A Mery Geste of Robyn Hoode

This is the title-page of William Copeland's edition of the 'Mery Geste of Robyn Hoode' printed in about 1560.

Nottingham Castle 1068-1100

Nottingham Castle is an important element in Walt Disney’s live-action film, ‘The Story of Robin Hood’. As Helen Phillips explains in her paper ‘Forest, Town and Road’ -for the lectures on ‘Robin Hood in Popular Culture,' -the castle, with its massive size and impregnability, gained new prominence with the advent of film, partly because of its potential for sheer visual impact and also because it offered new special theatricality through the shift to visual narrative. This is certainly the case in the Douglas Fairbanks silent version in 1922, the Michael Curtiz classic of 1938 and of course the ‘Story of Robin Hood’ in 1952.

In the planning stages for Disney’s motion picture, Ken Annakin, Carmen Dillon, Perce Pearce and other members of the production team, spent three days with the great man himself, in Sherwood Forest and Nottinghamshire. They looked over many of the sights associated with the outlaw, but Disney was disappointed, (like so many tourists) to see many of the castles of the midlands in ruins. Nottingham Castle was almost completely destroyed with gunpowder and pick, during the Civil War of 1642-1660. All that remains today for visitors to see, is an outer portion of the barbican, used as an entrance, a small portion of the walls of the outer ballium and the base of what was known as Richard’s Tower. So art director Carmen Dillon recommended the up and coming matte artist, Peter Ellenshaw to work on creating medieval Nottingham and its castle for Disney’s live-action motion picture.

So what was the real Nottingham Castle like?

During the summer of 1068, William the Conqueror (pictured above) rode north to deal with a Saxon rebellion. He stopped at Nottingham to assess its strategic value and decided to build a castle on the huge rocky red sandstone, above the meadows of the River Trent. He left William Peveril instructions for a motte and bailey type castle to be built, ‘in a style that was unknown before’, on the 130 ft high rock. The tower of which would be in an impregnable position.

Nottingham Castle is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, but this may have been due to a delay in construction because of ‘opposition from the men of Nottingham.’ When William re-visited Nottingham a year later the townsmen had been forced into subjection and were compelled to assist in building the new fortress with a handful of Norman supervisors. Peveril was rewarded for his services with a ‘fief’ known as ‘the Honour of Nottingham’ made up from lands in six shires including Sherwood Forest and the Peak.

Castles were unknown in England before the Norman Conquest in 1066. But within five years of the Battle of Hastings, thirty castles were built across the country. The motte, a high mound usually constructed from the earth dug out of the deep surrounding ditch, was constructed on the highest part of the rock. On it would be wooden buildings and perhaps, a wooden watch tower or keep. Below the motte, to the north, was the bailey similarly enclosed by a wooden palisade on an earth rampart. Curling around to the south of the palisade of wooden stakes was the River Leen, which had probably been diverted as an additional form of defence, to supply the garrison with water and power the Castle’s mills.

The building would have been probably two or three storeys high and reached by an exterior stairway or wooden ladder. The first floor would have included the Great Hall, sleeping quarters and living rooms of the Lord, including the chapel. But, because the first Nottingham Castle was constructed mainly of wood, cooking would have been done outside as a
fire precaution.

The location for a castle at Nottingham, was ideal for two reasons. First because the rock provided an easily defensible site dominating the country around, including the Saxon town huddled around St. Mary’s Church in what is now the Lace market. Second, Nottingham was on the main road between London and the North and was also only a mile from the River Trent, the dividing line between the North and South of England, so it could be easily supplied and reinforced. Because of its ideal situation, Nottingham castle became the principal royal fortress in the Midlands for five centuries.

The local population would have been forced to build their Conqueror’s castle in whatever materials were available. The rock provided a natural motte or mound and the original walls enclosing the bailey’s or yards, though probably being of wood, may have been supplemented by stone dug out of the surrounding ditch. In the highest part of the Castle, the upper bailey, were rooms and a watch tower. Beyond, to the north, was another bailey, the Middle Bailey. This was enclosed by a palisade placed on the top of a rampart formed by the sand excavated from the surrounding new moat. Subjugation of the local population was completed by the building of a new Norman Town in the shadow of the castle with its own market place-the present Market Square. Land was also taken to the west of the castle to make a park, which would be stocked with deer to provide food and sport, whilst to the south, the King’s Meadow would be used for grazing.

Because the motte was natural rock it would not be necessary to wait for the ground to settle before building high stone walls and towers on its summit. If these walls were not originally built of stone they may have been by the reign of Henry I (1100-35). These great stone walls with towers rising as it were, from the very rock itself and visible for miles in every direction, must have awed the local population. Below it to the north were the palisade walls of the Middle Bailey (now the Castle Green) and beyond them to the north and east more land was enclosed to form the Outer Bailey, though exactly when this was first enclosed we do not know.

© Clement of the Glen 2008

Peter Ellenshaw

The images above are taken from a book on the Disney artist Peter Ellenshaw, sent to me by Neil Vessey. It shows a frame from the high camera shot of Nottingham Square in The Story of Robin Hood, before and after Ellenshaw’s magical matee work. It is a fine example of not only the huge talent of this wonderful artist, but what could be achieved before the age of computer generated imagery.

The Riddle Of Robin Hood

About a year ago I discovered Ken Polsson’s highly informative website ‘Chronology of the Walt Disney Company.’ It was whilst browsing through his comprehensive lists of Disney’s historical landmarks and films that I first discovered, under the year 1952, a mention of ‘The Riddle of Robin Hood.’ It simply said-under, month unknown, “Disney releases the film The Riddle of Robin Hood for promotional use [501.470].” I immediately emailed Ken, but he later confessed that he knew very little else. So I put an appeal on this website in September 2007 for anyone that might have seen this mysterious film.

In January an anonymous message appeared under my posting of Hubert Gregg, informing me that they had a copy of the film in their possession and left an email address. It was Neil Vessey, who went on to kindly describe in great detail, scenes from this very rare black and white 13 minute film. I could hardly contain my excitement and when he later went on to post eight images taken from the film, I was ‘over the Moon!’ (A picture from the Riddle of Robin Hood taken by Neil, of Walt Disney and Perce Pearce can be seen above). This is seeing cinematic history at its very best and makes working on this blog so worthwhile.

Neil described to me, how this unique footage, firstly shows Walt Disney in his studio office at Denham, talking to Perce Pearce the producer of the film and Lawrence Edward Watkin the writer of the screenplay. It also shows some ‘still shots' of their ‘fact finding’ visit to Nottingham with Richard Todd (described on this web site under ‘Film Production’) in 1951. There are clips of Richard Todd (Robin Hood) and one of the ‘merrie men,' being driven, by open car to the set. Later two more of the ‘outlaws’ arrive on bikes and possibly Martitia Hunt (Queen Eleanor) on a motorbike! They all make their way over a bridge, close to where Friar Tuck’s dog is later filmed attacking the sheriff.

Friar Tuck’s dog is also shown with its trainer, while the camera crew film Peter Finch, as the Sheriff of Nottingham, running through the river. Richard Todd in his full costume, can be seen practising the quarter staff fight with former Champion at Arms, Rupert Evans and their is even a clip of the lovely Joan Rice (Maid Marian) leaving her house in Denham and cycling to the studios. Carmen Dillon, the set designer, is also shown at Denham Studios, with models of the castle and drawbridge explaining to Walt Disney how those particular scenes would later be filmed.

In one clip, Ken Annakin, the director of the movie, is arranging the dramatic shot of King Richard’s departure for the Crusades, also Guy Green is shown being pushed along on one of the massive Technicolor cameras, filming the climatic scene in which Robin Hood (Richard Todd) leads the Sheriff (Peter Finch) at knife point towards the castle’s drawbridge. Fascinating stuff!

If only Disney could release ‘The Riddle of Robin Hood’ and The Story of Robin Hood’ together!

A very special thank you goes out to Neil Vessey.

And if any one else has information, or memories of this production or Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood, and its cast members, please get in touch at :

Robin Hood And His Merrie Men

“Mother!” called a small lad, as he came into the house after a morning’s wandering in the forest.
“Is dinner ready?”

So begins the book, Robin Hood and his Merrie Men published by Dean & Son Ltd. of Ludgate Hill, London, printed sometime in the mid to late 1960’s by Purnell And Sons of Paulton in Somerset. It does not identify an author. But this was the first book I owned and was the start of my life long interest in the legend.

With Richard Greene’s series, The Adventures of Robin Hood, shown weekly on our old black and white television-along with regular airings of Errol Flynn’s classic movie version and Robert and Elizabeth Taylor in Ivanhoe- this young outlaw spent many happy summer holidays with his friends, camping in the local woods, re-enacting sword fights with wooden sticks and dustbin lids for shields. And, of coarse, organising archery contests, with some rather primitive looking bows and arrows!

A few years later The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men was shown at my local Granada cinema, accompanying The Love Bug. I will never forget sitting there completely enthralled with Disney’s live-action version of the outlaw tale. The colour- the story-the characters– the action and of course Joan Rice, totally captivated me. When I got home I begged my parents if I could have some more money to go and watch it again! They eventually relinquished and so began my love of the film and my research into the fascinating legend that inspired it.

Under the label Clement's Collection I will start to list some of the books that I have acquired over the years for my research into the Robin Hood legend and recommend to the reader. Books from Disney’s Story of Robin Hood will eventually be in the Memorabilia section.

The Crooked Stick

In modern images of ‘Robin Hood’, the outlaw cannot be separated from his so-called ‘longbow’. But the terms ‘longbow’ nor ‘longbowman’ were never in contemporary use (the term is first used in the Paston letters of the fifteenth century) and there has been an erroneous belief that the bow used in the Hundred Years War was some revolutionary new development which assured the English victories at Crecy (1346), Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415). As Robert Hardy explains in his excellent book, ‘Longbow’:

A longbow is only a bow that is long rather than short.

Although details are partly obscure and controversial, it is now almost certain that the bow, used throughout the Hundred Years War, had been used in basically the same form, from the time of the Celtic tribes in Britain up to the time of the Anglo-Saxons and the Norman Conquest.

A Saxon riddle gives us an insight into the use of an early bow:

“Wob’s my name, if you work it out;
I’m a fair creature fashioned for battle.
When I bend, and shoot a deadly shaft
From my stomach, I desire only to send
That poison as far away as possible.
When my lord, who devised this torment for me,
Releases my limbs, I become longer
And bent upon slaughter, spit out
That deadly poison I swallowed before.
No man’s parted easily from the object
I describe; if he’s struck by what flies
From my stomach, he pays for its poison
With his strength-speedy atonement for his life.
I’ll serve no master when unstrung, only when
I’m cunningly notched. Now guess my name.”

The Vikings and Saxons had a general disregard for the bow as a weapon of war though, preferring the axe or spear. But the bow was often used for hunting and in small skirmishes. The Viking bow was made from yew, ash or elm and appears in many of their sagas and poems. In the Viking tale Brennu-Njals it describes how Gunnar was able to kill ten men before his bow string was cut by his attackers.

The reason there are very few references to ‘bows’ in surviving Saxon records might be because a single word describes both a throwing spear and arrows. But in the Saxon song about the battle of Maldon in 991 there is the line ‘bogan waeron bysige,’ ‘bows were busy’. Hole House in Branscombe Devon is said to have been built by Simon de Holcombe a Saxon bowman who fought at the Battle of Hastings. But at the time of the Norman Conquest, it seems that very few archers were employed in Anglo-Saxon military service-although William the Conqueror took Norman bowman to England in 1066 and they seem to have been more effective. Nine archers can be seen in the lower border of the Bayeux Tapestry with large bows and Henry of Huntingdon and the Bayeux Tapestry hold that the Saxon king Harold was killed when shot in the eye by a Norman arrow.

Richard the Lionheart preferred the use of the crossbow during his Crusade in the Holy Land, although the weapon had incurred the wrath of the Pope who issued an edict forbidding the weapon, describing it as ‘hateful to God.’ But Richard I continued to favour its use in his army and when he was shot by a cross bow bolt during the siege of Challus in 1199, many believed it to be God’s vengeance on him for ‘wicked use of the evil instrument.’

Henry II did not mention ‘bows’ in his Assize of Arms in 1181, but evidence suggests that he did use them in his armies. It might well be that the authorities hesitated to recommend the keeping of a bow in every poor freeman's cottage because of the very strong temptation to employ it for poaching!

But the English continued to use the standard bow and while continental armies continued to adopt the crossbow in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the English bowman achieved several successes, notably at the Battle of the Standard in 1138. It was here that King Stephen’s English knights fought on foot and aided by a large body of archers made havoc of the charging Scottish line.

During Henry II’s Irish campaigns many Anglo-Norman archers were used, led by the legendry Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke (b.c.1130-d.1176) and his Welsh bowman. Like his father, Richard was given the nickname ‘Strongbow’ (first recorded in Tintern Abbey in 1223) because of his legendry strength and ability with a bow. He quite possibly learnt this skill from the tenants of his earldom.

In the chronicles of Ralph, Earl of Hereford (d.1257) there is a description of the Saxon horseman being ambushed by Welsh archers that shot so accurately and strongly that ‘the English people fled’ and in the traditional but controversial history of the bow, it holds that sometime during the thirteenth century in South Wales (another school of thought suggest that the ‘longbow’ was Scandinavian in origin) the English encountered a longer version of the bow (about the same size as the archer). With its string drawn to the ear instead of the chest, it gave the archer the ability to fire armour piercing arrows over a distance of about 200 meters.

During the siege of Abergavenny Castle in 1182 the chronicler Gerald of Wales repeatedly describes the men of Monmouth as being more skilled in archery than any other Welshman. He describes how Welsh arrows had penetrated an oak door:

“Two soldiers ran over a bridge to take refuge in one of the castle towers. Welsh archers, shooting from behind them, drove their arrows into the oak door of the tower with such force that the arrowheads penetrated the wood of the door which was nearly a hand thick; and the arrows were preserved in that door as a memento.”

But even before his first Welsh war in 1277 Edward had picked a special force of 100 archers, unmixed with spearmen from his own lands in Macclesfield. They served from the first day of the war, which broke out later in that year, to the very last at the then extraordinary wage of 3d per day, when the rate for mounted lances was 1s and for infantrymen 2d a day. Longshank’s handpicked bowman with two other archer battalions from Gwent and Crickhowell were the start of a significant change in English strategy and tactics.

Edward I undoubtedly discovered, during the Welsh wars, the virtues of archery in attack to break up a defensive infantry formation and also its power in defence when based on array of dismounted knights and men at arms.

In the Pipe Rolls of 1277/8 a detailed budget exists showing payments by King Edward I to crossbowman, archers and spearman between July 18th and November 10th of £4,762. Other payments to archers-not including gifts– amounted to about £400.

At the battle of Orewin Bridge, near Builth in 1282, when Prince Llewelyn was surprised and killed; King Edward’s army had advanced against them with archers interposed with cavalry. The arrows inflicted such a heavy loss on the Welsh troops that it caused them to loosen their cohesion and the English cavalry were able to ride them down. The Earl of Warwick later used similar tactics during the battle at Maes Maydog near Conway in 1295, when the archers ‘intermingled with the horse.’ Amongst his army, the Earl of Warwick had used mainly English bowman.

But, it was the English victory against William Wallace at Falkirk in 1298, that is often used a benchmark in the evolution of archers in battle. It was here that King Edward’s 10,000 bowman (made up mainly of Welsh, a ratio of three archers to one mounted man-at arms) took a dreadful toll on the closely packed Scottish infantry. As the gaps in the ranks increased from the ceaseless hail of arrows, Longshank’s cavalry were able to crash their way through the crumbling ranks of Scottish pikemen. No English commander could fail to be impressed or to see the tactical lesson that had been set out before him.

So it seems certain that King Edward I had learned the military importance of the bow. This simple piece of mechanism finally became a recognised military arm of great importance to England. Cavalry was helpless against well-trained archers. Edward in his Statute of Winchester (1285) insisted that ‘all persons with an income of less than a 100 pence in land were to possess a bow and arrows and practice on Sundays and Holidays.’ Attitudes towards the humble bow had changed. It had become an ‘invincible’ weapon’ in the hands of a skilled archer and gradually gave rise to a new class of bowman-the yeoman archer and what the French ruefully called his ‘crooked stick.’

© Clement of the Glen 2008

Alan-a-Dale Lieth Beside The Fountain

This is just a wonderful illustration by Howard Pyle, taken from his classic book, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883).
(To see all posts about Alan-a-Dale please click on the label marked Alan-a-Dale in the right-hand panel or below.)

Joan Rice as Maid Marian

This is an excerpt from ‘And The “Reel” Maid Marian’, a paper by Sherron Lux on the character and role of the various Maid Marion’s on the silver screen over the years. Sherron reaches the conclusion, of course, that Joan Rice’s portrayal of Maid Marian, is one of the best of all time.............

"......Joan Rice’s Marian is vital to Ken Annakin’s 1952 film for Walt Disney, misleadingly called ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’; it is Marian’s story, as well, because without her, only about half the story would be left. Joan Rice gives us a bright, spunky young Lady Marian, faithful daughter of the Earl of Huntingdon, and loyal friend to her childhood companion Robin Fitzooth (Richard Todd); though he is the son of her fathers head forester, she eventually falls in love with him despite the social barriers. However, Rice’s Marian has a distinctly independent turn of mind. She defies the Queen Mother’s orders and slips out of the castle disguised in a page-boy’s livery, seeking out her friend Robin, who has become an outlaw in Sherwood Forest. Her actions ultimately help prove that Robin and his outlaws are King Richard’s real friends and that Prince John is a traitor. This independent turn of mind in Joan Rice’s Marian stands in sharp contrast to her later and better-known Disney counterpart, the vixen in the popular 1973 animated feature 'Robin Hood' directed by Wolfgang Reitherman. Although beautiful and charming, the vixen Marian is actually a rather passive little lady (again, King Richard’s ward); almost obsessed with marriage and children, she never makes a decision on her own, and the story would work just as well without her. Unlike Rice’s Marian, then, the vixen Marian never claims agency for herself. Perhaps this second Disney Marian is a subtle slap in the face of the women’s movement, which was gaining momentum in the early 1970’s, while Joan Rice’s 1952 Britain-filmed Marian could be depicted as somewhat independent.
Recently, Disney released the 1952 live-action film in its limited-edition, budget-priced classics series of videotapes, so perhaps more people will get to know Joan Rice’s lively, independent-minded Lady Marian; or perhaps not, as Disney does not spend major advertising dollars on budget-priced limited edition releases."

Sherron Lux

(To see all posts about Joan Rice please click on the label marked 'Joan Rice' in the right-hand panel or below).