May 3rd 2010 By Kristin Romey
Kristin Romey is an anthropologist, explorer, former executive editor of Archeology Magazine and, most prestigiously, Asylum's scientific adviser.
Robin Hood, with his stick-it-to-the-man attitude and posse of Merry Men, has been a favorite Hollywood character for almost a century now. Regardless of his various film incarnations
-- which include an animated fox
, a softcore swashbuckler
, and a Chicago gangster played by Frank Sinatra
-- this classic vigilante embodies the themes of justice, chivalry and romance (despite the silly Peter Pan hat).
Now Ridley Scott is taking the legend up a notch
with Russell Crowe, which can be seen in theaters May 14th. The 12th-century crusader battles the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and ends up liberating England from the French (apparently without a silly hat). But did the real Robin Hood exist, and if he did, was he really the noble hero everyone believes he was?
Those in the believer camp point to royal records from 1225 that describe a fugitive named Robert Hod. (In England, "Robin" was the medieval version of "Robbie" or "Rob.") So while there's no proof that a man named Robin Hood fought in the Crusades, he may have been alive during the reign of "evil" King John (1167–1216). He may have been an infamous cus, because other criminals started calling themselves "Robin Hood," including gang leader William Robehod, by the late 1200s.
Skeptics point to earlier, pagan beliefs about a mischievous spirit that lived in the forest. In medieval May Day celebrations, traveling singers spun tales about "Robin of the Hood" ("hood" was an old English variation of "wood") and his devotion to Lady Marion, who represented the Virgin Mary. The nickname "Robin Hood," they argue, was eventually given to men who caused trouble in the woods.
Regardless of the origins of the Robin Hood myth, by the late 15th century, tales were being written about him and his exploits. In many, he's just a common hood (in the modern sense). It's only in later centuries that people begin to project the ideals of their own times onto the fugitive and his (ever-increasing) sidekicks, emphasizing his courage, his chivalry or his cleverness. In the 21st century, it looks like we're getting Robin Hood as the Gladiator of Sherwood Forest -- a medieval Tea Partier fighting against a crooked leader and marauding foreigners. Now, is he going to demand that King John cough up that birth certificate?
Do You Think Robin Hood Was Real or Just a legend?
|Real. Vigilantes are the lifeblood of democracy. ||2201 (60.4%)|
|Legend. Tights and a green leotard? Let's hope he isn't real||1444 (39.6%)|