Robin Hood in York:
Outlaws and Outlaw Studies
The 4th Biennial Conference of the International Association for
Robin Hood Studies
July 7-10, 2003
Organized by Helen Philips and Stephen Knight
in 1997, the Robin Hood academic conferences have certainly been a high
point in my life. Scholars gather to discuss all things Robin Hood
-- from historical outlaws and the earliest ballads to 17th century theatre
to the most recent films. It provides a lively exchange of ideas,
but it also does much more. Originally, this began as part of the
Personal Journey section of my website. And if it seems a little more personal
than most spotlight reviews that's because for this event I was as much
an actor as an auditor.
The accommodations were at York St. John College, just across from
Robin Hood's Tower, part of the city's medieval walls. The
lectures were delivered a short walk away at King's Manor. King's Manor is
virtually next door to the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey, home of abbot who was
Robin's legendary archenemy. I first visited the abbey in 1993, and
I was able to squeeze in a brief walk around the abbey grounds into the busy
conference schedule. Unfortunately, I didn't have much time to sample
the many sights of York this time. I did go shopping with some friends along
the pedestrian shopping street of Stonegate and wandered down the old-fashioned
Shambles after store hours. And I did an early morning stroll along
the medieval wall. But then, this trip had many, many more pleasures
than the tourist attractions.
in York, I briefly visited Huddersfield (not far from Robin Hood's grave)
and crashed at David Hepworth's. Leaving things to the last minute, I banged
out the finishing touches to my paper on David's spare computer. Then
on Sunday, I headed to York by train. My last minute writing spree meant
I was too late to visit attractions such as the Jorvik Viking Museum. But
that didn't matter too much. Almost immediately upon my arrival, I met
up with old friends -- like Alan Gaylord, Lorraine, Sherron, Laura, John,
Helen and many others. During the dinner, Alison (who also designed the
look of my website) and Kirsty -- dear friends from both email and the
1999 Nottingham conference -- turned up and we went out for a bit. When
I returned to our accommodations, I crashed into the lumpy mattress which
buckled under my girth. Still, I was able sleep and be somewhat refreshed
for the conference proper.
For the first
time since the original 1997 conference, none of the papers were in competition.
I was able to attend virtually everything at the conference.
7, began with the "Plenary" lecture by Mark Ormond on representations of
royal authority in the Robin Hood legend. Then, Laura, Charlotte, Sherron
and I headed to the Teddy Bear tea shop in Stonegate for cheese sandwiches,
tea and scones with clotted cream and strawberries. After lunch,
Anthony Pollard talked about the popular history in early Robin Hood stories
(which look back to Edward III's "golden age" of legend if not reality).
Andrew Hamer examined the Icelandic outlaw tale of Njas Saga. And David
Hepworth gave us a glimpse at the real life medieval outlaws and robberies
around Robin Hood's Yorkshire haunts. More tea. Then, Glyn Burgess looked
at the Ranulf/Randolfs, earls of Chester. He concludes that Ranulf III,
an in-law of the earl of Huntingdon, is most likely the one whose "rymes"
are alluded to in the first Robin Hood literary reference. Conference organizer
(and one of the nicest people one could ever meet) Helen Phillips looked
at the "Chartist Robin Hood", mentioning references to Robin in the works
of Bronte among other things. Patricia Yongue looked at the Robin Hood allusions
in the modern-day novels of late 19th and early 20th century novelist Willa
Paul Bracken of the University of Nottingham entertained us his delightful
versions of classic Robin Hood ballads and other medieval music -- including
"Robin Hood and his meiny", an excerpt from the Gest, and Robin Hood and
the Bishop of Hereford. For an encore, he sang a funny composition of about
Charles de Gaulle. I hope that Paul will release a CD of his Robin Hood
ballads to stand alongside Bob Frank's own marvellous version of the Gest.
7, began with Sayre Greenfield's paper entitled "May the Forest Be with
You" -- not about a certain 1970s sci-fi film but rather Ben Jonson's unfinished
Robin Hood play, The Sad Shepherd. Eila Williamson detailed Robin's many
appearances in medieval and post-medieval Scotland. Then, it was time for
coffee to chase away some lingering jet lag.
Next up, Lois
Potter delivered her plenary lecture "Playing Robin Hood". With the help
of Sayre Greenfield, Linda Troost and Lorraine Stock, Lois gave a very lively
examination of Robin's theatrical history. Sayre and Linda performed
the roles of Robin and the evil knight, showing the improvisation needed
when performing a ballad-like archery sequence like the one from the 1475 play.
They staged alternate versions of lines 9 and 10 with Sayre showing
disappointed as he mimes missing the target. "Y cleve ... not ... the styke."
And Linda jumping for joy as Sayre resignedly announced "You cleve the
styke." All four players performed a disguise farce scene from Anthony
Munday's The Downfall
of Robert, Earle of Huntington (lines 569-636, approximately) with Lorraine
as a delightfully lusty Elinor.
David Hepworth and I hosted an informal discussion about Robin Hood on
the internet. Of course, some of it was spent discussing my website. After
lunch, John Marshall had us in stitches as he described the comedy of errors
at the Ripon Millenary festival of 1886. D'Arcy Ferrers, master of revels,
tackled the organizational nightmare in re-enacting the meeting of Robin
Hood and the Curtal Friar at the "traditional spot" at Fountains Abbey.
(One proposed script called for 50 arrow-catching dogs as in the ballad.
The writer suggested the dogs could perform if starved for days.) Then,
Maid Marian scholar Sherron Lux explored three "Forgotten Robin Hood Novels
of the Mid-Twentieth Century". The Naked Sword (1959) by Donald Barr Chidsey
inserts Robin Hood into the Fouke fitz Waryn story and The Nut Brown Maid
by Philip Linsday combines the characters from the non-Robin Hood ballad
of the same title with feet-of-clay versions of Robin and Marian. (Like
the later film Robin and Marian, Marian is at least partly responsible for
Robin's death.) The Nut Brown Maid is Sherron's favourite of the three. But
I was most amused by her least favourite The Last of the Greenwood (1975)
by Sharon Whitby. It sounds absolutely dreadful in its over-the-top pagan
portrayal of Robin Hood and Marian as the craft names of whoever is serving
as the Green Man and Snake Maiden. After another break for hot caffeine,
Dean Hoffman discussed a Manor House staging of The Tale of Gamelyn. The
final paper of the day came from Barbara Green who looked at the possible
historical culprits of Robin Hood's murder and shed light on "The Riddle
of the Prioress."
Tuesday evening, Linda Troost directed us in a communal reading of Ben Jonson's
Shepherd. I had the dual role of Friar Tuck and Puck-Hairy. My performance
was, regrettably, more worthy of Robin Starveling than the Robin Goodfellow
I was attempting to portray. Luckily, there were several superb performances.
Linda and Sayre brought Marian and Robin to life. Scriptwriter Michael Eaton
played a wonderfully weepy sad shepherd that was still infused with his natural
jovial charm. But the stand-out performance was by Stephen Knight. Stephen's
often called the top Robin Hood scholar, but it's clear he'd be equally adept
in panto. Donning a fake nose, he played Maudlin, the witch of Papplewick.
When Maudlin assumed Marian's form, he donned a bad blonde wig.
After the performance,
some of us gathered around a picnic bench under the greenwood tree. The
campus was also playing host a chaplain's conference. A young and
rather rotund chaplain stumbled by with two bottles in hand. He announced
that he knew bugger all about Robin Hood, but that he did have gin and tonic.
Could he join us? Of course we said yes, and he proceeded to express his
love of post-modernism which drew the ire of one scholar. Then our legless
man-of-God insisted that another Robin Hood scholar would weep continuously
if only he knew the power of true love -- the love of God.
I delivered my paper called "Beating and Binding in a Shaky Liturgical Era:
Religion and the Modern Robin Hood Legend." As an introduction I mentioned
last night's clerical visitor and said I felt my paper had been blessed by
Friar Tuck. At the last conference, I delivered a paper on the sheriff.
This year's paper wasn't an example of a continuing interest in Robin's
foes as some have suggested. Rather, I'd like to think it continues the
themes of my papers on Robin Hood comics and the sheriff. In part, they examine
the basic outlaw nature of Robin and how his activities have been modified
to be more acceptable.
Before my paper,
Lorraine Stock looked at the role of disguise, green clothing and the reference
to Robin has the "Mayster-herte" in the Gest. Tim Jones discussed Howard
Pyle's Robin Hood. After my paper and tea, Thomas Ohlgren delivered the final
plenary lecture. Once again, he examined the manuscripts of the Potter and
Monk ballads and this time turned his attention to finding new details in
the early printed texts of the Gest. After lunch, Laura Blunk talked about
"Sibling Royalty" and the shifting portrayals of Kings Richard and John in
the history books and films (some intriguingly obscure). Lesley Coote and
Brian Levy teamed up to take a psychoanalytic approach to the "Gender Problem"
in Robin Hood films. In a similar vein, Roberta Staples investigated "Marian
as anima". After still more tea and coffee, the final three papers were presented.
Thea Somerfield looked at another gentleman named Robert who had a brush
with the outlaw genre, Robert the Bruce. Mary Hamel discussed "Robin Hood
and Star Trek", focusing on the outlaw's appearance in the Next Generation
episode "Q-Pid". Finally, Stephen Knight spoke on "Robin Hood and the Crusades"
or so his title claimed. In fact, Stephen analyzed the social implication
of Robin Hood riding a horse. After having us sing the Richard Greene theme
with its "Riding through the glen" lyric, he produced a slide of the woodcut
of the yeoman on horseback and announced "But I want to interrogate this
guy". It was a witty end to a great three days of Robin Hood papers.
But not quite
the end of the conference. I participated in a discussion about the merits
and faults of Kevin Costner's Prince of Thieves. The session was chaired
by Alan Gaylord, a fine scholar, gentleman, friend -- and interestingly someone
who defends the film. In another room, Lorraine Stock chaired a session
on teaching Robin Hood. I wish I could have been there as well, but Helen
Philips managed an organizational miracle in making nearly all of the conference
At the end of
Wednesday, we had a pleasant banquet and posed for group photos. One of
the great themes of the legend itself is a sense of an alternative community.
And that sense of community, fellowship, yeomanry certainly exists among
Robin Hood scholars. At least a few have called us Merry Men and Women.
If there's any
sad note to this conference, it's that a few of our intrepid band of scholars
could not attend this conference. Tom Hahn, who originated the conferences
in 1997, had to bow out at the last moment. Most tragically, Julian Wasserman
passed away shortly before the 2003 conference. Julian not only provided
the previous conferences with some entertaining and informative papers. He
also provided a warm, humanity and friendship to all those that knew him.
The scholarly greenwood is certainly poorer for his absence.
But some new
members joined our roguish band. One such person was surprised and impressed
at just being able to chat with scholars like Tom Ohlgren. It mirrored my
own feelings when I chatted socially with Barrie Dobson way back at the 1997
Rochester conference. I hope she'll enjoy them the conferences as much as
10, was the last day of the conference. We boarded a coach (bus) and headed
to some Yorkshire Robin Hood locations. Our first stop was in Wentbridge and
then walking to what used to be "the Saylis" from the Gest. A visit to the
Barnsdale regions of the early ballads was long delayed. On the locations
tour of the 1999 conference, our coach broke down and nearly fell into a
mill pond. So we had to cancel the Barnsdale trip that time. Fortunately,
this time the coach didn't break down.
After the Sayles, but still in the Barnsdale area, we visited Robin Hood's
Well (well ... one of them, anyway). Then, we sped by sites like Wakefield's
"Pinderfields" where a legendary George a Green would have worked. And finally
stopped in Ripon to tour the cathedral. But it was the last stop that was
the highlight of the tour (for me, anyway). Fountains Abbey, according to
one ballad, was the home of a Curtal Friar commonly called Tuck. The abbey
ruins were enormous and I could have easily spent the whole day there. One
Yorkshire scholar said he hadn't forgotten how lucky he was to live in the
county. "This is a classic day trip for me."
time was pressing. After about an hour and a bit of exploring Tuck's legendary
abode, we boarded the coach and headed back to York. Paul Bracken and I caught
a train to Nottingham and I visited a few Robin Hood sites on my own.
But I hope in
2005, this merry band of scholars will meet again.
I'd like to
give an extra large thanks to Helen and Stephen for arranging such a wonderful
My Further Adventures in Robin Hood Country
has a more complete account of the Yorkshire tour.
My Spotlight on the First Robin Hood Conference and its
The Programme of the 1999 Nottingham Conference
The Website for the 2001 London, Ont. Conference (created
by the University of Western Ontario and modified by me.)