Herne the Hunter
The Whistling Arrows are certainly a multi-talented group! Particularly Mike. Many of us on Face Book (come and join us!) are now familiar with Mike’s beautiful paintings and Avalon has recently featured his work on her blog. But it is always a thrill to see another example of his art work, particularly when it is connected to our favourite outlaw and one of the most popular recent adaptions of the legend, Robin of Sherwood.
Above is Mike’s interpretation of Herne the Hunter, one of the central figures in Richard Carpenter’s scripts for the hugely successful and influential TV series of the 1980’s.
The series Robin of Sherwood started in 1984 and was made by Goldcrest for HTV. It first featured Michael Praed as Robin, the son of a peasant family murdered by the Normans. After being mistreated in early childhood, he makes common cause with a group of other young outcasts. But not before he is chosen for his role to lead resistance as ‘The Hooded Man’ by Herne the Hunter, a pagan shaman wearing stag’s antlers and living in a grove on an island in a lake.
When, in 1597, William Shakespeare set pen to parchment and wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor he had Mistress Page utter the lines below:
There is an old tale goes,
That Herne the hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv'd, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.
Despite this being the earliest written reference we have to the legend of Herne the Hunter, it is probable that Shakespeare was drawing on a much older local tradition, the origins of which lay with the Norse god, Odin (a leader of the wild hunt) and of the horned Celtic deity, Cernunnos. We know Shakespeare’s knowledge of folklore was considerable and that he seldom invents when he can refer to a genuine story. This was one of many innovations by Carpenter who inserted medieval magical realism along with Robin’s traditional battles with the Sheriff of Nottingham.
But the legend of Herne originally had no connection with Robin Hood or Sherwood Forest. In fact the various legends place him during the reign of Richard II (1377-1399) as a keeper of Windsor Forest in Berkshire. It was there that Herne was known for his great hunting and woodcraft skills. He was favoured after saving King Richard from being gored by a cornered white hart, but very badly injured himself. Later a mysterious dark figure, known as Philip Urswick appeared and promised the king that for a reward he will insure Herne recovered.
The king agreed and announced that if Herne lived, he would promote him to chief-keeper of Windsor Forest. So Urswick took him to his hut at Bagshot Heath and bound the antlers and skull of a stag to the dying Herne, prescribing plenty of rest. But the other game-keepers were jealous of Herne and made it known to Urswick that they wished that he had died of his injuries. So Urswick did a deal with the other keepers.
Herne recovered, (although the antlers remained permanent) returned to court and was promoted to chief game-keeper; Urswick meanwhile was rewarded by King Richard with gold and silver. But gradually Herne began to lose his hunting skills, much to the annoyance of the king who revoked the promotion. So bitterly ashamed Herne hung himself from a giant oak tree in Windsor Forest and his body mysteriously vanished during a thunderstorm.
Urswick never revealed the charm he put on Herne to the king and as each new chief-keeper was installed, they too lost their skills. Realising they would never get promotion, the game-keepers then begged Urswick to dispel the charm, which he agreed to on condition that they met him at the giant oak tree at midnight. When the keepers arrived at the oak tree Herne’s ghost appeared before them complete with his stag’s antlers. He ordered them to return the following night prepared for a hunt, which they did and when he reappeared he raced off, forcing them to chase him on horseback with their hounds, on and on through Windsor Forest.
But the game-keepers suddenly came to a halt when Urswick miraculously appeared before them. He demanded payment for stripping Herne of his game-keeping abilities. The payment would be that they had to join in Herne’s wild hunt forever.
So every night the hunt met at Herne’s Oak, riding forth with the horned ghost and raiding the forest taking deer until very few were left. King Richard was furious when he heard of their pursuits and decided to make a visit to the oak tree. Herne appeared to the king and learned of his anger at the state of his forest, but explained that he rode the hunt for vengeance. The king agreed to hang the game-keepers from that very oak tree on condition that Herne would haunt no more during his reign. The group of game-keepers were hung the next day.
Tradition says that Herne was not seen until after Richard II’s abdication in 1399 when once again he rode with the wild huntsman through the forest of Windsor collecting the souls of the dead. To this day the hunt is seen or heard in Windsor Forest and as far away as Cookham Moor and Huntercombe Manor which gets its name from the hunter.
One version of the legend warns:
Fly then, quickly make no stay,
For Herne the Hunter rides this way.
When Michael Praed grew tired of appearing in the series ‘Robin of Sherwood’, he was killed off and after memorial fire-arrows, it was left to the mystical Herne the Hunter to chose another face to fill the hood. But this time he was not a local from the destroyed village of Locksley but the upper-class Earl of Huntingdon, played by Jason Connery (son of Sean).
Labels: Robin Hood on TV