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Date Posted: 23:01:44 09/18/13 Wed
Author: Joe Rizoli (New info)
Author Host/IP:
Subject: Robin Hood and the Jews

Robin Hood and the Jews


Everybody has heard of Robin Hood; the legendary English outlaw, who robbed from the rich to give to the poor whilst living in and around Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire in England. There have been over ten films made about his exploits as well as what drove him to become Robin Hood (1) as well as innumerable new editions and re-tellings of the tales associated with him since the early nineteenth century. Even; during the active suppression of the legend of Robin Hood during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the tales continued to evolve and indeed achieved something closer to the form in which we recognise them today courtesy of not widely known, but quite important playwright of his day: Anthony Munday. (2)

Munday; a rather odious combination of Calvinist spy and anti-Catholic propagandist, (3) added several central elements to the stories and removed others. For example it is in Munday's two Robin Hood plays that Maid Marian makes her first appearance as Robin Hood's love interest (4) and it is also in Munday's plays that see the final suppression of several important early characters such as Much the Miller's son and Sir Richard at the Lee. Munday was also the originator of the popular idea that Robin Hood was the 'Earl of Huntingdon' (i.e. a dispossessed nobleman), (5) but the more commonly believed notion that Robin Hood started out life as Robin of Loxley (or alternatively Locksley) is attributable to Sir Walter Scott's nineteenth century best-seller 'Ivanhoe', which introduces a parallel character to Robin Hood as being surnamed Loxley/Locksley. (6)

Another common belief; and indeed one which has been cited by Marxist writers and academics attempting to overly politicise the legend, is that Robin Hood 'robbed from the rich to give to the poor', which; as the medieval historian James Holt has observed, is simply not arguable on the basis of the pre-sixteenth century ballads, which have survived. (7) The idea however can be located in a misreading of the first few lines of the 'Gest of Robin Hood' by early commentators on it. (8)

We should also observe that Robin Hood's great refuge that is found in Sherwood Forest is commonly subject to a misunderstanding given that at the time that Robin Hood likely lived; and you'll notice I am referring to him as an actual person as opposed to a figure of pure legend, the term 'Forest' did not refer to a large stretch of woodland, but rather to a legal jurisdiction. (9) Indeed a 'Forest' was essentially the king's (or a given landowner's) personal game park where the common folk were not allowed to cut wood or take game (most famously; in the context of the Robin Hood legends, deer) without the explicit permission of the relevant landowner.

Just from these few stated popular myths; which gained widespread distribution after Munday's plays were a major hit on the stage in the Elizabethan era and especially in the Victorian era as a part of the up-and-coming genre of patriot children's books and magazines, (10) it should be very clear to the reader that the Robin Hood of modern film and fireside lore is a very different figure to the character we know from the early ballads which have come down to us.

For the sake of simplicity we should recount the facts not in dispute about the Robin Hood of the early ballads to give the reader an alternative picture of the world's most famous outlaw. In the first instance Robin Hood was of the yeoman class in English feudal society, (11) which simply means that he was a free man, was able to (and quite probably did) own land as well as being able to summoned to serve in military campaigns by his king via his local lord.

Robin Hood performed most of his waylaying and bandit activity in the area near Wakefield and Wentbridge in the Forest of Barnsdale in Yorkshire as opposed to Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire. (12) That said however Robin Hood's great nemesis is the Sheriff of Nottingham (13) and his yeoman agent Guy of Gisborne (alternatively Gisburn) (14) who hunt him through Sherwood Forest as well as have a connection (precisely what is the subject to a large amount of dispute) to opposing Robin Hood's waylaying of travelers in and around the Forest of Barnsdale.

This Robin Hood is the leader; by mutual consent, of a band of outlaws who he calls the 'Merry Men' (the exact meaning of 'Merry Men' is also the subject of dispute) and of whom there are alternatively sixty (three score) or a hundred and forty (seven score). All of these men are highly-trained soldiers absolutely loyal to their leader and who are usually close at hand so that a blow on Robin Hood's horn can summon them at a moment's notice.

Robin Hood's right-man hand is famously Little John, but the Little John of the ballads is an alternative leader for the 'Merry Men' (Robin Hood having offered him leadership in one of the ballads) who has at some point in his life probably been a sailor. (15) Little John is also an individual antagonist to the Sheriff of Nottingham causing him all sorts of problems on his own. (16)

Robin Hood is also an outlaw who utilizes his sword far more than he does his famous longbow (17) and ironically loses a lot of the fights in which he engages except for those against his principle enemies such as Guy of Gisborne and the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Our famous outlaw also does not shrink from extraordinary amounts of vindictive violence. In so far as in 'Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne' after killing Guy: he cuts off his head, slashes his face with an Irish knife, places the head on the end of his longbow and parades around with it. (18) Alternatively Little John and Much the Miller's son waylay and brutally murder a monk and his young page on the road to London before assuming their identities on the explicit reasoning that this is so they cannot tell anyone else what has occurred. (19)

The contrasting aspect of this is Robin Hood's strident Christian piety and particular devotion of the cult of the Virgin Mary. Indeed we are told in the early ballads that Robin Hood feels a need to hear mass regularly, (20) has endowed a chapel to the Virgin Mary with the proceeds of his highway robberies, (21) is a likely virgin (22) and lives a kind of semi-Monastic lifestyle having no wealth of his own but rather everything that the 'Merry Men' own is held in common. (23)

This piety is frequently held to be the origin of Munday's later addition of Maid Marian to the stories in order to remove Robin Hood's absolute devotion to the Virgin Mary (as Munday was a fanatical Protestant who routinely poured scorn on 'papist superstition') from the narrative (24) as well as building on the popular tradition of Maid Marian's and Robin Hood's twin association with May Day festivities (before said celebrations were misappropriated by Marxists) with Maid Marian (i.e. 'Mary the Maid' equals the 'Virgin Mary') (25) as the Christian replacement to Dianna (Goddess of the Hunt) as the 'Queen of the May' with Robin Hood (the character of whom solicited charitable donations from nearby communities to help pay for community projects such as upkeep of the local church) increasingly being her uncrowned king. (26)

The actual idea for the addition of the Robin and Marian love story to the narrative seems to have come from an unrelated early medieval French play 'Robin and Marian': where Marian is a shepherdess who is desired by an evil knight and whose non-knightly lover is Robin. (27)

This itself stands in stark contrast; albeit one that can reconciled in light of the role of the Church as a major landowner in feudal society, (28) to Robin's animosity and principle target for his activities: abbots, bishops and monasteries who put their financial betterment before their Christian duty to their flock.

Indeed one of the main story-lines included in the collection of stories we call the 'Gest of Robin Hood' (a 'Gest' is roughly equivalent to a 'Life of' [i.e. an early form of popular biography]) concerns a formerly wealthy knight; Sir Richard at the Lee, whose son has killed a fellow knight and who has become heavily in debt; to the tune of 400, to St. Mary's Abbey in York (which was part of the Benedictine Order) due to the legal costs accruing having to keep his son from the hangman's noose.

He meets Robin Hood on his way to ask the greedy abbot of St. Mary's for an extension of the time he has been given to gather the funds to repay the loan and is found by Robin Hood to be a truthful and Christian knight; there is some symbolic implication that Sir Richard at the Lee may have formerly been a crusader, (29) which causes Robin Hood to lend him both new rich clothes and the 400 necessary to repay the abbot.

Sir Richard at the Lee promptly plays a trick on the abbot and forces him to forego the customary monetary gift in lieu of interest on the loan causing the abbot to send a monk to London with a bribe of 800 for the king's advisors so they can make sure to rule in his favour in the ensuing court case when when tries to repossess the knight's estates for lack of repayment of the loan.

This monk is then waylaid by Robin Hood and his 'Merry Men' who discover where he is from and that he is carrying 800, which Robin confiscates as being his and then when Sir Richard at the Lee; now a rich man again, comes to repay his debt: Robin declares the Virgin Mary has already repaid it twice over by gifting him the 800 from St. Mary's Abbey and the Sir Richard owes him nothing. (30)

The reader might at this point think that this is all interesting, but it seems to have very little to do with jews in that the ballads of Robin Hood do not explicitly mention them, which is true but we have to bear in mind that the ballads that we have are from the late fifteenth century and have necessarily been altered in the re-telling to make them better fit the spirit of the times (31) given that we know that by at least 1377 there were famous 'Rhymes of Robin Hood' in existence (as they are mentioned in passing by the medieval poet William Langland). (32)

We can further trace the origin of the legend back to the time of either King Edward I, II or III due to the mention in the 'Gest' of the King being 'our comely [i.e. good looking] King Edward': (33) however as the medieval historian David Baldwin explains (34) this could also be understood to be a reference to Edward I when he was a prince, which would extend the possible time-frame to the reign of Edward I's father: Henry III. (35)

Now from the documents we can pinpoint the first use of the name 'Robin Hood' as the alias for an specific outlaw in a court case in Berkshire (in southern England) involving a man named William le Fevere (i.e. William the Smith) (36) in 1261-1262 who went by alias Robehod ('Robin Hood'). William le Fevere is very unlikely to be the original Robin Hood (as nothing matches but his use of the alias as an outlaw), but the discovery of this court case by Holt has allowed us to be reasonably confident that the origins of Robin Hood lie in or before the reign of Henry III.

The reference to 'our comely King Edward' when placed together with this time-line suggests that Robin Hood was active some time after the birth of Edward I in 1237. This is very important as it immediately puts the original Robin Hood in the time-frame where the jews were heavily in evidence in England, where they were under the protection of the King (and Edward I eventually expelled them in 1290 both because of their usurious activities and accusations of jewish ritual murder) and also a time when the jews were the principle agents for the recovery of loans from individuals on behalf of monastic houses. (37)

This would mean; in the context of Robin Hood's devout Christianity, that the usurious abbot of St. Mary's Abbey in York would have not have been likely to send a monk to London as his agent to bribe the king's advisor, but rather that his agent is rather more likely to have been a jew in the original 'Rhymes of Robin Hood'. Given that whenever the jews acted as middlemen in Europe: popular folklore usually had them one of the principle targets of Robin Hood characters. (38)

Further we know that one of the best candidates for the original Robin Hood; the yeoman Roger Godberd, was at least nominally aligned with two noblemen and former supporters of Simon de Montfort who mortgaged their lands to jewish moneylenders who then subsequently acquired and then sold off their lands at a profit much as the abbot of St. Mary's seeks to do in the early ballads of Robin Hood at about this time (i.e. the 1260s). (39)

This could be understood to mean then that Sir Richard at the Lee is actually struggling against either jewish moneylenders or jews acting as financial agents of St. Mary's Abbey in York and that with the expulsion of the jews in 1290 by Edward I (for usury among other offences) the jewish element lost its relevance to the popular mind by dint of no longer being part of their collective experience.

So over time the probable jewish opponents of Robin Hood and the cause of Christian chivalry; as represented by Sir Richard at the Lee, were converted into simply being monks (who later gained a reputation for being money-grubbing) and representative of the betrayal of the Christian ideal of the superiority of the life of the spirit over the material world by those who were sworn to uphold that very ideal.

Adding a jewish element to the original 'Rhymes of Robin Hood' also makes sense in the context of Robin Hood's own devotion to Christianity and opposition to usury given that the jews in the reign of Edward I were not implausibly charged with coin-clipping (i.e. debasing the coinage and enriching themselves as the crowns expense) in 1279 (300 jews being executed by the authorities for it), (40) were hated by the common people and nobility alike for their usurious and highly aggressive money-lending (41) and before Edward I's ascension to the throne in 1272 (i.e. during the reign of Henry III and the time when Robin Hood seems likeliest to have lived and/or been active) the jews had run amok financially and were amongst the richest people in England. (42)

This makes it very likely that the original Robin Hood and the tales that would have been associated with him; which sprung up in this general time-frame, (43) would have focused not on monastic money-lenders, but rather jewish ones. Indeed even if we were to suggest a much earlier date then we still would encounter much the same situation given that when the jew Aaron of Lincoln died in 1186: he was adjudged to have been the richest man in England in terms of liquid assets. (44) Even then Aaron of Lincoln was but one of many such jews! (45)

That the king (who has to be an Edward [probably Edward I]) is not to blame for any of the activities of the abbots or the Sheriff of Nottingham is a central element to the early ballads (46) as the king takes Robin into his service when he discovers that he has been mislead about Robin's loyalty to him and his Christian duty to tell the king what those who are under his direct jurisdiction (i.e. his officials and the jews) have been doing to his people in his name. This leads the king to 'right the wrongs' that have been done in his name in the ballads.

It is not hard to see Edward I as the the king who is saving Robin Hood and Sir Richard at the Lee from the abuses of the moneylenders and officialdom is actually saving them from the jewish; as opposed to monastic, moneylenders and royal officials bribed with jewish money to rule in their favour in dispossessing those in debt so the jews could acquire and sell on their land to the highest bidder.

This is precisely because the jews had run amok during the reign of Edward I's weak father Henry III; when you'll remember the first mention of 'Robin Hood' as an alias in found in 1261-1262, and were oppressing the people and corrupting officials under an ever weakening king (who was himself in massive debt), but then with the rise of Edward I to the throne in 1272 (remember this is just ten years after the first recorded instance of an outlaw using the alias 'Robin Hood') the jews were reigned in and punished by a strong king who brooked little to no resistance from them to his plans.

Indeed Edward passed law after law against the jews and their money-lending practices and eventually; when the jews had repeatedly chosen to ignore him, had them expelled en bloc in 1290 and in doing so nationalized all their wealth and used it to help fund his parliament and polices, (47) which ultimately created a strong and powerful kingdom of England.

So from this we can clearly see that Edward I is saving the kingdom of England from the jewish money-lenders and accordingly that the original foe of Robin Hood and his 'Merry Men' was in all likelihood not monks, but rather the jews (this also fits in with medieval historian John Bellamy's point that the early ballads do not target landowners in general but rather a specific group of landowners [i.e. the monastic orders or the jews for example]). (48)

This in spite of one recent jewish academic who claims to have magically sensed that Maid Marian was really a jewess (49) and Robin Hood was a 'protector of the jews' (50) all the while refusing to mention that the moneylenders of the 'Rhymes of Robin Hood' were undoubtedly jewish! (51)

Of such things legends are made...


(1) An easy-to-read run down of these can be found in Nick Rennison, 2012, 'Robin Hood: Myth, History and Culture', 1st Edition, Pocket Essentials: Harpenden , pp. 79-111

(2) David Baldwin, 2011, 'Robin Hood: The English Outlaw Unmasked', 1st Edition, Amberley: Stroud, pp. 30-31

(3) Nigel Cawthorne, 2010, 'A Brief History of Robin Hood: The True History Behind the Legend', 1st Edition, Constable and Robinson: London, p. 79

(4) Stephen Knight, 2003, 'Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography', 1st Edition, Cornell University Press: Ithaca, pp. 58-62

(5) Ibid, pp. 42-43; this is also in part down to Joseph Ritson's (the eccentric scholar and unapologetic supporter of the French Revolution who first compiled the Robin Hood ballads together) belief in the theory and his extended argument in the preface to his collected edition of the ballads as to the fact that Robin Hood really was Robert, Earl of Huntingdon. (John Bellamy, 1985, 'Robin Hood: An Historical Enquiry', 1st Edition, Croom Helm: Sydney, pp. 2-3)

(6) Baldwin, Op. Cit., p. 31

(7) James Holt, 1989, 'Robin Hood', 2nd Edition, Thames and Hudson: London, pp. 10-11

(8) Bellamy, Op. Cit., p. 22

(9) Ibid, pp. 43-44; Holt, Op. Cit., p. 86

(10) Rennison, Op. Cit., pp. 59-63

(11) Holt, Op. Cit., p. 37

(12) Ibid, p. 24

(13) Bellamy, Op. Cit., pp. 43-46

(14) Holt, Op. Cit., pp. 30-33

(15) Bellamy, Op. Cit., p. 123

(16) Baldwin, Op. Cit., pp. 24-25

(17) Cawthorne, Op. Cit., p. 64

(18) Holt, Op. Cit., p. 32

(19) Ibid, p. 29

(20) Knight, Op. Cit., pp. 18-19; John Paul Davis, 2009, 'Robin Hood: The Unknown Templar', 1st Edition, Peter Owen: London, p. 120

(21) Ibid, p. 111

(22) Holt, Op. Cit., p. 37

(23) Davis, Op. Cit. pp. 78-80

(24) Knight, Op. Cit., pp. 53-54; Holt, Op. Cit., p. 162

(25) Cawthorne, Op. Cit., p. 67; Davis, Op. Cit., p. 143

(26) Holt, Op. Cit., p. 160

(27) Davis, Op. Cit., p. 144; Baldwin, Op. Cit., p. 68

(28) For example see Maurice Keen, 1973, 'England in the Later Middle Ages: A Political History', 1st Edition, Methuen: London, pp. 175-176

(29) Davis, Op. Cit., pp. 132-133

(30) Summarized similarly by Holt, Op. Cit., pp. 17-19

(31) Ibid, p. 13

(32) Ibid, p. 16

(33) Bellamy, Op. Cit., p. 5

(34) Ibid, pp. 145-146

(35) Anthony Pollard, 2004, 'Imagining Robin Hood: The Late Medieval Stories in Historical Context', 1st Edition, Routledge: New York, pp. 195-196

(36) Baldwin, Op. Cit., p. 53

(37) Rodney Hilton, 1975, 'The English Peasantry in the Later Middle Ages', 1st Edition, Oxford University Press: New York, p. 183

(38) Eric Hobsbawm, 1969, 'Bandits', 1st Edition, Weidenfeld and Nicholson: London, p. 32

(39) Baldwin, Op. Cit., p. 146

(40) Marc Morris, 2008, 'A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain', 2nd Edition, Hutchinson: London, pp. 170-171

(41) Ibid, p. 86

(42) Robert Chazan, 2006, 'The Jews of Medieval Western Christendom 1000-1500', 1st Edition, Cambridge University Press: New York, pp. 162-163; Baldwin, Op. Cit., p. 156

(43) Ibid, p. 121

(44) Cecil Roth, 1964, 'A History of the Jews in England', 3rd Edition, Oxford University Press: New York, p. 15

(45) Chazan, Op. Cit., pp. 158-159

(46) Holt, Op. Cit, p. 77; Baldwin, Op. Cit., p. 109

(47) Michael Prestwich, 1997, 'Edward I', 2nd Edition, Yale University Press: New Haven, p. 345

(48) Bellamy, Op. Cit., p. 22; also Holt, Op. Cit., p. 37

(49) Paul Buhle, 2011, 'Robin Hood: People's Outlaw and Forest Hero', 1st Edition, PM Press: Oakland, pp. 62-63

(50) Ibid, p. 63

(51) Ibid, p. 39

Posted 13th February by Karl Radl

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