Robin Hood and Maid Marian [Child 150]
DESCRIPTION: Robin, while Earl of Huntingdon, woos Maid Marian. Then, outlawed, he keeps to the wood, disguised. She dresses as a page to seek him. They meet and fight, unrecognized, till both are wounded. He calls a halt, she knows his voice, they celebrate.
EARLIEST DATE: 1795 (Ritson)
KEYWORDS: Robinhood love courting fight disguise
REFERENCES (6 citations):
Child 150, "Robin Hood and Maid Marian" (1 text)
Bronson 150, comments only
Leach, pp. 423-425, "Robin Hood and Maid Marian" (1 text)
BBI, RZN3, "A bonny fine maid of noble degree"
ADDITIONAL: R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, _Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw_, University of Pittsburg Press, 1976, pp. 177-178, "Robin Hood and Maid Marian" (1 text)
Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren, editors, _Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales_, TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages), Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2000, pp. 493-498, "Robin Hood and Maid Marian" (1 text,based on the Onley broadside)
NOTES [1077 words]: For background on the Robin Hood legend, see the notes on "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117].
It is noteworthy that Marian is not an original part of the Robin Hood legend; other than this late and feeble piece -- which notably is preserved in only a single broadside; it was not found in the garlands -- she is mentioned only twice in all the ballads printed by Child (#145A, stanza 9, and #147, stanza 1). In neither case is she described as Robin's wife or beloved; she could be one of his men's wives, or a member of his band.
I observe that, in the tales of Robin's demise in the "Gest" and in "Robin Hood's Death" [Child 120], Robin does not mention a wife or children when he dies -- even though he states that he never hurt a woman. Would he not commend his wife to John's care if he had one? Obviously she is a late addition to the tale. Where she came from must remain a matter of speculation.
Holt (p. 160) believes that the story of Robin and Marian derives from Adam de la Halle's thirteenth century play "Robin et Marion." In this romance, Marian is a shepherdess whose fidelity to Robin causes her to fend off a lusty knight. This legend entered the French May Games, and was used by John Gower. At some point Marian became Queen of the May Games. With Robin also a character in the games, their union was almost inevitable.
In fact, things may not be that complex. Mustanoja notes that Robin and Marion are typical names for rustic lovers in French and English romance. If Robin were to find a lover, the name Marion (Marian) was almost to be expected.
This pairing is also found in Scotland, although in slightly different form. Speaking of Robert Henryson (fl. 1462), Garnett/Gosse, pp. 295-196, write, "Perhaps the most important of Henryson's performances is the lyrical pastoral of Robin and Makyne, not so much for its own merit, though this is great, than as the first revelation of the vast material for popular poetry in Scotch rural life. It is the old story of cross purposes. Makyne loves Robin, Robin is indifferent. Makyne becomes desperate, lays open siege to him; Robin repels her. Makyne renounces him; Robin, piqued into love, strives to regain her, but only to discover that
"The man that will nocht whan he may,
Sall have nocht quhen he wald."
Those wishing to see Henryson's poem may find it in volume II of Percy's Reliques. It looks rather affected to me (Henryson was one of many Chaucer imitators in this period), although some of this may be the result of it being taken from a printed version rather than from manuscript.
Henryson's tale was told after the origin of the Robin Hood legend, but before the linking of Robin and Marian; it serves as another illustration of the standard link between Robin and Ma(whatever). Indeed, it has been suggested that, in the May Games, Marian was initially the consort of the jolly, worldly, distinctly unchaste Friar Tuck (so, e.g., Child), and that she came to be Robin's prize based on their names.
The Broadside Index notes that this piece is "Smithson's parody of Robin Hood ballads," and Child observes that the broadside is signed S.S.
The strongest link between Maid Marian and Robin comes from the plays of Anthony Munday, described in the notes to the "Gest." It was he who linked Marian with Matilda FitzWalter (Holt, p. 162), whose alleged father Robert was a real opponent of King John (Tyerman, pp. 307, 313) but of whom no such stories are told in genuine history.
The absurd lateness of this particular song is shown by the mention in verse 3 that "neither Rosamond nor Jane Shore" could surpass Marian in beauty. It would not be unreasonable to find a mention of Rosamund (Clifford) in a Robin Hood ballad; she was the mistress of King Henry II, the father of Richard the Lion-Hearted and the great-great-grandfather of Edward II (Kings widely associated with the Robin Hood legend).
The mention of Jane Shore, though, is astonishingly anachronistic. Elizabeth Lambert, known as Jane Shore (for her story, see the song "Jane Shore") was the mistress of King Edward IV (died 1483) and was probably born in the 1450s. Sir Thomas More, who tells us most of what we know about her, had actually met her in old age in the sixteenth century (Cheetham, p. 205). She thus was active fully a century after our first known mention of Robin Hood as a legendary figure. A song which mentions her could hardly come from before 1475.
What's more, it could be a lot later. In an age before photography, when portraits had to be painted and copied by hand, the assumption was that the most beautiful women were kings' mistresses. But, after the reign of Edward IV, there were few noteworthy royal mistresses. Edward IV's son Edward V was pre-pubescent when he was deposed (Ashley, p. 620). Richard III, who came next, lasted only two years and didn't have time for mistresses (and seems to have been puritanical anyway; Cheetham, pp. 204-205. His only illegitimate children were born long before he became king, and before he was married -- and we have no knowledge of the mother's name.). That strange, strange man, Henry VII, seems to have been very sexually unadventurous (Ashley, p. 624).
Henry VIII of course had mistresses, such as Bessie Blunt the mother of the Duke of Richmond, but they were forgotten in the tale of his many wives. Edward VI was a boy, too young for such things (Ashley, p. 636). Mary I and Elizabeth I were female; they obviously had no mistresses. James VI and I seems to have been homosexual; he had no known mistresses (Ashley, pp. 575-576). Charles I was another with a quiet home life (Ashley, p. 650). Thus the next king after Edward IV to have a noteworthy mistress was Charles II (ascended 1660), who had quite a collection, including Nell Gwin. So, since there were no noteworthy beauties for almost two centuries after Jane Shore, this rather feeble item could be very late indeed.
Fully half the Robin Hood ballads in the Child collection (numbers (121 -- the earliest and most basic example of the type), 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 130, 131, 132, (133), (134), (135), (136), (137), (150)) share all or part of the theme of a stranger meeting and defeating Robin, and being invited to join his band. Most of these are late, but it makes one wonder if Robin ever won a battle.
Knight/Ohlgren, p. 493, do make the interesting point that there is perhaps a feminist undercurrent here -- almost the only such in the Robin Hood corpus. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.6
- Ashley: Mike Ashley, British Kings and Queens, Barnes & Noble, 2002 (originally published as The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens, 1988)
- Cheetham: Anthony Cheetham, The Life and Times of Richard III (with introduction by Antonia Fraser), George Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972 (I used the 1995 Shooting Star Press edition)
- Garnett/Gosse: Richard Garnett and Edmund Gosse, English Literature: An Illustrated Record four volumes, MacMillan, 1903-1904 (I used the 1935 edition published in two volumes)
- Holt: J. C. Holt, Robin Hood, second edition, revised and enlarged, Thames & Hudson, 1989
- Mustanoja: Tauno F. Mustanoja, "The Suggestive Use of Christian Names in Middle English Poetry," in Jerome Mandel and Bruce A. Rosenberg, editors, Medieval Literature and Folklore Studies, Rutgers, 1970
- Tyerman: Christopher Tyerman, Who's Who in Early Medieval England (1066-1272), (being the second volume in the Who's Who in British History series), Shepheard-Walwyn, 1996
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.