Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Legend of Robin Hood

First off I apologize for this blog coming out later in the week, but I've been battling a cold/flu and trying to get ready for the Holidays :) Without further ado, I give you The Legend of Robin Hood...

What do you think of when you hear mention of Robin Hood? Do you think of a handsome man depriving greedy abbotts, princes and sheriffs of their coin and jewels, and then gallantly taking them to distribute among the poor? A criminal? A murderer? Do you think of a debonair hero whisking his lady love onto his horse for a romantic ride? Or do you think of a humorous fox? Tell me, what does Robin Hood mean to you?

(To the left is a memorial statue of Robin Hood in Nottingham.)

The first references to Robin Hood were not told in romantic or even bawdy ballads. They weren't written in stories or records of the affluent or the poor. No, a mere mention here and there in various rolls of the English Justices across England. The name was spelled differently, often seen as Robinhood, Robehod, Hobbehod or Rabunhod. The name started to pop up in the 13th century. But it wasn't in reference to one person. In actuality, it appeared that our dear Robin was just another name for crook and criminal. But who's to say that they didn't start calling all thieves of the nobles Robin's after the hero in our imaginations, started to truly do his deeds?

The name took hold and would continue to brand those with treacherous backgrounds well into the middle ages and beyond, with even Guy Fawkes calling Robert Cecil and his followers, Robin Hoods, in 1605.

Starting in the 14th century you will begin to see the name pop up in a more literary fashion, such authors as William Langdon and his poem, (1377) "The vision of William concerning Piers Plowman." Andrew of Wyntoun, and his work Orygynale Chronicle written in 1420, and written in the late 13oo's and edited in 1440 by Walter Bower, John of Fordun's Scotichronicon. In this last particular tale, it must be noted that the battle in Sherwood Forest, is very similar to a battle that took place there with Roger Godberd, who has often been sited as perhaps being the "real" Robin Hood. Here is a passage from Scotichronicon:

"Then arose the famous siccarius, [murderer,] Robert Hood, as well as Little John, together with their accomplices from among the disinherited, whom the foolish populace are so inordinately fond of celebrating both in tragedies and comedies, and about whom they are delighted to hear the jesters and minstrels sing above all other ballads."

Another great tale of Robin Hood, is The Gest of Robyn Hode, written supposedly sometime in the mid-15th century. Here is the first lines of this ballad:

“Lythe and listin, gentilmen,
That be of frebore blode;
I shall you tel of a gode yeman,
His name was Robyn Hode.”

(Here's a link to read the whole thing, I highly recommend you do: http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/gest.htm)

There is some speculation that the real Robin Hood was actually the Earl of Huntington. The below inscription is on a grave in Kirkless Priory, however many say the grave cannot possibly have come from the 13th century. But according to legend, this is where he travelled to where he was killed by the prioress and Sir Roger of Doncaster. This same inscription was written in notes by Thomas Gale, Dean of York in the 17th century, insinuating the very real existence of such a man.

"Hear undernead dis laitl stean
Lais Robert Earl of Huntingun
Near arcir der as hie sa geud
An pipl kauld im Robin Heud
Sic utlaws as hi an is men
Vil England nivr si agen.
Obiit 24 Kal Dekembris 1247"

One thing you will find repeatedly in all tales of this gallant, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor man, are the names of his "merry men" and of course his love interest, Maid Marian. There's Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Allan a Dale, and of course the very evil Sheriff of Nottingham, and Prince John. He's always portrayed as a brilliant archer. We know he lived in Sherwood Forest, where today although the acreage has gone from nearly 100,000 from Robin's time to 450, visitors still flock to the Major Oak, where tales tell us was the major meeting point for the band. Back in the day Sherwood forest was dense and packed not only with trees and the King's deer, but outlaws. It was easy to hide from the law in that forest... His hometown was referred to as Locksley, most likely Loxley of Yorkshire. These are the major key points, as time progressed the story has changed a little at a time, but never strays from the key characters and setting.

So do you think this mystery man existed? I for one do. Most ballads and tales came from something. I suspect there was such a man, perhaps not as notorious as stories would have you believe, but there must have been someone to promote such a strong legend that even fascinates us today, some 800 years later.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Good evening fellow history lovers!

I just recieved an email from Jonathan Dresner, from the Department of History at Pittsburgh State University, and my article on St. Brendan recieved a fabulous mention in his December 2008 History Carnival!

Here's the link to check it out as well as a ton of other history article links to read!



Monday, December 1, 2008

History of Socks and Stockings

When did it all begin? I’m sure you can guess why…our feet were cold. But have socks and stockings changed all that much over the years?

Way back in the cavemen days, we used animal skins gathered around the ankle and tied for socks, sometimes animal furs to keep us extra warm. In early medieval times, those who wore socks were considered of the noble classes. Socks were woven or sewn by hand. And in the 16th century with the invention of the knitting machine, tighter woven socks were made. They were often made of wool for the general population and silk or cotton for the upper classes. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that nylon socks were introduced.

Socks are not only used to keep our feet warm and dry but to ease the chafing of shoes. Shoes today are a lot more comfortable then they used to be, and I know I need socks with some of mine. Can you imagine what it would have felt like to wear some of the medieval shoes without socks? Ouch!

Men wore stockings before women even did, but they were called hose and by the twelfth century a staple in a man’s wardrobe. Women generally wore socks, pantyhose weren’t even invented until 1959. Today’s thigh-highs are a lot like what women used to wear historically, garters included.

The hose that men wore were knee length and tied at the top, usually with some form of embroidery. Perhaps not unlike men’s knee socks of today, minus the embroidery and ties. Over the next couple hundred years, socks differed in lengths, from mid-calf, to knee to mid-thigh. They were different colors with decorations or stripes all over rather than just embroidery at the top.

By the 16th century however these two-legged hose, became one garment extending all the way to the crotch. The reason being that men’s tunics shortened over time as did their braies or breeches, which turned into a codpiece, so more of the leg was exposed. This pushed men to also feel that they needed to have nicer legs. Do you remember Henry VIII being quite proud at the turn of his leg?

In 1560, Elizabeth I, received her very first pair of knit silk stockings (knee length) and from there continued to collect many in bright colors and designs. I love my socks and stockings to be brightly colored and designed. She’s my kind of woman :)

Knitting schools opened in the 16th century making it easier to acquire socks. As more and more places specialized in types of socks, you knew if your sock was from a certain place, what quality it would be. This was because of whatever wool was available to the sock maker. For example, in Yorkshire you were more likely to get a coarser sock, like those worn by children and workers. For a better wool sock you’d go to the Midlands, which many merchants did.

I must say I’m glad presently it isn’t necessary for women to wear stockings or pantyhose everyday. I always rip mine. In fact when I know I have to wear them, I buy two, because without fail I will rip the first pair while putting them on. The second pair is usually totaled by the time I’m ready to take them off…

So that is a little history on socks and stockings. What kind do you wear?