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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > December 2016 > Robin Hood, legendary outlaw

Robin Hood, legendary outlaw

The truth behind England’s greatest legend

ROBIN HOOD

FOLK HERO We’ve been telling his story for centuries, but who was the real outlaw who dared defy King John?
COLLABORATION JS/ARCANGEL IMAGES X1, STEPHEN MULCAHEY/ARCANGEL IMAGES X1, ALAMY X3

Daring escapes, diabolical villains, valiant freedom fighters, love across a class divide – the Robin Hood story has got the lot. But the question that’s been puzzling historians for centuries is – are these escapades the product of a medieval fiction-writer’s fertile imagination, or could they in some way be grounded in historical reality? In other words, did a real-life Robin Hood ever exist?

Every generation has its favourite Robin Hood. To those of a certain age he is Kevin Costner, releasing a flaming arrow with unerring precision to the strains of Bryan Adams’ mega-hit ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’.

A bronze statue of Robin Hood now stands beneath Nottingham Castle
AKG IMAGES X1, ALAMY X2, GETTY X1, TOPFOTO X1

For readers of an older vintage, Robin will always be synonymous with Errol Flynn, the swashbuckling, green-eyed Saxon knight, who in the 1938 production, foiled King John’s dastardly plans in glorious Technicolor.

For those with less conventional tastes, however, the archetypal Robin Hood may not be a man at all. Instead, he’s a frog named Kermit, racing to Maid Marian’s rescue in the Muppet Show’s unforgettable rendition of the famous outlaw tale in 1979.

Three very different productions these may be, but each is testament to the spectacular success of what is surely the world’s ultimate outlaw story. Robin’s trusty arrows have been pricking the public imagination ever since his tale was first told sometime, somewhere, in the depths of the Middle Ages. And, centuries later, his magnetism is showing no signs of waning.

Little John and Robin Hood fight using their legendary quarterstaffs

THE STORY

There are almost as many versions of the Robin Hood story as there are trees in Sherwood Forest. But most modern adaptations of the tale begin with England’s brave and noble king, Richard the Lionheart, heading off to the Holy Land on crusade. With Richard occupied overseas, his evil, grasping brother, John, usurps the English throne and embarks on a reign of terror. Ably assisted by the equally diabolical Sheriff of Nottingham, John taxes his people until the pips squeak and imprisons (or worse) those who are unable or unwilling to pay up.

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December 2016
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