10/31/13 - robin hood, the pied piper of hamelin, and king arthur

In today's encore selection -- on this day when children dress in costume, we recall famed historian William Manchester's words on Robin Hood, the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and King Arthur:

"A YORKSHIRE gravestone bears this inscription:

Hear underneath dis laihl stean
las Robert earl of Huntingtun
neer arcir yer az hie sa geud
And pipl kauld in Robin Heud
sick utlawz as he an iz men
il england nivr si agen
         Obit 24 kal Decembis 1247

"Robin Hood lived; this marker confirms it, just as the Easter tables attest to the existence of the great Arthur. But that is all the tombstone does. Everything we know about that period suggests that Robin was merely another wellborn cutthroat who hid in shrubbery by roadsides, waiting to rob helpless wayfarers. ...

The alleged site of Robin Hood's grave

"The more we study those remote centuries, the unlikelier such legends become. Later mythmakers invested the Middle Ages with a bogus aura of romance. The Pied Piper of Hamelin is an example. He was a real man, but there was nothing enchanting about him. Quite the opposite; he was horrible, a psychopath and a pederast, who on June 20, 1484 spirited away 130 children in the Saxon village of Hammel and used them in unspeakable ways. Accounts of the aftermath vary. According to some, his victims were never seen again; others told of dismembered little bodies found scattered in the forest underbrush or festooning the branches of trees.

The oldest picture of the Pied Piper copied from the glass window of the Market Church in Hamelin Germany

"The most imaginative cluster of fables appeared in print the year after the Piper's mass murders when William Caxton published Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. Later bowdlerized [sanitized] versions of this great work have obscured the fact that Malory, contemplating medieval morality, seldom wore blinders. He had no illusions about his heroine when he wrote: 'There syr Launcelot toke the Fayrest Ladie by the hand, and she was naked as a nedel.' Some of his characters may actually have existed. For over a thousand years villagers in remote parts of Wales have called an adultress 'a regular Guinevere.' But Launcelot du Lac is entirely fictitious, and given the colossal time sprawl of the Middle Ages, it is highly unlikely that Guinevere, if indeed she lived, even shared the same century with Arthur."

'King Arthur fighting the Saxons' - illustration taken from the Rochefoucauld Grail, one of the earliest accounts of The Legend of King Arthur


William Manchester


A World Lit Only By Fire


Little, Brown and Company




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