Robin Hood ballad - was there another love interest before Maid Marian?

Guardian News
Guardian News

Experts in the Legend of Robin Hood have dismissed a ballad that claims the famous outlaw had another love interest before Maid Marian.

Archivists at Nottinghamshire County Council have on file in its Valentine’s archive records a ballad entitled: ‘Robin Hood’s Birth, Breeding, Valour and Marriage’. His love interest before Maid Marian in the ballad is said to be Clorinda, the Queen of the Shepherdesses.

The ballad features in Joseph Ritson’s collection ‘Robin Hood: a Collection of All the Ancient Poems, Songs and Ballads now extant, Relative to that Celebrated English Outlaw: to which are prefixed, Historical Anecdotes of His Life’, published in 1840 (Nottinghamshire County Council Archives’ Rare Book Collection). It includes the following lines:

Clorinda said, Tell me your name, gentle sir;

And he said, ‘Tis bold Robin Hood:

Squire Gamwel’s my uncle, but all my delight

Is to dwell in the merry Sherwood.

For ‘tis a fine life, and ‘tis void of all strife.

‘So ‘tis, sir,’ Clorinda reply’d;

‘But oh,’ said bold Robin, ‘How sweet would it be,

If Clorinda would be my bride!’

She blusht at the motion; yet, after a pause

Said, Yes, sir, and with all my heart;

‘Then let’s send for a priest,’ said Robin Hood,

‘And be married before we do part.’

But she said, It may not be so, gentle sir,

For I must be at Titbury feast;

And if Robin Hood will go thither with me,

I’ll make him the most welcome guest.

But it is understood that the ballad would have been written a long time after the initial tales of Robin Hood were known. That is the view of Ralph Needham, a historian from Mapperley who appears at Nottinghamshire County Council’s annual Robin Hood Festival each August as Sir Ralph of Epperstone, and is an expert on the Legend of Robin Hood.

He said: “Academic research into the origins of this ballad has been undertaken in the past which determined that the ballad had been composed for the annual bull running at Tutbury (referenced as Titbury in the ballad).

“It is certainly not seen as a mainstream story within the Legend of Robin Hood. That is part of the beauty but also the curse of Robin Hood that because the story has meant different things to different people down the centuries and the well known tales have been open to interpretation with later material such as this ballad.”

And despite the universally known love story between Robin and Marian, Ralph Needham says that while there are many references to Robin and Marian as a couple in the Tales of Robin Hood, there are very few romance scenes themselves.

One of those involving romance does features a lesser known Robin Hood story centred around Robin and Alan a Dale, one of his Merry Men.

Ralph explains: “Robin and Little John were in the woods and they spotted a happy cheery lad in his early 20s. They then spotted him again some time later weeping and lamenting and asked him what was wrong. He explained that the Lady he loved, Alice, was due to marry a noble knight in a couple of days’ time, because that is what her parents wanted – but he was a horrible man.

“Robin vowed to help and dressed up as a minstrel on the day of the wedding and met the clergyman at the church who explained there was a wedding taking place. Robin asked if music was needed and the bishop agreed it would be a good idea to mark the wedding of the old knight and his new bride.

“The bride was not cheerful when she arrived, and the old knight’s soldiers were on hand as his entourage, then Robin’s outlaws appeared and surrounded the church and Robin said that there would be no wedding and that the lady was instead in love with Alan a Dale.

“The bride to be agreed that she was in love with Alan a Dale, and Robin said that they would marry instead, but the bishop said that in order for the marriage to go ahead, the banns would have to be read three times.

“Friar Tuck read them three times – then for good measure Little John leapt into the pulpit and read them several more times in order for the ceremony to go ahead! Alan a Dale and the bride were then married.

“While a lesser known story from the Legend of Robin Hood, it is a good example in relation to romance and shows the sorts of arranged marriages in those days, back in the 1200s. In respect of parents, they would often be keen for a daughter to marry into the rich and powerful gentry, as it helped give then a greater chance to preserve and protect the family for future generations.”