Robin Hood is one of the most famous fictional characters in the world, stealing the wealth of the rich and giving it to the poor. But is this legendary figure born in the United Kingdom inspired by a man of flesh and blood? Nothing is less sure!
The myth of Robin Hood is so deeply rooted in our imagination that it goes far beyond the popular tale of which the famous outlaw is the hero. Robin Hood is a symbol of resistance, generosity and altruism. Even if he steals, tricks, lies, he fights for equality between men in a very unequal society. That of England in the Middle Ages…and ours, still today.
Did Robin Hood exist?
This question has never really been decided by historians who have come to the conclusion that Robin Hood was born from the fusion of several characters. But the vigilante brigand who robs the rich to feed the poor as we know him in literature and movies is very different from the outlaw and outlaw figure of medieval England. His English name, Robin Hood, means “Robin the Hood” and not, Robin Hood. The proximity of the words “hood” and “wood” certainly led to this confusion.
The historian and archivist Joseph Hunter noted the presence of a certain Robyn Hode, valet of King Edward II who decided in 1324 to leave the court to go live in the forest. We are far from the vigilante, but this mention of a character who could be Robin Hood is a first.
Historians Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman, notably authors of a book on King Arthur, have estimated that Robin Hood was a mixture of three people: Robert Hood of Wakefield (who could be the same as Joseph Hunter), Fulk FitzWarin, one of the opponents of King John at the beginning of the 13th century, and finally a peasant outlawed from Barnsdale Forest.
Robin Hood could thus have been not the name of a person, but a nickname given to outlaws, poachers and criminals in medieval England.
Robin Hood: a hero of English folklore
The first popular songs evoking the figure of Robin Hood date from the 13th century. But it was not until the following century that the adventures of the vigilante were recorded in writing, notably with the poem by William Langland, Piers Plowman “Peter the Plowman. These incomplete texts have come down to us and shed light on this legendary figure who has continued to gain in popularity over the decades, particularly through popular ballads, the equivalent of our chansons de geste. In the ballad Robin Hood and the Monk, dating from the 15th century, the famous outlaw already has the attributes we know and we note in particular the presence of his friend Little John. But the Robin of that time, and this will last for several decades, is still in the pay of the British crown.
The Gesture of Robin Hood also features the famous outlaw by compiling several ballads and poems from previous centuries. Robin is a kind-hearted bandit who wields the spear, a typical medieval spear, with great skill. In the years that followed, Robin Hood became a popular character in British popular theater. It is moreover on the occasion of the spring festivals, in particular the “May Games” where the adventures of the bandit were played on the boards, that the figure of Lady Marianne will make its appearance. King Richard the Lionheart, another emblematic character of the story of Robin Hood, appears as for him only from the end of the XVIth century when the story is moved to the XIIth century.
Robin Hood, movie star!
The character of Robin Hood has never ceased to inspire filmmakers and there are several dozen adaptations of his adventures on the big screen. We have to go back to 1908 to discover the first film featuring the famous vigilante with Robin Hood and His Merry Men, a silent film by British director Percy Stow. But the first film to have really marked the collective imagination is the one of 1922 with Douglas Fairbanks. An adventure film with a colossal budget and pharaonic sets directed by Allan Dwan.
If other versions, notably with Errol Flynn or Russel Crowe, have a place of choice in the hearts of moviegoers, the two most famous adaptations of the myth are undoubtedly the one made by the Disney studios in 1973 in which Robin is a seductive fox, and the film Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves by Kevin Reynolds with Kevin Costner. These films have undoubtedly contributed to popularize the figure of Robin Hood among the younger generations.