Fulk Fitzwarin: Lords of the White Castle by Elizabeth Chadwick

Last year my fiancee and I attended a commemorative series of talks in Hereford on King John's reign and the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. One of the guest speakers was Elizabeth Chadwick and we listened with interest to her lecture on the life of William Marshal. Elizabeth's knowledge of the Plantagenet period is impressive and it is her passion and expertise that has seen her win many literary awards. So I was thrilled to discover among her many successful books, a novel called Lords of the White Castle, about the legendary Fulk Fitzwarin.

Everyone has heard of Robin Hood, but other outlaw heroes from the medieval period are not quite as well known. Tales of Eustace the Monk, Gamelyn and Adam Bell were also popular at the time, but have since faded from memory. There were also ballads about an outlaw baron that rebelled against evil King John - Fulk Fitzwarin.

Fulk Fitzwarin III was born in the late 1170s, and after his father died in 1197 he became lord of the manor of Alveston in Gloucestershire, and continued the ongoing family claim to Whittington Castle in Shropshire. When King John came to the throne in 1199, Fulk bid £100 for his inheritance of the castle. But instead, on the 11th April 1200 John granted Whittington to the rival claimant Maurice of Powis, even though he had only offered 50 marks. 

It is unclear why the monarch made his decision. But for the next three years Fulk and approximately fifty followers, including his three brothers, waged a guerrilla campaign against King John. When Maurice of Powis died four months later, Whittington Castle was granted to his heirs.

King John (1166-1216)

Very little is known about Fulk's life as an outlaw.  Although we do know that the king sent Hubert de Burgh with 100 knights to respond to the threat.

Fulk was eventually pardoned, together with thirty others, by King John in 1203. He was fined 200 marks, but this time Fulk and his heirs finally gained ' right and inheritance' of Whittington Castle. 

Twelve years later Fulk rebelled against John again. This time in support of the rebel barons which would ultimately lead to Magna Carta. He did make peace with John's successor, Henry III in 1217 but even so the later years of his life were filled with disputes and land seizures.

The Arms of Fitzwarin

On Fulk's death in c.1256 he quickly became the focus of many folk-tales and legends. Unfortunately all that survives today is the 'ancestral romance' known as Fouke le Fitz Waryn dating from c.1330 and a sixteenth century summary of a 'Middle English' version. 

Fouke is a long episodic saga that not only contains a weird mixture of magical tales, knightly romance and traditional folk lore, but seemingly accurate information as well.  The basic outline to the story is this: As a young boy Fulk had lived at the court of King Henry II. One day, Fulk and Prince John had a bitter quarrel over a game of chess. John breaks the chess board over Fulk's head and he responds by kicking the prince in the stomach. Somewhat unfairly John was then punished with a whipping and thereafter bore a grudge against Fulk. When Richard died and John became king he granted Fulk's bitter enemy, Maurice of Powis, Whittington Castle. Fulk responded by renouncing his homage to King John.

First, Fulk fled to Brittany but then returned to England and took refuge in 'woods and moors' as an outlaw. From this point we start to see the strong similarities with the Robin Hood legend. Fulk's brother John (like Little John) waylaid merchants and relieved  them of their wealth after dining with Fulk and his men. Fulk was wounded in the knee while being pursued, just as Little John was shot in the knee when he escaped from the sheriff. Both bands of outlaws took refuge with a friendly knight.

Some of Fulk's other adventures are substantially the same as those in the Robin Hood ballads. The monarch decides to deal with both sets of outlaws personally and is lured to their camp by the promise of good hunting. Also Fulk and Robin are eventually reconciled with the king and ask permission to visit a holy site. In Fulk's case it is the priory of 'Our Lady' near Alberbury and Robin wishes to visit the chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene in Barnsdale. Both Fulk and Robin also had something else in common: 'neither Fulk nor any of his men did damage at any time to anyone save our king and his knights,' and Robin 'did poor men much good.'

Elizabeth Chadwick follows the trail of the legend closely. At 678 pages Lords of the White Castle is quite a long read, but her period scholarship and intellect keeps the reader gripped. The novel begins with Fulke's (Elizabeth Chadwick's spelling) early years as a squire in the Plantagenet court of Henry II and the violent quarrel with vindictive Prince John that begins their life-long bitter rivalry. Once John is on the throne he denies the Fitzwarin claim to Whittington Castle and we witness Fulke's turbulent life in exile.

Whittington Castle in Shropshire

The author's imagination fills the gaps in the historical record with a vibrant colourful pageantry. She breaths life into the young Maude Le Vavasour, a tenacious woman and skilled archer who is offered in marriage to Fulke's old mentor, Theobald Walter. Maude  eventually becomes a wealthy widow and is now pursued by King John. But she is in love with Fulke, and so begins a passionate and dangerous love affair. 

Fulke's quest to re-gain back his family home becomes a trail of deceit and shifting alliances that leads to personal tragedy and eventually the Magna Carta rebellion. 

The American cover

This is the most compelling historical novel I have read and I can understand why Elizabeth Chadwick is rated so highly. Each page reflects her extensive knowledge of the thirteenth century, but never overwhelms the reader with information. It seems she just gently wraps you in a richly embroidered medieval blanket that fills your senses and journeys you back to those long lost chivalric days. 

Joan Rice Cuts The Cake

The manager G.W Ridler watches Joan cut the cake

On Saturday 22nd September 1951 the 'New Victoria/Gaumont' Cinema in Bradford commemorated its 21st birthday. It was the first cinema in Britain to be purposely designed for ‘talking pictures.’ On the stage of the cinema they not only held a 'Birthday Queen' competition, but the ‘new British rising star Joan Rice’ was invited to cut the birthday cake.

In July of that year filming of Walt Disney's live-action movie The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952) had finished at Denham Studios in Buckinghamshire. Joan Rice (1930-1997) had been hand-picked by Walt himself to play the part of Maid Marian. The film was released in March the following year and was a huge success. Joan was the toast of the British film industry and Hollywood now beckoned. This blog is dedicated to her memory.

To read more about our Maid Marian, please click on the Joan Rice link where there are over 79 pages about her life and career.

Disney's Story of Robin Hood Introduction - Part 1 and 2

Below are two YouTube clips of Walt Disney introducing The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). They are sadly incomplete, but give us a rare glimpse of the great man describing his classic live-action feature. Both excerpts have been taken from the anthology series first aired 11/2/55 on ABC Television.

Merrie Christmas and Happy New Year!

I would like to wish you all a very Merrie Christmas and a Happy New Year!

A lot of the blog's success over the last twelve months has been due to the input of many of my readers. Highlights have included John Nelson's letter from Richard Todd and Julia Wright's experience of being on stage with Joan Rice. We also saw the results of the blog poll for your favourite Friar Tuck, Laurence's Mag-O-Flex and Matt Crandall's copies of the colourful Robin Hood comic strip from the 1950's.

Laurence's montage of Disney's Story of Robin Hood

Also during this year, Geoff Waite shared with us his research into the Provincial Premieres of Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood in Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. Meanwhile Chrissy Noel, on our Facebook page, investigated and managed to find Richard Todd's Champion Archer of England.

We also discovered King John's bones, the bird that awoke Robin Hood and went onto Twitter.

I find it hard to believe that next year this blog will be ten years old! 

Walt Disney

Robin Hood lives on and Hollywood is busy planning more movie versions of the legend. I will follow the reports with interest. But one thing is certain, Walt Disney's original masterpiece, The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men will never be forgotten!

Thank you for your continued support. I wish you and your families peace and happiness in the coming year.

Robin Hood's Two Chairs!

Robin of Sherwood (1984-1986)

The film prop we know as 'Robin Hood's Chair' has been mentioned many times on this blog and the input from my readers has helped chronicle its use for sixty four years. This I believe is unique in the tv and movie world. 

I originally called it Robin Hood's Chair because of its continual appearance in productions about the outlaw. But what must be made clear is that there were originally two chairs designed by Carmen Dillon and her art department for Walt Disney's live-action film 'The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men' in 1951. 

The two chairs in Disney's Story of Robin Hood (1952)

This pair of ornate chairs only appear together for a few moments in a scene with Joan Rice as Maid Marian, Hubert Gregg as Prince John, Martitia Hunt as Queen Eleanor and Anthony Eustrel as the Archbishop of Canterbury (above). But the distinct style of these two chairs made them popular with set designers. They appeared two years later in Men of Sherwood (1954) along with other furniture props from the Disney movie.

Men of Sherwood (1954)

We now have a full list of movies and tv shows that the Robin Hood Chair or Chairs have appeared in here.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-58)

Allen Wright, the owner of the fantastic Bold Outlaw site, has been in touch with an excellent example of those 'Robin Hood chairs' being used in the television series The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-58). If you have any information of props from Disney's Robin Hood being used, or know where that are stored, please get in touch.

On Stage with Joan Rice

Above is a theatre programme of Arthur Miller’s ‘A View From The Bridge,’ which was kindly sent in by Neil, showing Joan in her favourite play as Catherine, at the Savoy Theatre in Kettering in September 1959.

We now know that Joan Rice (1930-1997) was appearing in various theatrical productions from 1955 onwards and continued performing on the stage as her film career sadly faded. Back in October I received this interesting email from Julia Wright:
Fresh out of drama school in 1963 or 4, I was her understudy in a touring production of a play name of which I have totally forgotten. I believe it was with Carl Clopet Productions, not in the first rank of theatrical companies but kept many of us employed. I think it was a new play and it was hoped it would make it into the West End but there were problems - not Joan's fault. The leading man was sacked just before the tour started because he couldn't remember lines and it was a lousy play. We toured exotic spots like Cardiff and the closest we got to the West End was Streatham. At least she made it to Hollywood and had her moment in the sun and I'm glad she didn't spend her life pining for what had and might have been in show business that killed off so many but made a life for herself.

Many thanks to Julia for sharing this information.

Above is a another theatre programme, this time showing Joan performing in John Mortimer’s ‘A Voyage Round My Father’ at the Wimbledon Theatre from May 1973.

Joan Rice in 1978 (Image © Maria Steyn)

I hope these postings have helped counter the statements by Richard Todd and film director Ken Annakin that Joan was never an actress. 

Joan Rice actually attended ‘The Company of Youth,’ often known as the ‘Rank Charm School,’ J. Arthur Rank's training institution for young film actors. It was established adjacent to Rank's experimental Highbury studio in a disused church hall, under the auspices of Olive Dodds, the Organisation's Director of Artistes. The school trained its pupils in everything from voice production to fencing and launched the careers of stars like, Christopher Lee, Dirk Bogarde, Patrick McGoohan, Donald Sinden, Honor Blackman, Michael Craig, Kay Kendal, Shirley Eaton, David McCallum, Joan Collins and Diana Dors.

It is interesting to see Gay Hamilton also listed in the programme above. Gay had played the part of Maid Marian in the Hammer production ‘A Challenge for Robin Hood,’ in 1967; Joan of course played the same part beautifully for Walt Disney in 1952. Both actresses appeared alongside James Hayter as Friar Tuck.

Joan Rice as Maid Marian

This site is dedicated to the memory of Joan Rice. If you have any information about her life and career or ever met her, I would love to hear from you. Please get in touch at disneysrobin@googlemail.com.

To read more about Walt Disney’s first Maid Marian please click here:- Joan Rice. There is now over 78 pages on this site about her life and career.

Provincial Premieres of Disney's Robin Hood

Geoff Waite has very kindly contacted me regarding the film that accompanied Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men during its provincial premieres in 1952. 

Wynne Jones and Elton Hayes at the Gaumont Theatre, Liverpool

Geoff says:
"I seem to remember you were interested in discovering what the second feature was when Disney’s ‘Robin Hood’ was first released, but I don’t recall if you were ever able to discover the name of the film.

I am attaching a photo of Elton Hayes attending the opening of The Story of Robin Hood on 27 April 1952 at the Gaumont Theatre, Liverpool. This was four days after the Manchester provincial premiere. On the back of the photo it says ‘Mr. Elton Hayes and Mr. Wynne Jones’ (Liverpool Evening Express).

As you will see from the photo, on the poster displayed between Elton and Mr Jones the second feature is shown as being Hammer the Toff starring John Bentley and Patricia Dainton. The film, released in 1952, also starred Valentine Dyall and was based on a book by John Creasey."

A huge thank you to Geoff for sending in his picture and helping to answer a question that has been bothering me for many years. 

The Capitol Theatre in Salem, Oregon  in 1952

The New York Times review of June 27th 1952 describes the two accompanying films to Disney's Robin Hood in America as Water Birds (a true-life adventure) and a cartoon short called The Little House. 

On line sources show that Hammer The Toff was first released to British cinemas in March 1952. The world premiere of Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men was at the Leicester Square Theatre in London on the 13th March of that year. As we now know from Geoff's previous research  there was a Provincial Premiere in Manchester on the 23rd April and at the Gaumont Theatre in Liverpool on the 27th April. So was Hammer The Toff  the second feature during the 'general' release of Robin Hood around the country in 1952? If you can confirm this please get in touch.

Elton Hayes and Joan Rice at the Provincial Premiere in Manchester

There is now a great deal of reports about the star studded premiere of Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood on this blog. Please click here to read more. And with the help of Geoff Waite we have also accumulated a vast amount of information on the life and work of Elton Hayes here.

All the pictures taken at the provincial premieres and used on this site are the property of Geoff Waite.

Disney's Robin Hood Comic Strip. 10

Thanks to Matt Crandall I can now upload two of the latest instalments of the Robin Hood strips from the Belgian 'Mickey' magazine from 1953.

Matt runs the excellent Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland blog, which contains many rare items and collectables from the classic animated film. He has also been very kindly sending me the comic strips that were drawn by Jessie Marsh and based on the Disney live-action film The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men which was released in 1952.

To catch-up with previous pages from the magazine please click here

And don't forget you can view the whole of the movie with Laurence's fantastic picture strip here.

Laurence's picture strip.

Robin Hood Airport

Sean Bean and Brian Blessed

As regular readers of this blog will know, Robin Hood not only has links with Nottinghamshire but also Yorkshire - both counties continuing to claim him as their own.

In April 2005, when the Peel Group opened their £80 million airport on the former site of RAF Finningley in the borough of Doncaster, South Yorkshire, they provocatively re-named it 'Robin Hood Airport.'

This former long range nuclear bomber base is situated less than 18 miles from the legendary haunts described in one of the oldest tales about the outlaw, A Gest of Robyn Hode printed between 1492-1534.
   Robyn stode in Bernesdale,
  And lenyd hym to a tre;
  And bi hym stode Litell Johnn,
  A gode yeman was he.
The 'Barnsdale' referred to in the early ballad - the base for the outlaw's activities - is often identified with a relatively small area in South Yorkshire near The Great North Road, just north of Doncaster. Wentbridge and Saylis also appear in the stories of Robin Hood and the Potter and the Gest respectively. Legend states that his remains are buried at Kirklees Priory near Brighouse, West Yorkshire.

So two years after the airport's official opening a10-foot bronze statue of Robin Hood, sculpted by Neale Andrew was unveiled by actors Sean Bean and Brian Blessed on the first floor of the airport. Both actors are Yorkshire born and bred and proud of their roots.

During a press interview after the ceremony Sean Bean confessed that he would, "love to play Robin Hood on the big screen," he said. "It's 16 years [2007] since Kevin Costner did it - now it's my turn." 

Sean Bean with the statue of Robin Hood

Sean Bean continued:
"And we all know Robin Hood was definitely a Yorkshireman who was chased into Nottingham. They say he could be from Loxley in Sheffield - thats near where I come from. In fact Robin Hood is possibly my great, great, great, great, great, grandfather." 

Brian Blessed, who played Robin Hood's father in the Costner movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, joked that the reason they were both invited was because, " Sean is very talented, but I have the sex appeal."

Sean Bean and Brian Blessed

Blessed said:
"I was born just eight miles away in Mexborough and I lived in Goldthorpe, my dad died about a year ago - he was the oldest surviving coal miner, he was 99 - and he was thrilled to bits with this airport. It's marvellous the way it's revitalised the area. I'm very proud to be part of this."
After the airport was re-named in 2005, Nottingham  council accused Doncaster of 'jumping on the band-wagon'!

To read about Robin Hood's death at Kirklees please click here. Information about the medieval ballads Robin Hood and the Potter and the Gest of Robyn Hode can be seen here and there are many more links and in the sidebars.