Sunday, 28 January 2007

Robin Hood arrested!

Our illustration implies that Robin could get the Church to dance to his tune. In the ballad featuring St Mary’s he is (on the one side) notable for his devotion to Mary, risking his life to come to her church for Mass, while (on the other) the kind of devotion he inspires in his men doesn’t stop short of beheading the dastardly monk who had betrayed him to the Sheriff (though Robin isn’t directly responsible). The Bishop(or mitred Abbot) here is getting off lightly!

The nation has once again been gripped by the adventures of Nottinghamshire’s famous outlaw thanks to the BBC’s recent Saturday night drama. St Mary’s Church hopes it will result in a new wave of visitors.

According to legend, the ancient parish and civic church of St Mary’s in the Lacemarket, also the city’s largest church, witnessed one of the most dramatic events during the life of the hooded wonder.

A 14th Century ballad Robyn Hode and the Monk, which is one of the earliest surviving ballads making reference to Robin Hood, describes how he was arrested in St Mary’s at Whitsuntide on a sunny May morning. He visited the church to confess his sins but was caught by the Sheriff of Nottingham with the help of a monk, resulting in his imprisonment in the medieval town hall on High Pavement at the top of Garners Hill. However, he was subsequently rescued by Little John.
The ballad reads:
...It befell at Whitson (tide),
Erly in a May mornynge
The sun up fayre can shine,
And the briddis merrye can sing

He gos into Seynt Mary Chirch
And kneled down before the rode
All that ever were the Church within
Beheld wel Robyn Hode
It continues to explain that when Robin knelt in prayer before the old rood screen in St. Mary’s, a monk, wearing a large hood, appeared beside him. The monk recognised the outlaw, who had recently robbed him of a hundred pounds, and left the church in haste to find the Sheriff, shouting that he had spied the “King’s felon” and the traitor’s name was Robin Hood. The Sheriff rose from his bed and set off for the “kyrk”, followed by a baying crowd. The great crowd pushed in through the door of the church.

Robin, clasping a two-handed sword rushed at the Sheriff’s men, killing a dozen, wounding many more and breaking the sword on the Sheriff’s head. In the frenzy and excitement some of the crowd fell over unconscious as if they were dead. Robin was captured and thrown into prison. With the help of Little John (who had quarreled with him over a bet but who now came ruthlessly to the rescue), and thanks to the intoxicated state of the sheriff, Robin eventually escaped by leaping over the city wall.

St Mary’s has possibly another connection to Robin Hood. William de Amyas was a successful merchant, property owner, four times Mayor of Nottingham and friend of the King. In 1333 he was the victim of marauding outlaws in Sherwood Forest who threatened to burn his property unless he gave them £20. William de Amyas also endowed the chantry chapel of St. Lawrence in St. Mary’s. Part of his original tomb is included in the Thurland tomb in the north transept of the church.

Ioan Reed-Aspley, spokesperson for St Mary’s said; “I’m sure all the local landmarks with connections to Robin Hood will capitalise on the BBC drama. Most people will know of Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak, but I expect fewer people will be aware of Robin’s encounters in St Mary’s. Let’s hope the hype will encourage more tourists to the area and visitors to the church.”

St Mary's is the oldest parish church in Nottingham. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book and is believed to go back deep into Saxon times. The church is open during the week but anyone on the trail of Robin Hood ought to check with the Parish Office before planning a visit.

Ioan Reed-Aspley

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