Robin Hood: A Right Bandit.
Robin Hood: Absolutely Queer? Mike Atkinson investigates the claims that our local legend was even more familiar with the wood than we ever realised…
He lives with a bunch of so-called ‘Merry’ men (and we all know what ‘Merry’ means, right?) in the middle of a forest (and we all know what ‘Merry’ Men get up to in wooded thickets, right?). With no women for miles around, save for an impossibly perfect little madam who swishes about in embroidered frocks, the men content themselves with “bonding” activities such as:
• Blowing each other’s horns
• Clapping each other heartily on the back
• Kitting themselves out in matching short-shorts and tights
• Ordering likely-looking strangers to ‘Stand and Deliver’
• Huddling into a tight, dark, enclosed space (aka the Major Oak, arguably the world’s first ever ‘dark room’), at even the flimsiest of pretexts.
If any of this irrepressibly man-to-man cavorting has ever struck you as, well, not entirely heterosexual, then you are not alone in your suspicions. The homo-eroticism of Hood has been the subject of serious academic study (he “inter-phallicised endlessly with his masculine coevals, while Maid Marian drooped about waiting for the token final kiss”); themed walking tours have taken place in Nottingham over the last few years (“Hear about the gay origins of the world’s most famous folk hero”); and even Peter Tatchell has optimistically stuck his oar in (“His lifestyle alone was enough to provoke speculation”).
Still not convinced? Well, how about the line uttered by Douglas Fairbanks, playing Robin Hood in the 1922 film of the same name, as he tries to duck out of some wench-related frolics offered by Richard The Lionheart (also thought not to be entirely heterosexual, but that’s a whole other scrappily researched think-piece): “Exempt me sire, I am afeard of women.” Or in the modern vernacular: “Eww, minge – scar-eh!”
Need a more historically legitimate citation? Then look no further than the original ballads upon which the Hood legend is said to be based, as penned by a fourteenth century poet called Sir John Clanvowe. You’ll find no mention of Maid Marian here; she doesn’t pop up for another couple of hundred years, and is thought by some to represent an after-the-fact attempt at butching Hood up: part fag-hag, part “beard”, part cover story. Instead, Clanvowe’s ballads linger lovingly on the close friendship between Robin and “Little” John (who, as we all know, was quite the opposite – feel free to extrapolate further):
“When Robin Hood was about twenty years old… he happened to meet Little John. A jolly brisk blade, right fit for the trade, for he was a lusty young man.”
As the pair face each other off, famously brandishing their respective poles, Clanvowe dramatises the dialogue in terms that fairly drip with innuendo.
“And now for thy sake, a staff will I take, the truth of thy manhood to try!” “Lo, see my staff! It is lusty and tough! Now here on the bridge we will play!”
It has been claimed that Clanvowe’s inspiration for the ballads was drawn from his own relationship with one Sir William Neville, the constable of Nottingham Castle (and hence presumably the protector of Mortimer’s Hole, but let’s not muddy the waters with over-conjecture). Widely thought to be a gay couple, the pair fought together in the Hundred Years War, and were eventually buried in the same tomb.
In the face of such iron-clad antecedents, it would be frivolous to speculate further – so let’s do just that. Did Little John ever take his lusty paramour for tea up at his Nan’s in Mansfield? (“I don’t care what y’are duckeh, as long as yer ‘appeh, that’s all I’ve ever wanted for yer, yer know that, don’t yer duckeh…”) Were the Merry Men’s neckerchiefs colour-coded signifiers of sexual predilection, as they remain to this day within certain “specialist” gay circles? (If so, this puts Will Scarlet’s cries of “Hands up, give me all you’ve got” into a wholly different context – you might need to look that one up.) Given the well-documented historical association of the colour green with “rent”, was Maid Marian the clandestine madam of a redistributive anarcho-syndicalist escort agency? (“We bottom for the rich, and top for the poor.”) Was Friar Tuck brought in to service the “bear” market, his nom-du-bonk a thinly veiled Spoonerism? And was Robin Hood really hailed as “the prince of thieves” – or merely slagged off, by the more uncouth and ungrateful recipients of his largesse, as “that ponce from Thieves’ Wood”? Alas, we may never know…