Robin Hood Discovery: An Interview with Julian Luxford

Historians in the News

In March 2009, Julian Luxford of the University of St. Andrews made international headlines with a discovery of a passage in a 15th-century manuscript that contained an account of Robin Hood - see the news item here -  to know a little more about this find, we interviewed Dr. Luxford by email:

1. Could you explain how you came across this piece of marginalia and how soon did you realize the importance of it?

I was looking at Eton 213 in connection with a book I’m researching on medieval drawings. I was also writing an article on the decoration of manuscripts belonging to the Carthusians, so killing two birds with one stone. I quickly became aware of the historical significance of the marginalia the manuscript contained (and also the value of its drawings), and have since written a number of articles on these (being on a variety of subjects, they do not really lend themselves to treatment in one long article). I first noticed the Robin Hood inscription about three years ago. I knew enough about Robin Hood, and particularly the paucity of early historiographical sources which mention him, to realise that it was an important discovery. I didn’t have an opportunity to pursue it immediately, so I kept quiet about it, trusting that if nobody (including, apparently, M. R. James, Neil Ker and Tony Edwards, all of whom have published on the manuscript) had noticed it to date, nobody was likely to in the next year or so. The librarian at Eton was very kind, and, within the bounds of proper decorum, let me know if and when others asked to see the manuscript (as they did a couple of times).

2. Your background is mainly in art history, so I imagine that you weren’t too well versed on the sources of Robin Hood.  How did you go about researching about this topic and preparing this article?

As noted, I sat on the inscription for a while, and then slowly found time to read around the subject. I read art history as an undergraduate and for my PhD, but, being a medievalist, I also know a lot about aspects of history independent of images and architecture. I had read Tony Pollard’s excellent and thought-provoking Imagining Robin Hood (Routledge, 2004), and knew of the work of James Holt, Barrie Dobson and John Taylor. I had then simply to read the five or six fundamental books on to topic, plus a raft of articles and chapters in volumes of essays, and I was up to speed. While I was working, Thomas Ohlgren’s Robin Hood: The Early Poems, 1465-1560 (Delaware, 2007) emerged. This reaffirmed for me the vitality of and interest in the topic (as did Stephen Knight’s works on Robin Hood). I made sure I read all of the primary sources, oif course, and also that I obtained many of the early, short and/or obscure articles (on, for example, records of Robin Hood plays in the west country).

The reading I did also suggested to me the importance of not over-doing whatever I wrote. I thus planned a short article, geared to my interests specifically (i.e. monastic reception) and saying what I thought could be said with reasonable certainty. It seemed important not to over-egg the pudding - I thought others could and would do that for me. I know quite a lot about the handwriting in Eton 213, but I took extra advice on palaeography, chiefly from Linne Mooney at York and Chris Given-Wilson at St Andrews.

3. Although this note about Robin Hood is short, it does give a lot of information and insights.  What do you consider to be the most intriguing piece of information?

What is most interesting and important about this inscription is the fact that it supplies an English historiographical perspective on Robin, something we hadn’t had before. The dating it suggests - 1294-9 - is a useful piece of information to conjure with for those of us who still think there may have been an original Robin Hood - not because it is definitive, but because it is further evidence for medieval belief in his historicity, as opposed to his potency as a stock figure in parochial drama. It is also interesting to have a monastic perspective from England to add to those of Wyntoun and Bower from Scotland. And finally, the extra evidence for Robin having lived in Sherwood is interesting, and important for the tourist industry in Nottinghamshire. None of the Scots chroniclers place Robin in Sherwood - this is the only historiographical source to do so, and one of only three Robin Hood sources to mention Sherwood specifically.

4. You note that the wording and context of this passage could deserve more work, and that you might have some future publication planned. What issues related to this text do you think you will pursue?

This wording may be misleading. I remain very interested in Robin Hood, and have a certain amount of intellectual investment in the subject. I may indeed spend more time looking at the question of his reception in the middle ages, although this topic has already been very widely treated. I will certainly go on working on Eton MS 213. I think I understand the manuscript in all its parts better than anyone else, and am thus in a good position to think about its general significance, and the place of the Robin Hood inscription in this.

Read entire article at http://www.medievalists.net

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