Sheriff of Nottingham
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The Sheriff of Nottingham is the main villain in the legend of Robin Hood. The historical sheriff upon which the stories are based may have been William de Wendenal, Roger de Laci, or William Brewer.
The holder of the office of Nottingham's Sheriff, it is his task to capture outlaws such as Robin Hood, either to ensure the safety of trade routes through Sherwood Forest, or to keep them from poaching the King's deer. In some stories, the Sheriff of Nottingham is portrayed as having a lecherous desire for Robin Hood's lady, Maid Marian. He is widely considered to be the principal villain of the Robin Hood stories, appearing frequently alongside such enemies of Robin Hood as Sir Guy of Gisbourne or Prince John (though rarely both).
The legends are generally set far from Nottingham; this fits the historical position of High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests (from 1068 until 1568). In the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the Sheriff's influence has grown so great, he attempts to take control of the throne, due to his power outside the region of Nottingham.
In some versions, the Sheriff is more a cowardly schemer while his assistant, Sir Guy of Gisbourne, is a more competent and determined physical threat to Robin. In other versions, the Sheriff answers to Prince John.
- In the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn in the title role, the Sheriff is played by Melville Cooper. He is nominally characterised as a coward and a secondary to Sir Guy of Gisbourne, but is actually quite intelligent. For instance, he is the one who prudently advises Sir Guy to increase their caravan's security to ward off a possible ambush by Robin Hood, which Sir Guy disregards to his sorrow, and he is the mastermind of the archery tournament trap that successfully captures Robin Hood.
- In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, in which he is the main antagonist (Prince John is completely omitted from this adaptation), he is played by Alan Rickman. His given name is said to be George. More ambitious than most depictions, the Sheriff's agenda is apparently to supplant Richard the Lionheart by marrying into royalty, eventually becoming king, or at least ensuring his future descendants would assume the throne.
- He was played by Keith Allen in the BBC series Robin Hood, from 2006. Allen plays the Sheriff, named Vaisey, as a psychopath with a manipulative, sarcastic nature. In the show's third series, Vaisey is deposed by Prince John as a result of his failure to assassinate King Richard, whereupon he fakes his own death. He is temporarily replaced by his seeming killer, Guy of Gisborne, for one episode before Gisborne is outlawed; Gisborne's sister Isabella becomes Sheriff for several episodes before Vaisey returns, planning to regain Nottingham by force, in the series finale.
- In the Disney version of Robin Hood, the Sheriff is a large anthropomorphic grey wolf with a thick Southern United States dialect, voiced by Alabama-born comedian Pat Buttram. He serves as Prince John's chief enforcer, collecting unlimited taxes from the people of Nottingham and hunting Robin Hood and Little John. This version is depicted as being far less smart than he realises, claiming he can see through Robin Hood's disguises when he fails to see through two of them. In the film's climax, he briefly battles Robin inside Prince John's burning tower and is left trapped behind some curtains, but the film's final scene makes it clear that he survived. He is last seen breaking rocks down in the Royal Rock Pile, having been sentenced to do so along with Prince John and Sir Hiss by King Richard. During story development, the animators considered experimenting with a different animal concept for the villain by making him a goat. However, they were over-ruled by the director who wanted to keep to traditional animal stereotypes and ordered the Sheriff be a wolf.
- The Richard Kluger novel The Sheriff of Nottingham gives a positive portrayal of the real-life 13th century sheriff Philip Mark as a good man doing a thankless task. (The same sheriff appeared as a ruthless despot in an episode of the Robin of Sherwood TV series.)
- In Robin of Sherwood, the Sheriff is portrayed as a cynical opportunist given to violent outbursts, played by Nickolas Grace. His name, Robert de Rainault, comes from Evelyn Charles Vivian's retelling of the legend. He also bears the dubious honour of being the first sheriff to kill Robin. Grace's portrayal of a moody and obsessive individual, with a sardonic sense of black humour, was a notable influence on future interpretations of the role.
- The Sheriff of Nottingham is spoofed as Mervyn, "The Sheriff of Rottingham" (Roger Rees), in Mel Brooks' 1993 movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights. This depiction of the Sheriff appears to suffer from a form of aphasia, often mixing up his words.
- The Sheriff was parodied in the children's television series Maid Marian and her Merry Men as a foolish schemer, played by Tony Robinson.
- The Sheriff is more sympathetically portrayed by Robert Shaw in the 1976 film Robin and Marian. He is also shown is this film to not only equal Robin physically, but also be superior to him, as he dominates Robin in a one-on-one sword-fight towards the end of the movie, almost killing Robin.
- A cowardly, inept Sheriff of Nottingham is played by actor Matthew Macfadyen in the Ridley Scott film Robin Hood; ironically, the original spec script from which the film developed, "Nottingham", the Sheriff, based on Robert of Thornham, is the protagonist in the story, working to solve a string of murders for which an antihero Robin Hood has been falsely accused.
- In the Star Trek The Next Generation episode "Qpid", Q takes on the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham
- In the 2001 video game Stronghold Crusader, the Sheriff of Nottingham appears in it as an AI character. He is portrayed as a cruel lord who will use every dirty trick in the book to increase his power.
- In 2013, Wil Traval portrayed the Sheriff and his counterpart Keith in Lacey, an episode of the second season of Once Upon a Time.
- Ben Miller played the Sheriff in Robot of Sherwood, the third episode of the eighth series of Doctor Who. In this portrayal, he is killed when Robin Hood knocks him into a vat of liquid gold.
- Thomas, Frank, Johnston, Ollie (1986). The illusion of life: Disney animation. Disney Book Group. p. 344.
- Full listings of previous Sheriffs at this Robin Hood website
- Sheriff of Nottingham at the Internet Movie Database
- Nottingham City Council page on the sheriff's office
- A list of historical sheriffs can be seen on a Robin Hood research site