"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Oldest Known Reference to Robin Hood

The Hot Air blog has posted a piece on Robin Hood brought on by a newly discovered margin note in a 15th century history text referencing him. The note, written by a monk, refers to Robin Hood as nothing more than a thief and trouble for the law-abiding folks around Sherwood Forest. Here's the passage from the AP story:

An academic says he's found evidence that Britain's legendary outlaw Robin Hood wasn't as popular as folklore suggests.

Julian Luxford says a note discovered in the margins of an ancient history book contains rare criticism of the supposedly benevolent bandit.

According to legend, Robin Hood roamed 13th-century Britain from a base in central England's Sherwood Forest, plundering from the rich to give to the poor.

But Luxford, an art history lecturer at Scotland's University of St. Andrews, says a 23-word inscription in the margins of a history book, written in Latin by a medieval monk around 1460, casts the outlaw as a persistent thief.

"Around this time, according to popular opinion, a certain outlaw named Robin Hood, with his accomplices, infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies," the note read when translated into English, Luxford said.

Hot Air, and others apparently, are using this passage to suggest that Robin Hood wasn't the man of the common people as he is popularly portrayed. I think a bit of historic perspective may be in order.

Robin Hood has been made famous for "robbing from the rich and giving to the poor." That he probably did, but who were the rich in the England of the mid 1300s? They were not capitalists or entrepreneurs who had risked their own wealth to create more. They were landed nobility who had inherited their wealth and land and the attendant political power. The government and the nobles, the rich, were one and the same. They made their income to supplement their inheritance by taxing the serfs who lived on their land and worked it raising food and necessities. In return they offered some physical protection, but it wasn't a good deal for the serf and wasn't optional for him either.

The fact that a monk would bad mouth Robin Hood has been taken by some to suggest that he was just a common thief. The assumption here is that the Church was on the side of the "common man" and is just plain untrue. The Church in England at this time was in large part just as corrupt, greedy and political as the nobility. I'm not suggesting every country priest was evil, but it isn't too far of a stretch to imagine the monk who wrote the newly discovered passage naturally preferring the "law-abiding" peasants who made regular tithes to his church and didn't make waves to a populist robber who stood up to the status quo.

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