14. The Rescue

The townspeople had gathered outside the Sheriff’s house to watch the fate of poor Scathelok and Will Stutely, the poacher. Scathelok had been clapped in the stocks, but Stutely lay sewn up in the skin of the deer that he had dared to slay.

There was a murmur from the crowd when the Sheriff appeared, gazing down with satisfaction as the foresters moved about, busily preparing the torture.

“Hoist him up!” He ordered.

The foresters heaved on a rope that hauled up Will Stutely until he was swaying to and fro. There was a growl of disgust from the crowd which was quickly stifled. Two foresters then carried a burning brazier and set it below poor Will Stutely’s head. The Sheriff then watched with a evil smile as the stinging smoke irritated the poachers eyes and throat.

“Let this be a warning to evildoers that would flaunt our Midland laws! Begin!”

People began to scatter wildly as five horseman began to ride around the square, each striking in turn the hanging Stutely with their quarterstaffs.

“Shame!” Cried Scathelok desperately trying to see from the stocks, what was going on. But he was struck across the face by a forester and slumped down unconscious. This brought howls of protest from the local people.

But help was at hand. At the rear of the crowd a group of beggars and a palmer crouched down behind the deserted booths and waited for the horseman.

With Will Scarlet, Hawke, Cobly and Alfred, Robin rushed into the path of an encircling horseman and heaved him out of the saddle. Moments later the outlaw had rode into the square, whilst two more horseman were being unsaddled.

Merrie Christmas

I would like to wish all my readers a very merrie Christmas and I look forward to hearing from some of you in the new year!

This is how Robin, Marian and the outlaws might have enjoyed themselves at Christmas, taken from the ballad Robin Hood And Maid Marian :

A stately banquet they had full soon,

All in a shaded bower,

Where venison sweet they had to eat,

And were merrie that present hour.

Great flagons of wine were set on the board,

And merrily they drunk round

Their boules of sack, to strengthen the back,

Whilst their knees did touch the ground.

First Robin Hood began a health

To Marain his only dear,

And his yeoman all, both comly and tall,

Did quickly bring up the rear.

For in a brave vente* they tost off the bouls,

Whilst thus they did remain,

And every cup, as they drunk up,

They filled with speed again.

At last they ended their merriment,

And went to walk in the wood,

Where Little John and Maid Marian

Attended on bold Robin Hood.

In solid content together they liv’d,

With all their yeoman gay;

They liv’d by their hands, without any lands,

And so they did many a day.

But now to conclude, an end I will make

In time, as I think it good,

For the people that dwell in the North can tell

Of Marian and bold Robin Hood.

* brave vente: merry vein.


Whistling Arrows?

The use of whistling arrows, by Robin and his band of outlaws in Disney’s Story of Robin Hood, is a unique addition to the legend by Lawrence Edward Watkin. But not as far fetched as some might think.

In fact, although now hardly ever used, whistling arrows were invented probably by the Nomads of Central Asia around 1,500 years ago. They used the whistling arrows to enliven their celebration of bumper harvests and major festivals. The earliest literary Chinese reference to such an arrow is in the Historical Annals of Sima Quian and it was Miedun who made whistling arrows and drilled his troops in their use. He ordered that:

when the whistling arrow is fired, anyone who does not obey the person who fired it will be executed...

Arrow whistles and whistling arrows are in fact two separate objects and have separate uses. A whistling arrow has a sharp point and can be a lethal projectile. An arrow whistle has a whistle but no sharp point and is used mainly for signalling and can be made of bronze, iron, wood, bone or horn.

Mongolians often used arrow whistles during hunting, after they discovered that the sound of the arrow flying above the animal’s head, made it stop, giving time to loose a second conventional arrow for the kill.

But apart from hunting, the whistling arrow was primarily used for signalling and sending messages during battle, particularly amongst the Japanese, who would often tie small notes (called Ya-Burne) around the shaft of the arrow as it whined through the air. This sound that the whistling arrow made, was also used against the opposition as a form of psychological warfare during battle and the Japanese often would have their massed ranks of archers send off hundreds of whistling arrows, filling the sky with an eerie, threatening noise above the heads of the enemy. In Samurai times such whistling arrows were fired to signify the beginning of a battle. In Shinto archery rituals, whistling arrows are used to call upon the attention of the gods.

Whistling arrows were used in medieval Europe, although details of this are rather slim. But it is known that they were combined with barbed arrows during battle and targeted at the charging horses to send the animals into panic and confusion. Therefore disrupting the advancing knights.

© Clement of the Glen

Michael Hordern

Michael Murrey Hordern is one of the many delightfully talented actors that appeared in Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men. He was born on 3rd October 1911 at Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire in England, the son of Captain Edward Joseph Calverly Hordern of the Royal Indian Navy, and his wife Margaret Emily Murray. It was during his education at Brighton College that he developed a passion for acting, but his early years were spent as a schoolteacher and later as a travelling salesman, acting only in his spare time.

His first professional engagement on the stage came with the part of Ludovico in a production of Othello in 1937 at the Peoples Palace in East London. He later joined the repertory company of the Little Theatre in Bristol, where he met his future wife Grace Evelyn Mortimer. They were married in 1943 and later had one daughter, Joanna.

Hordern soon began to get bit parts in films, including a small part in The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938 with Errol Flynn, his first official movie debut came in Carol Reed’s Girl in the News a year later.

With the outbreak of WWII, his acting career was suspended as he served in the Royal Navy reaching the rank of Lieutenant Commander RNVR. But it soon resumed after the war as he continued to find work in all media. His remarkably smooth resonant voice and rather mournful face was utilized in in nearly twenty productions of the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, Stratford, at the Old Vic and West End. Two of his Shakespearean roles in particular, King Lear and Prospero, it is said, could have been written for him!

His extensive movie career ( he appeared in over a hundred films and nearly as many TV performances) include playing Marley’s Ghost with Alistair Sim in A Christmas Carol in 1951, Scathelok in Disney’s Story of Robin Hood in 1952 and Desmosthenes in Alexander the Great in 1956, Cicero in Cleopatra in 1963 and Baptista in Taming of the Shrew in 1967. His debut on American television came when his part in the Disney movie Dr Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh was shown on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colour in 1964 on NBC.

In the 1967 movie ,The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, Hordern played the role of a pathetic Kim Philby type and a year later he took the part of Thomas Boleyn in Ann Of A Thousand Days.

His distinctive, mellow voice was often used in narration, such as in the animated film Watership Down in 1978 and his work in radio resulted in his performance as Gandalf, in the BBC’s Lord of the Ring’s with Ian Holm and John Le Mesurier, becoming arguably the definitive version.

His finest film performance came in 1983 when he took on the role of a disillusioned journalist in England Made Me and this prolific, much loved character actor was finally rewarded with a knighthood for his services to theatre, that same year by Queen Elizabeth. Brighton College later named a room in his honour and had a bronze bust commissioned.

His versatility remained right up to his later years, appearing in movies, radio, theatre productions, television films and mini series and even an appearance in a pop video with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees in 1984!

In the final years of his remarkable life he moved to Dartmoor to enjoy his favourite hobby, fly fishing and became the narrator of the popular Children’s Television series Paddington Bear.

In 1993 he published his autobiography A World Elsewhere. He died in Oxford on May 2nd 1995 of kidney disease.

© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007

A Hold-Up At Robin's Camp

(Walt Disney with Ken Annakin on the set of Robin Hood)

After ten weeks of shooting The Story of Robin Hood, the film crew were sitting around, one day, waiting for the Special Effects men to fix four whistling arrows onto wires ( to make them fly into Robin’s camp) and disgruntled at the fact that the pay cheques had been delayed. When all of a sudden, the lowest assistant camera man, John Alcott (who later won an Oscar for his photography on Greystoke) began to parody a phrase that had just been used in a scene by Anthony Forwood as Will Scarlet:

Off with your kirtles, and on with your rags

Robin’s gone up to the office to sort out a breach,

And teach those Yankee bags

They must pay up or get out of reach!

The whole crew roared with laughter and began to chant the verse in unison. At that very moment Walt Disney, who had been holidaying in England with his family, walked into the studio completely unannounced with a very puzzled look on his face. He headed straight for the director, Ken Annakin and asked, “Something wrong? Why aren’t you shooting?”

Completely stunned, Annakin rather nervously explained the situation and held his breath while Disney turned away and thought carefully. Then suddenly he broke into a wide grin, put his hand to his mouth and yelled out, “Okay, fellas, I’ll go rob the rich and pay the poor. But for Pete’s sake, keep this show rolling. I’d like to come back to the UK with another one next year!”

To Annakin’s relief, Disney then moved on to see the latest rushes with his favourite art director, Carmen Dillon.

© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007

13. The Whistling Arrow

As soon as the Sheriff and his foresters had gone, the Palmer stepped grim faced out of the shadows. The Palmer was Robin Hood. He reached inside a hollow tree and took out a longbow and a quiver filled with arrows. The arrows were bright red and curiously made. Below the steel tip, the round head of the arrow was pierced with holes. Robin fitted one of these specially made arrows to his bow and fired it into the air. As the arrow gathered speed, the air rushing through the holes made an eerie shrill.

Deeper in the forest one of Robin’s men gazed up attentively as the red arrow screamed swiftly downwards. He quickly pulled it out of the ground and placing it on his bow, fired it towards the outlaws camp.

The arrows arrival sent the outlaws running from every corner of the camp. Will Scarlet pulled it out and turned to the band of men and said, “off with your kirtles and on with your rags, there’s a need for beggar men in Nottingham Square.”

The Whistling Arrow Arrives

Forest Law

“In the forests,” wrote Richard Fitz Nigel (d.1198) treasurer of Henry II, “are the secret places of the kings and their great delight. To them they go for hunting, having put off their cares, so that they may enjoy a little quiet. There, away from the continuous business and incessant turmoil of the court, they can for a little time breathe in the grace of natural liberty, wherefore it is that those who commit offences, there lie under the royal displeasure alone.”

When the Normans came to England, forest covered a third of the land, although gradual encroachment by the plough had already begun to take its toll. But the land did not have to be wooded to fall under Forest Law, many towns and villages were under jurisdiction and the whole of Essex at one time, was known as the King’s Forest of Essex.’

The strict forest laws, ‘in order to keep the peace of the king’s venison,’ caused a great deal of hardship for those that lived in or near the Royal Forest. Dead wood could be taken from the forest for fuel, but no bough was to be chopped down. No timber or undergrowth could be used for shelter and it was forbidden to carry a bow and arrow. Dogs kept within the forest had to be ‘lawed,’ which was defined in ‘The Forest Charter’ of 1215 as the cutting of three talons from the front foot without the pad.

The wild beasts protected by law were the red deer, the roe, the fallow deer and the wild boar. A favourite few were sometimes given special hunting privileges, but it was forbidden, even for them, to touch the red and small fallow deer.

During the reign of Richard I, Sherwood Forest was held by Prince John, who granted it to Ralph Fitz Stephen and his wife Maud de Caux. They were given the special privilege to hunt hare, fox, cat and squirrel.

This cabalistic verse indicates the four evidences by which according to feudal laws a man was convicted, (like Will Stutely in the movie) of deer stealing.

Dog Straw (drawing after a deer with a hound)

Stable Stand (caught with a bent bow)

Back Berond (carrying away the venison on his shoulder)

Bloody Hand (hand stained with blood).

Edward the Confessors ‘Red Book’ has the following caution:

Ommis homo abstrest a venariis meis, super poenam vitae.

(Let every man refrain from my hunting grounds on pain of death).

Administration of the Royal Forests was the responsibility of the chief forester and his wardens. These men were never popular and in a late ballad, Robin Hood’s Progress to Nottingham, Robin as a youth manages to kill fifteen foresters.

Some lost legs, and some lost arms,

And some did lose their blood;

But Robin hee took up his noble bow,

And is gone to the merry green wood.

They carried these foresters into fair Nottingham,

As many there did know;

The dig’d them graven in the church-yard

And they buried them all on a row.

Here we have an example of how the discontent and oppression caused by the harsh, merciless foresters were repaid in the ballad makers world. This ballad is not dealing with an historical incident, but we can be certain that it was the vain dream of many a poor man.

The forest laws were very harsh during the start of Norman rule, but with their financial problems, both Richard I and John were prepared to sell off certain areas of Royal Forest to wealthy nobles. Landowners paid King Richard 200 marks to release a large area of Surrey from Royal Forest and similarly, King John received 5,000 marks from Devon.

Three clauses in Magna Carta were forced upon King John, to lighten certain Forest Laws and the young king, Henry III had to agree to the Forest Charter of 1217 exacted by his barons. This charter redefined more clearly the Forest Laws and disaforested certain areas. It also limited the number of meetings held by the forest courts, which had become an administrative burden for those living near the forest. Archbishops, bishops, earls and barons were now given the right to take one or two deer during a journey through the forest and punishment for stealing venison was reduced from death and mutilation to a heavy fine, imprisonment followed by banishment.

This charter was not of course a final settlement and records of forest inquests reveal a vivid picture of the discontented attitude of the people during the thirteenth century:

(Thirteen people)…... and others of their company whose names are to be found out, hunted with bows and arrows all day in Rockingham Forest (in 1255) and killed three deer. They cut off the head of a buck and put it on a stake in the middle of a certain clearing………….placing in the mouth of the aforesaid head a certain spindle, and they made the mouth gape towards the sun in great contempt of the lord king and his foresters.

© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007

Bill Owen

Will Stutely is played memorably in Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men by the great multi-talented British character actor Bill Owen. This is a brief look at his fascinating career.

Born William Rowbotham in Acton Green, London on March 14th 1914, Bill knew from an early age what he wanted to do, he wanted to go on the stage. His father was a train driver and his mother a laundress and could not afford to send their talented son to drama school. So young William Rowbotham left school and became a printers apprentice, a job he hated.
His ambition to perform drove him into becoming a vocalist and he even started playing the drums for a local dance band. He toured the local music halls with a cabaret act, which later led to summer seasons at Butlins Holiday Camps.

With the money from this, he saved enough to start an acting course. His talents shone through and he soon gained respect as a talented stage producer at the Unity Theatre.

With the outbreak of World War II, Bill enlisted in the Royal Army Corps, where he reached the rank of lieutenant. But one day during battle training he was injured in an explosion and was forced back out into civilian life.
His acting skills now began to get noticed and his film career took off with.

‘The Way To The Stars’ (1945)
‘School of Secrets’ (1946)

In 1947 Bill signed for J. Arthur Rank Organisation and it was then that he was persuaded to change his name from Rowbotham to Owen. With this new name he took on the role of Bill Collins in his first film for Rank called When the Bough Breaks. This part established him in British cinema and a career of 46 film parts continued, including:

Once A Jolly Swagman (1948)
The Weaker Sex (1948)
The Gay Lady (1949)
The Story of Robin Hood (1952)
The Square Ring (1953)
The Ship That Died Of Shame (1955)

But Bill’s first love was the stage and he continued to perform in the theatre, with a memorable moment in his career playing Touchstone alongside Katherine Hepburn, in ‘As You Like It’ in New York.
His musical talents were called upon once again in a stint with Sadlers Wells in ‘The Mikado’ and in ‘Mac the Knife’ in ‘The Threepenny Opera.’ But his talent didn’t stop there. He enjoyed writing plays, songs, musicals and political revues. Bill was a active supporter of the Labour party and penned What’s Left? and Babes in the Wood.
Meanwhile, Bill was getting a semi-regular in the Carry On comedies usually playing cockneys.

Carry On Sergeant (1959)
Carry On Nurse (1959)
Carry On Regardless (1960)
Carry On Cabby (1963)

In the 1960’s Bill produced the stage musical The Matchgirl on the West End in London. He also became musically linked with Mike Sammes and together they wrote songs for Pat Boone, Harry Secombe and Engelbert Humperdinck.

Together with Mike Sammes, Bill’s biggest song writing success was ‘Marianne’ recorded by Sir Cliff Richard in 1968.

His early TV appearances included the BBC comedy ‘Taxi,’ starring Sid James, ‘Coppers End’ and ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads.’ But he will forever be remembered as the scruffy, welly-wearing Compo. A role he played for twenty years and over 200 episodes in the BBC’s record breaking Last of the Summer Wine.
He continued working up to his death from Pancreatic Cancer on July 12 1999. He was buried at St. John’s Church, Holmfirth in Yorkshire. A place used for filming ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and an area Bill had grown to love over the years.
In 1976 Bill had been awarded an MBE for his tireless work for the National Association of Boys Clubs and his role as Chairman of the Performing Arts Advisory Panel. He was also awarded an Honoury Degree in 1998.

© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007

Robin Hood History:The First Vision Of Robin Hood

It was Bishop Thomas Percy (1729-1811) who first brought to our attention the fact that it is in “The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman,” that we have our first literary reference to Robin Hood.

“Piers Plowman” is one of the most famous poems of the late fourteenth century and is written in the West Midland dialect, probably by William Langland (c. 1331- c.1400). It is an alliterative poem and survives in three versions, named the A, B and C texts. Robin Hood appears in the B text written about 1377.

The poet lies down to sleep among the Malvern Hills (between Herefordshire and Worcestershire):

Ac (But) on a May morwenyge, on Malverne hilles

Me Bifel a ferly (wonder) of Fairye me thoghte.

I was wery forwandred and wente me to rest

Under a brook bank by a bourne side;

And as I lay and lenede and loked on the waters

I slombred into a slepying, it swayed so murye (sounded so sweetly).

And in a series of three visions the Dreamer describes the abuses and sufferings of the age, he sees Reason preach a sermon to the people and denounce the political causes in short, sharp accusing verse. To these people, Piers (Peter), a simple countryman offers to take them on a pilgrimage to find Truth.

‘Pardon and penance and prayer, may well save souls on the Last Day’, he concludes, but the best passport of all is do/well.

After Reason’s sermon, characters representing the seven deadly sins repent. The seventh character is Sloth, who had been a parson for thirty years, but is ignorant of Latin and all religious matters. He is described as all beslobbered with two slimy eyen and it is he who does not know his Paternoster (the Lord’s prayer in Latin), but knows rhymes of Robin Hood and Randolph Earl of Chester:

If I shulde deye bi this day me liste noughte to loke,

I can noughte perfitly my pater-noster as the prest it syngeth

But I can rymes of Robyn hood and Randolf erle of Chestre,

Ac neither of owre lorde ne of owre lady the leste that evere was made.

This is a benchmark in any historical quest for Robin Hood and gives us our first firm indication of the popularity of the outlaw in fourteenth century England. In a literary context, Robin is linked by Langland with Randolf Earl of Chester, who is generally believed to be the third warrior baron of that name who joined Richard I in the siege of Nottingham in 1194 and appears in the prose romance Fouke le Fitz Waryn in which Randolf assists King John in the capture of the outlaw Fulk Fitzwarin.

The author of ‘Piers Plowman’ is probably William Langland, a mysterious character. He appears to have been a native of the Western Midlands, possibly born in Cleobury Mortimer in Shropshire and was probably educated at the Benedictine, Great Malvern Priory. His father was either a franklin or a farmer. Langland took minor orders but never became a priest. He later moved to London, where his ‘tall, thin, protesting figure,’ eked out a living, surviving by reciting prayers and verses and copying legal documents. Over sixty copies of Langland’s Piers Plowman survive, which is testimony to its popularity during the Middle Ages.

In his book “The Ballad Hero: Robin Hood” Joseph Hunter (1783-1861) describes the mention of Robin Hood by William Langland as:

…..testimony of the highest importance, it proves beyond all controversy the popularity of the ballads among the common people in the reign of Edward III and it seems also to prove, that in that reign, the outlaw was regarded as an actual person who had a veritable existence. Just as Randulf Earl of Chester was a real person.

© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007

12. Caught Red Handed

But further down the forest road another group of foresters were dragging and beating a captive towards the Sheriff.

“Another poacher?” He asked.

“Caught red handed, sire, shooting the king’s fallow deer.” The head forester boasted.

“I had no other meat,” Will Stutely said simply. “To pay the tax to graze my swine, I sold my calf. For the tax to build a sheepfold I sacrificed my pigs. And when you foresters ate me out of house and home, while taxing me for gathering hazel nuts, I fared into the forest and killed a deer…..”

The head forester pulled out a knife, “shall I give him his ears to eat?”

“Nay,” said the Sheriff, “use your knife on the deer. Bring me the hide to Nottingham and this carrion with it.”