Sunday, June 04, 2006

the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood's day

Although Errol Flynn would have you believe otherwise, there is no doubt the Sheriff of Nottingham and not Guy of Gisborne was Robin Hood's true arch enemy, a cold hearted scheming opportunist, cunning and clever in equal measure.

Nottingham actually didn't get its own Sheriff until the mid 15th century. At the very start of the 13th century the title would have been "High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests". Sometimes the title was appointed by the King, sometimes purchased. Such a person would have essentially been a debt collector. Not being paid a wage, he took a percentage of the debts he collected as his fee. Over time, the Sheriffs became responsible for escorting prisoners to court, collecting taxes and rents, and keeping the peace. Such an office, certainly open to abuse, became redundant as the centuries passed. But Nottingham still has a Sheriff for tourism and promotional purposes, thanks to the city links with Robin Hood. The first female Sheriff of Nottingham was Mrs. C. M. Harper, who had previously worked on the Nottingham Council. She held office for the year 1931/32.

In Robin Hood's day the title of "Sheriff" did not yet strictly exist, but the man in charge of collecting taxes and enforcing the law, would always be called such in the early ballads. Ralph Murdac (Murdach) is probably the most popular contender for being the actual Sheriff who Robin Hood most encountered, as it was he who defended Nottingham Castle against Richard 1st. But the legends tell of Robin's encounters with more than one Sheriff, suggesting this official position changed hands several times whilst Robin roamed Sherwood Forest. Another Knight who is often suggested as Robin Hood's Sheriff of Nottingham is Simon de Headon, and you can see his Tomb Slab on THIS LINK. For much more information and pictures of the Sheriff of Nottingham visit the links on THIS PAGE.

Above: Without doubt the most famous Sheriff of Nottingham is Alan Wheatley in the 1950's television series The Adventures of Robin Hood. Cunning, camp, and cool, in equal measure, this Sheriff's wit is the equal of Robin but he is ultimately let down time and again by the inadequacy of his soldiers.

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