History on Film The new Robin Hood film would be more authentic than previous versions, director Ridley Scott announced. As I have stated before, the Trailer did not entice me to expect much authenticity. I have now watched the film and my suspicions were proved to be correct. In theory a Robin Hood film has not need to be historically accurate, but since the claim was made, and I take the liberty of putting in my two cents worth on whether it fulfilled that premise or not.

Even before the film properly started, I was cringing inwardly. King Richard, read the opening text, was on crusade for ten years and was now plundering his way back to England, which he hopes to finally reach after one last siege. What? Richard was on crusade for a long time, but hardly ten years. The filmmaker seem to have confused this period with the length of his reign. Richard did besiege the castle of Chalus, but at the time he had been back from crusade and captivity for five years. He had had himself ceremonially recrowned in Winchester and spent a good deal of the next five years re-conquering parts of his vast continental lands that had been taken by King Philip of France.

Since the topic has now come up, this is one of the major issues I had watching the film: the huge Angevin Empire does not exist. While historically King Richard's (and later King John's) domain encompassed not only England but Aquitaine, Poitou, Anjou, Brittany and Normandy (not to mention the nominal Lordship over Ireland) according to "Robin Hood" everything across the channel is 'France', or at least 'abroad'. When King Richard was besieging Chalus he was on a mission to call a recalictrant baron of his to heel. (As far as I know the story of the Roman treasure is a legend.) Moreover, the entire nobility in England including, naturally, the king, were speaking French at this time. It is possible that Richard and John took the effort to get some grasp English as the language spoken by a large number of their subjects (though, again, their continental subjects would speak various forms of French as well as other languages), but that a French king would consider learning is hardly conceivable. (I am not so nitpicky to complain about the fact that the king's younger brother is referred to as 'prince' even though that title had was not yet used as a title for the sons of kings.)

I don't want to go into all nitpicky details listing historical inaccuracies as for one there are too many too count and secondly, some economising had to be done. Here as well as in the film. However, it may be worthwhile to point out that Richard did only die several days after being shot, long enough for his mother to come from Fontvrault to be at his side. John also wasn't at the Tower with his future second wife but actually on a visit to his nephew Arthur of Brittany when news of Richard's death reached him.

In my previous blog I had been wondering when, historically speaking, the film takes place, and we have a firm date to pinpoint when the action of the film starts: the siege of Chalus and the death of Richard I on 6 April 1199. The question is now, how much time is supposed to pass during the film and does it bear any relationship to actual events?

Judging from internal evidence the plot of the film happens within six to eight months. It starts at some not exactly specified time before the sowing of what I assume to be summer wheat and ends around the time of the harvest. That would mean the entire film takes place in 1199. Within this period of time we see events that, if they are supposed to bear any relationship to history, cover more or less the entire reign of King John: his marriage to Isabelle d'Angoulême (1200), the development of a baronial opposition against King John in the North (about 1208 if I remember correctly), the demands for a charter of rights (1213 - the 'Unknown Charter'), and the launching of a French invasion (it had been contemplated before but only happened in 1216 when of course King Philip stayed at home and let his eldest son lead the troops). King John's falling out with William Marshal also did not happen right at the start of the reign, but yes, the Marshal was always loyal to the King, even if at times he kept his distance, looking after the Irish estates of his wife. Speaking of the Marshal, he was never relieved of his office (i.e. marshal), though he not necessarily performed it personally.

But I shouldn't only talk about the historical inaccuracies with regards to high politics, inaccuracies are found everywhere.

Brownie points for the fact that Nottingham is put correctly into the provice of York. (I admit that I thought it to be part of the diocese of Lincoln.) But to continue in my nitpicking ways, the head of that diocese is an archbishop not a bishop. While Nottingham was surely not a big town in 1199/1200 it certainly was larger than a few houses, a tiny chapel and a smallish fortified manor house, a building which is a rather strange in itself: Why on earth was the barn containing the all-important seed grain not within the fortification of the manor house, particularly if - as the film implies - this was a time when the country was rife with bandits? If the Loxleys were as impoverished as they claim, where do all the glass windows come from? Surely they could pay their taxes simply by handing over a few of these enormously expensive luxury goods.

I found myself wondering about another point while I watched the film: Marion's precarious situation as the widow of Loxley jr. We are told that when old Sir Walter Loxley dies she would be left with nothing as the estates would revert to the crown. For one, I always find it very odd if nobody seems to have a family. Lands only reverted to the crown if there were no brothers, sisters, uncles, great-nieces once removed etc. Apparently neither the Loxleys nor Marion have any kin whatsoever. One case like that seems possible, but two? Robin also has no family or place to go to. In fact, mothers - with the notable exception of Eleanor of Aquitaine - don't seem to exist at all. But to return to the question of Marion's endowment, if her husband had herself been landless because his father was still alive, I would strongly assume that she would have been dowered at her wedding. (And you can believe me that it is not a sign of my deep involvment in the film when I find myself sitting in the cinema pondering the question when exactly enfeoffements-to-use were introduced and whether or not in around 1200 a bride was still dowered at the church door.)

What I thought was particularly hilarious was that the film claimed Magna Carta was actually written by a stone mason. Wow, I thought, I was closer in predicting this than I thought possible, though it was Robin's father rather than Robin himself who supposedly formulated the charter. No disrepect to stone masons or ignoring the fact that people can educate themselves, but no stone mason would have been able to convince the English barons to join forces with him. Additionally, the provisions of Magna Carta are protecting the rights of the nobility
not of the common man against the depredations of the king. (Which is why actually reading the entire charter has proved disappointing for many a modern reader.) By the by, not all deer where property of the king, only those in the royal forests, which were a sore subject for nobility and common folk alike and was dealt with in a separate charter, the Charter of the Forests.

A few more glaring inaccuracies I only mention briefly: Cremation were strictly forbidden by the catholic church until the nineteenth century, King John had considerable experience as a military leader when he became king and his second wife Isabella d'Angoulême was certainly not sharing his bed when he was still married to Isabella of Gloucester.

To sum this rambling and nitpicky comment up, I thought 'Robin Hood' was an entertaining enough film, even if it did not really grip me. Historically accurate it ain't. In fact, it seems to me that they did not even try very hard. - At least the length of Richard I's crusade ought to be something that a script writer could find out with a brief visit to Wikipedia.

Oh, yes, I said I would try to find out who was Sheriff of Nottingham at the time the film took place. If I read the 'Lists of Sheriffs' correctly, William Briwerre (or Brewer, to use a more modern spelling) was sheriff in 1199.

[8 June 2010; some minor corrections 15 July 2010]

[13 November 2010] Just for my own amusement, a few more things about the sheriff of Nottingham, William Briwerre was almost certainly an absentee sheriff. The man actually doing the job would be his under-sheriff, but who he was I haven't discovered yet.

William Briwerre was a curialist and a very loyal follower of King John. In fact, he did hold the position of sheriff of Nottingham and Derby from the spring of 1194. However, since he was only appointed after Richard I's return he was not the sheriff of Nottingham at the time when the Robin Hood Story is usually set, i.e during Richard's captivity in Germany. His predecessor in office was apparently William, earl Ferrers, who was only in office for a few weeks.The 'List of Sheriffs' gets more than a little vague then, so I am still wondering who the real sheriff of Nottingham was at the usual time of the Robin Hood story.
Monika watches Trailers - even on the beach

Robin Hood - Trailer

Black Death - Trailer

Season of the Witch - Trailer
Alex von Tunzelmann's comments (whose "Reel History" is a real treat) can be found here: Ridley Scott's Robin Hood – wide of the mark?
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