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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Longbows and Rosary Beads.....

does stand for something, in case you've been wondering. I had to rack my brain to come up with a good and meaningful blog title, and I prayed that I'd be inspired with the right one. So here's how it came to me.

    In the early years of my life, I fell in love with the legend of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. It started with the Walt Disney cartoon portraying all the characters as animals, and moved on to Errol Flynn and Richard Todd and Richard Greene. I started collecting Robin Hood memorabilia like dolls, comic books, lunchboxes, etc. and still do. Perhaps the attraction had something to do with the "rebel spirit" and daring of the nobleman-turned-robber who became a champion for the common people under an oppressive regime. Perhaps it was the lovely and clever Maid Marian with her charm and charisma that I wanted to emulate. Anyway, once it took hold of me, it stuck like glue.

     This attraction soon drew me to be interested in all things English, so this is the very earliest source of my love of Britain. Therefore, I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Prince of Thieves who stole my heart at age six. Of course, we will never know if Robin Hood really existed, although it is likely that his legend took shape around a number of different men who defied the oppressive Norman poaching laws and lived as outlaws and outcasts in the great forests of the Northern counties of England. The spirit of resistance and that beautiful blend of history and romance built a legend which each passing generation has breathed new life into. Robin Hood can be called the quintessential British hero of the common man, just as King Arthur can be called the quintessential British hero of the gentry.

     But between the two, Robin Hood somehow always seems to come out on top. The sparkle in his eye as he draws his bow, the sheer defiance that symbolizes Britain to such a high degree, is often lost in the eloquent prose of the Arthurian cycles. Although Arthur in his raw essence was a symbol of resistance to the Celtic tribes, the embroidery of his legend took a different turn than that of Robin Hood's. Somehow, in the subconscious of many legend-lovers, Arthur tends to frown down on you and evade direct contact, while Robin tends to grin at you and look you straight in the eye. And in Robin there is something strikingly down-to-earth that Arthur lost by hanging around too much with nymphs and wizards. We can all relate to a tale about men struggling to maintain there freedom and enduring the harshness of being social outcasts. But, although Arthur's adventures do contain many allegories and demonstrations of the complexity of human nature, they step outside of our world and drift just beyond our reach.

     Despite their differences, one thing that King Arthur and Robin Hood held in common was that they were recognized as strong Catholic figures in British tradition. Arthur was recorded as bearing an image of Our Lady on his shield during his famous battles with the Saxons. In fact, during the Protestant Revolt in England, two graves at Glastonbury which certain monks claimed contained the remains of Arthur and Guinevere were desecrated by Protestants because they were seen as remnants of the old religion.

     Robin Hood was always portrayed in the old tales as being a pious Catholic, in spite of the fact that he was not above robbing and making fun of pompous clergymen. He is shown as risking capture in order to attend mass and recruiting Friar Tuck to be the outlaw band's chaplain. He also refused to be disturbed in prayer, even when danger was imminent. During the Reformation, the cult of Robin Hood also came under fire, and recusant Catholics were branded as "Robin Hoods". It was only the people's refusal to let the old legends die that kept the stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood alive.

     There is a nursery rhyme that depicts Robin praying the Rosary to Our Lady who, in the early ballads, was the only woman in his life:

"Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
Is in the mickle wood!
Little John, Little John,
He to town is gone.

Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
Telling his beads,
All in the greenwood
Among the green weeds.

Little John, Little John,
If he comes no more,
Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
We shall fret full soar!"

    This is little poem that gave me the idea for the name of the blog. Robin Hood fought with his longbow, the symbol of British pride and resistance, and prayed with his Rosary Beads, the symbol of the faith of the people and the refusal to let it die. Indeed, it was the sacrifice of the Catholic "Robin Hood" Recusants that kept the spark of Catholicism from being completely smothered by the turbulent winds of the times.  To this day, there are Catholic men and women from the Northern England who can trace back their lineage back in an unbroken line of faithful Catholics. It is their story that best exemplifies the spirit of Robin Hood, and it is to the Catholic Recusants that I have dedicated this blog.  

"Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Telling His Beads...."


  1. Hi Pearl - Many thanks for the explanation of your blog title. I had wondered why you chose it and it certainly is memorable! Being on the side of the poor is what the Church should be, just like your legendary hero Robin Hood. No doubt that is what attracted Friar Tuck!

  2. My siblings and I have always liked watching the Disney "Robin Hood" too :-)

    Another great post, Pearl! I enjoyed it!

  3. Hello, Loyal Readers! Indeed, the Church has a history of being a champion of the opressed, in spite of the fact that corruption often found its way in. We're a hospital for sinners, so some bugs are bound to get into the system. Anyway, I think you're right about Friar Tuck's reasons for joining up as chaplain of a robber band!

    @Mary: Huzzah! Another fan of the Disney Robin Hood Cartoon! I think that was his best production by far. I mean, it had plot substance, great dialogue, excitement, and even a little romance. I even know adults who still enjoy watching that film. It was a real winner!

  4. While I've always loved reading about King Arthur's heroic deeds, I have to admit that Robin Hood's personality is far more endearing than the latter's. Thank you for pointing this out in your post, Pearl!> Another funny thing is the contrast between Maid Marian and Queen Guenever. Marian is a wonderful female lead(clever, kind, and not bad with a bow and arrow!), while Guenever seems to spend a great deal of her time day dreaming about Sir Lancelot:-)
    Have you ever read Kathryn Lasky's "Hawksmaid", Pearl? You might enjoy it if you haven't, although the plot was a wee bit far-fetched.

  5. Well and truly said, O Priceless Pearl!

    Richard Greene is certainly my favorite Robin Hood; I remember beating time to the opening music on my Christmas toy drum.

    The dreary new Robin Hoods, cynical and brooding like self-indulgent 8th graders (with apologies to real 8th graders) and filmed in drab tones simply get everything all wrong.

    How curious that Richard Greene was a Catholic and his producer a Communist! They made a great series on a budget of hundreds of dollars.

    -- Mack in Texas

  6. Hiya!

    @Meredith: I agree with you that Maid Marian is a much, much more appealing female lead than Queen Guinevere! Marian is matched perfectly with Robin, and there relationship has great chemistry because she's witty and courageous, just like her partner.

    On the other hand, Guinevere is basically a sell-out to King Arthur and a lace-and-frills girl. She always getting into trouble of her own making, and actually inadvertently brings about the destruction of the Round Table!

    Thanks for the book title. I have never read "Hawksmaid", but the title sounds cool. It sounds vaguely familiar; I may have heard of it advertised. Is the plot similar to "The Tales of Rowan Hood Series" I was telling you about, involving a daughter of Robin Hood?

    @Mack in TX: Welcome to the blog! How did you find us? Ha, ha, "Priceless Pearl"....I like that!

    I agree; Modern remakes of classic swashbucklers tend to aim for the cynical and brooding, which ruins the whole spirit of the thing. They get too caught up in the complexity of human thought and do away with good, clean fun. Also, I hear the new Robin Hood film with Russel Crowe took some serious jabs at the any and all authority in the story, including the monarchy and the Church.

    Wow! Richard Greene was a Catholic???!!! Yep, it says on Wikipedia that he was an Englishman of Irish and Scottish decent. I had no idea! Thanks so much for tipping me off! So Robin Hood really was a Catholic in more ways than one, LOL!

    God Bless,

    1. Well, "Hawksmaid is simaliar to "The Tales of Rowan Woods", but it centers around Marian, a.k.a. Mattie, when she was about 14. In the book, Mattie raises hawks and falcons,(hence the title), and runs about the woods with her best friends, including Robin and Will Scarlet. Its actually been a year or so since I last read it, so I don't remember every detail, but I do remember how much I enjoyed reading it:-)
      ~~Oh, yes, the author, Kathryn Lasky, also wrote several of the Royal Diaries, JFYI.

  7. Dear Priceless Pearl,


    Something of yours was linked somewhere else, but I don't remember what or where.

    Russell Crowe is such a good actor; I hope he will repudiate mere fashion and go for art.

    -- Mack

  8. I think it is safe and fair to assume that you are a Robin Hood fanatic.He was such a great character,though we don't really know if he existed or not.Would love to see your collection of his.I bet they are all fascinating.

  9. Wow! This post is getting a lot of commentary!

    @Mack: Indeed, I liked Russel Crow a lot as Captain Aubrey in "Master and Commander." I don't know what other films he has starred in, but I heard from reliable sources that the Robin Hood film paled considerably in comparison with older versions.

    Please feel free to frequent the blog, Mack! I'm so glad you stumbled across us.

    @Ian Floor: Ha, ha, well, perhaps "enthusiast" would be a better term than "fanatic," but I get your point. I am indeed a major fan of him. Sure, we don't know for sure if he ever existed, but it's the spirit of the thing that counts, yes? And I bet the legends have some basis in reality, anyway, even if it is a bit jumbled!

    So I clicked on your username, and the Nottingham Tourist Website came up. Are you in association with them? If so, terrific! How did you locate my blog? Sherwood Forest is one of my top ten destinations if I ever get to the UK.

  10. Ah, the Disney "Robin Hood" days...the memories abound. ;)

    Random fact you might find interesting: a couple of years ago when I was doing research for an archery presentation for my 4-H club, I came across a site that mentioned a list of outlaws in a certain part of England, and one of the names on the list was Robert Hood.

    Another random fact I feel like sharing: If you want to see another side to King Arthur's wife, I wholeheartedly recommend "The Pendragon Cycle" by Stephen R. Lawhead. In his version she is an Irish warrior queen who is fiercely loyal to Arthur; her fondness for Lancelot stems from the fact that he is her cousin and sworn protector. Yes, it's a departure from the classic Arthurian legends, but the story is just as exciting as ever...and, I must admit, it is nice to have a Guinevere with a backbone.

  11. Ah, yes, the Disney "Robin Hood" days....the puppet theatre, Charlotte the Racoon, Scamps and Paws, and our epic adventures in Magical Land, aided ever by the invincible Robin Hood puppet and company! Indeed, the memories do abound, dear friend ;-)

    That's neat about a archery list containing the name Robert Hood! Ha, ha, Maybe the guy felt obliged to join the club just to uphold the name! Let me know if you see him on any wanted posters!

    I plan on checking out "The Pendragon Cycle" as soon as I finish off this trilogy of historical fiction romance books I started. It does sound quite nice having Guinevere being loyal for a change, and with some backbone!

  12. Something I forgot to mention is that the author of "The Pendragon Cycle" also wrote a series based on Robin Hood. It's called the King Raven Trilogy and consists of "Hood", "Scarlet", and "Tuck". I haven't read them, so I can't tell you if they're any good, but I figured you might like them seeing their link to Robin Hood.