Joan Rice

Special thanks to Mike for sending in one of my favourite pictures of Joan Rice (1930-1997). Joan was hand-picked by Walt Disney to play Maid Marian in his live-action movie the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). She was always proud of the fact that she was Disney's first Maid Marian and this blog is dedicated to her memory.

There are now over 62 pages about the life and career of Joan Rice, to read more please click here.

Hubert Gregg

Hubert Gregg as Prince John

Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952) had a wonderful array of talented actors and production crew. But it wasn't until I started looking into the life of the actor who played the sneering Prince John, (Hubert Gregg 1914-2004) that I was astonished to discover that he wrote one of the most iconic songs of all-time.

In a varied career of over 70 years, Gregg was not only an established actor, but also an author, songwriter, director and radio presenter.

There are many images and posts about his life on this blog.  So to read more about his memories of making Robin Hood and his multi-talented career just click on the label Hubert Gregg.

The song sheet of Maybe It's Because... by Hubert Gregg

Danish Robin Hood and his Merrie Men Poster

I discovered this striking poster  of our film on the web recently. It seems to date from the Danish release of the movie in 1952 and is unlike any of the others I have seen before-the colouring is most unusual.

To see a collection of posters and prints promoting Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men, please click here.

Richard the Lionheart's Siege of Nottingham Castle.

Robin Hood  kneels before Richard the Lionheart

Although Richard I does not appear in the existing medieval ballads of Robin Hood, it was only a matter of time before the two legendary characters came together in English myth. Today, Richard the Lionheart and Robin Hood are now inseparable in countless film and television productions of the outlaws adventures in Sherwood Forest. The Lionhearted king has always had a fascination for me and particularly his siege of Nottingham Castle in 1194. It was during this period in Richard's return to England that we come closest to the moment when the two legendary characters 'might' have met.

Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart.

Due to the unrest at home and the threat to his lands in Normandy, caused by his brother John's alliance with Philip of France, Richard uncharacteristically had to turn his back on the Crusade in the Holy Land and return to England. Unfortunately his journey home was a disaster, culminating in his capture and imprisonment by Duke Leopold of Austria in December 1192. The Duke then sold Richard to Henry VI Emperor of Germany in March 1193. Meanwhile his trecherous brother Prince John, toured England, telling anyone that would listen that, King Richard was dead.

On Richard's departure to the Holy Land, John had not been given Nottingham Castle as part of his estates. But it was partly re-built in stone and held by Prince John  along with several others,when news reached England of Richard's imprisonment  and ransom  of 150,000 marks (£100,000). This huge sum was twice the annual revenue of the English crown. Although, as Richard was master of the provences of the Angevin empire, the sum would eventually not only come from England, but also Normandy, Britanny and Aquitaine.

John had offered the Emperor 80,000 marks to keep Richard I imprisoned until Michaelmas, or a proportionate sum for every month he kept him captive beyond it. But the Holy Roman Emperor stood by his word and Philip sent a message to his ally, Prince John, "have a care, the devil is un-loosed." The Lionheart was a free man again, having been captive for one year, six weeks and three days. It was said that the castellan of St. Michaels Mount in Cornwall dropped dead of fright when he heard of Richard's return. Immedialtely Prince John escaped to France and lay low in Normandy.

King John

On the 20th March 1194, King Richard landed in Sandwich in Kent, from where he hastened to Canterbury, declaring that he did not want to visit any other church in England until he had visited the seat of St.Thomas Beckett. He then made his way to London via Rochester where a thanksgiving service was held in St.Paul's Cathedral. After two days in London the Lionheart then rode north to Nottingham to deal with his brother. While Richard was on his way back to England, the great Council had declared all Prince John's estates forfeit and the assembled bishops excomunicated him.

Richard reached Nottingham on 25th March, "with such a vast multitude of men, and such a clangor of trumpets and clarions, that those who were in the castle were astonished and confounded and alarmed, and trembling came upon them, but still they did not believe that the king had come and supposed that the whole of this was done by the chiefs of the army for the purpose of decieving them. The king, however,took up his quarters next to the castle, so that the archers of the castle pierced the kings men at his very feet. The king being incensed with this put on his armour, and commanded his army to make an assault on the castle. "
(Roger de Hovenden, Itinerarium Regis Ricardi ).

Richard's effigy in Fontevrault, France

Ralph Murdoc and William de Wendeval were holding the castle in Prince John's name and refused to surrender.

The siege had already been started by William Earl of Ferrers, David Earl of Huntingdon (the brother of William the Lion, king of Scots) and Randulf Earl of Chester. This is peculiar because the legend of Robin Hood not only links him with the earldom of Huntingdon but also with Randulf Earl of Chester ( 'Piers Plowman' c.1377).

David, Earl of Huntingdon, took part in Richard's coronation and shortly afterwards married the sister of Randulf Earl of Chester.

King Richard according to some sources arrived with just a few hours of daylight left and as he stood watching the siege, two of those next to him were suddenly hit by arrows.The Lionheart ordered an immediate assault. Such were his military talents that by dusk the wooden gateway to the outer bailey and the barbican had been captured and burnt. But the defenders lay secure behind the high stone walls of the middle bailey and during the night deliberately burnt down some buildings.

Clothed in a simple coat of light mail, with a steel cap on his head, he [Richard] advanced as far as the gate of the castle, preceded by men bearing before them large shields. 

Nottingham Castle

The next day Richard ordered  Master Elias of Oxford to bring stone throwing engines from London.The king decided not to make another assault on the castle till the machines were ready. Meanwhile he hung from gibbets, in full view of the defenders, some men at arms captured outside of the castle. He also summoned the Archbishop of Canterbury to excommunicate the defenders. 

On the following day the Bishop of Durham brought additional forces and prisoners from nearby Tickhill Castle. 
But while the king was at dinner:

Ralph Murdac and William de Wendeval, constables of Nottingham Castle, sent two of their companions to see the king; who after having seen him, returned to the castle, to tell those who had sent them what they had seen and heard respecting the king and his preperations. When William de Wendeval and Roger de Montbegum heard of this, they went forth with twelve others from the castle, and threw themselves at the king's mercy, and returned to the castle no more.
(Roger de Hovenden, Itinerarium Regis Ricardi)

 But, it was not until the third day of the siege, and the mediation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, that the defenders were persuaded to surrender:

Ralph Murdac, Philip de Worcester and Ralph de Worecester his brother, and all the rest who  were in the castle, surrendered the castle to the king, and threw themselves on the king's mercy, for life and limb and worldly honour.
(Roger de Hovenden)

Medieval Nottingham

The gates were opened and Richard entered the castle. Three days later, a Royal Council was held in the main hall. Richard sat between the two archbishops. The Queen Mother also attended the debate, which was to last for four days. They finally reached the decision to call upon Prince John to appear and answer the charges of treason whithin forty days. But due to the inter-cession of their mother, the feuding brothers were eventually reconciled.

On Palm Sunday, Richard rode off into Sherwood Forest to enjoy two days at the royal hunting lodge in Clipstone.

Roger of Hoveden in his Itinerarium Regis Ricardi, says:

Richard King of England did a view (perambulation) of Clipstone and Sherwood which of he had never seen before and it pleased him much.

We get more detail of Richard's trip by John Manwood (d.1610) in his Treatise of the Forest Laws:

“I have seen many ancient records in the tower of Nottingham Castle very badly kept, and scarce legible; in which Castle the Court is usually kept for Peverill-Fee: Amongst which it appears, that in the year 1194, King Richard being hunting in Sherwood Forest, did chase a hart out of the forest into Barnsdale into Yorkshire; and because he could not recover him, he made a proclamation at Tickhill in Yorkshire, and at several other places thereabout, that no person should kill, hurt or chase the said Hart; and this was afterwards called a Hart-Royal Proclaim’d.”

Sherwood Forest

Richard then returned back to Nottingham.  Sadly, we have no more information about his time amongst the beautiful glades of Sherwood and whether he met a certain outlaw in Lincoln Green. But the legend lives on.

The Mystery of Robin Hood's Grave

The sad state of 'Robin Hood's Grave' today.

Along with Sherwood and Barnsdale, it is Kirklees that has one of the strongest links with the Robin Hood legend. It is in the tiny priory that existed in Yorkshire, ballads and legend state that the outlaw was killed and buried.

'I will never eate nor drinke,' Robin Hood said,
'Nor meate will doo me noe good,
Till I have beene att merry Church Lees,
My vaines for to let blood.'

(Robin Hoode his Death c.1500)

We have looked at the history of Kirklees Priory in previous posts and I have been intending to carry on with an investigation of Robin Hood's Grave for quite some time.What I did discover, as I eventually began to try and piece together the existing facts, was an historical nightmare!

A Joan Kyppes was the last prioress of Kirlees and on the 24th November 1539 she surrendered the priory during the Dissolution at the value of £29.8s. 2d.  It had contained eight nuns.

Shortly after the Dissolution the Armytage family came into the possession of the hall at Kirklees, which was constructed with the stone from the original nunnery.

John Leland (1506-52) Antiquary to Henry VIII had spent six years on a tour of England collecting material for his Collectanea (1540) and in 1534 he visited Kirlees. Not only was Leland the first person to describe the outlaw as a noble, but he also describes seeing:

The monastery of Kirkley where the famous noble outlaw Robin Hood is buried.

It was Edward VI's printer, Richard Grafton (1507-73) in c.1562, that first mentioned a 'stone set up over his [Robin Hood's] grave.' He says in his Itinery of Britain:

"......afterwards troubled with siknesse came to a certain nunry in Yorkshire called Birklies [Kirklees] where desyring to be let blood, he was betrayed and bled to death......The prioress of the said place caused him to be buried by the highwayside, where he had used to rob and spoyle those that passed that way. And Vpon his grave the sayd prioress did lay a very fayre stone, where in the names of Robert Hood, Willaim of Goldsborough and others were graven. And the cause why she buried them there was, for that the common passengers and travailers, knowing and seeing him there buryed, might more safely and without feare take their journeys that way, which they durst not do in the life of the sayd outlawes. And at eyther end of the sayd tombe was erected a crosse of stone, which is to be seene there at this present"

A spot by the roadside adjacent to Kirklees Park on the highway bewteen Mirfield and Clifton-upon-Calder, is known as Dumb Steeple, and it is here that some local people say Robin Hood was buried.

In 1584, a gazetteer mentions, the tomb of Robin Hood at Kirkley, a generous robber and very famous on that account. 

The mysterious 'Life of Robin Hood,' an anonymous collection of information, seemingly taken  from extant ballad and plays of about 1600, (known as the Sloan Manuscript) has:

....Being dystemepered with could and age, he had great payne in his lymmes, his blood being corrupted, therefore, to be eased of his payne by letting blood, he repayred to the priores of Kirklesy, which some say was his aunt, a woman very skylful in physique and surgery; who perceyving him to be Robyn Hood and waying how fell an enimy he was to religious persons, toke revenge of him for her owne howse and all others by letting him bleed to death

The tomb is again mentioned by the Westminster School Master and historian William Camden, in his fifth edition of Britannia in 1607 (revised in 1789):

At Kirklees nunnery Robin Hood's tomb with a plain cross on  a flat stone is shown in the cemetery. In the ground at a little distance by two grave stones, one which has the inscription for Elizabeth de Staynton, prioress there.

Grafton describes Robin Hood's grave as being by the road, but Camden places his tomb near to the prioress Elizabeth de Staynton, which was in the priory garden.

Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion has the lines:

"It chanc'd she in her course on Kirkley cast her eye,
Where merry Robin Hood that honest thief, doth lie."

In 1632 Martin Parker, probably the greatest ballad-monger of them all, produced his True Tale of Robin Hood. Included at the end of his brief touch of the life and death of that renowned outlaw, is the epitaph which the said Prioress of the Monastery of Kirkes Lay in Yorkshire set over Robbin Hood. Which, as is before mentioned, was to be reade within these hundred years, though in olden broken English, much to the same sence and meaning.

Decembris quarto, die 1198: anno regni Richardi Primi 9
Robert Earle of Huntingdon
Lies under this little stone
No archer was like him so good:
His wildnesse named him Robbin Hood.
Full thirteen yeares, and something more
These northerne parts he vexed sore
Such out-lawes as he and his men
May England never Know agen.

Some other superstitious words were in it, which I thought fit to leave out.

We can only wonder what 'superstitious words' they were!

Between 1631 and 1831 there appeared 18 different versions of this 'epitaph.'

The drawing of a graveslab that seems to be similar to the one described by Grafton in 1562 and Camden in 1607, was drawn by  Dr Nathanial Johnston a physician to the Armytage family in c.1669.

The graveslab apparently carried the inscription : Here lie Roberd Hude William Goldburgh Thomas....

So the inscription was scarce legible when Johnston drew the graveslab.

Who William Goldborough and Thomas were is yet another mystery? It is believed by some that William Goldborough may have been Will Scarlet's real name.

Between 1697 and 1702 Thomas Gale, Dean of York kept amongst his papers yet another version of the epitaph:

Here undernead dis laitl stean,
Laiz robert earl of huntington,
Near arcir veras hie sa geid,
An pipl kauld im robin heud,
Sick outlawz as hi an iz men,
Vil england nivr si agen.
Obit 24 kal; Dekembris 1247 

How this  bizarre inscription was devised remains a mystery, but may have been an attempt at archaic English. A Roman Kalend (Calend) ended on the first day of December, as Gale, (who was a classical scholar) must have known. Presumably it was added to the epitaph to lend it an ancient ambiance, but it does seem that Gale's verse  may have been borrowed from Parker's ballad, a True Tale of Robin Hood.

Ralph Thoresby the Leeds historian records in his Ducatus Leodiensis in 1715 that:

 ...near unto Kirklees monastery the noted Robin Hood lies buried under a grave-stone that yet remains near the park, but the inscription scarce legible.

In a letter to Thoresby a certain Richard Richardson also describes the inscription's decay:

The inscription upon Robin Hood's grave was never legible in my time; and it is now totally defaced; insomuch that neither the language nor character is to be distinguished; only you may perceive it was written about the verge of the stone. I have heard Dr Armitage say, that he could read upon it Hic jacet Robertus Hood, filius secundus Comitis de Huntingdon, but I must own, tho' he was a person of merit, I give little credit to this report.

Thoresby also included, in the appendix of his book, the 'ye olde Englishe' epitaph found in Thomas Gale's papers.

The 'rough sketch by Joseph Ismay

In about 1750 Sir Samuel Armytage the landowner of Kirklees appointed the  vicar of Mirthfield, Reverend Joseph Ismay, a local historian, as a tutor for his children. Ismay was fascinated by the grave of Robin Hood and produced an illustration of the cross that appeared on his tombstone. He admitted it was only a rough sketch but even, so it bared no resemblance to the drawings of Johnston. Ismay's writing on either side of the cross is very hard to understand, but it seems to say:

Sir George Armytage ordered two stone pillars to be erected by Robin Hood's grave in the park with the inscription found amongst the papers of the learned....[section breaks off but it must be Gale].

On the other side  of the cross, Ismay writes the epitaph that appeared in Gale's papers and would later be added to the grave itself. But he also includes:

...assumed to have been bled to death Dec 24th 1247

Ismay explains the reason why the grave site was enclosed:

Ye sepulchral Monument of Robin Hood near Kirklees which has been lately impaled in ye form of a Standing Hearse in order to preserve the stone from the rude hands of the curious traveller who frequently carried off a small fragment of ye stone, and thereby diminished it's pristine beauty.

Thomas Gent's includes a bizarre tale in his List of Religious Houses:

[Robin Hood's] tombstone, having his effigy thereon was ordered not many years ago, by a certain knight, to be placed as a hearth-stone in his great hall. When it was laid over-night, the next morning it was "surprisingly" removed [on or to] one side; and so three times it was laid and as successively turned aside. The knight, thinking he had done wrong to have bought it thither ordered it should be drawn back again; which was performed by a pair of oxen and four horses, when twice the number could scarcely do it before.

The 'grave' in  c.1870.

In a rare account of a tour around the grounds of Kirklees, a certain John Watson describes Robin Hood's tomb in 1758:

At some distance from this in an inclos'd plantation is Robin Hood's tomb, as it is call'd; which is nothing but a very rude stone not quite two yards along, & narrow in proportion; it has the figure of a cross, cut in a manner not common upon it; but no inscription, nor does there appear ever to have been any letters upon it, notwithstanding Mr Thoresby has publish'd a pretended one found amongst the papers of Dr Gale Dean of York.

Richard Gough's Sepulchral Monuments of Great Britain (1786) contains a drawing of a plain stone with a cross fleuree said to be from the grave of Robin Hood.

Gough's drawing of Robin Hood's grave-stone.

He says:
The figure of the stone over the grave of Robin Hood (in Kirklees Park, being a plain stone with a sort of cross fleuree thereon), now broken and much defaced, the inscription illegible. That printed in Thoresby Ducat. Leod. 576, from Dr Gale's papers, was never on it.

Gough's book also includes the details of a dig at the grave :

The late Sir Samuel Armytage, owner of the premises, caused the ground under to be dug a yard deep, and found it had never been disturbed; so that it was probably brought from some other place, and by vulgur tradition ascribed to Robin Hood.

1 yard (3 ft.) is 0.91 of a metre, so it begs the question why they didn't dig a bit deeper?

During the construction of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway in the 1830's pieces of Robin Hood's gravestone was chipped off by the navies because they believed it could be a cure for toothache!

Robin Hood's Grave c.1900

By the 1840's only a small piece of the gravestone remained, so the owner of the land, Sir George II Armytage, enclosed what was left of the grave with an iron railing. Included was a new gravestone with the inscription taken from Thomas Gales writings.

The epitaph built into the wall around the grave.

In conclusion, I would like to use Churchill's quotation, that the site of Robin Hood's Grave is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

To read more about the history of Kirklees Priory and it's naughty nuns, please click here.

The Outlaws 'Christen' Little John

In this picture, kindly sent in by Mike, we see the moment that Little John  (James Robertson Justice) is thrown into the stream by Robin Hood (Richard Todd) and his outlaws as they 'Christen' him.

This rare still is taken from Walt Disney's  live-action movie, the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952).

Last year, thanks to some input from my readers, we managed to put names to some of the actors faces, in another scene from this movie. Although we can see Richard Todd, Antony Forwood and Ewen Solon in this picture, can any one put a name to the actor on the far right? If so, please get in touch.

From Robin Hood to The Beatles

Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen.......

Nearly everyone has heard that song, even though perhaps these days, they might not realise it was a theme tune to a hugely successful television series. For me, like many of a certain age, it was my first introduction-and left a lifelong fascination with the legendary outlaw Robin Hood. But little did I realise, as I listened to the theme song and watched the adventures on our rented television set way back in the early 1960's, that there was a strong link to the biggest pop band on the planet.

In the early 1950's EMI's Parlophone label was looked upon with derision. George Martin had joined the record company in 1955 as an assistant to Oscar Preuss the head of A&R. Between them they were left the 'light music' catalogue that sold a mixed bag of novelty and comedy discs. It wasn't until 1956 that they had their first spectacular success with the theme song to ATV's iconic television series The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Robin Hood! Robin Hood! Riding through the glen!
Robin Hood! Robin Hood! With his band of men!
Feared by the bad! Loved by the good!
Robin Hood! Robin Hood! Robin Hood!

He called the greatest archers to a tavern on the green!
They vowed to help the people of the king!
They handled all the trouble on the English country scene!
And still found plenty of time to sing!
[Chorus (1st paragraph) repeat]

 The black and white ATV television series starring Richard Greene - still fondly remembered today, ran to 143 episodes and was sold to CBC in Canada and CBS in the United States. It was an immediate success drawing on 32,000,000 viewers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original theme song, written by Carl Sigman, was sung by Dick James (1920-1986). Born Reginald Leon Issac Vapnic in London's East End, originally he became a vocalist at the Cricklewood Palais, then during the 1940's  'crooned' with Henry Hall's and Cyril Stapleton's orchestras and later Geraldo's band. He went on to have two hit records in America with Garden of Eden and of course Robin Hood, produced by  Parlaphone's George Martin and the Ron Goodwin Orchestra with backing vocals by James's son Stephen and 'chums.' The record reached number 14 in the UK chart.

As time went by Dick James's singing career waned, so he turned his attentions to song-plugging and joined Sydney Bron Music. But in 1961 his career took another turn when he started in music publishing, with Dick James Music.

George Martin meanwhile had been struggling to find a second song from a music publisher for a group from Liverpool that he instinctively thought might be successful. So he called on his old friend  Dick James in his 'shabby' office on the corner of Denmark and Old Compton Street in London. But after Martin's first approach, the old crooner laughed, "Liverpool! So what's from Liverpool!"

George Martin, Dick James and Beatles manager Brian Epstein

After hearing Love Me Do, Dick James was not impressed, but confessed he liked the overall sound of the group. He told George Martin that he would get in contact with some of his songwriters and within a few days he came up with a tune by Mitch Murray. The song was How Do You Do It  and George Martin was thrilled! This, he was sure would make The Beatles a household name. But John Lennon and Paul McCartney were not impressed, which annoyed him. They told Martin that they would rather write their own songs. "When you can write as good as this," he declared,"I'll record it!"

So The Beatles went back to a song written by Paul called Please Please Me. George Martin had previously not been impressed with it. But this time they quickened the tempo with their acoustic Gibson guitars and extended the length with an intro by John on harmonica. This time Martin decided to go with it and re-visited his old friend Dick James in Old Compton Street. After explaining the groups decision to compose their own material he played him Please Please Me. After just one hearing James said he would publish it.

The Beatles

With incredible foresight, Dick James went on to propose a special company be set up to exclusively publish Lennon and McCartney songs (later also Harrison and Starr). It would be called Northern Songs and be administered by Dick James Music.

Unbeknown to them, those four young lads from Liverpool were  now on the threshold of becoming legendary figures of English culture. Not too far away from another dearly loved folk-hero, sung about by their music publisher a few years earlier.

As a footnote to this, Paul McCartney later admitted that the Beatles song Little Child was inspired by the tune Whistle My Love, sung by Elton Hayes as Alan-a-Dale in the Walt Disney live action movie the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952).