History : Jan-Feb 2019
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 53 Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales). In Langland’s work a poorly educated parson re- pents and confesses that he is ignorant of Latin: I kan noght parfitly my Paternoster as the preest it syngeth, ButIkanrymesofRobynHood... The Middle English translates roughly to “Al- though I can’t recite the Lord’s Prayer (Pater- noster), I do know the rhymes of Robin Hood.” Putting Robin Hood’s name in an uneducated character’s mouth demonstrates that the legend would have been well known to most commoners, regardless of whether they could read or write. By the 15th century the Robin Hood leg- end took on its first trappings of rebellion against the ruling class. One of the oldest known written ballads about the forest out- law, “Robin Hood and the Monk,” dates to around this time. It is the only early ballad to be set in Sherwood Forest near Nottingham, and it features Little John, one of the best known members of the band of Merry Men. In the tale Robin Hood ignores the advice of Little John and leaves the safety of the forest. He trav- els to Nottingham to attend Mass and pray to the Virgin Mary. At church Robin is recognized by a monk who turns him over to the sheriff. The monk then sets off to tell the king of the outlaw’s capture, but before he can arrive, Little John and Much, another of Robin’s men, over- take the monk on the road and murder him and his servant. Posing as the monk and his page, Robin’s men deceive the king. They deliver the news of Robin’s capture to him and are reward- ed with money and titles. They return to Nottingham and free Robin from prison. The sheriff is humiliated but survives the story, while Robin, Little John, and Much return to the forest with the forgiveness of the king. In this story the monk—not the sheriff or the king—is the true villain. The monk is a corrupt figure who violates the sanctity of the church by betraying Robin’s presence to the sheriff. C. HOGGINS/AGE FOTOSTOCK ROYAL BLESSING A relief (below) from Nottingham Castle shows Richard the Lionheart joining the hands of Robin Hood and Maid Marian in marriage.