23 March 2013

'Robin Hood: the real story of the English outlaw' by Jim Bradbury

A respected authority on medieval archery, Jim Bradbury, has spent many years researching Robin Hood and his book examines how the legend of Robin Hood has developed over the centuries and attempts "to work out the historical origin of the hero as far as possible."

The author takes an interesting 'reverse chronology' approach, looking at the influence of Hollywood and TV, then the novel writers of the nineteenth century, the antiquarians of the eighteenth century, seventeenth century ballads, sixteenth century plays and finally the medieval plays and poems. He also considers the audiences for which these literary works were intended. Bradbury adopts this approach in order to filter out the later additions to the story and to prove how much of the modern view of Robin Hood is myth and invention.

A later chapter considers the locations mentioned in the early poems, plays and histories and he concludes that Yorkshire "is one of the two most popular and common locations in the earliest works" and discusses the references to Barnsdale, Kirklees Priory and 'the Saylis'. Nottingham and Sherwood Forest, however, get equal attention and he argues that there is nothing to choose between the two.

This is followed by a discussion of 'real' Robin Hoods and 'Who was Robin Hood?' Bradbury admits that if there was a real Robin Hood we have not yet found him in the sources but hopes that at some point in the future the search for him will be successful.

The author starts by setting the reader a set of 10 questions (to which we return at the end of the book) to show how most of what we know about Robin Hood is the result of cinema and TV and not based on the available evidence. The book provides a very useful summary of the literary and historical sources and is recommended.

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