Richard Denham’s latest book, Robin Hood, English Outlaw, follows the investigative procedures he laid down in his previous publication, Arthur: Shadow of a God. Robin Hood is a later, but equally shadowy historical figure, based on medieval rhymes and gests (tales of adventures). Robin Hood’s existence was common knowledge by the 14th century, figuring in The Vision of Piers Plowman, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and The Gest of Robyn Hode, lengthy at 14,000 words, all from around the same time.
I grew up with Robin Hood on TV and in the movies and love this character, so reading this historical research book was fun! The author begins with placing Robin in England in ‘the greenwood.’ Where was this greenwood? In the late 11th century, about fifteen percent of the country was covered in dense forest – so where did Robin live? The author gives us a romp through the various places he might have existed.
When did he live? Based on historical texts, it might have been twelfth, thirteenth or fourteenth centuries! One thought is that Robin Hood lived in the late 1100’s, during the rule of Richard the Lionheart. Sir Walter Scott and his famous book Ivanhoe has Robin of Loxley fighting against the injustices of Prince John’s government in the 1260s. But perhaps he lived later, in the 1330s, when highway robberies were common, during the reign of Edward II.
Who was Robin? A yeoman, at the top of the working class? Or was he of the noble class, as Robin of Locksley? Was he a derivative of the Green Man, who figured in the May Day celebrations? Set against the society of the time and England’s internecine warfare between noble families, the author explores all these possibilities in each of the above time frames, along with the possible sources for the other Merry Men: Alan a Dale, Little John, Will Scarlett and of course, the plump Friar Tuck.
I particularly liked the discussion of Friar Tuck as a church militant and the various layers of church hierarchy. Tuck would appear to be a curtal or crutched (wearing a cross on his habit), traveling friar. Then there is Maid Marian. The author considers her almost an afterthought in the tales of Robin, and she may have derived from the May Queen to Robin’s King in the Tudor May festivities. His discussion of women’s’ role in the Middle Ages is enlightening.
This book is nothing if not thorough – from a consideration of archers and their bows to Robin’s rivals, nothing is overlooked. I was hit by nostalgia in the chapter on Robin and the silver screen, recalling the early Errol Flynn movie and those who portrayed Robin in later moves: Kevin Costner, Cary Elweys, and Russel Crowe. Some might even remember the TV series of the 1950s with Richard Green in the title role.
All in all, this was a satisfying, thorough discussion of the possible existence of someone named Robin Hood in English history. As with Arthur, Robin Hood is character blurred by the mists of history, with no definitive information to prove he existed except for our own delight and belief in his adventures.
About the author (from Amazon)
Richard Denham was born in the military town of Aldershot, the son of a sergeant in the British Army. He is a self-taught Roman historian with an exhaustive knowledge of this period.
Ever since studying the Romans at school, he has taken a keen interest in them, specifically Romans in Britain. As a boy growing up with swords, knights, tanks and all things military he also developed an interest in the legends of King Arthur. He then discovered that Roman Britain was much more interesting. The inspiration for the Britannia series was the cold, impassive footnote Richard would constantly come across “Romans leave Britain”. This would have been, for those who lived it, an apocalyptic time never known before; with the Romans having lived, fought, laughed, married and raised children on our island, “leaving” could never be as simple as that.
Richard is the co-author of the popular ‘Britannia’ series with M. J. Trow. These books follow a group of soldiers and their descendants through the madness of a chain of events which will eventually lead to the fall of Roman Britain and the descent into the Dark Ages.
His exhaustive research of this period eventually led him to Arthur and then onward to Robin Hood.
You can find the author on
And his book, Robin Hood, English Outlaw, on Amazon: