Who Is Robin Hood? - Legend & Legacy

Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Tales of Robin Hood are just as popular today as they were over 800 years ago. In this lesson, we'll take a look at both the legend and the legacy of England's most famous outlaw.

The Legend

No one knows for sure whether Robin Hood was a real man or a made up person. We do know that there have been thousands of tales written and told about England's most famous outlaw, and they start as early as the 1200s. The first five surviving poems, or ballads as they are now called, establish much of the legend that we know today: Robin Hood and the Monk, Robin Hood and the Potter, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, Robin Hoode his Death, and A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode. All five were written in the 15th or early 16th centuries.

The great outlaw Robin Hood
Robin Hood

It's easy to see why people hundreds of years ago yearned for stories about a hero, a man who could save them from the wretched human waste that littered the streets and the many outbreaks of yellow fever. The lower class did not make a lot of money, barely enough to survive, and oftentimes they did not survive. So Robin Hood became a legend to the common man, a beacon of hope and a way to escape their dire existence through adventurous stories of a hero who fought for the oppressed.

What We Do Know

Although many of the stories about Robin Hood contradict each other, there are few characteristics that remain the same. We know that Robin Hood was brave. He had a loyal following known as his band of 'merry men.' They included popular characters such as: Little John (his most loyal friend), Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Will Stutely, Allen-A-Dale, and his true love Maid Marian. The group pledged to fight against tyranny in order to help feed the poor.

Robin Hood getting help from his friend Friar Tuck
Robin Hood and The Friar

We also know that Robin Hood was an exceptional archer, one of the best in England if not the entire world. He typically wore green, and he often disguised himself when outside of his home to remain hidden from his enemies. He was known as King of the Greenwood. In some tales, his home was the Sherwood Forest (the most common), in others it was called Nottinghamshire or Barnsdale in Yorkshire. Many of his battles were fought against the corrupt and the rich, including the Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin Hood's arch-enemy. He also fought against the Bishop of Hereford, a greedy man who tried to hide behind the morality of the church. Simply put, Robin Hood fought for the underdog.

The Legacy of Robin Hood

Perhaps the most influential collection of Robin Hood stories came from 19th century ballad scholar and folklorist Francis Child, who published what is commonly called The Child Ballads. Child used both published and unpublished manuscripts to assemble a 5-volume collection of over 300 Scottish and English ballads. Within this collection, Child published 38 different Robin Hood ballads spanning several hundred years. This collection ultimately shaped the legend of Robin Hood as we know it today.

Robin Hood made his first film appearance in a silent movie in 1908 called Robin Hood and His Merry Men. Since that time, countries from around the world have made more than 40 different films about the English legend. Perhaps the most renowned version came in 1938: The Adventures of Robin Hood, which starred legendary actor Errol Flynn in what is considered his most famous role. Since that time, prominent actors such as Roger Moore, Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, and Russell Crowe have played the part. The films cross many genres and styles including animation, action-adventure, science fiction, fantasy, and even spoofs (Robin Hood: Men in Tights, which was directed by Mel Brooks.)

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