular story that has been told in many different ways throughout generations. This legend does not tell the story of a common criminal. The courageous, selfless Robin Hood steals from the rich and gives to the poor.
The legend of Robin Hood is a tradition that has no specific location or era that it originated from. The first literary mention of Robin Hood was in 1377 in the English verse, The Vision of Piers Plowman by William Langland; however, this was only a reference to Robin Hood. Because this English verse did not tell the story of Robin Hood, it is inferred that the legend was derived from oral tradition dating back to at least the 13th or 14th century. A Gest of Robyn Hode, which was written around 1450, was one of the first iterations of Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Robin Hood is mentioned all over the English map, including Derbyshire and Yorkshire. A common setting of the Robin Hood legend is Sherwood Forest near Nottingham. Another setting, common in English ballads, was Barnsdale Forest in Yorkshire.
Robin Hood was depicted as a skilled archer, dressed in Lincoln green and a hood. There is great symbolism of Robin Hood being depicted with a hood. The word “hood” has a negative connotation and is related to other words such as Someone who wears a hood is initially covering themselves and hiding their true identity Robin Hood is known as an outlaw hero, meaning he lives outside the protection of the law. One of the most common versions of the legend of Robin Hood has the story set in England during the reign of King Richard the Lionheart while others have the legend taking place during the reign of King Edward II. It was said the Robin Hood would fight in the Crusades with King Richard I, and returned home to his land taken over by the Sheriff of Nottingham, his most common enemy. He and his merry men also went after corrupt leaders of the Church such as Abbot of St. Mary’s and the Bishop of Hereford. Common companions of his are Little John and Will Scarlet who are part of his merry men. In early versions of the legend, the main focus of the story is about social injustice and Robin Hood and his Merry Men stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. These stories are often violent and bloody as Robin Hood and his merry men attack these corrupt individuals.
In later versions of the play the focus of the legend shifts to a love interest as Maid Marian is added to the story. Characters such as Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, and alan-a-dale are most likely added to the story due to May Day rituals in which the legend of Robin Hood was acted out. Maid Marian plays a major part in the legend of Robin Hood; she is Robin’s true love. She has multiple backgrounds depending on the version of the legend that she is in. Some say she is a Norman noblewoman while others say she was a Saxon. Some versions have Robin Hood saving her from unwanted suitors such as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne. While some legends say she is merely a damsel in distress, others portray her as a strong woman who acts as a spy or as an outlaw herself with archery skills.
The story of Robin Hood’s death has remained fairly consistent throughout the years. Although there are some other accounts, there is one that is the most common and long lasting version of the story. When Robin Hood grew old, he believed he was ill and was beginning to die, so he decided that he should be bled in order to be relieved of his illness. Accompanied by Little John, Robin Hood went to the priory to be healed by the prioress. Persuaded by her lover, the prioress slowly bled Robin to death. When he realized what was happening, he blew his horn for Little John to come rescue him, but it was too late. With the little strength he had left, he shot an arrow indicating where he was to be buried.
Even today, it is unknown whether or not the legend was inspired by a real person. As scholars have searched for signs of a real Robin Hood from the past, they ran into conflicting regions and eras. According to the time when the legend has grown in popularity, it is possible that a historical Robin Hood existed in 12th or 13th century. The only evidence of the existence of Robin Hood are in the writing of the English ballads. Many stories say Robin Hood would have been born in 1160 AD in Locksley, Yorkshire. Scholars have discovered many different records of people who were outlaws or fugitives that resembled Robin Hood in a way, all from differing areas. Therefore, most scholars believe that the idea of Robin Hood, if it were based on a true story, was inspired by multiple individuals rather than a single person.
The legend of Robin Hood greatly impacted the society and gained popularity throughout the world, for it easily appealed to the common people. During the time the Robin Hood ballads became popular, there were many events that were going on around England that resulted in rebellion of the peasants. They could not freely hunt and use land since everything was owned by kings and nobles. Also, the Black Death greatly affected these ordinary people. This disease constantly put their lives at risk as family members, neighbors, and friends were affected by the rapidly spreading plague. These hardships and challenging lifestyle led to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, and this social unrest is reflected through the legend of Robin Hood and really spoke to these people.
Robin Hood was a symbol of hope for the less fortunate. This legend symbolizes the common man going up against injustice, which was very encouraging to the common people of the Medieval time period. It was nearly impossible for these people, who had very little and were controlled by individuals who had extreme amounts of wealth, to control and be satisfied with the life they were born into. This legend told a story that appealed to them and gave them hope for a better future. The legend of Robin Hood has left many marks all over Europe and shows the rise of outsiders and lower class individuals. Whether the legend derived from a once living, breathing person or from a fictional character, the tale of Robin Hood continues to enrich people with an uplifting message of social justice and charity.
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