Was Robin Hood gay?

A new tour in Nottingham investigates the gay origins of the folk hero.

Was Robin Hood gay?

Robin Hood's been taking a bit of a knock lately. 2009 has seen the closure of Nottingham's premiere Robin Hood tourist attraction, The Tales of Robin Hood, and in June the BBC decided not to re-commission their Saturday night Robin Hood television series.
But you can't keep a good hero down and he's back in the news thanks to a guided walk in Nottingham called the Gay Robin Hood tour. It examines the alleged homosexual origins of the man and has been researched by Nottingham historian Tony Scupham-Bilton.

Move over Marian
Tony believes Robin's origin dates back 700 years. It revolves around the relationship of two real life characters - Sir William Neville, the constable of Nottingham castle, and Sir John Clanvowe, a poet. According to the historian the two were as good as hitched, even though Sir William had a wife, Elizabeth. "The two men were soldiers who'd fought in the One Hundred Years War. They formed a close friendship. It's commonly accepted now that they were a gay couple." Did Robin really prefer Little John to Marian?

Bringing Robin to life
As a writer, Sir John Clanvowe was always looking for inspiration. "One of the ideas he had when King Richard II visited was to write a brand new ballad," says Tony. The result was The Jest of Robin Hood. According to Tony Scupham-Bilton all the stories created in the ballad became the basis of every film, book and television series around the character. "It was the gay connection that Sir John Clanvowe had with the constable of Nottingham that formed all the background to Robin Hood."

All in your mind
The claim might be that Robin Hood was dreamed up by a gay man but Tony Scupham-Bilton says that's not enough to suggest Robin himself was homosexual. "The idea that Robin Hood might have been gay just comes from the modern idea of all these men living in a forest without any women living with them. There was no intention of turning him into a gay icon."

In death together
For the record, Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe died on pilgrimage near Constantinople. Clanvowe died on 17 October 1391 and Neville two days later. Their tombstone survives in the Archaeological Museum of Constantinople.

On-going theories
Despite there being no direct evidence that Robin Hood was homosexual, debate about his sexual leanings continue. In the 1990s Professor Stephen Knight from the University of Wales published theories questioning the outlaws sexuality. He was writing a paper for a Robin Hood conference in Nottingham in 1994. Professor Knight suggested that one of the original political meanings of the story was that Robin's resistance to authority was actually opposition to the then damning view on homosexuality. Robin had effectively been exiled from 'straight' society.

All of a quiver
He says evidence can be found in the relationship between Robin and his Merry Men; the friendship with Little John and bonding incidents like Friar Tuck carrying Robin over a river. Ballads of the day make no direct reference to Robin being gay because of the moral climate of the time. However, Professor Knight suggests there's plenty of gay imagery with the green wood being a symbol of virility and references to arrows, quivers and swords being all too suggestive. Even in later years when Maid Marian is introduced, Professor Knight claims she plays little part in the story; she's only there to make Robin appear more masculine as our hero suddenly has to embark on adventures to rescue the helpless heroine.

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