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The Black Veil

Maid to Measure

31 December 14 words: Aly Stoneman
We've heard enough about Robin Hood over the years, but what about 'er indoors? To celebrate the end of The Year of Reading Women, we give you Maid Marian.
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Lucy Griffiths

There are many theories about the origins of the character of Maid Marian, the fact that she didn’t feature in the oldest Robin Hood ballads may be disappointing for the romantics among us, but in some ways, along with her multiple identities, it makes her character more interesting.
In the early versions of the Robin Hood stories, pious Robin is devoted to the Virgin Mary (Marianism). There are theories that this is the origin of the Robin Hood and Marian stories. A thirteenth century French poem unconnected with the Robin Hood myth, Le Jeu de Robin and Marian, became incorporated into English May Day celebrations early on, but by the sixteenth century, it is Maid Marian and Robin Hood who are associated with the festivities on the first day of Summer and sometimes with other pagan beliefs associated with the greenwood, The Green Man and the Goddess. 
From the sixteenth century onwards, Marian is often portrayed as a noblewoman, sometimes as the beautiful daughter of a real thirteenth century Baron, Robert Fitzwalter, who is remembered as a champion of liberty and the leader of the opposition to King John. In the seventeenth century ballad Robin Hood and Maid Marion, Marion dresses as a boy and joins the Merrie Men after dueling to a draw with Robin in the forest. There is a long tradition of Marion being an equal member of the outlaw group – and an excellent fighter – rather than ‘a lady needing to be rescued’.
Marian features as the main character in some works of literature. In 1822 Thomas Love Peacock published Maid Marion, ‘a comic twelfth century romance’. Marion (or Matilda Fitzwater) is a free spirit and daddy’s-girl who tells her father, when he threatens to lock her up to keep her away from Robin Hood, ”While I go out freely, I will return willingly; but if once I slip through a loop-hole…” 
On one such outing, she shoots a hostile knight in the arm to protect her outlaw friends, incurring the Sheriff’s wrath. Later, Prince John attacks her father’s castle and they flee into the greenwood. Marion and Robin eventually receive a pardon from King Richard, but when the regime changes, they return to Sherwood Forest to live as outlaws again. We are informed, somewhat bawdily, that the lady retains her former name of Maid Marian –‘though the appellation was then as much a misnomer as that of Little John.’ 
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Maid Marian and a not so merry Tony Robinson

In 1989, the family sitcom Maid Marian and her Merry Men (written by Tony Robinson) mixed social commentary with surreal comedy, portraying Marian as the real leader of the hapless group.

In Robin of Sherwood, Marian (played by Judi Trott) is introduced as a ward of the Sheriff’s brother and is rescued by Robin from an evil Baron. In later episodes she is accepted as an equal member of Robin’s band, an excellent archer, and rescues other members of the group on more than one occasion. 

In Richard Lester's 1976 film Robin and Marian, an ageing Marian (played by Audrey Hepburn) is the abbess who poisons Robin, although in this version it is done out of love and they die together. This ties in with early ballads where Robin survives many years in the forest before dying at Kirklees Priory.
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Ms.Hood. Artwork by Amanda Tribble for Dawn of the Unread

One of the inspirations for my recent comic Ms Hood, which is part of the Dawn of the Unread series, is tell the Hood story from ‘Marian’s’ point of view. This idea was inspired by Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry collection The World’s Wife, a series of monologues from historical and mythological women who are usually defined by their male partners. Apart from social justice and an affinity for the poor, Robin Hood’s special regard for women is a feature of the earliest stories. Considering that 2014 was declared the ‘Year of Reading Women’ it feels right that Ms Hood should tell the tale.

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