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Truth and Myth of the Northern Hero

Everyone has heard the fairy-tale about Robin Hood, Marian, Little John and the rest of the merry men. But the question is, did he exist or is it just an English folklore. The eldest documents referring to Robin Hood is from 1377, Piers Plowman, a poem written by William Langland.  The legend says that Robin was a very skilled archer and he was a part of the lower classes.

The modern legend

The modern legend of Robin Hood tells that he lived in Sherwood forest with his merry men. They were robbers of the forest but then gave their prey to the poor. He is often portrayed as kind-hearted and noble. He doesn´t kill anybody that doesn´t deserve it and he never use violence on women. What is clear is that the folklore of Robin Hood has changed through the years to fit the era and time. In the 15th century there are some proof of a performance during some festivities in May. There were young actresses walking from town to town performing. A hundred years later Robin Hood was a standing play in the spring festivities. It is now that Marian makes her entrance in the fairy tale. At the end of the 16th century it seems as the festivities seizes, and the reason says to be that the kingdom didn´t take kindly to the play celebrating an outlaw conspiring against the kingdom.

The antagonist

To make a good fairy tale the hero needs an opponent. In the legend of Robin Hood the opponent has varied through the years. King Edvard is told as the villain in the early years. Which Edvard is not quite clear since England had kings named Edvard between 1272 and 1377. In the ballads from 16th and 17th century the villain is called Henry alluding Henry VIII, king of England in 1509-1547. The villain that we are used to today, Prince John, entered the stories in the 19th century.

Real role-models

Whether Robin really existed or not is controversial. The most common version is that he was a man from Loxley just outside Sheffield named Robert. He is told to have become an outlaw after getting caught for poaching. Today historians claim that Robin Hood has many different role-models. Among these there is a man Robert Hod of York, that couldn´t pay a dept and then became an outlaw. The same story is told of a man named William Robehod of Berkshire in 1262. A robber called Gilbert Robynhod was active around Sussex in the late 13th century and thereafter it was common for robbers to take the name Robyn Hood and also Lytly John. After the Black death there was a lack of workers that made poor people very wanted for labour. Now they had the chance to ask for higher salaries, but this was not popular among nobles and the king. The workers organised a rebellion against the king and nobles, Wat Tyler among others. He started a guerrilla war on the crown and was behind the rebellion among farmers in 1381. Wat may have been the role-model of the Robin Hood that we know today.  You can find references of Robynhood or Robehod mentioned in texts about criminals and outlaws. There are also notifications about this in texts from late 13th century which would mean that Robin Hood already existed in that era.

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