In Disney’s ‘Story of Robin Hood’, the Earl of Huntingdon is Maid Marian’s father and in many Hollywood movies Robin has links with that title. But there is no historical evidence to suggest a connection with the Earldom of Huntingdon and the legendry outlaw. The Earldom of Huntington/Huntingdon was a fief belonging to the Scottish royal house. David (abt. 1144-1219) the brother of William the Lion of Scotland was confirmed in the Honour of Huntingdon by Richard I in 1190. David married Maud, sister of Ranulf of Chester on 26th August 1190 and carried one of the three swords, with golden sheaths described in the ‘Deeds of Richard’ at the king’s coronation. David helped to suppress Richard’s brother Prince John in 1194. The Honour of Huntingdon covered eleven counties.
Huntingdon's connection with the legend of Robin Hood comes from the popularity of two plays, ‘The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntington’ and ‘The Death of Robert Earl of Huntington’ written by the prolific Tudor political spy and playwright Anthony Munday in about 1600. The hero of both plays is Robert Earl of Huntington, betrothed to the daughter of Lord Fitzwalter, the beautiful Matilda. Robert is betrayed and wrongly disinherited by his evil uncle, the Prior of York, so the couple take refuge in Sherwood Forest and change there names to Robin and Marian. Both plays were as popular at the time as any of Shakespear’s works and ensured the survival of the legend.
Robin (Robert Earl of Huntington) dies in the first act of the second play and Marian (Matilda) is pursued by King John to Dunmow Priory, where she is eventually poisoned.
These two Tudor plays left a lasting impression on the legend and it appears that the plot to both Anthony Munday’s productions had political ends. Munday was a fanatical anti-Catholic and Huntington was part of the estate of the most powerful Catholic family in England, that of Henry Percy, Earl of Nothumberland. The chief villain of the play, Robert’s uncle, the treacherous Gilbert de Hood, Prior of York is probably based on Percy himself, who was later imprisoned in the Tower of London for his suspected association with the Gunpowder Plot.
From Act 1
(Enter Robert Earl of Huntington, leading Marian & c)
“This youth that leads yon virgin by the hand
(As doth the sunne, the morning richly clad)
Is our Earle Robert, or your Robin Hoode,
That in those daies, was Earle of Huntington.
The ill-fac’t miser, brib’d in either hand,
Is Warman, once the Steward of his house,
Who, Judas like, betraies his liberall lord
Into the hands of that relentlesse Prior,
Calde Gilbert Hoode, uncle to Huntington.”
It has been suggested by some scholars that by Munday omitting the Yorkshire Robin Hood settings from his hugely popular plays, due to his puritanical Protestantism, Sherwood became the common backdrop to all subsequent versions of the legend.
© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007