Archive for June 2010

Robin Hood all at sea

3 June 2010

Everyone has a favourite Robin Hood story. Mine is an audio tape and book of the Disney version, both duly voiced over and translated into Swedish! I am not ashamed to say that after more than thirty years, I still happen to have this particular cassette and accompanying book and I still remember all the words to the songs. Such is the impact of the legend that is Robin Hood.

It is hardly surprising then that the new Hollywood blockbuster released at the cinemas in May is attracting a fair bit of attention. Partly, this is because it is not following the usual story of Robin as the outlaw fighting for the common people against the evil Prince John and his ally, the sheriff of Nottingham. Instead, this film is firmly set during the reign of John, and Robin is occupied juggling rebellious barons and a French invasion, setting the scene for Magna Carta.

In some ways what is most interesting about all of this is the continuous notion of Magna Carta, the most famous document in English history, as the foundation of the rights of the common man. The notion is not necessarily wrong, it is just placed in the wrong year. In 1215, Magna Carta was essentially an agreement to solve the dispute between King John and a significant number of his barons – a peace treaty, if you like – and most of the clauses were intended to limit the king’s exploitation of the rights and customs of the nobility, not the common man. After 1215, however, the charter was re-issued several times in revised forms and it is these versions rather than that issued in 1215 that were seen as containing important legal principles.

Magna Carta of 1215 lasted only a few weeks before the king, supported by Pope Innocent III, declared it null and void, and hostilities between the king and his barons broke out again. Clause 61 of the charter outlines that, as security that he would adhere to the articles of the peace, King John would grant to his barons the right to elect twenty-five of their number who would be responsible for overseeing any transgressions. These barons would have the right to seize any of the king’s castles, lands or possessions until redress had been made. Here, and perhaps I’m being cynical, lies the answer to why Magna Carta was a failure in 1215: the king was only ever going to agree to such terms long enough for him to re-group, enlist further support and allies, and continue the war.

And, where is Robin of Loxley, aka Robin Hood of 2010, in all of this? Well that’s just it – he isn’t.