How queer is Robin Hood?

The intriguing history of England's Merry Men.

How queer is Robin Hood?

There’s a new Robin Hood film on the way - its tag-line promises: “The legend you know… The story you don’t.”

The synopsis sounds familiar enough.

Robin of Loxley, a war-hardened Crusader, and his Moorish commander mount an audacious revolt against the corrupt English crown in a thrilling action-adventure packed with gritty battlefield exploits, mind-blowing fight choreography, and a timeless romance.

But what if the timeless romance took a bit of a queer turn?

Robin Hood is a fictional character, so we’re obviously in the realms of projection. The stories from which the character of Robin Hood emerged, are believed to date back to the 1370s. According to the BBC, Nottingham historian Tony Scupham-Bilton believes that much of the legend that we now know as Robin Hood was created by writer Sir John Clanvowe and his ballad The Jest of Robin Hood. Scupham-Bilton believes that Sir John was in a relationship Sir William Neville, the constable of Nottingham castle. Sir John was inspired to create the ballad of Robin Hood by a visit to Nottingham by King Richard II who held the throne from 1377–1399.

In creating the character of Robin Hood, Sir John imagined a masculine world — a band of outlaws living together in the forest. The character of Maid Marian — who is generally presented as a love interest for Robin Hood — didn’t appear in the stories until the 16th century.

Scupham-Bilton’s theories are backed up by Professor Stephen Knight from the University of Wales. In a 1994 paper presented to a conference on Robin Hood, Professor Knight suggested that one of the original political meanings of the story was that Robin’s resistance to authority was actually opposition to the then damning view on homosexuality. Highlighting clues and signals from the documented stories, Professor Knight concludes that Robin had effectively been exiled from ‘straight’ society — the green wood being a symbol of virility, and suggestive references to arrows, quivers, and swords conveyed hidden meanings to a knowing audience.

Writer Robert Rodi takes that concept further with his comic Merry Men published in 2016. Speaking to IGN about the release of the comic, Rodi explains that taking the story back to its origins changed the tone of the whole narrative:

“By leaving Marian out, and reinforcing Robin’s connection to the Merry Men by making them not just an army of brothers, but an army of lovers, we’ve got a whole new dynamic — and a whole new Robin.”

Merry Men cover art courtesy of Oni Press

Despite the queer history of the Robin Hood legend, the new telling of his tale sticks with the Maid Marian version of the story. So our swords and arrows may be a little disappointed that we won’t see Robin Hood and his Merry Men being quite so… merry.

Robin Hood will be released in cinemas in November 2018. The film is directed by Otto Bathurst and stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Tim Minchin, and Jamie Dornan.

#RobinHoodMovie (image supplied)

#RobinHoodMovie (image supplied)