Archive for May 20th, 2010



First, let me say that Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is a decent movie and I enjoyed the film, but, before I begin my review, I must make a few objections, complain and set the historical record straight.  Be patient, this may take a few pages.  To all those who are thinking of making prequels, sequels, and remakes—-no, don’t.  No, to a new Rockford Files and why did anyone think Nightmare on Elm Street needed to be remade?  Elm Street without my neighbor, Robert Englund, is like I Love Lucy without “Lucy.”  It’s just not a Nightmare. Rockford must have James Garner. And please don’t even attempt to bring back a new “Nikita.” Some insist that the younger generation needs to see these immortal movies again, but with special effects.  No.  The younger generation has already seen every old movie and every old television show it wants to see through a new invention called “syndication” and the amazing Internet. So stop. Thank you.

Now a word about those special effects:  You can do better.  One of the most egregious problems with digital effect is that of scale.  Architecture in relation to humans is large and filmmakers are apparently unwilling to forego the pleasure of showing the entire building and miniaturize the edifice.  The effect of shrinking buildings is especially strange in Robin Hood. Norman castles were simply huge, dwarfing humans and striking awe in the heart of any possible attacker.  But the castles shown to the audience are toy castles.  And it is not just the architecture that is strangely stunted, the mighty oak trees of Sherwood Forest are also puny.  It is quite possible that the artists, probably based in the Pacific Rim, have never seen a really large and old tree and have seen castles only in picture books.  That said—surely there are real castles available for filming and the filmmakers can read a few books and make the film at least historically plausible.   I recommend the first volume of Simon Schama’s A History of Britain for a quick read and Frank McLynn’s recently published Richard and John. Kings at War (2007) for a more detailed account on the historical context of Robin Hood. The real story is far more interesting than any distortions made up by the writer, Brian Hegeland.

Robin Hood is, of course, a legend.  As far as we know, the character is a composite of tales based upon actual outlaws—-of which there were many—and a very human desire for justice and fair play.  According the History Channel’s recent program, The Real Robin Hood, the stories, based upon folk songs, were not established until a century after the reign of Good King Richard and Bad King John.  But when one examines the inventive tax policies of King John, the proliferation of outlaws would be no surprise and the stories of redistribution of wealth could have surely originated during the two-decade period of his reign.  That said, if there was a “real” Robin Hood, and there are several candidates, he existed, not in the twelfth century but in the thirteenth.  Searching for an actual Robin Hood of the Greenwood misses the point, for this is a story that has lasting political significance.  All subjects, whether of Barack Obama or King Richard, seek a wise and good ruler who is fair and judicious to everyone, regardless of class. Given that, in real life, rich people remain disinclined to share, actual redistribution of wealth—robbing the rich—is unlikely to take place.  Therefore, while the poor wait for financial justice and the middle class demonstrates against taxes, Robin Hood is a story that has been told and retold for centuries and continues to hold cultural resonance, showing a malleability to suit every generation.

Movie stars from Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner have relished playing this outlaw hero, sometimes in tights.  The trailer—the camera follows the flight of an arrow—from the Kevin Costner film, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves still holds up, even for those who are not Costner fans.  Perhaps the most novel version of the tale was Robin and Marion (1976) with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, depicting the lovers’ death.  For sheer camp perfection, nothing can surpass the version we all know from The Movie Channel, the 1938 Errol Flynn fantasy.   Retaining the high key color of the 1938 film, Mel Brooks dared to make fun of “men in tights,” but Ridley Scott has decided to take a serious approach and tell us how Robin got to be a Hood.  Robin Hood of 2010 is his journey to becoming an outlaw.  Today, Robin’s closest counterparts would be a backwoods militia composed of Second Amendment gun toting enthusiasts of freedom.  Ridley Scott’s roster of stars is rock solid: Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett and a decent supporting cast, including the villain, Mark Strong, and the most famous knight in Europe, William Marshal, played by William Hurt.  The actors, with the exception of Hurt, are a bit too old for their parts, and Crowe is certainly too fat.  As a yeoman who has been in the Third Crusade, he would have walked across Europe and back.  The real Robin Hood would have been lean and mean, not pudgy and chunky.  The scene where he asks Maid Marion to take off his armor, only reminds people how long ago Gladiator was made—ten years and fifty pounds.

There are those who think that Robin Hood is a second Gladiator, but I do not agree.  This Robin Hood is what it says it is: a prequel that explains how Robin Hood wound up hiding in Sherwood Forest.  Among those who also live in Sherwood Forest (a good case can be made that Robin Hood actually lived in Barnsdale Forest, near York, instead) is a band of young boys who wear bark and leaf masks.  Unexplained, they pop up here and there in the film, looking like the characters in the obscure but excellent movie, Baghead (2008).  Baghead is one of the many films pillaged for this movie mash up.  Among the samplings is The Return of Martin Guerre, a book that was made into two movies (French and American) in the mid 1980s.  “Martin Guerre,” a Basque peasant, returns home after many years and rejoins his marriage.  But the man has only assumed the identity of “Martin Guerre.”  The wife goes along with the dissemblance because husband number two is so much better than husband number one.  In an age where women had little right to choose their mates, a good husband falling from the sky was like a gift from God.  Maid Marion was no doubt delighted with her new “Sir Robert.”  The meeting and courtship between Robin and Marion is an uninspired and hackneyed rehash of every romantic comedy ever made, ignoring the possibility of freshening an old story.  Their romantic dance, which ends their courtship, is another anachronistic borrowing from a court dance of a later century.  These are country folk and would have danced a lively country-dance, not a mincing and stately exercise straight out of Pride and Prejudice.

History or Hollywood?

This new Robin Hood is an exercise in muddled history.  Ridley Scott has teamed up with Russell Crowe before, notably in Gladiator (2000), where he also presented a tiny Rome, whitened and shrunken.  For an art historian, the sight of Rome as a white city was horrifying: Romans loved glitter and color and their buildings were covered with bright patterns of colored marble.  What we see today are the bleached bones of a stripped and looted city, but it is the Rome we recognize and that is the Rome Scott gave us.  In the same way, the director gives the viewers for Robin Hood that they expect, never mind the mash-ups of historical events and the misplaced artifacts and the outright anachronisms.  For example, an arrow, fired off by Robin Hood at the evildoer, “Godfrey” (Mark Strong), leaves a cut next to his mouth.  An admiring companion tells Godfrey he has a “dueling scar.”  Perhaps the writer was thinking of Basil Rathbone fencing with Errol Flynn, both using eighteenth century light-weight rapiers.  Swords in the twelfth century were flexible but were weighted for hacking, not parrying.  No one fenced in those days.   Another problem is the spectacle of peasants paying their taxes in silver coins.  True, silver coinage was the official money of England, but peasants paid in crops or animals.  Only the lord of the manor would have money.

Another major problem is the implication in the film that the longbow existed in this time period.  It did not.  The longbow was invented in the next century.  Yes, there were bows and arrows, but not the very long ones that won the battle at Agincourt.  Scott shows bowmen wearing mail (not “chain mail” but, according to military historian, Mike Loades, of the History Channel, simply “mail”) but the protective armor was very labor intensive to make and very expensive.  A yeoman simply could not have afforded mail and had no need for it, as the bowmen had to keep a distance from the enemy in order to fire their arrows.  And then there is the scene where the child, “Robin Longstride,” later to be called “Robin Hood,” is with his father.  They place their hands in cement, smeared over a paving stone, leaving their prints behind.  Hollywood Walk of Fame notwithstanding, it should be noted that concrete was a Roman invention and this technology was lost after the fall of the Empire. Medieval people simply did not know of cement.  Last, the film has Richard speaking English, but he spoke only French, as did all the aristocratic barons, many of which knew only rudimentary English.  In the film, Richard, played by Danny Huston, has long hair, rather like a set of bad dred extensions. But in this period, many men wore short hair and did not look like crazed Vikings.

The historical time line has been compressed and misshapened.   King Richard actually returned to England as soon as he was freed from captivity in Austria, but he stayed only briefly and returned immediately to the continent to reestablish his power in his French territories.  His main army would have long since returned to England after the Crusade was over and it is not clear if Richard brought his English soldiers back to France with him or fought with his French forces only. But the film has the future Robin Hood fighting with Richard as a foot soldier near Limoges at the castle of Châlus-Chabrol.  Richard died there in March 29, 1199 while capturing the minor fortress because he was not wearing armor and was unwisely watching an archer who was picking off his men from the ramparts.  Although the film has a French chef shooting the King, the French did not have chefs or even a cuisine at this stage in their history.  The King took days to die, partly because, embarrassed at this own bad judgment, he tried to pull the arrow out by himself.  Gangrene set in and he died a slow and inglorious death, leaving his vast kingdom to John.  In the film, Richard dies quickly, neatly, and in a much less interesting fashion. According to the movie, when he becomes King, John is married Isabella of Angoulème, a French bride, but he was actually married to another Isabella, this one of Gloucester, who was English.  The second Isabella came into his life years later and she was around nine years old when they married in 1201, not the flouncy French sex pot that appears in the film.

But the true horror  of anachronistic filmmaking is the French invasion of England, which is made to look the Normandy landings of 1944.  The forward thinking French arrive in multitudes of landing crafts, precisely like those used in The Longest Day. Indeed, the panoramic shot of the barges approaching the beach is exactly the one used in the 1961 film.  These medieval barges somehow arrive at the beach, without sails or motors, and the front drops down and the mounted knights ride off.  Apparently the French also perfected horses who don’t get seasick.  But the English are unimpressed.  Standing on a high cliff (like the cliff at Omaha Beach), are the yeoman archers, who, like the Germans, rain destruction down upon the invaders.  Then we get to see the impact of the shelling—sorry—the arrowing of the French soldiers, as they fall wounded into the waters of the English Channel.  Like the American soldiers in Saving Private Ryan, they struggle under water, legs thrashing, as in Jaws, and blood flowing. In actual history, a small French force of seven thousand men, including one hundred thirty knights, landed without incident in Orwell estuary and marched without opposition to London, where they spent the winter, eating, drinking and whoring.

I do not know what is worse, the total failure of imagination or the failure to deploy the true story, which is far more interesting than the collection of anachronisms, stolen from many, many other films.

Historical Context of Robin Hood

Let’s take the basic story, an element at a time. Robin Hood continues to be relevant today, as meaningful as it was when Errol Flynn played the hero eighty years ago, because the political issues, sadly, have stayed the same.  In the Flynn film of 1938, one of the first color movies, “Robin Hood” made an impassioned speech against England intervening in the affairs of the Middle East.  According to one movie reviewer, this speech was meant at the time to be read as a plea for England to ignore Hitler’s actions in Europe. Today, one might interpret such eloquence as a reference to American intervention in Afghanistan or Iraq.  But the actual history is concerned with another “crusade,” a genuine Holy War, called by the Pope and led by the Kings under his command.  In this film, Robin Hood was a common yeoman, fighting with his overlord King Richard on the Third Crusade.  A yeoman was a paid soldier in the service of his king to whom he was obligated.  This kind of soldier was not a mercenary, for a foreign mercenary, or a routier, was a damned soul, according to the Church.  Anyone who took money for fighting and possibly dying for a cause to which he was unconnected was committing suicide, a mortal sin.  As a solider on a Crusade, Robin and all the armies would have the Pope’s protection, for no one could harm a crusader.  To the extent that one could read any particular political parallel between the Eleventh Century and today, it is as difficult now to invade, conquer and hold the Middle East in the Twenty-first century, as it was for Richard the Lionheart.

Crusades were announced by the Pope with the ostensible purpose of freeing the Holy Land from the Muslim “infidels” who had seized Jerusalem, a holy city for the Christians.  Given that there were many Crusades to liberate Jerusalem, taking territory in the Middle East was one task, but holding it was another, and the Christians had to return again ad again.  For centuries, many crusades were launched to take and retake Jerusalem.  For the Popes, a crusade had another purpose: secular leaders were sent off to fight long wars and thus never had a chance to consolidate their earthly powers and to challenge the Pope’s authority.  A King could not ignore an order from the Pope and it took Richard four years to prepare his territories for his absence, raise the money, to put together his army, to march it over land to Mediterranean ports and to sail (in very primitive ships) to the Holy Land. At first, Philip Augustus, King of France fought by the side of Richard.   The two kings were great friends, giving rise to anachronistic speculations from modern historians of a homosexual relationship between them, but they were merely the friends the way men were allowed to be friends in that era.  When Richard showed himself to be the superior general their friendship disintegrated in the Holy Land.  From that time forward, they were mortal enemies.  Philip returned to France, determined to challenge Richard for Aquitaine and his other territories.  However, he would have to wait for Richard to die before he could gain complete control of France.

Richard personifies the need all citizens have for the “Good King,” who takes care of his people, is kind and noble, and, above all, rescues them from evil, i.e. e., King John.  Many historians have pointed out that Richard was not a very good King as he spent less than two years in England.  But Richard was not English, he was French, and his territorial domain only included England.  Actually Richard was a very good King, for Kings were required to hold on to their territory, control their subjects and to be prepared to wage war at any moment.  If he was nothing else, Richard was a superb general, who fought Saladin to a draw in the Holy Land and who was the master of medieval warfare at home.  Thanks to the Norman Conquest and to the marriage of his father, Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard controlled vast stretches of what we today call “France.”  England was merely part of this vast continental empire that required constant patrolling.

A medieval king was constantly on the move, traveling here, fighting there, never experiencing a time of unchallenged power. The feudal period lacked nations, or a state ruled by one uncontested government, as we know them today.  First, England was a rarity in that it was a contiguous territory controlled by one King.  Second, two kings, Richard and Philip, shared territories in what we today call “France” between them.  And third, in any territory, the actual control of Kings was tentative, with the real local power being held by their vassals or, the noble class, called “the Barons.”  It is important to remember that these Barons, like King Richard, owned land in England and in France. Since the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Kings of Normandy ruled the Saxons in England, making the idea of being “French” or “English” less important than being “Saxon” or “Norman,” the ruled and the rulers.  It took centuries for the Saxons and the Normans to become “British.”  English, the tongue of the peasants, as the vernacular language of the conquered did not become official until after the fourteenth century.  The nobility spoke French and ecclesiastical and legal documents, such as the Magna Carta, would be in Latin.

During the rule of Richard, England was the most prosperous of his territories, although the King greatly preferred Aquitaine and considered France his home.  The wealth of England was based upon the trade in wool and it was this trade that brought cash, coins, to the realm. Strangely, Robin Hood has no sheep in the film, for it was the sheep and their wonderful wool that were responsible for paying the ransom that brought the King back to England.  This new capitalism, an exchange of abstract objects called “money,” existed side by side with the older system of bartering.  Because England was governed by deputies of the King, sheriffs, who were like modern day governors of states, the nation had an independent frame of mind.  The Sheriff of Nottingham would be a professional administrator, replacing a local who would have known the territory and cared for the people.  These administrators had total power and paid the King dearly for the privilege of serving him, providing the ruler in turn with a source of revenue.  Under the system of sheriffs, loyal to the King, not the people, England was a territory that could take care of itself.  When Richard left for the Third Crusade, he departed having carefully set up a system that would allow the territory to run itself.  And then he was gone for ten years.  The prolonged absence of the King and the ability of England to exist independently would have long-term consequences after the death of Richard.

Robin Hood would have joined this great crusade as a yeoman, a paid soldier, receiving a decent wage, supplemented with many opportunities for looting and pillaging.  These Christian warriors were notably un-Christian in their treatment of the “infidels,” killing and raping without restraint. The film mentions the day that Richard lost his honor when he ordered the massacre of three thousand prisoners on the twentieth of August 1191 in Acre.  His archrival in the Holy Land, the great Muslim general, Saladin, slaughtered Christian prisoners in retaliation.  According to historians, it was the Frankish troops, not the English troops, who carried out the slaughter, although “Robin Hood” claimed that he participated in the killing.  Medieval warfare was very ritualized and pragmatic.  Prisoners were expensive to maintain and it was simply cheaper to kill them.  Barbaric slaughter was usually the fate of low level prisoners, but the noble knights were worth a great deal of money and were carefully kept alive and returned for handsome ransoms.  The slaughter of the kind carried out by Richard, however, was not the usual behavior of commanders, at least on such a scale.

But on with the story: the character, Robin Hood, is an English soldier, named “Robin Longstride,” of Saxon ancestry, who served with Richard the Lionheart, of Norman ancestry, on the Third Crusade.  After Richard’s death, accompanied by his “Merry Men,” Robin must march, that is, walk back to England through western France.  Along the way, they come across an ambush in progress of a group of the King’s men, bound for the coast. From the shelter of the woodland trees, Robin and his men chase away the French, along with their conspirator, “Godfrey” (Mark Strong).  “Godfrey” is made out to be a villain but he would have also been a typical smart functionary: one King has just died and no one is in charge in England, so he offers his allegiance to the French King, Philip, who has a stronger power base.  Robin and his friends, find most of the party dead.  But one of the English knights is still alive. Sir Robert of Loxley asks Robin to return his sword to his father.  In order to get home, the band of Merry Men steals the expensive armor, the swords, a treasure (of which no more will be said in the film) and the valuable horses, which carry them to the coast where a boat awaits.  Thus Robin returns, under a borrowed name, “Sir Robert of Loxley,” to an England soon to be beset by the tyranny of King John.  In Nottingham, he meets Maid Marion, the widow Loxley, and the father of the fallen knight, Sir Walter.  After some initial predictable silliness—he keeps telling her to “ask me nicely”—Robin Longstride falls in love with the Maid (who was apparently not a Maid).

The fact that Marion was fully in charge of the Loxley estate is historically accurate.  Women had great powers and responsibilities during the medieval period, because their husbands, brothers and fathers were away on Crusades or off to fight in local wars.  Marion’s account of her ten-year marriage with only one week spent with her husband would have also been typical.  What is not typical is Marion’s age.  Women, especially women of high birth, married young.  Young girls were not to be bedded until they were twelve, but it is more likely that Marion would have married by her mid-teens, making Blanchette about ten years too old for the part.  And Max von Sydow, “Sir Walter,” the blind father, is about twenty years too old, as most people were dead by age fifty in this period.  What is also accurate is the stress the Loxley estate would have been under.  In 1193, Richard the Lionheart was captured on his way home to England by Leopold of Austria, who gave the English king to the Emperor Henry VI of Germany.  The two rulers asked for 100,000 marks, paid mostly by the English.  Meanwhile, Philip conspired with John against Richard.  The people of Nottingham complain they are bled dry from the huge ransom paid to Richard’s captors. Indeed the ransom was four times the entire GNP of England in a single year, but the worse burden fell upon the Jews, as any demand for money always did.  Richard was freed in 1194.   Although the Pope condemned the harm that came to a knight of the Crusade under his protection and demanded the return of the money, the British were never repaid.  But English were well on the way to financial recovery and were enjoying a brief lull of recovery before John began levying taxes upon everyone for every conceivable purpose.

King John in Charge

By 1200, John was the undisputed King of England, living in the looming shadow of his brilliant brother.  The time period in the film between his ascension to the throne and the signing of a prelude to the Magna Carta has been greatly compressed into what seems to be a few months.  In reality, King Philip, who had learned how to wage war all to well from his former friend, Richard, immediately challenged King John in France.  John, who had already acknowledged Philip as his overlord, spent years defending his French territories and by 1204 had lost Normandy to Philip.  The result was that Norman barons lost their continental lands and were stranded in England, furious at John.  Another result of the defeat in France was that John built up the first English navy to defend the island nation.  But the last and most unpleasant outcome of the loss of French territory was that John was able to concentrate on the governance of England.  Of all the French-English kings, John spent the most time in the British Isles, much to the consternation of the inhabitants who were used to an absentee king.  King John spent huge amounts of money on himself, his jewels, his former and current wives, his new navy and the army that would return to France and defeat Philip.

This unceasing need for money is where the forest scam, or the Forest Laws, comes in.  A “forest” like Sherwood Forest is not to be confused with a wooded territory.  Instead, a forest is a financial territory, arbitrarily proclaimed the province of the King.  All those living in this territory come under the personal jurisdiction of the King, including people and animals.  Robin declares that God put the creatures in the woods to be hunted, but everyone except the king was forbidden to hunt.  Those who defied the King would be castrated.  The only kind of hunting dog that could be taken into the forest was a crippled dog; the only kind of arrow was a blunted arrow.  The Forest was a vast and lucrative source of fees and taxes for the King.  Those most affected would have been the barons, not the common people, and the abuse of the “Forest” and its attendant fees would be a major cause for the Magna Carta in 1215.  There were, however, heavily wooded territories where displaced people could take refuge and hide from the authorities.  In the Medieval period, the woodlands were thick with trees and full of outlaws who waited for the unwary to rob.  It would be reasonable to suspect that many of these outlaws would be unemployed former soldiers, trained in archery.  Travelers prudently stuck to the main roads.  The only roads remaining in England were those built by the Romans and the English kings were not interested in infrastructure.  John, to his credit, replaced wooden bridges with stone bridges, but most of the lands outside of the towns and farmland were impenetrable, except by those familiar with the Forest.

By 1215, the consequences of John’s disastrous reign came to a head.  His behavior was so unforgivable that the Pope actually excommunicated him and placed England under an interdiction, meaning that no church services could be held for years.  The barons, cut off from France, had lost half their lands there and were being taxed to the point of madness on the last of their possessions.  Worse, in his final war with Philip, John lost the last of his French holdings.  The Pope forced the kings to make peace in the early fall of 1215, so he could start a fifth crusade.  His claims in France lost forever, John returned home to England, where the barons had had enough of him and his Forest Laws and rebelled.   In the film, it seems as if this rebellion against John happens quite quickly after the death of Richard, and that this uprising was connected to ideas of “freedom” from tyranny and taxation.  True, but this is no Tea Party.  A good comparison to contemporary events would be Goldman Sachs rebelling against federal regulations and forcing the President to sign an agreement to stop taxing their profits.  The rebellion of 1215 was strictly an elitist affair.  In Robin Hood, “Robin” makes an eloquent speech in English to barons who spoke only French, but never mind.  John is forced to sign a “Charter,” written by Robin’s father.

In fact there was an earlier Charter, called the “Unknown Charter of Liberties,” which begins: “King John concedes that he will not take men without judgment, nor accept anything for doing justice, nor perform injustice.”  Aside from that rather inclusive and noble beginning, the rest of the document involves matters pertaining only to landowners and concern inheritance and taxation on lands.   There is one interesting demand that of “disafforestation,” or the end of the Forest Laws, but nothing else in the document would interest the common person. On the fifteenth of June 1215, at Runnymede, the unwilling King, under duress, accepted the actual and final version of the Magna Carta.  The scholars can argue as to whether or not the document was a reactionary one, shifting some power away from the King to the barons or a revolutionary one, paving the way for “liberty and justice for all.”   The immediate significance of the importance of the curb on the power of the King can be measured in the extreme displeasure of the Pope who saw any check on the King’s prerogatives to be a challenge to the power of the Church.  If the Magna Carta did little for peasants and yeomen, the document did state that the King was not above the law and could not arbitrarily exercise his authority.  A foundation for democracy was laid.

In the film, John signs the “Charter” written by Robin’s father in exchange for help from the barons in repelling an invasion by the French king, presumably Philip.  Although it is often said that England was never invaded after 1066, there was an actual invasion of England by the heir to the French throne, Louis, son of Philip, on Easter of 1216.  Acting on behalf of his father, Louis took advantage of the barons continued dissatisfaction with John.  Rather than wanting to defeat the French invasion, the barons wanted to aid Louis and put him on the throne, in John’s place. Robin Hood makes great fun of the French and makes them the mortal enemy of the English, but, as is now clear, there was no difference between being “French” or “English” among the nobility.  The barons were also French and they were hardly acting as selfless patriots on the behest of the English people.  With the young Louis on the throne, these barons would be able to resume their dual residences and to reclaim their continental lands.  If “Robin Hood” had fought during the French invasion, chances are, he could have fought on the side of the invading French forces. By the time of the invasion, John was waging war on his barons, bringing England under his control in a bloody civil war.  King John did not use English troops against his barons; he used the hated and feared routiers, French mercenaries whose name was synonymous with savagery.  While the barons and the French hesitated in London, the King destroyed all of England and even invaded Scotland.  Like General Sherman, many centuries later, King John employed a scorched earth policy.

The decision to mount large scale reinforcements of the French forces already in England was a big gamble, but eventually Philip backed his son, who claimed to have a sound claim to the English throne through his wife.  The war of the French against King John on English soil began.  During 1217, King John punished his subjects in his civil war against the barons and also fought the French forces, which had been joined by the English nobility.  But the discordant conditions gradually sorted themselves out:  Louis was a bad general and John could hold his own in the field; the English and the French nobility in Louis’ army were constantly competing and quarreling.  And then the Pope who had backed John and condemned the barons died.  After losing the crown jewels to quicksand, King John died as well, in an ignoble fashion, of dysentery.  He left behind a son and heir, Henry III, who would be one of England’s greatest kings.  With John dead, there was no need for him to be replaced by Louis and the invasion dissolved with desertions from the French ranks. Robin Hood and the barons would have returned to their domains.  The French went home and Henry took the throne and the Magna Carta was reissued.  And that is what really happened in real history.

What Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood implies is that almost immediately after the barons help John defeat the French (a total distortion of history), the King defiantly burns the “Charter.”  Robin Hood is then singled out for John’s displeasure and is declared an outlaw by the Sheriff of Nottingham (an unrecognizable Matthew Macfadyen).  If we follow this fictitious timeline, Robin and Marion and the Merry Men, Little John, Will Scarlet, Alan A’Dayle and Friar Tuck, retreat to Sherwood Forest to await a sequel. The Sheriff of Nottingham has just begun his evil deeds.  Many adventures will occur and many songs of Robin of the Greenwood will be sung.   Robin Hood has at least fifteen years left of the unjust rule of King John.  Please spare us the sequels.

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

The Arts Blogger