Jan. 20 (Monday)

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Full Name: Robin Hood
Born: unknown in England

Robin Hood is a legendary outlaw hero of a series of English ballads dating back to the 14th century. He led a band of rebels (his “Merry Men”) who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Their chief enemy was the Sheriff of Nottingham, a local agent of the central government, though wealthy landowners were also frequent targets. Their grievances apparently revolved primarily around laws restricting hunting rights.

Today, Robin Hood is commonly depicted as a skilled archer and swordsman, and his forest gang are typically dressed in green. However, there likely never was a real Robin Hood. Rather, the Robin Hood ballads were the poetic expression of popular discontent in northern England that culminated in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. People were hungry for a hero who freely hunted in the forest while outwitting the forces of law and order. Nevertheless, Robin Hood may have been inspired by actual outlaws, similar to the pirates that later roamed the seas.

The Robin Hood tales lost some of their social bite as the main character was commercialized, evolving into a fallen nobleman with a companion (Maid Marian). Modern heroes who are somewhat reminiscent of Robin Hood include Latin American revolutionaries Che Guevara and Hugo Chavez.