Robin Unhooded? By Ronald Millar
I hope that you are all having a fantastic Yuletide and that Boxing Day finds you without heartburn or a lack of batteries!
After a number of e-mails regarding Robin Hood from our members, the release in 2010 of the new film starring Russell Crowe (come on it’s got to be better than the recent TV series hasn’t it!!!) My Yule tradition of watching the final scenes of Michael Praed’s Robin in Richard Carpenters fantastic series from the 80’s and some comments from fellow members of The Company of Maisters. I felt that I should re-publish this article from the archive of The Company of the Green Man earlier than I had intended.
This article was first published by the late Ronald Millar in the Company of the Green Man March 2000 newsletter (number 7) I have reproduced it exactly as it was originally hand typed by Ron in his fabulous crumbling tower in East Sussex. For those who don’t know Ronald came to prominence as author of The Piltdown Men, a defence of the solicitor Charles Dawson, the alleged forger of the infamous human fossil from Sussex. He was also the author of a number of books ranging from military history to the lives of the Breton tunny fisherman, a venture in which he was nearly drowned when his sailing schooner was destroyed mid-Atlantic by a summer hurricane. Five of the crew perished. He wrote “For a writer there is nothing like first-hand experience. it should be avoided at all costs” I’ll remember him as exactly the kind of person you want to be sitting in front of next to a roaring pub fire with a pint in your hand with nowhere you need to be for the next six hours!
A number of members have commented about the connection between the Green Man and Robin Hood particularly when it comes to pub signs. Indeed it is known that some Green Man pubs changed their signs to foresters or images of a bow wielding Robin Hood from from the original image of the shaggy green men used as a symbol of the Distillers’ company in the 17th century. As Ron comments and as I have also discovered (but am open to being corrected) there are no pubs in Robin’s own county of Nottinghamshire named the Green Man but there are many Robin Hoods!
The interconnection between Robin and the Green Man that arises through the mythology of the Lord of the Wildwood, of Puck and Herne etc may also add to this link. One to discuss on these pages I hope. Feel free to comment using the link directly at the bottom of this page or e-mail me directly at email@example.com
Robin Unhooded? By Ronald Millar (From The Company of the Green Man Newsletter Number 7 March 2000)
‘Legends, myths, fables, even fairy tales were the ways in which a non-literate society told its story. Distorted, emphasis changed to suit the talker’s purpose maybe, but here is real history. This is perhaps the greatest discovery by archaeologists in the last fifty years’.
Introduction to Chapter Five of The Green Man Companion and Gazetteer By Ronald Millar
WRINGING historical truth out of a medieval ballad must require similar optimism, one might suspect, to attempting to write an accurate history based on Hollywood film epics. Nothing loath, Professor John Bellamy of Carleton University, Ottowa, decided to try; after all when there is no alternative tool of research then a ballad it must be. In this case the ballad was called The Gest of Robyn Hode composed in the fourteenth century.
The professor does not hide the fact that he leans heavily on earlier scholars at the same game, some of whom were not above ‘creative research’, giving the evidence a little twist and a nudge here and there to create a new and sensational theory. All of them eventually gave up, although some were hot on the trail of real discovery. Bellamy persisted and, through his endeavours with the Gest and antique charters and manor rolls, sheds new light on the famous but shadowy outlaw with the heart of gold we call Robin Hood, Robin Hode, Robin-in-the-Hood, Robin of Locksley, Earl of Huntingdon and Uncle Tom Cobbly and All. From the faded and illegible pages Robin’s adventures come alive.
The balladeer sang how the King comes to Sherwood in disguise. There he is captured but recognised by Robin, but all ends well with the outlaw and his merry men being granted a pardon and entering their royal master’s service. It had always been suspected that ‘the comely King’ was unlikely to be Richard the Lionheart, suddenly returned from the Crusades or ransomed imprisonment, as modern tales and films insist. That highly popular, but normally absent, sovereign would be hard put to remember where England was. Sure enough confirmation comes in a medieval chronicle that tells how Edward II, who reigned from 1307 to 1327 and was a great man for the hunt and also a ‘comly king’, became somewhat sore at the lawlessness and deer poaching in his royal forests and ventured to Nottingham to see what was up for himself. The year is 1323. Whether he actually ventured into the trees himself is not known but sure enough Edward’s wardrobe accounts for that year show that one Robyn Hode commenced to receive royal wages from November onwards. Well done the professor.
But our historical sleuth sees a snag. Did you? When Robyn meets the disguised king in the forest he recognises who he is. This suggests that the outlaw knew him, must have seen him at close hand on an earlier occasion, an opportunity not afforded to lesser folk in the Middle Ages. Bellamy cannot help noticing Robin’s social graces. Where does his great courtesy come from? Bellamy concludes that he must at some time have served in the household of some noble, and when outlawed have taken his social graces with him into the forest. And sure enough there is a Robyn Hode on the payroll of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster.
And now we know how Robyn or Robin came to be outlawed, hinted at as unjust but never categorised in the numerous songs and stories about him. During Robyn’s brief service with Lancaster that noble had rebelled against the King and was captured and hanged, his land and property forfeit to the Crown as was the law in those stirring times. His retainers would also forfeit their goods and chattels and be outlawed to boot. Robyn could not have escaped the penalty for being on the losing side.
In spite of all we and others have said about Robin Hood being the personification of a spirit of the wood we have to accept he was also a real person and that the outlaw depicted on the Green Man pub signs probably looked very much like him. All we need to know now from Professor Bellamy is why the pubs were not called the Robin Hood. He does not say, a great pity.
During an idle moment the present author conducted an experiment that might have appealed to the professor for its unorthodoxy. He looked up all the Green Man pubs in the Nottingham area telephone directory. Was there one? If so he has forgotten it. Yet in London alone there were thirty -six. What did that prove? Absolutely nothing except it is incredible that a local hero did not receive the usual English accolade of having numerous pubs named after him. It puzzled the author but Bellamy took it in his stride. He knew better. Although the Gest concentrates on Robyn’s struggle with the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham- he identifies this character, too. And Guy of Guisborne, even Friar Tuck and many others – the outlaw’s rightful haunts were nearly a hundred miles further north in Yorkshire, in Barnsdale to the south of York. Somebody with access to a Yorkshire telephone directory should try the pub census there.
But if Robin Hood was a real person what of Robin-in-the-Hood? What of Jack-in-the-Green? What of the Green Man? Do not despair.. Professor Bellamy discovered several references to a Robin Hood who existed many centuries before the outlaw’s bow sang its lethal song in the glades of Sherwood. As a surname Robinhod or Robynhoud was quite common in places as far apart as Sussex and Cumberland. Bellamy cautiously provides no explanation.
NOTE: John Bellamy’s book is Robin Hood: An Historical Inquiry published in 1985 by Croom Helm Ltd, Beckenham, Kent. Rather stuffy but otherwise a first rate demonstration of how historical inquiry is correctly and unsensationally carried out, an all too rare event these days.
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The Green Man
For many people their first experience of the Green Man is a chance sighting of a strange stone foliate face looking down at them from high above in a church or cathedral. Just what this supposedly pagan representation of fertility and the greenwood is doing in a Christian place of worship, has puzzled people throughout the ages. A subversive image placed by stone carvers as a link to a pre-Christian religion? A reminder that we all come from the earth and will one day return? Or a representation of evil carefully placed to remind churchgoers to steer away from sin?
Lady Raglan who coined the term “Green Man” thought that the Green Man of churches and abbeys was one in the same with “the figure known variously as the Green Man, Jack in the Green, Robin Hood, the King of the May, and the Garland who is the central figure in the May Day celebrations throughout northern and central Europe.” Many people still support these connections, believing that the Green Man has many faces and that each of these do indeed have deep seated and possibly spiritual links via an ancient race memory of a time when the Greenwoods covered most of what is now Britain.
But many disagree vehemently with these connections arguing that there is no evidence that the Jack-in –the-Green dates back any further than the sweeps processions of the late eighteenth century, (and the Garland only slightly further). That Robin Hood had no connections with The Green Man until Richard Carpenters cult series “Robin of Sherwood” created a link via the shamanic/deific figure of Herne the Hunter and his links with Cernunnos. That if the King of the May had any actual link with the Green Man carvings found in churches and other locations then there would be at least be some evidence that the carvings were in some way made a part of the May celebrations, or at least mentioned, which it seems they were not!
And yet others argue that even if these connections never did exist, then they have now been created and therefore will henceforth be forever inseparably entwined in that magical way that myth, legend and folklore seem to take on an unstoppable life force of their own.
Environmentalists, New Agers, Pagans and neo Pagans all have their own interpretations of who the Green Man is and what he represents to them and their beliefs.
Even the stone carvings found in churches, cathedrals, castles and varied other locations may not all be as they at first seem. Some Green Man hunters classify them into different types: Leaf masks, simple faces formed from a single leaf. Foliate faces created by more than one leaf. Faces disgorging foliage or vines from mouth, eyes, and/or ears. Other hunters allow inclusion of Cat and other animal faces created from or including leaves or vegetation of some kind.
Images of the green man are found across England, Great Britain, Europe and parts of Asia and North Africa. He may date back as far as the third millennium BC, and is still being reproduced in stone, wood, art, song, story and poem today. He may be found in his guise as dusty stone or wood carving looking down from on high in churches cathedrals and abbeys throughout England. He can be seen as a sometimes mischievous, sometimes dark figure found in Morris dances; both traditional and modern. As Jack-in-the-Green leading or included in May Day processions each year, or bought to life in new and vibrant traditions, like the Green Man of Clun who each year battles the Frost Queen on a bridge above the river Clun.
I believe that the answer to the question of “who is the Green Man” may simply be that there is no single answer, that he is indeed an enigma, not to be solved but to continue to instil curiosity and wonder in past, current and future generations.
And so, what you at first may have thought a gentle pastime of wandering around quiet parish churches snapping the odd photo of a Green Man on high before retiring to the nearest pub (possibly The Green Man) for a pint of Green Man ale (yes it exists) you may now realise is a pastime fraught with conflict, rivalry and quite possibly intrigue.
I shall leave the last poignant words to Ronald Millar:
“Two millennia old or older, the Green Man is the vibrant spirit of the wild wood, of vegetation in leaf or bud, of spring, pool and river, earth and sky, indeed the totality of nature. His voice is the hiss of the high wind in ash and oak. And his profundity those sudden silences of a forest when all Nature seems to hold her breath. When we hear or feel him no more mankind will have run its course.”
And now over to you: I invite conversation and discourse on your thoughts about the Green Man.
Please feel free to add your comments using the link below or by e-mailing The Company of the Green Man at firstname.lastname@example.org