Historic meetings: When Robin Hood met Maid Marian

Historians have long debated whether Robin Hood, the outlaw who robbed from the rich to give to the poor, was a real person.

According to popular legend, he lived in Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire with his band of outlaws, the “Merry Men”.

The story has been transformed into numerous Hollywood movies, one of the most famous being The Adventures of Robin Hood, in 1938, starring heartthrob actor Errol Flynn as the handsome man in green. The plot saw him outwitting the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and fighting for the rights of the poor and oppressed.

© PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

Did Robin Hood really exist?

The general consensus is that Robin Hood was a real person. The trusted British Museum has an account of his life, stating he was born in Lockersley in 1160. This is believed to be modern-day Loxley in Yorkshire, bordering the county of Nottinghamshire, around 30 miles from Sherwood Forest, where Robin Hood was said to live.

New information was unearthed in March 2020 that suggested Robin Hood’s birthplace was in woodland known as Little Haggas Croft, behind Loxley Primary School. Called “Robin of Loxley” by historians, he had other traditional haunts, as well as Sherwood Forest, such as Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire.

Little is known about his day-to-day life in his youth. It has been an ongoing challenge for scholars to pin down exactly how he lived. Gorier legends depicted him as an anti-establishment rebel, who murdered wealthy landowners and government agents for their role in keeping the impoverished working classes down.

Other more romantic depictions show him as a kind-hearted aristocrat who has been dispossessed and lives a life on the run, robbing the wealthy occupants of stagecoaches as they travel across the lonely countryside and redistributing their wealth among the poorest people in society.

How did Robin and Marian meet?

One thing all the legends have in common is Robin Hood’s love interest, Maid Marion, whose true identity is largely unknown.

Some researchers described her as a noblewoman whose father was Lord Fitzwalter, a member of the English Peerage, while others said she was the daughter of Sir Richard at the Lee, a knight whom Robin Hood helped at some point. Some stories call her Marian Fitzwalter.

Marian was said to be the cousin of the Prioress of Kirklees Priory, Elizabeth de Staynton. She was always portrayed as being incredibly beautiful, normally depicted in drawings with long, flowing blonde hair.

Described as a “bonny, fine maid, of a noble degree” in a historic ballad reproduced by Thomas Ohlgren and Stephen Knight in their book, Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, she was also said to be “merry” by Elizabethan playwright Anthony Munday.

The actual time when Robin Hood met Maid Marian is also shrouded in mystery. In some tales, she had known Robin since they were children, furthering the belief he was a nobleman himself. In others, they met when he ambushed a group of knights who were accompanying her on a journey.

Continually pursued romantically by the evil sheriff, Guy of Gisbourne, she had to fend off his unwelcome advances.

What was Maid Marian like?

Some tales portrayed Marian as a simple damsel in distress, whom Robin Hood saved. However, the more popular depiction of Marian was a feisty, intelligent young woman, whose ideas on society in general, and indeed a woman’s role, were ahead of their time.

Legend has it that while living in Nottingham as a noblewoman, she secretly became a spy for Robin Hood, passing on information to the outlaws in Sherwood Forest to help them rob the wealthy of their riches to pass on to the local poor. While the sheriff suspected her ties to Robin Hood, he couldn’t prove it.

In an era when women, especially wealthy ones, were usually forced to marry against their will, often to forge political or family ties, Marian was headstrong, spoke her mind and insisted on having her own way. She continually refused Gisbourne’s advances and chose to be with Robin Hood instead.

In some tales, she fled her luxurious family home and lived as an outlaw, on the run with Robin. It was claimed she became a skilled archer and swordswoman under his expert guidance.

Modern love story

The interesting thing about Robin Hood and Maid Marian is the fact that while they were undoubtedly in a romantic relationship, it was by no means traditional.

She was his equal intellectually, shared his beliefs in redistributing wealth to the poor and was skilled in the traditionally male pursuits of fighting with a sword and bow and arrow. Some tales portray her as the brains behind the band of outlaws.

Robin and Marian went out hunting together, walking through the forest and sharing stories, falling in love during their adventures. When Robin proposed and Marian agreed to marry him, it is believed he felt like the “happiest man in the world”. They were said to have married in Sherwood Forest, at a ceremony presided over by one of the Band of Merry Men, Friar Tuck.

In 1795, Joseph Ritson, an English historian and famous researcher of the Robin Hood legend, compiled a definitive biography of the outlaw – the result of years of study of ancient poems, ballads and folklore. He concluded Robin was a “genuinely historical and heroic character” who died in November 1247, aged 87.

Robin Hood’s meeting with Maid Marian and their subsequent marriage has helped to flesh out the story of the man behind the myth, with modern interest in the couple never waning, almost 1,000 years after their story began.

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