The 1300s and Me
The Sherwood Robin Hood Festival Holds High the Lamp of Liberty in Oregon.
  by Clyde Ray List

Visit Robin Hood's Facebook Visit America's Robin Hood Festival Visit the Friar Tuck Photo Collection. Hear the Author Sing Robin Hood Ballads! Don't Miss the Author's Robin Hood Musical! Don't Miss the Author's Robin Hood Comic Book! View the Sherwood Historical Society's Web Log!

Robin Hood 2005 Robin Hood 2005
"For he was a good outlawe,
And dyde pore men moch good."

--A Gest of Robyn Hode

Copyright 2005 by Clyde List   All Rights Reserved
The lady screams, but the crowd only reacts with laughter and applause as the victim is being carried off on the shoulders of three leathery masked men. Now the maiden stands all alone above the crowd, reaching through the bars of her cage for someone, anyone, to rescue her. Where is Robin Hood? How can he not be more alert to the crime that has just been committed against his girlfriend!? If not for the children of Sherwood, our greenwood hero would be lost somewhere in the crowd. Only after a great deal of prodding and pleading from the little people, Robin Hood climbs to his feet and shoves his way through the crowd, shouting and waving his sword, as only he can do. A not very convincing sword fight takes place. Maid Marian is rescued. Once again. The crowd applauds their dunder-head of a champion while he makes his way back to the Bingo table or any of the other booths that have met his fancy up and down First Street and Washington Street. It is the year 1955 and no crowd could be having more fun.

Maid Marian, 1999 Sherwood Oregon USA 1999
The little town of Sherwood put down its roots in 1889, at about the same time Walt Disney was saving up his boyhood memories of Marceline, Missouri for the Main Street U.S.A. exhibit at Disneyland. Sherwood might have stimulated a young man's creativity as much as Marceline. But if you had your entire life to live in such a town, you would have seen another side. A small American town could be the kind of trap endured by Sinclair Lewis or survived by Sherwood Anderson.

Maid Marian  Portland, Oregon   1902
It could be the kind of place our dear Sherwood Mayor Marjorie Stewart was always trying to save my generation from. She was on the Sherwood City Council when I was Mayor and we argued constantly about the importance of "saving" the town's historic core. Among her many duties to the City of Sherwood, she had once served as Police Matron. She would be rousted out of her warm bed any day of the week at 2:00 in the morning to go down and frisk some drunken female candidate to the Sherwood Town Jail. With the stench of alcohol and vomit never quite leaving her nostrils, Stewart could see little that was worth saving in those nine blocks which I and my generation call "Olde Towne Sherwood."

The "Wild West" was never so exciting as it appears to be in Hollywood movies. True enough. But thanks to the Legend of Robin Hood, Sherwood Oregon U.S.A. always had a brighter side to explore, even in the darkest of times. Other frontier towns might claim Billy the Kid or Jesse James as their signature outlaw. Our outlaw was the world's most famous good guy, Robin Hood. The dividing line between Good and Evil was never so sharp as during Robin Hood Festivals I remember as a kid. The Sheriff of Nottingham and his henchmen (the bad guys) romped down the street as boldly and merrily as Robin Hood and His Merry Men (the good guys). You could tell them apart by their costumes. The crowd only needed to encourage things along by shouting "Rob from the rich. Give to the poor," but it wasn't about money.

The most uncanny moment of the Festival always came when you were suddenly asking yourself: Why don't good people and bad people act like this all the time? Why do the good and the bad disguise themselves every day of the year except on Robin Hood's day? The illusion did a neat flip-flop and became the moral clarity that we all yearn for in any age, medieval or modern.

So Who Is Robin Hood!?

Image of King Richard II when He was Eleven.For Extra Credit: Why are there so many similarities between the Robin Hood Legend and What Really Happened in the Court of King Richard II? Did an Eleven Year Old King help create the Robin Hood Legend as we know It?
Of late, the British-- with so much history to deal with-- have confessed to being caught off guard by the popularity of their feathered icon. Some of England's finest scholars have begun to tackle the question of why Robin, Marian and their merry crew should deserve any more praise than we grant to the common thieves and vagabonds we read about in the papers today. The scholar J. C. Holt risked his sanity boring through ancient volumes of unprinted and unindexed government records to find a historical basis for the Legend of Robin Hood. (He faced what my trusty old Britannica warns about when researching English legal history: "it is rather the enormous bulk than any dearth of available materials that will prevent the scholar's progress.") Holt found the name "Robin Hood," or similar names, many times. He realized that these must be only the tip of the iceberg. Some of the names made fairly good candidates for the original hero (See Timeline). Holt could almost smell the beer baited breath and hear the deer horn sounding. He almost chooses an original, the one and only, Robin Hood for us. However, in the second edition of Robin Hood Holt reaches a conclusion every Robin Hood scholar struggles to avoid: "There was not just one 'original' Robin Hood, real or fictional, but many." he confesses, "Each one acknowledged the legend by adopting the surname or by accepting it from others." (Holt, Page 190)

Holt's conclusion leaves us at an intolerable crossroad. We are grownup enough to face the fact that there was more than one Robin Hood-- perhaps hundreds of them-- in the historical record. We will just have to face the fact that there were many outlaws in England who resembled Robin Hood in everything but name. "The Anglo-Saxon Earl Godwin and Hereward the Wake, the French Eustache the Monk and the Anglo-Norman Fouke fitz Waryn are among the many ancestors of Robin Hood...." (Ohlgren, Medieval Outlaws). But what is it about the one we know least about-- the outlaw called Robin Hood-- that would cause a small Oregon town to celebrate his memory for over a century?

Robin Hood and His Shady Past

The Robin Hood we meet in the old ballads murders a defenseless begger for no other reason than to steal his clothes. Disguised as the same begger, he marches into town and frees some equally defenseless peasants from the Sheriff's noose. What do you make of such a hero? Fill in the background with the Black Death wiping out entire villages with no one left to bury the dead, starvation (severe enough to make people think about hunting each other for food), and a miniature ice age (motivation enough to kill someone for nothing more than the clothes on their back) and the hero begins to resemble any number of contradictory folks we might have come across during one of the most fretful centuries in recorded history. The Robin Hood we meet in Robin Hood and the Monk, the earliest surviving Robin Hood ballad, is a man struggling with his faith in the hereafter, as well as with the here-and-now.

"Ye, on thyng greves me," seid Robyn,
"And does my hert mych woo;
That I may not no solem day
To mas nor matyns goo..."

A monk keeps trying to throw him in the slammer. You would expect Robin Hood to shout "Sanctuary," but he does not. The concept was well established in Robin's day, but it was controversial. My favorite author on the Middle Ages offers a clue as to why Sanctuary might be denied a man who goes to church with a hood over his face: "Constantly we catch, in the Middle Ages, hints of an undercurrent, of a yearning after the pagan past...." (Colton, Medieval Panorama, Pg. 116)

Maid Marian firing a bow and arrow, with her court watching.
Sherwood Oregon USA 2007. Photo by D. K. Boljat.

An easily missed passage from Shakespeare draws a very clear connection between outlawry and heresy:

FALSTAFF - "let us be Diana's foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon; and let men say we be men of good government, being governed, as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal."

PRINCE HENRY - "Thou sayest well, and it holds well too; for the fortune of us that are the moon's men doth ebb and flow like the sea, being governed, as the sea is, by the moon."

--Henry IV Part One, Act 1, Scene 2.

In other words, it seems that Shakespeare's 17th Century audience felt quite at home with the idea that an English King would feel quite at home among robbers and that he and his robber band would have felt equally at home among that ancient fraternity of pagans described so entertainingly in Chapter 19 of The Acts of the Apostles. (Shakespeare does not mention Robin Hood by name, but it is obvious --at least to me --that that is who Falstaff is trying to be in Henry IV.)

We can only have kind regards for Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) who made the crime of heresy so difficult to pin on an Englishman. Gregory was the church father who advised his missionaries not to destroy the pagan centers in Britain. Rather, he told them to "Destroy the idols; purify the buildings with holy water; set relics there; and let them become temples of the living God. Thus the people will have no need to change their places of concourse..." (Coulton, Page 607)

Alice and Julian Thornton at Knighting Ceremony, 2007.
Lady Alice and King Richard (Julian Thornton), 2007.
The System worked well enough. Cathedrals were built over the pagan centers, and shadowy people like Falstaff, King Henry V and Robin Hood would continue to visit "their places of concourse" right up till the English Reformation, when showing up for church suddenly becomes an act of heresy.

Well after the discovery of America, English churchgoers could change their religious convictions dramatically, depending on who was in charge of the liturgy!

Thus all things set in order, then have they their hobby-horses, their dragons and other antiques, togither with their baudie pipers, and thundering drummers, to strike up the Devils Daunce withall; then martch this heathen company towards the church and church-yarde their pypers pypying, thier drummers thundering, their stumpes dauncing, their belles iyngling, their handkercheefes fluttering about their heades like madde men, their hobbie horses, and other monsters skirmishing amongst the throng : and in this sorte they goe to the church (though the minister be at prayer or preaching) dauncing and swinging their handkerchiefes over their heades in the church like Devils incarnate, with such a confused noise, that no man can heare his owne voyce. --Phillip Stubbes (1583)
Robin Hood was often presented as the "King of Misrule" in these rituals. Every village had its own tradition. A popular Bishop reports:
I came once myself to a place, riding on a journey homeward from London. I sent word overnight into the town, that I would preach there in the morning. It was a holiday [May Day] and methought it was a holiday's work. The church stood in my way and I took my horse and my company and went thither. I thought I should have found a great company in the church. When I came there the church door was locked fast. I tarried there half an hour or more. At last the key was found and one of the parish comes to me and says, 'Sir, this is a busy day with us. We cannot hear you. It is Robin Hood's Day. The parish are gone abroad to gather [money] for Robin Hood. I pray you let them off.'
I was fain to give place to Robin Hood. I thought my rochet would have been more highly regarded, though I were not; but it would not serve. I was fain to give place to Robin Hood's men. A heavy matter. A heavy matter, under the pretense of gathering for Robin Hood, a traitor and a thief....
--Bishop Hugh Latimer, April 12, 1549.

Latimer's words were taken down by a scribe who was on the scene. The increasingly brief utterances that the Bishop makes suggest a disruptive audience. Like the Monk in Robin Hood and the Monk, the good Bishop risks being hooted out of his own church.

A Special Kind of Thief

Maiden and Mini-Maid 1999.
Sherwood Oregon USA 1999
Robin Hood is the most famous Englishman who ever lived. Ask any kid in America or England. Ask any Prime Minister! According to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, British outlawry represented a nation's "stubborn wish for practical freedom." (Pg. 275) In his history of the English speaking peoples, Churchill quotes an English barrister to that effect (note the use of Roman numerals in this passage):

It hath ben often seen in England that iii or iv thiefes, for povertie, hath sett upon vii or viii true men and robbed them al. But it hath not been seen in Fraunce... they have no hertys to do so terryble an acte. There be therefor mo men hangyd in England, in a yere, for robberye and manslaughter, than ther be hangid in Fraunce for such cause of crime in vii yers.
--Sir John Fortescue (c. 1385 - 1479)
--Shakespeare seems to lampoon this famous jurist's statement in Act II Scene IV, Henry IV Part One.

How did you become one of these vastly admired sort of Englishmen? The following passage from C.G.Coulton provides a clue.

In 1311 William of Wellington, a clergyman(!) by trade, confessed to murder. He was found guilty and he was given a choice. Either he could hang or he could leave the country ("abjure the realm"). The second choice seemed the best, but not by much!

....Coming to the gate of the church or churchyard, he swore solemnly before the assembled crowd: "Oyez, oyez, oyez! Coroner and other good folk: I, William of Wellington, for the crime of manslaughter which I have committed, will quit this land of England nevermore to return, except by leave of the Kings of England or their heirs: so help me God and His saints!" The coroner then assigned him a port, and a reasonable time for the journey; from Yelvertoft to Dover it would have been about a week. His bearing during this week was minutely prescribed: never to stray from the high-road, or spend two nights in the same place; to make straight for his port, and to embark without delay. If at Dover he found no vessel ready to sail, then he was bound daily to walk into the sea up to his knees- or, according to stricter authorities, up to his neck- and to take his rest only on the shore, in proof that he was ready in spirit to leave this land which by his crimes he had forfeited. His dress meanwhile was that of a felon condemned to death- a long, loose white tunic, bare feet, and a wooden cross in his hand to mark that he was under protection of Holy Church. English law was glad to have thus rid itself of a villain, and troubled no further; but the records leave us skeptical whether any very large proportion of these unwilling pilgrims actually found their way across the sea. (Medieval Panorama, Coulton, Pages 374-5)

Maid Marian's Mini-Maids. 1997
Sherwood Oregon USA 1997
Coulton also explains that, as soon as William began his well-publicized journey to France, he would almost certainly be met by friends and relatives of the man he'd murdered. There would be no choice for him than to flee into the bushes as soon as he was out of sight of the village of Yelvertoft. Then, he would "...join that class of sturdy beggars or malefactors who bulk so largely in Piers Plowman. After all, such men were welcome recruits for the army; and there was generally fighting somewhere." (Coulton) He might even achieve high rank in the military, a possibility uniquely available to English outlaws. On his way to the top he might even begin to take on the mantle of Robin Hood. During the Wars of the Roses, two rebels did so: Robin of Redesdale (or Robin Mend-All) and Robin of Holderness. "The name Robin carried implications hinting that the leader was a champion of the poor and a righter of wrongs, a successor to Robin Hood...." (Neillands, Page 133)

In William of Wellington and all the other Robin Hood-types we see a demonstration of the quest for "practical freedom" among the English people so admired by Churchill. Orlando Patterson argues that this quest for freedom is not so wide-spread as people would like to think it is (especially in countries where the natural environment is so hostile that any idea of running away from home and hiding in the wilderness is unthinkable). Where did such a deeply held and particularly western conviction take root? Patterson traces this peculiarly Western concept straight back to the Year One! He points out that Rome was the first world class empire to adopt "...individual freedom as a social goal." Under Roman Slave Law, every faithful slave was entitled to full Roman citizenship before his life was over. No wonder Detail of the Statue of LibertyRoman slaves were eager to follow Saint Paul's advice to be faithful to their masters (Ephesians 6:5). In fact: "By the end of the republic and throughout the empire, the vast majority of Romans were of slave ancestry." (Freedom: Volume One, Page 101) In the New Testament we join an audience that has no problem believing that Liberty is a force more powerful than Death itself.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now.... [and that] ...the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.
--Romans 8: 21-22

The air snaps, crackles and pops with Liberty on that day when Paul meets the philosophical ancestors of Robin Hood (and King Henry V and Sir John Falstaff) in the City of Ephesus. The novelty of one particular type of Liberty-- Freedom of Assembly-- causes them to forget everything else they're doing!

Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there....
--The Acts of the Apostles Chapter 19: 28-32

Patterson identifies Paul as the first known professor of Liberty-- although it seems to me that the words of the Jewish sage, Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C.E.-50 C.E.) are just as passionate on the subject: "Now, when we are alive, we are so though our soul is dead and buried in our body, as if in a tomb. But if it were to die, then our soul would live according to its proper life being set free from the evil and dead body to which it is bound. "--Op. 67-69; LA 1.108. Philo was a contemporary of Jesus Christ, who leaves an audience dumbstruck by the mere mention of the word "Liberty" in Luke 4:18.

Unfortunately, the Christian Church proved to be a lot less tolerant than the rascals Paul enjoys debating with so much in the City of Ephesus. Diana's faithful remnant winds up in the deepest shadows of a Shakespeare play instead.

The Lamp of Liberty

The history of the West is the story of how the lamp of Individual Liberty is nearly extinguished time and time again only to blaze forth with increased intensity each time it is rekindled. The Robin Hood Legend expresses a yearning for Liberty that alludes to more than political oppression. The natural environment is also a major player in the story.

Robin Hood and His Admirers. 1997
Sherwood Oregon USA 1997
The Robin Hood legend makes its first certain appearance on the historical horizon during the 14th Century (where it is mentioned in Langland's Piers Plowman, around 1377) The planet we call home is facing a very serious crisis at this time. Rarely has society been so destabilized as during the 14th Century. The years beginning with "13" started out with a cold spell so severe that people sang songs (e.g. "Summer is a-coming In!") of joy when it was over. Children survived the starvation in order to face the first wave of the Black Death in 1348, when the world's population was reduced by as much as one third or more. The crisis was so severe that we still read about the aftershocks in today's headlines. Global warming makes us curious about the causes of the Little Ice Age. Photographs of ethnic cleansing bear an uncanny resemblance to woodcuts of the Plague. The vaunted "War on Terror" is nothing new to the Middle East, where our Medieval World (i.e. the Crusades) is their Modern World. The defeat of the Serbs by the Turks at Kosovo in 1389 --a post where American soldiers are keeping the peace today --proved that an Islamic overthrow of the West has never been all that far outside the realm of possibility.

In America the concept of Liberty, as governor Winthrop noted in his writings, was quickly wrapped up in the concept of private ownership of land. Today, all around me, I see the land owning class being converted into a class of tenants and service workers. It's happening all over again. The rich are becoming a separate species from the poor. The wealthy take shelter inside gated communities, allow entry only to a few carefully selected poor, and do their shopping in faux towns (e.g. Bridgeport Village) where it is not possible for a beggar to play his guitar on what looks like a public street.

The question raised by the Robin Hood Legend and the Sherwood Oregon USA Robin Hood Festival becomes more urgent than ever before. Namely, as the Sherwood Robin Hood Festival crowds together within an ever diminishing space of publically shared land: How long is it possible for Individual Liberty to remain America's most important social goal?

Sheriff, Maid Marian, Little John and nymphs. 2000 A.D.
Sherwood Oregon USA 2000 A.D.

Sherwood Oregon U.S.A. Robin Hood Festival
Hi Ho! The Author Sings Robin Hood Ballads!
Don't Miss the Author's Robin Hood Comic Book!


Britain until 1688 by Maurice Ashley

The Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman, 1973

Encyclopedia Britannica, 1957. This ancient edition has detailed articles on no less than eight people with the family name "Hood." (not counting Robin Hood). They all seem to be related to one another. All but two of them were military men from the 18th and 19th centuries. Mt. Hood, in my home state of Oregon, is named after one of them. One of the nonmilitary Hoods, Thomas Hood, wrote The Song of the Shirt, a poem protesting working conditions during the Industrial Revolution. Britain's largest naval vessel during the outbreak of World War II was the H.M.S. Hood.

The English and Scottish Popular Ballads by Francis James Child.

English Life in Chaucer's Day by Roger Hart.

English Social History by G. H. Trevelyan, Longman, London and New York, 1978.

Freedom in the Making of Western Culture, by Orlando Patterson, Basic Books--Harper Collins, 1991. "The basic argument of this work is that freedom [as a shared vision] was generated from the experience of slavery." --Preface.

The Gallic War, by Julius Caesar. A new translation by Carolyn Hammond, Oxford World Classics, 1996.

The Germans by George Bailey. A detailed Huedekin anecdote is found in this book. Huedekin's English cousin Hodekin is often suggested as the origin of the name "Robin Hood."

The History of the English Speaking Peoples, The Birth of Britain, by Winston S. Churchill, Bantam, N.Y., 1963.

Inventing the Middle Ages by Norman F. Cantor. This book gossips about the politics of academia. Cantor regrets the lack of fresh air in the great universities, and rejoices over the fact that the highly acclaimed Barbara Tuchman holds no more than a Bachelors Degree.

On the Laws and Governance of England by Sir John Fortecue. This is a delightfully readable document, in spite of its 15th Century origins. Sir John's most lasting contribution to English/American jurisprudence is that it is better for a Jury to release a guilty person than to punish one who is innocent.

Measuring America by Andro Linklater. The importance of owning land and the difficulty of measuring land is described. Penguin Group, London, 2002.

Medieval Outlaws by Thomas H. Ohlgren, Sutton, U.K., 1998. Ohlgren rejects Holt's argument that the popularity of Robin Hood ballads is owed to "... the household retainers and dependents of the northern aristocracy and landed gentry." In a landmark essay, Ohlgren sees the legend as the property of an aggressive middle class that appeared after the demographic upheavals of the 14th Century.

Medieval Panorama: The English Scene from Conquest to Reformation by G. G. Coulton, Meridian Books, N.Y. 1966. "Constantly we catch, in the Middle Ages, hints of an undercurrent, of a yearning after the pagan past...." Pg. 116

The Quest for Robin Hood by Jim Lees, Temple Nostalgia, Nottingham England, 1987. "A good May Game Robin Hood would be retained for years; his home would be pointed out; the places where the games were celebrated would bear Robin's name, hence landmarks, wells, trees, caves, hills, crosses, stones, and other objects bearing the name 'Robin Hood' must be regarded with some suspicion." Page 45.

The Politics of Carnival by Chris Humphrey, Manchester University Press, 2001. Humphrey challenges the notion that the Ritual of Misrule was merely a means of letting off steam. As in similar rituals today such as Jury duty and the general election, there could be a great deal of premeditation and grim determination involved.

Rioting in America by Paul A. Gilje, Indiana University Press, 1996.

Robin Hood by J. C. Holt, Thames and Hudson, 1982, 1989. "No sane man goes in search of 'Robinhood' or any other unusual surnames through unprinted and unindexed government records." Holt complains. Some of us geniuses could go out and help him of course.

Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism, Stephen Knight (ed), D. S. Brewer, Cambridge, 1999

Robin Hood: The Shaping of the Legend, Jeffrey Singman. Explains the significant differences between Robin Hood plays and morality plays.

Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, by Orlando Patterson, Harvard University Press, 1982.

War of the Roses, by Robin Neillands, Brockhampton Press, London, 1999.

The University of Rochester. The complete Francis Child ballads of Robin Hood may be found here.

Sherwood Oregon U.S.A. Robin Hood Festival
Hi Ho! The Author Sings Robin Hood Ballads!
Don't Miss the Author's Robin Hood Comic Book!