The Robin Hood Legend

The Modern Story

The stories of Robin Hood have been told and re-told for over 700 years. As each tale is handed down from generation to generation, revisions and alterations have taken place so that the legend has undergone a continued process of evolution.

This evolution has lead to the modern legend of Robin Hood which many of us will be familiar with today. Through film and television, the 20th. Century has defined an image of Robin Hood which sets out our expectations of life in the Greenwood in Robin's time. Here, our conceptions are greatly influenced by the portrayals of, for example, Eroll Flynn and Kevin Costner to name but two of the incarnations..

With such powerful images and the enormous scope for the reinvention of the legend it is perhaps surprising that, over 700 years on, so much of the original medieval tales has remained the same.
For example, Robin today is still a benefactor to the poor and needy and continues to lead his band of outlaws from his base in Sherwood Forest.

His adverseries remain Sir Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham and the King's deer continue to be poached from the Royal forest of Sherwood. Robin is still pardoned by the King and dies at Kirklees Priory at the hands of the Prioress.

Finally, the original outlaws like Little John, Will Scarlet and Much the Miller's son are still very much part of the story, challenging authority and feasting on the King's deer.

But looking closer, it is clear that the process of evolution has been at work over the centuries.

In the early tales, Robin is portrayed as a yeoman, the retainer of a Knight or Lord.

This changed when, in 1598, in a play designed for an aristocratic audience, Robin was transformed into Robert the Earl of Huntingdon, with his birthplace firmly fixed
as Loxley.
Another author was responsible for adding to the legend. Although the name of Maid Marian was associated with the story as early as 1500, she did not become the central character we know today until the publication of the novel "Maid Marian" by Thomas Love Peacock in 1822.

Similarly, although Little John was always crucial to the tales and ballads it was not until the 1620's that the encounter between Robin and Little John on the log became an accepted part of the story.

The character of Friar Tuck was given elevated status by Sir Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe" in 1819, a novel which lead to the crucial involvement of this character today.

Finally, to bring things right up to date, the film "Robin - Prince of Thieves" placed Robin Hood in a time period at the end of the 12th. Century with Robin returning from the crusades.

To most people today, Robin is a noble aristocrat, loyal to the king and all that represents right who was hounded into becoming an outlaw by evil oppressors. Whilst this may be some way from the traditional origins, it demonstrates the enduring nature of the legend over its 700 year history.
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