Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Cleavage and Turkey Legs - Part II of Olde Robin Hood


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(Click Here for Part I - My Secret)

So, I poured myself a cup of liquid ambition into my brand new, officially appointed Robin Hood writing mug from Fishes Eddy.

For those unfamiliar with my writing techniques, one thing I do is try to connect a specific cup to the book I'm writing.  So, if I'm drinking from that mug, it is time to think about that project.  It's a bit like pulling a Pavlovian dog on yourself.

(isn't the inside pretty?)

(Note that on the other side is a shepherdess.  THIS WILL BE FORTUITOUS LATER!  And I didn't even know it...)

As I sat there sipping, I wondered to myself, "Self?  How are we going to solve this Robin Hood problem?"

I'd been doing a bit of a Walkabout, see, in sort of the Australian sense.  I packed up all my worldly belongings, I went off to Los Angeles for four months to do a workshop of my play Building Madness, and then moved to NYC for six months to learn how to produce Broadway shows from the incredible folks at the Commercial Theatre Institute.  I could go anywhere. I start research moving to Nottingham for three months... The rents were not that bad.  I mean, especially compared to Manhattan.  And I saw there was even a whole Robin Hood Festival taking place in Nottingham.  I just need to step away from everything I've been building for the past year and max out a couple credit cards.

I was not brave enough.

It's one of those choices I still regret, and wonder where I'd be today if I had taken the other path, because once I finally DID end up in Nottingham, it was life altering.  But I'll get to that later....

For the time being, I decide to take the Poor Man's Version of Robin Hood research and discovered that the New York Renaissance Faire is taking place and their whole theme for the year is... drum roll please... Robin Hood!  I figure maybe that might work instead...?  HUZZAH?

So, I rent a Zip car (which is this thing where you pay a monthly rental membership, and then five million dollars each time you want to take the car out) and drive out into the verdant green of the New York countryside(ish)!

Fresh air!  Blue skies!  This stuff called vegetation!

Now, if any of you have read Maggie Goes Medieval, you may have a sense of deja vu, because I mined this location for all the stories I could squeeze out of it.

Friendly locals

I check the schedule sold to me by a wench with a rose shoved between her bosoms* (see: Killian buying maps in Maggie Goes Medieval) and make my way over to a bridge where Robin Hood and his Merry Crew is going to hold off the evil Sheriff of Nottingham.

In case you've never been to a Ren Fest, there are shows that happen all over (jugglers and comedy teams), but there is usually also an overarching storyline, and you can follow Queen Elizabeth or, in this case, Robin Hood, around the festival all day and by closing time, you've got a whole plot.

So, Robin was protecting the bridge.

It was super fun!  Sword fights!  Witty insults!  And I don't know if it was some cast member's kid or just a super fan, but there was this little boy (maybe eight or nine) who just absolutely ADORED the Sheriff of Nottingham.  He would just gaze at the Sheriff with absolute hero worship, hand on his sword, ready to hop into the fray if the Sheriff needed ANYTHING.  He had even dressed up in the Sheriff's colors and I saw him follow him and the guards all day like a groupie.  It just made me all mushy that to see a kid so enthralled and swept up in make believe.

And I head over to the Human Chessboard.  The first RenFest I went to was in Pennsylvania back when I was in high school.  They were less action focused, more story/improv.  Their human chessboard involved William Shakespeare disarming his opponent because the pen is mightier than the sword.  Will also died in my lap by the end.  Needless to say, the Chessboard holds a special place in my heart.

This one was about swords, but TOTALLY fun as Robin's and the Sheriff's men duked it out.

I was at this moment my phone starts dying because I had used it to navigate through the wilds of New York State.  Faint batteries never won faire pictures!

But imagine if you will a castle with a maze, a fairy path (with fairies!) through the woods, a village where people are living as Norman-Saxons, people noshing on turkey legs, a pile of kettle fried chips shaved and mounded like a pile of ribbons, craft booths, weaponry sheds, and...

Lo and behold!  A try-your-hand-at-archery booth!

I ponied up the cash.  Now, bless, they handed me a bunch of weapons and assumed I knew what I was doing.  But as I dropped my arrows and made a right mess of things, a very nice (and patient) guy came over to show me how to aim an arrow before I shot him in the eye.  I did alright and discovered the joys of snapping your wrist with a bowstring if you have a terrible stance and aren't wearing a bracer (which is a leather wrist covering.)  It was very, very educational.

SIDE NOTE:  I also go stumbling around and discovered this show called the Washing Well Wenches.  I have never laughed so hard in my entire life.  These ladies were FEARLESS.  And I went home and immediately wrote Bureaucrazy to try and give a vehicle to women who are THAT funny.  It turns out this is a national troupe, so if you're ever at a RenFest and they happen to be on the docket, bump them up on your "must watch" list.

What else... I decide to pony up the $5 for reserved seating for the joust.  Turns out, I got a seat inside this lovely structure.

And a free flag.

It's totally a hoot, and armed with inspiration that would create Maggie Goes Medieval and Bureaucrazy, and a teeny bit of archery knowledge, and a bit of weaponry info...  

At this point you're going, "Kate?  This was a really nice story about your day at the Faire, but what does this have to do with Olde Robin Hood?'

Bear with.


Almost all the Robin Hood stories we have in popular culture were inspired by these plays written by a guy named Anthony Munday.  He lived around the same time as Shakespeare and, evidently, his Robin Hood plays were a HUGE hit.  But his plays were written in the late 1500s, and the candidates for the real Robin Hood lived around the 1200s.  

So, there are also these ballads that date back to the 1200s (not written down until the 1400s), BUT:
  • Maid Marian is not in the stories.
  • Or the Merry Men.
  • And Robin did not steal from the rich and give to the poor.

I KNOW!  I know.  I can hear you all now, "WHAT??  Any other dreams you want to shatter, Kate?  Maybe ruin Christmas?"

Don't despair!  Hope lies in history!  

So in these 13th century ballads which were told around the fire and in taverns, the only characters in them you've probably heard of are Robin Hood, Little John, Will Scarlett (Scarlocke - Robin's cousin), Much the Miller's Son (Robin's goofy sidekick friend), the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Sir Guy of Gisbourne.  

These are just the ballads, though.

At the same time the ballads were happening, Robin Hood's legend was being spread through theatre.

Now, most of the plays in the 13th century were done by the church as a way to tell bible stories to a population that couldn't read.

But there were these big festivals with ties to pagan fertility celebrations called the May Games.  And they weren't so far off from a modern day Renaissance Faire.  And much like this particular faire I went to, Robin Hood stories were the center.  

Sadly, much like the performances I saw at the RenFest, these plays were not written down and shuttled off to climate controlled storage in the precious writings room at a library.  

There are fragments of these original May Games plays (written down MUCH later), but for the most part, they have been lost to time.  The paper was reserved for monks illuminating manuscripts in dusty towers and political figures.  

(And the reason we have the ballads at all is that someone wrote down these spoken stories in the 15th century.  And the only reason we have ANYTHING about Robin is that a guy grabbed a few scrolls on his way out of a burning building.  Supposedly, there were more. But... fire.)


In the written ballads, Robin is a pretty religious fellow, but they sort of smack of the storyteller either A) trying not to get burned as a heretic for telling a tale about an outlaw robbing the church or B) trying to get Robin Hood incorporated into Christian culture to get the people who loved him more on board (like how Christmas was originally a pagan holiday.)  

Meanwhile, speaking of the pagan side...  There is this figure called The Green Man.  You've probably seen him.  He is a face surrounded by leaves.  He's been around for thousands of years.  

But right around the 13th century, the Green Man began to morph into Robin Hood.  Robin Hood began to be synonymous with Puck (a mischievous, chaotic, spirit force of the forest)  a.k.a. "Robin Goodfellow" (which you may have heard in Will Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.)  Whatever the real Robin Hood did resonated so hard with the people at the time, they elevated him into an almost deity-like status.  "Robin Hood" became the Summer King at these pagan May Games.  And like the Pied Piper, he would lead the attendees of the Games from one town to the next over where they would good-naturedly "rob" the local church and distribute the alms to the poor.

And who was standing at the side of Robin Hood, King of the May Games?

None other than Maid Marian.

You thought I forgot, didn't you?

The ballads are a total sausage-fest.  But the May Games plays?  

We know that there was a French play dating around 1282 that features a shepherd and shepherdess named Robin and Marian.  While scholars generally believe the names are just a coincidence, for centuries, Robin and Marian continued to be portrayed as sheep people, and Marian's character infused with a lusty, pastoral spirit.  When she finally made her appearance in one of those super rare written fragments of a once complete play, it is in a May Games play where she appears alongside a newly created character named Friar Tuck (there was a real priest by the name of Tuck who was so moved by the stories of Robin Hood, he started robbing from the rich to give to the poor in the 1400s, and he was added to the canon.)

I can hear you now.  "But those are just PLAYS!  They're made up!"

Hold your horses!  What I discovered is that there are a lot of facts in these fictional accounts.  When you start digging deep into the text of the ballads and the things touted as "legend" and then start looking at history, there is emerging proof that they were based upon something real.  And not to go talking crazy, but I think that it is only because of this incredible digital age that historians are beginning to be able to discover things and draw lines they never could before.  Thirty years ago, you had to find some out of print book by some guy who happened to be in a city that happened to have a dusty library with some rare scroll.  But now?  More and more information is getting out.

Which brings me back to Maid Marian.  Originally thought to be a fiction thrown in as an homage to the Virgin Mary/Robin's love interest/sex appeal for the masses in these bawdy May Games plays, it turns out she might have been real.  There are several candidates for the real Robin Hood, which I'll get into later, but TWO of them were married to women named Maud and Matilda, both of which reportedly moved into the greenwood when their husbands got into trouble and started going by Marian.  HOW CRAZY IS THAT???

I'll get into the Merry Men later when we dive into the Barons War.  Oh yeah.  We're going there.  THE BARONS WAR, BABY!

But all this info came later.  At the time I was leaving the Ren Faire, I had no idea that I had just experienced something that may have been very like the one thing that kept the unwritten truths of Robin Hood's life alive for centuries.

As it was, I was packing up all my suitcases and moving back home for what was going to be a very distracted period of time where I wrote everything except Robin Hood.  But the thing is, when you're meant to work on something?  

Tune in Thursday as I suddenly find myself going to England for Valentine's Day and realize I've got a book to write.

Part III - In which I learn the "V" symbol is not for "Victory" - "V" Stands for WHAT?

Complete List
Part I - My Secret
Part VI - Not in Snottingham
Part VII - Castles in the Sky

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  1. Well the story behind the story is absolutely brilliant...as per usual!

    1. YAY! So glad you're enjoying these posts! I'm such a nerd about all this and I was fearing my nerddom might only be interesting to my own inner nerd. Huzzah!

  2. I am absolutely enthralled! Is it wrong that an Agatha Ball goes unfinished as I read every single sentence of this tale of yore(s)?Lol can't wait for "V"

    1. That is the BEST reason I've ever heard to leave a book unread! :) Many more chapters of this behind-the-scenes story coming your way! In fact, the next one is coming in about twenty minutes... urg... I better go finish it...