Deeply ingrained in English legend for hundreds of years, the tales of Robin Hood have been subject to many reinterpretations through a variety of mediums. Robin Hood has existed through the retelling of adventures since the thirteenth century, although the original tales may have been a far stretch from the green-clad archer we know today.
Many believe that the early tales of Robin Hood passed down the generations through the oral tradition of ballads. By the late fourteenth century, the legendary archer had received his first literary mention in The Vision of Piers Plowman. In the narrative poem, a drunken priest cannot remember the words of the Lord’s Prayer but can recount rhymes of a character called Robyn Hood, which indicates that he was already a well-known character and the subject of popular ballads at the time. A few years earlier his name was also known to the count of Flanders.
For King and Country
Today’s most popular interpretation of Robin Hood is arguably that he was an aggrieved yeoman. It is said that Robin Hood was a staunch supporter of Richard I, who joined the king in venturing to the Holy Land and taking part in the Third Crusade (1189–92). It was upon his return to England that the archer found his lands seized by the Sheriff of Nottingham, his greatest foe. With no land, Robin Hood had to become an outlaw. This proved a simple task, thanks to his skills in archery and hand-to-hand combat. He retained his sense of honour, only taking from the rich and reputedly redistributing his ill-gotten gains amongst those who needed it most.
Robin Hood and his Merry Men
Depictions of Robin Hood have varied throughout the many versions of his legend, from the lone highway robber to someone who formed alliances with those similarly inclined to see that justice was done. In the most popular accounts, his group of allies known as the Merry Men surround him, including the well-loved characters Maid Marian, Little John and Friar Tuck. Robin Hood works alongside his Merry Men to get out of many scrapes and, most importantly, take from the rich to give to the poor.
Marian did not appear in the tales of Robin Hood until the sixteenth century, originating through May Games celebrations and finding connection to the tales of Robin Hood, who was also a popular character during the May festivities. In the adventures of Robin Hood, Marian has many interpretations and origins, though she always rises to a leadership role within the Merry Men. Being portrayed as a quick thinking and loyal woman, she would gather valuable information for Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
Little John is one of Robin Hood’s oldest literary companions and his second in command amongst the Merry Men. Despite his name, Little John is anything but small; he is often portrayed as large in stature and sometimes even above seven feet tall! Because of his size and strength, John acted as the enforcer of the Merry Men, using his power to help the group through many an adventure. John is the only member of the Merry Men present at the death of Robin Hood, highlighting their close bond and partnership. John carries Robin to the site of his grave and buries the legendary outlaw.
The Champion Archer
Throughout the tales of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, an important feature of Robin Hood’s persona is his renowned skill as an archer, which is mentioned in some way in most of the surviving tales. The famous tale of the silver arrow tells how the Sheriff of Nottingham, desperate to capture the legendary outlaw, devises a plan to lure Robin Hood with the prospect of an archery tournament in which the winner will receive a silver arrow. Aware this is a trap, but still keen to win the silver arrow, Robin Hood enters the contest in disguise and wins by extraordinarily splitting the previous arrow that landed in the centre of the target. He and his Merry Men sneak away with the prized arrow but not before letting him know his attempt to capture them has failed in spectacular fashion.
The Legend Endures
Whilst there is debate around whether Robin Hood was a real figure from the thirteenth century or a fictional character of northern England popular amongst the people, his legend continues to live on. The tale of Robin Hood became a worldwide phenomenon following the release of The Adventures of Robin Hood by Warner Brothers in 1938, with Errol Flynn playing the title role. Robin Hood subsequently went through many incarnations on the silver screen, most notably in Disney’s animated adaptation in 1973, in which he and Maid Marian are portrayed as foxes alongside Little John’s depiction as a bear. With two big-budget films of the green-clad outlaw released in 2010 and 2018, starring Russell Crowe and Taron Egerton respectively, the tales of Robin Hood are certain to endure for some time to come.
Robin Hood Coin Range