Maid Marian

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Maid Marian
tales of Robin Hood and his Merry Men character
A famous battle between Robin Hood, and Maid Marian (Wood 401(21)) (cropped).png
Woodcut of Maid Marian,
from a 17th-century broadside
First appearance16th century AD
Created byAnonymous balladeers
Portrayed byBernadette O'Farrell
Patricia Driscoll
Judi Trott
Kate Lonergan
Olivia de Havilland
Joan Rice
Sarah Branch
Gay Hamilton
Anna Galvin
Christie Laing
Diana Lynn
Enid Bennett
Audrey Hepburn
Uma Thurman
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Amy Yasbeck
Kate Moss
Cate Blanchett
Lucy Griffiths
Eve Hewson
Voiced byKatherine Shannon
Sarah Natochenny
Monica Evans
Naoko Matsui
Jo Wyatt
In-universe information
AliasMaid Marion
Marian Fitzwalter/Fitzwater
Lady Marion of Leaford
OccupationShepherdess (earlier stories)
Noblewoman (later stories)
FamilyRobert Fitzwalter/Fitzwater (father, in some stories)
SpouseRobin Hood (in some stories)
Significant otherRobin Hood
NationalityEnglish or Norman
Robin Hood and Maid Marian (poster, c. 1880)

Maid Marian is the heroine of the Robin Hood legend in English folklore, often taken to be his lover. She is not mentioned in the early, medieval versions of the legend, but was the subject of at least two plays by 1600. Her history and circumstances are obscure, but she commanded high respect in Robin’s circle for her courage and independence as well as her beauty and loyalty. For this reason, she is celebrated by feminist commentators as one of the early strong female characters in English literature.


Robin Hood and Marian in their Bower (1912). Maid Marion wears a Tyrolean hat and carries a hunting horn.

Maid Marian (or Marion) is never mentioned in any of the earliest extant ballads of Robin Hood. She appears to have been a character in May Games festivities (held during May and early June, most commonly around Whitsun)[1] and is sometimes associated with the Queen or Lady of May or May Day. Jim Lees in The Quest for Robin Hood (p. 81) suggests that Maid Marian was originally a personification of the Virgin Mary. Francis J. Childe argues that she originally was portrayed as a trull associated with a lascivious Friar Tuck: "She is a trul of trust, to serue a frier at his lust/a prycker a prauncer a terer of shetes/a wagger of ballockes when other men slepes."[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] Alexander Barclay, writing in c. 1500, refers to "some merry fytte of Maid Marian or else of Robin Hood".[5] Marian remained associated with May Day celebrations even after the association of Robin Hood with May Day had again faded.[6] 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".[7] Clorinda survives in some later stories as an alias of Marian.[8]

The "gentrified" Robin Hood character, portrayed as a historical outlawed nobleman, emerges in the late 16th century. From this time, Maid Marian is cast in terms of a noblewoman, but 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 originally was called Ryder.[citation needed]

In the play, The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon by Anthony Munday, which was written in 1598, Marian appears as Robin's lawfully-wedded wife, who changes her name from Matilda when she joins him in the greenwood.[9] She also has a cousin called Elizabeth de Staynton who is described as being the Prioress of Kirklees Priory near Brighouse in West Yorkshire.[10] The 19th century antiquarian, Joseph Hunter, identified a Robert Hood, yeoman[11] from Wakefield, Yorkshire, in the archives preserved in the Exchequer, whose personal story matched very closely the story of Robin in Anthony Munday's play, and this Robert Hood also married a woman named Matilda, who changed her name to Marian when she joined him in exile in Barnsdale Forest (following the Battle of Boroughbridge) in 1322, and who also had a cousin named Elizabeth de Staynton[12] who was Prioress of Kirklees Priory.[10] If these parallels are not coincidental, then the Marian of Robin Hood fame, whose origins may be distinct from the Marian of the May games or of Monday's play, may derive all her roots from her association with the historical Robert Hood of Wakefield.[13]

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). The "Matilda" theory of Maid Marian is further discussed in[14][15] In later versions of Robin Hood, Maid Marian is commonly named as "Marian Fitzwalter", only child of the Earl of Huntingdon, is the Maid Marian[16][17]

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.[18]

20th-century pop culture adaptations of the Robin Hood legend almost invariably have featured a Maid Marian and mostly have 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 from aversion to robbery.[19]

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.[20] In the Kevin Costner epic Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, she is a maternal cousin to the sovereign, while in the BBC adaption of 2006, she is the daughter of the former sheriff and was betrothed to Robin before his leaving for the Holy Land, and in his absence embarked on her own crusade against poverty in aiding the poor in a fashion similar to what Robin later achieved, becoming a skilled fighter in the process and leading the people to refer to her as 'The Night Watchman'.

Maid Marian's role as a prototypical strong female character has 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.


There have been several books based on the fictional character:


Bernadette O'Farrell as Maid Marian
  • Maid Marian was played by Josée Richard in the 1953 BBC mini-series Robin Hood. (She was married to Robert Robinson).[22]
  • 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 Fitzwater, 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 1975 ABC-TV Mel Brooks parody series, When Things Were Rotten, Maid Marian was portrayed by Misty Rowe.
  • In the HTV show Robin of Sherwood (1984–86), Marian was played by Judi Trott. After meeting and falling in love with Robin (of Locksley, played by Michael Praed), she marries and lives with him and the other outlaws in Sherwood Forest. When Robin died, she was pardoned by King John. When she attended a party at the Earl of Huntington's residence, she was wooed by his son Robert of Huntingdon (played by Jason Connery). He became Robin's successor as Herne's Son and leader of the outlaws. Robert (Robin) and Marion nearly marry until she mistakenly believes him to have been killed. She then decides to become a nun for the foreseeable future, believing that is the right, and only thing worth doing.
  • 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 in Japanese and Katherine Shannon[23] in English. Sometimes referred to as Mary Anne.
  • In the animated series Young Robin Hood, Maid Marian (Voiced by Anik Matern) is Robin's sweetheart and a ward at Nottingham; she sometimes suspected of conspiring with him. She frequently wore tan tights with a green men's shirt and a headband and was depicted as the equal of any of the Merry Men.
  • In the 1991 TV film Robin Hood, she is played by Uma Thurman.
  • In the 1997 TV series 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 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.
  • Maid Marian appears in the Once Upon a Time episode "Lacey" played by Christie Laing. Maid Marian is the target for the affection of the Sheriff of Nottingham. She runs away with Robin Hood after falling in love with him. Sometime later, Marian is pregnant and falls ill, causing Robin to obtain a magic wand from Rumplestiltskin's castle to heal her. After successfully curing her, Rumplestiltskin takes Belle to witness him killing Robin for stealing from him. However, after seeing the restored Marian and realizing her pregnancy, Belle begs Rumplestiltskin not to kill him or else the child would become fatherless. Rumplestiltskin purposely misses shooting him, alarming the pair to escape the woods. In "Quite a Common Fairy," a discussion between Robin and Rumplestiltskin's son Baelfire revealed that Maid Marian has died leaving Robin and his Merry Men into taking care of their child Roland. In "Snow Drifts" and "There's No Place Like Home," Emma Swan and Killian Jones travel back in time, and when Emma discovers a woman is about to be killed by the Evil Queen, she wants to save her but Jones worries about consequences. Emma is later imprisoned with the woman but both escape and return to the present day. Only after that do they discover that the woman is Marian, and Regina is furious that her new boyfriend Robin has his wife back. Though he wants to be with Regina, Robin and his family leave town in an effort to save Marian's life from a magical illness and then reside in New York. Regina later discovers Marian was killed in the past by her half-sister Zelena, the Wicked Witch of the West who has been posing as Marian ever since. Regina and Emma rush to New York and reveal the truth only to be informed by Robin that Zelena is pregnant.
  • In 2014, Maid Marian is portrayed by Sabrina Bartlett in an episode of Doctor Who called "Robot of Sherwood", with the Twelfth Doctor saving her from the Sheriff's dungeons before he learns of her identity or accepts that Robin is real.
  • Maid Marian is featured in Robin Hood: Mischief in Sherwood, voiced by Sarah Natochenny.


Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood giving Enid Bennett as Maid Marian a dagger
Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian


  1. ^ Knight (2003), pp. 11–12.
  2. ^ Child, Francis J. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, vol. 3, 122. Quotation is from A mery geste of Robyn Hoode and of hys lyfe, wyth a new playe for to be played in Maye games very pleasaunte and full of pastyme (c. 1561).
  3. ^ Hutton (1997), pp. 270–271.
  4. ^ Holt (1982), p. 37.
  5. ^ Richards (1977), p. 190.
  6. ^ Hutton (1997), p. 274.
  7. ^ Holt (1982), p. 165.
  8. ^ Wright, Allen W. "Other Merry Men". A Beginner's Guide to Robin Hood. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  9. ^ "The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington". Robbins Library Digital Projects, University of Rochester. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  10. ^ a b Zaaijer, Reijer (7 November 2013). "Fact or Fiction E04 Robin Hood". Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 5 December 2017 – via YouTube.
  11. ^ Midgley, Tim (2011). "Robin Hood... of Wakefield". Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  12. ^ Midgley, Tim. "The Prioress of Kirklees". Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  13. ^ Cawthorne, Nigel (2010). "Chapter 10: Maid Marian and Friar Tuck". A Brief History of Robin Hood. London, UK: Robinson. ISBN 978-1-84901-301-7.
  14. ^ 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, UK: J. Major & R. Jennings. pp. 505–507.
  15. ^ Wright, Allen W. "Marian". A Beginner's Guide to Robin Hood. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  16. ^ In McSpadden, J. Walker (1926). "Chapter I: How Robin Hood Became An Outlaw". Robin Hood. London, UK: George Harrap – via Project Gutenberg.
  17. ^ "Maid Marion". The International Catalogue of Heroes. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  18. ^ Wright, Allen W. "Robin Hood Tales". A Beginner's Guide to Robin Hood. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  19. ^ Richards (1977), p. 200.
  20. ^ Richards (1977), p. 201.
  21. ^ King, Stephen (2003). Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 326–327. ISBN 1-880418-56-8.
  22. ^ "Robin Hood (1953– ), Full Cast & Crew". IMDb. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  23. ^ "interview: Katherine Shannon". 30 March 2015. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  24. ^ "Robin Hood: Ghosts of Sherwood (2012) Full Cast & Crew". IMDb. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  25. ^ Jaafar, Ali (30 September 2015). "'Robin Hood: Origins' Shortlist: Eve Hewson, Gaite Jansen, Lucy Fry & Gugu Mbatha-Raw In Mix For Female Lead". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  26. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (15 October 2015). "Eve Hewson Landing Maid Marian In 'Robin Hood: Origins' Opposite Taron Egerton". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 5 November 2017.

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