Picture this, as Blondie once sang:-
“…[In 1486] many of the southern nobility and prominent gentry of the kingdom accompanied Henry VII on what an attendant herald described as the first progress of his reign. This took them to Nottingham and then after Easter onwards toward York.
“And by the wayside in barnesdale, a littil beyond Robin Hoddez stone, therle of Northumreland with a right a great and noble company, mete and yave his attendaunce upon the kiing – that is to say with xxxiii knightes of his feed men, beside esquires and yeomen. (BL, Cotton Julius B.XII, fo 10. An edition of this text is being prepared by Emma Cavell for the Richard III and Yorkist History Trust.)
“The herald knew that this was a tense political moment, for there had been risings in Yorkshire, whence, as the nervous author of the second continuation of the Croyland Chronicle was shortly to remark, all evil rose. The earl of Northumberland, who had only three months earlier been released from prison, was still on probation. He and his feed men had stood, although they had not been engaged, on Richard III’s side at Bosworth Field the previous August. Was there something pre-planned and stage-managed about the earl and his meyney [sic] coming to ‘submit’ and welcome his king at Robin Hood’s Stone, just as Robin Hood in the story had been pardoned and welcomed into the king’s service in Barnsdale? Or was the detail added by the herald himself, who was struck by the manner in which life on this royal progress seemed to have imitated art?
“Southerners, heralds, East Anglian gentry, or college bursars, were neither ignorant of what the north was really like, nor unaware that the Robin Hood stories were set in an imaginary north. The portrayal of the north as wild and unruly, and its inhabitants as savages, was, by the fifteenth century, a well-established literary convention. It was a convention, moreover, which could be called upon quit shamelessly for political propaganda when it suited governments so to do.”
“…with Henry VII responding in 1489 to a localised tax revolt in the North Riding of Yorkshire (which had also led to the death of the Earl of Northumberland) with the claim that the rebels were intending to ‘rob, despoil and destroy all the south parts of his realm’. Men and women, one is supposed to believe, were lying awake at night in fear of these wild savages from the north. (See A.J. Pollard North, South and Richard III)
“There can be no doubting that a distinction was made conventionally between the north and south countries. By the fifteenth century the dividing line had broadly settled on the river Trent, especially as far as administrative boundaries were concerned…” (End of quote from Imagining Robin Hood: The Late Medieval Stories in Historical Context by A.J. Pollard. The illustrations are my inclusion.)
We have heard much about Richard III being mistrusted in the south, and of resentment of his appointments of his faithful northerners to plum positions. Was this true? Pollard says that the ‘portrayal of the north as wild and unruly, and its inhabitants as savages, was, by the fifteenth century, a well-established literary convention’. Literary, not literal. Did the south really fear its northern neighbours? Was that the reason for some of the defections from ‘northerner’ Richard at Bosworth?
If so, how clever of Henry VII to call upon the widespread love of the entire English people for their mythical hero, Robin Hood. There, on the Great North Road, by Robin’s stone, the forgiven Earl of Northumberland is received back into the favour of his king.
Mind you, I do not see Henry Percy as Robin Hood. Nor was Henry Tudor a Lionheart. Cravenheart, more like, for he cowered away at the two battles in which he was in any way physically involved. But he was a brilliant manipulator. It’s written all over his portraits!
PS. Regarding Robin Hood’s Stone: “A landmark named ‘the Stone of Robert Hode’…was located in the Barnsdale area, and once stood on the eastern side of the Great North Road, a mile south of Barnsdale Bar.” From http://www.yorkshireguides.com/wentbridge.html