Robin of Locksley

The tale of Robin Hood has been told in verse, story and film across the centuries. The legend is basically a collection of stories concerning a group of outlaws who risk life and limb to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Robin, a lovable rogue with a longbow and a quiver of arrows on his back, is always at the centre of the action with his band of Merry Men as the supporting cast. Love interest is provided by the beautiful Maid Marian often depicted as having a double life – a rebellious warrior chick in the forest choosing Robin and the outlaws whenever she can get away from the embroidery and dancing that, as a lady, she is supposed to be enjoying. The story centres around archery (Marian is often shown, especially in screen versions, as being a pretty accomplished archer herself) and epitomises for many of us how awesome skills with a longbow can get you out of trouble (and make you a hit with the ladies / is a good alternative to embroidery).

The story begins with Robin, a Saxon nobleman, living near the castle in the city of Nottingham. The city is ruled by Prince John, who has taken over while his brother, King Richard, is off fighting the Crusades. No-one seems to know whether Richard is alive or dead, his return is always hoped for but in his absence evil Prince John takes advantage of his new authority by teaming up with the equally nasty Sheriff of Nottingham. Between them they attempt to transfer as much money as possible from the people of Nottingham into their own coffers. As taxes keep rising and punitive laws are enacted to dissuade anyone from challenging them, the people of Nottingham are left with barely enough to feed themselves or keep a roof over their heads. As the story takes place following the Norman conquest of Britain the story also makes much of the evil (French) conquerors against the plucky British (Saxon) underdogs. 

Robin, hungry and struggling to survive (in some versions Robin himself is newly returned from the Crusades to find the family home burnt down and his family dead), is caught hunting royal deer with his longbow and is outlawed from the city. With no home, money or possessions, he’s left to fend for himself in Sherwood Forest which lies just outside the city. Robin’s skill at hunting, and his personal charisma, helps him to befriend other outlaws. They eventually form a full camp with various roles and skills in the group. The stories of how Little John, later to be Robin’s right hand man, and Will Scarlet come to join him are amongst the most famous of the tales. 

After months of futile fighting, with Robin and his men successfully stealing back taxes and storing food for the poor villagers, evil Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham are determined to arrest him. Knowing of Robin’s skill with the longbow and aware of his desire to fight for the rights of the Saxons, they stage an archery contest to trick him into coming back – illegally – into the city of Nottingham. Disguised as a peasant, Robin enters the city and enrols for the contest, determined to win the Silver Arrow prize. He easily makes it through to the final shoot-out, but his impressive skill alerts the Sheriff and his men who are on the look-out for Robin. With his Merry Men disguised amongst the crowd of Saxon peasants watching the contest, Robin’s first shot of the final hits gold. Little John, seeing that the Norman knights are moving in on Robin, tells the crowd that Robin is a fellow Saxon, and the best archer in the land. The crowd begins to cheer for him, distracting the knights and disrupting their movements. As Robin looses his final arrow, splitting the shaft of his previous ‘perfect 10’ and thereby winning the contest, Prince John signals to his knights to take him. Reacting quickly Little John shouts to the crowd to lift up the winner. A hooded Robin, is held aloft by the crowd. In the melee the outlaws manage to carry him straight through the Norman knights. As Robin is returned to the ground his bow is hidden once again and, with the help of his friends, he slips out of the city unnoticed. Robin and his men return to their camp deep in Sherwood Forest to celebrate their victory, as evil Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham are thwarted once again. 

Modern day Robin Hood

The incredible visual appeal of archery has probably contributed to the ongoing ‘Rise of Robin’ with versions of him or the stories featuring in movies, games and on television (although we’re currently enjoying the tales of Merlin and Prince Arthur – another traditional English failsafe that also, happily, tends to feature archery practice). There have been countless depictions of the courageous Robin in the past 70 years, with the feature film, Robin Hood (2010) featuring Russell Crowe (“you’ve got dead ears mate. Bollocks.”) being the most recent. But not the best. 

The story’s revival has done particularly well in the last ten years thanks to the most recent BBC series,which followed Robin and his Merry Men for 3 years. Your age probably determines which version of Robin you find the most recognisable – the glossy mulleted Michael Praed is sadly the one for me. Kevin Costner (also with a mullet, albeit shorter, and, err, more bleached) runs a close second. 

One of the most loved depictions of the story is Disney’s animated feature, which used a cast of animals to tell the popular tale. 

The music of Robin Hood

Even seeing this picture makes you start humming no?

And, if all that Robin Hood goodness has really got you in the mood here’s the Karaoke version :