England's legendary outlaw Robin Hood was gay, preferring his "merrie men" to Maid Marian, a leading English literature professor contends.
The reassessment of one of Britain's greatest folk heroes was greeted by gay activists as a welcome, if belated, "outing." But the Robin Hood Society said the claims were damaging to one of the great role models for today's children.
Stephen Knight, professor of English literature at Cardiff University, decided Robin Hood was gay after studying 14th century ballads that are the earliest known accounts of his deeds. "The ballads could not say outright that he was gay because of the prevailing moral climate, but they do contain a great deal of erotic imagery," he said.
He said the ballads showed that Maid Marian--always described as Robin Hood's true love--never existed.
Knight thinks her name was added by 16th century authors who wanted the outlaw who robbed from the rich to give to the poor to be more respectable to heterosexual readers.
His theory won backing from Barry Dobson, professor of medieval history at the University of Cambridge. "In the 12th century homosexuality was accepted, but in the 13th the church became much less tolerant, and such people were driven underground," he said.
Robin Hood has always been portrayed as an aristocrat who became an outlaw after his lands were confiscated by King John in the 1190s.
Peter Tatchell of the gay rights group Outrage was delighted by the new theory: "His lifestyle alone was enough to provoke speculation. It's about time school history lessons acknowledged the contribution of famous homosexuals."
But Mary Chamberlain of the Robin Hood Society was outraged: "Robin remains a highly regarded figure the world over, and . . . these claims could do a lot of damage."