Maid Marian is the love interest of the legendary outlaw Robin Hood in English folklore. Maid Marian was in origin a "shepherdess" figure associated with May Day. Her character may also have been influenced by the image of the Virgin Mary. Her role as the love interest of Robin Hood dates to the 16th century.
Maid Marian was originally a character in May Games festivities (held during May and early June, most commonly around Whitsun) and is sometimes associated with the Queen or Lady of May of May Day. Jim Lees in The Quest for Robin Hood (p.81) suggests that Maid Marian was originally a personification of the Virgin Mary. Both a "Robin" and a "Marian" character were associated with May Day by the 15th century, but these figures were apparently part of separate traditions; the Marian of the May Games is likely derived from the French tradition of a shepherdess named Marion and her shepherd lover Robin, recorded in Adam de la Halle's Le Jeu de Robin et Marion, circa 1283. It isn't clear if there was an association of the early "outlaw" character of Robin Hood and the early "May Day" character Robin, but they did become identified, and associated with the "Marian" character, by the 16th century. Alexander Barclay, writing in c. 1500, refers to "some merry fytte of Maid Marian or else of Robin Hood". Marian remained associated with May Day celebrations even after the association of Robin Hood with May Day had again faded. The early Robin Hood is also given a "shepherdess" love interest, in Robin Hood's Birth, Breeding, Valor, and Marriage (Child Ballad 149), his sweetheart is "Clorinda the Queen of the Shepherdesses". Clorinda survives in some later stories as an alias of Marian.
The "gentrified" Robin Hood character, portrayed as a historical outlawed yeoman emerges in the late 16th century. From this time, Maid Marian is also cast in terms of a noblewoman, even though her role was never entirely virginal and she retained aspects of her "shepherdess" or "May Day" characteristics; in 1592, Thomas Nashe described the Marian of the later May Games as being played by a male actor named Martin, and there are hints in the play of Robin Hood and the Friar that the female character in these plays had become a lewd parody. Robin was originally called Ryder.
In an Elizabethan play, Anthony Munday identified Maid Marian with the historical Matilda, daughter of Robert Fitzwalter, who had to flee England because of an attempt to assassinate King John (legendarily attributed to King John's attempts to seduce Matilda).
In Robin Hood and Maid Marian (Child Ballad 150, perhaps dating to the 17th century), Maid Marian is "a bonny fine maid of a noble degree" said to excel both Helen and Jane Shore in beauty. Separated from her lover, she dresses as a page "and ranged the wood to find Robin Hood," who was himself disguised, so that the two begin to fight when they meet. As is often the case in these ballads, Robin Hood loses the fight to comical effect, and Marian only recognizes him when he asks for quarter. This ballad is in the "Earl of Huntington" tradition, a supposed "historical identity" of Robin Hood forwarded in the late 16th century. 
20th-century pop culture adaptations of the Robin Hood legend have almost invariably featured a Maid Marian, and have mostly made her a highborn woman with a rebellious or "tomboy" character. In 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood, she is a courageous and loyal woman (played by Olivia de Havilland), and a ward of the court, an orphaned noblewoman under the protection of King Richard. Although always ladylike, her initial antagonism to Robin springs not from aristocratic disdain but out of an aversion to robbery. In The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), she, despite being a lady-in-waiting to Eleanor of Aquitaine during the Crusades, is in reality a mischievous tomboy capable of fleeing boldly to the countryside disguised as a boy. In the Kevin Costner epic Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, she is a maternal cousin to the sovereign, while in the BBC TV Show adaption of 2006, she is the daughter of the former Sheriff and was betrothed to Robin prior to his leaving for the Holy Land.
Maid Marian's role as a prototypical strong female character has also made her a popular focus in feminist fiction. Theresa Tomlinson's Forestwife novels (1993–2000) are told from Marian's point of view, portray Marian as a high-born Norman girl escaping entrapment in an arranged marriage. With the aid of her nurse, she runs away to Sherwood Forest, where she becomes acquainted with Robin Hood and his men. Elsa Watson's Maid Marian takes a similar approach.[clarification needed]
There have been several books based on the fictional character:
- Maid Marian — 1822 novel by Thomas Love Peacock
- Maid Marian — 2004 novel by Elsa Watson
- Lady of the Forest; novel by Jennifer Roberson
- Lady of Sherwood; novel by Jennifer Roberson
- The Forestwife (and its sequels, although she's only the main character in the first); young adult novel by Theresa Tomlinson.
- The Outlaws of Sherwood, novel by Robin McKinley (depicts Marian as a crack-shot archer)
- Maid Marian appears in a chapter of T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone, the first book in The Once and Future King. Wart (the young King Arthur) and his step brother Kay meet her and Robin when they go into the forest for an adventure and set out with the outlaws to rescue people Morgan le Fey kidnapped. When they meet her, it is quickly made apparent that Marian is strong and capable in battle and the narrator mentions that she could walk or even wiggle on her stomach like a snake faster than the boys could follow.
- The "Robin & Marian Mysteries" by Clayton Emery, appearing in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and elsewhere, feature the outlaw husband-wife team as amateur detectives solving bizarre murders.
- Hawksmaid: The untold story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian by Kathryn Lastry
- Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen (2012)
She is also a minor character in Angus Donald's Outlaw Chronicles based on the life of Alan-A-Dale and his exploits with Robin Hood. In the series she is known as Marie-Anne, Countess Of Locksley, and love interest of Robin Hood, who in the novel is formally known as Robert Odo.
- Maid Marian was played first by Bernadette O'Farrell, and then by Patricia Driscoll in the 1955 series The Adventures of Robin Hood and was as adept with the bow as Robin. As Lady Marian Fitzwalter, a Norman-Irish noblewoman, she rode a horse sidesaddle and when dressed in Lincoln Green with Robin in Sherwood Forest she rode astride. The Sheriff was always ready to defend her, but his replacement the Deputy Sheriff suspected she was one of Robin's band.
- Maid Marian was featured in the 1966 animated series Rocket Robin Hood, a science fiction version of the Robin Hood story.
- In the HTV show Robin of Sherwood (1984–86), Marian was played by Judi Trott, and after meeting and falling in love with Robin (of Locksley, played by Michael Praed), lived with him and the other outlaws in Sherwood Forest. After Robin's death, she was wooed by Robin's successor as Herne's Son and leader of the outlaws, Robert of Huntingdon (played by Jason Connery), but was ultimately unable to requite his love.
- Maid Marian was the lead character in Tony Robinson's 1989 BBC children's comedy Maid Marian and her Merry Men. In the show, Marian, played by Kate Lonergan, was portrayed as the real leader of the Merry Men, whilst Robin was a vain coward who was mistakenly believed to be the leader by King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham.
- In the 1990 Japanese anime series Robin Hood no Daibōken, Maid Marian (as Marian Lancaster) was voiced by Naoko Matsui. Sometimes referred to as Mary Anne.
- In the 1991 TV movie Robin Hood she is played by Uma Thurman.
- In the 1997 TV show The New Adventures of Robin Hood, she was played by Anna Galvin, and then by Barbara Griffin. She lives with Robin, Little John and Friar Tuck in the Sherwood forest.
- In the 2000 film Blackadder: Back & Forth, Maid Marian is portrayed by supermodel Kate Moss.
- In the BBC's 2006 version Robin Hood, Lucy Griffiths plays the role of Lady Marian, as opposed to Maid Marian. In this version of the tale, she is daughter of a previous Sheriff of Nottingham and the love interest of Robin. Beautiful and quick of mind, Marian is headstrong and feisty. She is involved in a love triangle, with Sir Guy of Gisbourne and Robin as her suitors.
- In the 1922 movie Robin Hood, Marian was played by Enid Bennett.
- In the celebrated 1938 movie The Adventures of Robin Hood, Maid Marian, as already noted, was portrayed by Olivia de Havilland.
- In the 1952 movie The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, Maid Marian is played by Joan Rice.
- In the 1960 movie Sword of Sherwood Forest, Maid Marian is played by Sarah Branch.
- In the 1967 movie A Challenge for Robin Hood, Lady Marian is played by Gay Hamilton.
- In the 1973 Disney's animated version of Robin Hood, Maid Marian is an anthropomorphic vixen voiced by Monica Evans, with Nancy Adams doing her singing voice.
- In the 1976 movie Robin and Marian, Lady Marian is played by Audrey Hepburn.
- In the 1991 movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Maid Marian is played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. In this version, her surname is given as Dubois, a reference to the French name of Robin Hood, Robin des Bois.
- In the 1993 movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Maid Marian is played by Amy Yasbeck.
- In the 2001 Disney movie Princess of Thieves, Robin Hood and Maid Marian are the parents of a daughter, the eponymous 'princess' played by Keira Knightley.
- In the 2010 Ridley Scott movie Robin Hood, Lady Marian is a widow played by Cate Blanchett. In this version, her surname is given as Loxley.
- In the 2011 German 3D movie Robin Hood - Ghosts of Sherwood, Maid Marian is played by Grey DeLisle.
- Squeeze's song, "Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)", contains the line; "Maid Marian on her, tip toed feet...".
- Folk artist Will Stratton's song "Robin and Marian" on his album No Wonder offers a modern-day political interpretation of the story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian.
- Knight, Stephen (2003) Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography. University of Cornell Press.
- J. C. Holt (1982). Robin Hood. Thames & Hudson. p. 37. ISBN 0-500-27541-6.
- Knight. Robin Hood. pp. 11-12.
- Ronald Hutton. The Stations of the Sun, pp. 270-271.
- Richards. Swordsmen of the Screen, p. 190
- Ronald Hutton. The Stations of the Sun. p. 274. ISBN 0-19-288045-4
- J. C. Holt. Robin Hood, p. 165.
- Allen W. Wright. "A Beginner's Guide to Robin Hood".
- the "Matilda" theory of Maid Marian is further discussed in Thomson, Richard (1829). An Historical Essay on the Magna Charta of King John: To which are Added the Great Charter in Latin and English. London: J. Major and R. Jennings. pp. 505–507.
- Allen W. Wright, The Search for the Real Robin Hood
- Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1888. 
- Jeffrey Richards, Swordsmen of the Screen: From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York, p 200, Routledge & Kegan Paul, Lond, Henly and Boston, 1988
- Jeffrey Richards, Swordsmen of the Screen: From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York, p 201, Routledge & Kegan Paul, Lond, Henly and Boston, 1988
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Maid Marian.|
- Maid Marian at Project Gutenberg
- Robin Hood and Maid Marian, a 17th century ballad with additional information
- "Floating Bread and Quicksilver", a Robin & Marian Mystery
- "Flyting, Fighting", a Robin & Marian Mystery