Occasionally I have reviewed books connected in some way to the Robin Hood legend - the last one was Elizabeth Chadwick's excellent Lords of the White Castle. This week I finished Lords of the Greenwood, by Chris Thorndycroft, and it is another novel I highly recommend.
The earliest surviving Robin Hood ballads place the outlaw not just in Sherwood Forest, but also further north, in Barnsdale,Yorkshire. In the nineteenth century the antiquarian and first assistant keeper of the public record office, Joseph Hunter (1783-1861), made several groundbreaking discoveries. These included identifying the location of the 'Sayles' mentioned in the 'Geste of Robyn Hode' (c.1450) and linking the king's search for the outlaw, with the progress made by King Edward II in 1323. But this was not all. Remarkably, Hunter discovered in Edward's accounts for this period, a 'Robyn Hode', porter of the king's chamber. He then went on to try and link a Robert Hood of Wakefield with the Robin Hood in the kings chamber accounts. Hunter's discoveries were hailed as a tremendous success and still remain fascinating and controversial today.
Robin Hood's links to Yorkshire have provided a fresh backdrop to the legend for many authors. And, in my opinion, the most innovative have been 'Hodd' by Adam Thorpe (2009), 'Robin Hood' by Carola Oman (1949) and 'Wolf's Head' by Steven A. McKay (2013). Now 'Lord's of the Greenwood' can be added to this list.
Chris Thorndycroft has taken a unique approach, by weaving together the stories of two men - the 13th Century outlaw Roger Godberd, (whom some believe inspired the legend of Robin Hood) and the 14th Century Robert Hood of Wakefield. The link is Stephen de Wasteneys, a previous member of Godberd's notorious gang. In later years, he becomes a member of Hood's and provides a link between the two, cleverly blending the stories of these possible contenders for the original Robin Hood.
The book starts with young Robert Hood of Wakefield, wrongly accused of murder and finding himself outlawed, along with his bitter enemy, Will Shacklock. Gradually, as the Earl of Lancaster's rebellion of 1320 sends the country into turmoil, their animosity heals. Meanwhile, more and more people join the outlaws in Barnsdale, including old Stephen de Wastenys.
By the evening camp fire, de Wasteney's tells of his exploits with Roger Godberd at Nottingham Castle during the barons bloody revolt against King Henry III, led by Simon de Montfort. After betrayal, Godberd and his men are outlawed and seek sanctuary in Sherwood Forest, constantly hunted by the Sheriff.
Meanwhile, Lancaster is caught and beheaded. The rebellion is over and Robert Hood's exploits in Barnsdale, draw the attention of King Edward II. They are eventually given an ultimatum, enter the king's service or be hanged.
Thorndycroft's novel runs to 669 pages and is a rollicking good read. It captures the spirit of the early ballads, particularly with the sinister Guy of Gisburn:
"I must say, you come highly recommended," the sheriff told the man, not knowing why he felt the urge to flatter him. There was something unnerving about the man that suggested he should be kept on good terms.
"I'm a hunter," said the man, wiping his mouth on a dirty sleeve,"and I keep hunting until I get my kill."
With looming tension and darkness, the final chapters of the book also closely follow the ballad tradition. So, if you are interested in his legend, get this book and enjoy the gritty exploits of two historical Robin Hood's for the price of one!