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Queen of Sherbrooke Forest

The historical depiction of Maid Marian’s persona has varied greatly over the centuries, and it was in the sixteenth that Marian, as the consort of Robin Hood, first became associated with May Day celebrations. Most of the time Marian is a noblewoman who falls in love with an outlaw, and her character is largely marginal until the twentieth century, except for a few instances.

It is the poet and playwright Ben Jonson in his unfinished piece from 1641 The Sad Shepherd who first proposes a truly energetic character of dynamism and will than merely an image of idealised womanhood: his Marian hunts in the forest, and is for the first time fully a lover (to Robin).

I can find no record of the origin of this illustrated plate, but by its style it is from the Regency period in England, and is probably a costume design for a play A nineteenth century engraving from Thomas Love Peacock’s novella, Maid Marian, published in 1819; very likely inspired in part by Mary Shelley. [Image link broken]Stephen Knight in his essay on the historical representation of Maid Marian says of Johnson’s depiction: The vigorous real Marian does ultimately defer to Robin's authority, both aristocratic and male, but she is also represented as having real agency, including physical and gendered power. Jonson's sense of Lady Marian's potential power will take centuries to re-emerge …

Knight also states in his introduction: Marian is, it appears, primarily invoked by the gender-related concerns of the social environment in which she appears: she does not resist authority so much as represent a changing alternative to it. In the last few decades her character has steadily grown. As a teen, I remember loving the mid-80s television series Robin of Sherwood, and recall Judi Trott’s Marian as being active and competent. I see on IMDb that there is a new version scheduled for release next year – it will be interesting to see what kind of Maid Marian Eve Hewson makes.

Enid Bennet plays Lady Marian Fitzwalter opposite Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1922)Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, in the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood, also starring Errol FlynnMy (rather stern) Maid Marian was initially inspired by the discovery of a pair of Ralph Lauren suede trousers in an op shop, and a green silk embroidered tunic cut on medieval peasant blouse lines. I’m also wearing a vintage 1940s feathered hat, a wooden bead necklace and a pair of modern green patent leather sling-backs, not very suitable attire for a Marian tramping through Sherbrooke Forest, in the local Mt Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne! The Maid Marian of legend of course made Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire her home, and the similarity in names is very amusing.

My personal favourite: Judi Trott as Maid Marian in the tv series Robin of Sherwood, which played from 1984–86; sadly the fourth and final series was never made due to finance issues. [Image from Pinterest]If you’re keen to know more about the 700 year history of Robin Hood and, in particular, Maid Marian’s role over the centuries, visit The Robin Hood Project to read Stephen Knight’s full essay. Though long, it is very interesting, easy to read and rewarding. A shorter article at Wikiwand offers as well a detailed breakdown of literature, television and movie versions of the story.

Photo: January 2017

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