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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Anonymous Allen W. Wright said...

Wheatley was a great sheriff. But that series also produced another fine sheriff. John Arnatt played the Deputy Sheriff in the show's final year when Wheatley's sheriff was sent to London for many months. The handover happened in an episode called "The Devil You Don't Know", with wonderful conniving by both sheriffs.

Arnatt later played the sheriff in A Challenge for Robin Hood.

My favourite sheriff, however, is Robert Shaw from Robin and Marian.

10:13 PM  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi Allen,

Yes indeed, Arnatt was excellent in "Challenge for Robin Hood". The best thing about the film. And I certainly endorse your views on Robert Shaw in Robin and Marian - my favourite Robin Hood film of all time.

Regarding the "two sheriffs" comment: There are many such details I'll be returning to. Both the Richard Greene series and Michael Praed's "Robin of Sherwood" deserve many more posts in the future.

Best wishes.

11:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was privileged to have Alan Wheatley (Sheriff of Nottingham)as a relative. he was known affectionately as 'Uncle Alan' and as a kid in England in the fifties I used to watch 'Robin Hood' and write to him. He always wrote back and I have a signed photo of him still. His father was my father's mother's brother, so I guess that makes me second cousin.
I suppose I'm biased but I think he was the best of the sheriffs.

1:07 PM  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi Max

maybe I'm biased to, because I grew up watching Alan Wheatley in the role, but I think I'd agree with you.

In fact that whole TV series remains definitive in many ways.

7:43 PM  
Blogger Elgie said...

Hello. Just found your blog. Great info. I have great memories of Alan Wheatley as the Sheriff. Interestingly, my stepfather, John, is Alan Wheatley's nephew. John's mother was Alan's sister.


7:10 PM  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi Lesley.

This was the Sheriff I grew up with.

Still one of the very best.


7:27 PM  
Blogger Per Kurowski said...

Beware, there are many Prince John’s tax collecting Sheriffs of Nottingham dressed up as Robin Hood

1:57 AM  

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