By Alison Weaverdyck
It’s impossible to hear the name “Robin Hood” and not immediately think of his foe, The Sheriff of Nottingham. But who is this notorious antagonist and how do we use them in the World of Hood?
The Sheriff of the Ballads
Though the Sheriff of Nottingham shows up over and over in the ballads, his personality is not well defined. This is likely due to the fact that Nottingham has had many sheriffs, and depending on when the story was set, it could have been a reflection of any number of people. Not to mention, Robin Hood killed him on a regular basis in the ballads. This makes it difficult to tell if it is a parade of different people or one mythic figure who comes back again and again because only his role matters, not his character.
The word “sheriff” comes from a combination of “shire” and “reeve”, the term for a crown-appointed official of a region. His duties varied from tax collection to investigating crimes to commanding a military force. So in the ballads, the Sheriff figure morphed depending on what each story needed him to be. In some stories, he would be the one stealing from the coffers, and in others, he was simply trying to catch the criminals because it was his job. This lack of definition has led to many different interpretations over the years.
The Sheriff of Nottingham in TV and Film
Each writer and actor who has tackled this iconic role has given it their own spin. The fabulous website The True History of Robin Hood, put it perfectly:
“[I]n Roger Lancelyn Green’s 1956 novel, the Sheriff is a commanding leader of his men, but with a gluttonous and jovial streak, greedy and comfortable; Alan Wheatley’s portrayal of the Sheriff on television is a no-nonsense administrator, bent on capturing Robin Hood but merely because his role as a lawman requires him to; Alan Rickman is the manic, tantruming sadist, Ben Mendelsohn and Keith Allen are the quiet and cruel schemers with the shortest of tempers. The Sheriff is an archetype to the point of being a completely blank canvas – the name is the role, and what form that role takes is up to the author to determine, with no wrong answer; they can be an unessential comic relief, an integral puppet-master.”
Speaking of comic relief, this writer’s favourite portrayal didn’t even make the list! (Though I suppose technically Roger Rees played “The Sheriff of Rottingham” rather than Nottingham.) In Robin Hood: Men in Tights, the Sheriff is doing his best to capture Robin and woo Marian… but his best just isn’t all that great. From a mishap with a saddle and unique verbal tics to his failed attempt at a “stealth catapult” (they painted to rock black), this Sheriff is endlessly funny. And Rees’s performance is perfection.
Check out The True History of Robin Hood to go on a deep dive into the various real Sheriffs of Nottingham.
Who is the Sheriff of Nottingham in the World of HOOD?
So where does that leave HOOD? With a nearly blank slate to fill! And fill it we have.
One obvious change we made to the character parameters was to make her a woman. With both Philippa and Robyn gender-swapped, we could have changed the tip of the love triangle from “Maid Marian” to “Mr. Marian”, but there was no real reason to do so. In our story world, discrimination based on gender and sexuality is a thing of the past.
Philippa Murdoch is still the right hand to King John and the head of Nottingham’s security forces. And to the rebels like Will Scarlett, she is a dangerous foe. But to our Robyn character, she is so much more than just a villain. Robyn and Philippa are half-sisters through their father, but in our matriarchal story world, the titles and trappings of the Loxley name could never go to Philippa. Though the two of them have happy childhood memories together, tension grew between them as they got older. Some of this is due to Philippa constantly being second fiddle to her much more popular sister, but it’s deeper than that.
In many ways, Philippa is the perfect foil to Robyn, but at the same time, the ways they are alike is at the root of their conflicts. Philippa wears a mask of calm whereas Robyn wears her heart on her sleeve. And where Philippa is more of a schemer and diplomat, Robyn is aptly described by King John as a “vortex of chaos.” But they both sincerely believe they know what’s best for the citizens of Nottingham and care about their people. It’s only their definition of “best” that differs. And when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, things are bound to get interesting…
Do you have a favourite Sheriff of Nottingham? Would you ever want that kind of responsibility yourself? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!