The wild can be human work

‘Though goshawks are native to Britain, by the 19th century they’d been rendered extinct by habitat loss and persecution. In the 1960s and 1970s falconers started a quiet, unofficial scheme to bring them back. For the cost of importing a goshawk from the continent for falconry, you could bring in a second bird and release it. Buy one, set one free. It wasn’t hard with a bird as self-reliant and predatory as a gos. You just found a forest and opened the box. Some were released on purpose, some were simply lost. They survived, found each other and bred, secretly and successfully. Today their descendants number about 450 pairs. Elusive, spectacular, utterly at home, the fact of these British goshawks makes me happy. Their existence gives the lie to the thought that the wild is always something untouched by human hearts and hands. The wild can be human work.’

(Helen MacDonald, H is for Hawk)


Rewilding as the New Situationism? : Reversal of Perspectives

‘I believe that pockets of wild land should be accessible to everyone; no one should have to travel far to seek refuge from the ordered world.’ (George Monbiot, Feral, 2014)

‘We are bored in the city, there is no longer any Temple of the Sun.’ (Ivan Chtcheglov, Formulary for a New Urbanism, 1953).

‘Our central idea is that of the construction of situations, that is to say, the concrete construction of momentary ambiances of life and their transformation into a superior passional quality.’ (Guy Debord, Report on the construction of situations, 1957)

‘One evening, as night fell, my friends and I wandered into the Palais de Justice in Brussels. The building is a monstrosity, crushing the poor quarters beneath it and guarding, like a sentry, the fashionable Avenue Louise – out of which, some day, we will make a breathtakingly beautiful bombsite. As we wandered through the labyrinth of corridors, staircases, and suite after suite of rooms, we discussed what could be done to make the place habitable; for a time we occupied the enemies’ territory; through the peer of our imagination we transformed the thieves den into a fantastic funfair, into a sunny pleasure dome, where the most amazing adventures would, for the first time, be really lived.’ (Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life, 1967)

‘A rewilding, for me, had already begun by seeking out the pockets of land and water that might inspire and guide an attempt to revive the natural world, I had revived my own life. Long before my dreams of restoration had been realized, the untamed spirit I had sought to invoke had already returned. By equipping myself with knowledge of the past while imagining a rawer and richer future, I had banished my ecological boredom. The world had become alive with meaning, alive with possibility. The trees now bore the marks of elephants; their survival in the gorge prefigured the return of wolves.’ (George Monbiot, Feral, 2014)





Pirates and Pirates Party

This week the second edition of The Devil’s Anarchy, with a new introduction, was published by Autonomedia in Brooklyn:

By a remarkable coincidence, in my hometown Amsterdam the Dutch Piratenpartij (Pirate Party) did well in the muncipal elections of the same week, and had one representative elected in the district council of West Amsterdam.


Though it is hard to recognize a tough pirate in the nerds of the Piratenpartij the emphasis of the latter on individual freedom and on decentralisation of power does echo some of the policies of the Jolly Roger. Meanwhile, on the other side of Europe, the Turkish government seems to have lost contact with the reality of the 21st century and has banned the use of Twitter. See the reaction of the Turkish Pirate Party.

Second edition The Devil’s Anarchy out soon

While we can enjoy a fair amount of pirate libertarianism behind the gory violence and bare-breasted women of the new television series Black Sails, for those with a wish for the real thing Autonomedia will bring out in March a reprint of The Devil’s Anarchy. I have written a new introduction and corrected a few errors, but the text is unchanged.



‘In an honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and hard labour. In this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power; and who would not balance creditor on this side, when all the hazard that is run for it, at worst is only a sour look or two at choking? No, a merry life and a short one shall be my motto.

Onderzoek naar de volksgeneeskunde: ‘Lost in Translation’?

Een mijlpaal in het historisch onderzoek naar de volksgeneeskunde is een dissertatie die inmiddels als meer dan een eeuw geleden, in 1909, is verschenen: Volksgeneeskunst in Nederland, van de Gorinchemse huisarts en medisch-historicus M.A. van Andel. In het laatste nummer van Studium ga ik meer op Van Andel in, en stel ik de vraag: wat raakt ‘Lost in Translation?’

Van Andel rangschikte de geneesmiddelen en geneeswijzen van het ‘volk’ volgens de bestaande ziektebeelden van de geneeskunde en geeft daarmee een mooi overzicht. Maar hij beschouwde de volksgeneeskunde niet als een valide alternatief voor de academische wetenschap.

Chirurgijns overzee 1600-1800

Dit is de titel van mijn bijdrage aan de net verschenen Canon van de heelkunde. Het arikel is gebaseerd op Vrijbuiters van de heelkunde en schetst een wat genuanceerder beeld van de scheepschirurgijns in de 17e en 18e eeuw dan gebruikelijk.


De woorden van de chirurgijn Abraham Titsingh (1684-1776), die als ‘vrijgeboren Nederlander, een Amsterdammer’ geen blad voor de mond nam, zijn kenmerkend voor de houding van veel scheepschirurgijns uit de tijd van de Republiek:

‘Schoolwijsheid maakt verblinding (…) De bespiegelende betweters [universitair gevornde artsen] hebben de jongeren misleid door onbewezen gevoelens (…) De ware kennis komt alleen uit dadelijke ondervinding, goede beoordeling en voorzichtige wel overlegde proefneming.’

The Politics of Piracy in Popular Culture: Alive and Kicking

If you think that since the disappointment of Pirates of the Caribbean IV: On Stranger Tides (2011) the image of the pirate-as-hero in popular culture has received a setback, think again. As I walk through my home town the billboards are once again filled with a pirate flag.

The pirate as freedom fighter against state authority (or to be more precise, colonial empires) is back again in the video game series Assassin’s Creed.  Black Flag is the latest installment in the series, and focuses on the adventures of a pirate-captain-cum-assassin in the 1715 Caribbean: the Golden Age of Piracy. There are a number of trailers for Black Flag on the Internet, but there is one that makes the clearest statement about the politics of piracy as presented in Black Flag. The pirate as fighter against colonial imperialism, the republic of pirates ruled by the outlaws themselves on the island of Nassau in the Bahamas, the pirate philosophy of enjoying life while it lasts, it’s all there. As is some women’s lib, as presented in the character of Anne Bonney. As Anne says in  the trailer to the hero: ‘You taught me how to live in liberty and die defiant.’



The message is of course simple and uncomplicated, but what do you expect from a video game? At least it is still a relevant message in these dark times when Anne says: ‘Kings and queens curse your name, but you defy them by living free.’

The Anne Bonney from Black Flag (on the left) is of course modeled on the historical woman pirate Anne Bonney (on the right, in an early eighteenth-century drawing). The pirate-hero of Black Flag aside we encounter a lot of historical figures, including the Blackbeard who also figured in On Stranger Tides. The reference to a Republic of Pirates suggests that the makers of Black Flag have taken good notice of a historical study of the same name, written by Colin Woodard and published in 2007. The idea of an autonomous pirate republic is in itself nothing new. It goes back as far as Daniel Defoe and Captain Johnson, contemporaries of the Golden Age of Piracy. The idea of the pirate as social bandit (see my earlier post on The Noble Robber) has been taken up and further developed by American maritime historian Marcus Rediker. It has even led to a minor historical controversy, as a number of maritime historians feel that it is based on an ill-advised romanticism – though these historians seem to forget that authors as Rediker and others do not hesitate to address the shadowside of piracy as well. My own study The Devil’s Anarchy, which discussed two accounts of seventeenth-century Dutch pirates and tried to establish similarities and dissimilarities with the Golden Age of Piracy, was confronted with similar criticism. Luckily this will not hinder the publisher to bring the book back into print in the near future.

Undaunted, Woodard put himself explicitly in the Rediker tradition and did a more extensive study of archival sources for his Republic of Pirates. This seems not only to have had some influence in the world of video games. Coming soon in a television program Crossbones, hosted by American corporation NBC is, again, Blackbeard. On the left his early eighteenth-century presentation; his new persona will be performed by no one less than John Malkovich. If we may believe Wikipedia Crossbones is once again inspired by the Woodard book.

We’ll have to wait to see what will come out of this but for the time being the black flag of piracy is still hoisted from our game computers and television screens.

The Noble Robber

Exctract from a lecture at the Japanese swordfighting summerschool in Velling, Denmark, 1 July:


An important part of national cultural identities are the myths and folklore that shape, often at an unconscious level, our understanding of ourselves and our origins and communities.  It is extremely interesting that these myths and this folklore have specific local forms and variations, but are nonetheless often obvious embodiments of more general myths or, if you wish, archetypes that can be found throughout many different cultures and nationalities. In this lecture I would like to discuss with you one of the most famous of these myths, a myth that is built upon actual historical events and social experiences: the myth of the Noble Robber, whose archetype is Robin Hood.

For those of you who know me only as a martial arts practitioner, some explanation may be needed why I have chosen Robin Hood as the theme for my lecture at this summer school.  Apart from the obvious connection of the noble robber with the handling of violence and with weapon arts, there are direct historical links between outlawry and Eastern martial arts. At first sight this might appear to be strange, since the Eastern and especially the Japanese martial arts have been integrated into a culture in which authority, obedience to the law and to one’s lord, emperor or country, and subjection of the individual to the community are the highest values. But as always, Chinese and Japanese cultures have an undercurrent that is opposed to the dominant values, a yang to the dominant yin of obedience. The archetypal Robin Hoods of Chinese and Japanese culture are the so-called Outlaws of the Marsh, or the bandits of Liang Shan Po. The 14th-century Chinese novel Shui Hu Zhuan (literally The Marsh Chronicles), based on historical events, tells us the story of a ‘hundred some-odd men and women banded together on a marsh-girt mountain (and) became leaders of an outlaw army of thousands and fought brave and resourceful battles against pompous, heartless tyrants.’

Here is one of them: ‘Nine-Dragons Shi-Jin’, in a famous woodblock print by the 19th-century Japanese artist Kuniyoshi Utagawa. It shows how the Outlaws of the Marsh also captivated the Japanese. And in fact, outlaws, masterless warriors, bandits, and gamblers (ronin or roshi) have played an important and extremely interesting role in the development of Japanese swordsmanship and martial arts.

In my other persona, as a historian, I have always been interested in how actual historical figures, such as the piratical incarnations of our noble robbers, lived and were transform and eulogized as well as demonized in the popular imagination.

All these points will return in this lecture, but let us start with the greatest and most famous of them all: Robin Hood.


Lythe and listin, gentilmen,

That be of freborne blode:

I shall you tel of a gode yeman.

His name was Robyn Hode


Robyn was a prude outlaw,

Whyles he walked on grounde:

So curteyse an outlaw as he was one

Was nevere non founde.

(R B Dobson & J Taylor, Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw (London: Heinemann, 1976) 79)

The Gest of Robyn Hode is the most elaborate ballad of Robin Hood in existence and has been described by the English historian Gillian Spraggs as an ‘outlaw romance’. We can note that it appears at roughly the same time as the Outlaws of the Marsh, and there are many similarities between men as Nine-Dragons Master Shi and Robin Hood. They are both accomplished martial artists. They are honourable men, having aristocratic virtues as generosity and courtesy towards women. Their enemies are evil lower magistrates like the Sheriff of Nottingham, not the King or the Emperor. And although they have aristocratic virtues, they are not aristocrats themselves.  Their basis of operations is in wild territories, outside the powers of the rulers-that-be: the marshes of Sung dynasty China, and the green woods of Plantagenet England. There has been much discussions about whether Robin Hood is the champion of the people, in this case the peasants of medieval England, but the gest of Robyn Hode clearly defines him in the third line as a ‘yeoman’. A yeoman is neither a nobleman nor a serf. Originally, he was a low-ranking member of a nobleman’s household – freeborn and honourable, often skilled as foresters and huntsmen, which is why Robin Head wears the well-known green outfit and is carrying bow and arrows. By the late middle ages, free landholders and artisans also came to be designated as and equivalent in law to yeomen. Robin Hood is a hero of this class, although he also becomes a hero for the nobility itself. To begin with, role-playing games happened in late medieval England at lower levels of the social scale: summer festivities where young men dressed in green, had archery contests and went around ‘gathering for Robin Hood’. Later this moves as a kind of ‘outlaw chic’ to the higher levels of society. By the early 1500s, king Henry VIII and his friends will disguise themselves as Robin Hood and his merry band and do a mock attack on their lady friends at the court.

Already by then Robin Hood was more a figure of myth and fantasy then of reality, and what cultural historians call a ‘cultural script’ was written that defined the behaviour that should go along with playing the role. People, from high to low, enjoyed acting out the more playful aspects of this fantasy in. But we will see later that the more realistic and violent aspects of this script would also be played out, up to this very day.


These role-playing games were and still are fantasies, but they had actual roles in the functioning of the social fabric and in daily life. The role-playing phantasy made a short escape possible from the demands of everyday reality, either passively (by listening to, looking at, and reading of the image of Robin Hood), or even actively, by strutting around dressed in green and pretending to be a happy outlaw. I think it is very interesting that this phantasy was grafted upon the acts of and memories of a very real historical figure, or even figures. As Spraggs write, ‘There is evidence, sketchy but very suggestive, that as early as the thirteenth century names such as ‘Robehod’ or ‘Robynhod’  had become nicknames used by or applied to particular individuals, some of whom, at any rate, were noteworthy for typical Robin Hood activities, such as robbery, archery or poaching.’ [p. 56]

Historian David Crook has unearthed a reference to Robin Hood as far back as an exchequer memoranda roll of 1262. This is about a process against the prior if Sandleford, who had seized the cattle of a person who had fled from accusations of larceny and harbouring). The prior had kept the proceeds from the cattle for himself, instead of turning them over to the king. The clerk at the chancery who recorded the proceedings allowed himself a little joke. Though the name of the person who had fled was William, son of Robert Smith (Le Fevre), he turned it into William Robehod. ‘It is to be supposed that the man who altered the name thought of Robin Hood as a criminal and fugitive.’ And indeed, one Robert Hod from Yorkshire fled the jurisdiction of the king and his chattels were taken in July 1225. We don’t know what he exactly did, but here we may have the original Robin Hood.

And David Crook has gone even further in his speculations. In that same year 1225 king Henry III ordered the sheriff of Yorkshire to hire sergeants and to seek, take and behead one ‘’Robert of Wetherby, outlaw and evildoer of our land.’ One of the expenses the sheriff later claimed was ‘for a chain to hang Robert of Wetherby’ – to hang him and to put him on display for the public? Was Robert of Wetherby the same man as Robin Hod? In historical England, Robin was captured and hung by the chain. In the plays and stories about him, he would outwit the sheriff. (David Crook, ‘The Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood: The Genesis of a Legend?’, in P.R. Cross and S.D. Lloyd, eds., Thirteenth Century England, Vol. II (Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1988, 59-68)

After 1225 the name Robin Hood keeps popping up to name real bandits. A petition to parliament mentioned one Piers Venables of Derbyshire, who had rescued a prisoner on his way to Tyburn castle, and who had a band of followers ‘beying of his clothinge, and in manere of insurrection went into the wodes in that country like it hadde be Robyn Hode and his meynes.’ Criminals even started to call themselves Robin Hood, like one Robert Marshall of Wednesbury who was accused in 1497 to have led a group of more than one hundred in a riotous assembly at Willenhall. One of those ‘criminals’ who were called Robin Hood have become famous again: remember Guy Fawkes? [Dobson & Tyler, 4] We will have occasion to return to him.



Robin Hood, then, is a complex figure, mixing historical reality, myth and phantasy. Marxist historian E.J. Hobsbawm in a booklet first published in 1969 has therefore relegated him to the figure of an archetype. Hobsbawm was and is a classical Marxist, who believed that peasant revolutionaries and rebels were reactionary and doomed to a lost fight against the march of history and the rise of capitalism. One of the forms their rebellion took was that of ‘social bandits’: social bandits, in his view, were universally found in human societies. Relatively recent examples of these bandits are Jesse James, murdered in 1882, who was reputed never to have robbed an ex-Confederate; even more recently the Brazilian bandit Lampiao or Lampeao (1898-1938), and the Sicilian Salvatore Giuliano (1922-1950). What characterized these ‘social bandits’, according to Hobsbawm, was their relationship to their own social class, the peasant. In mythology, though not always in actuality, they would rob the rich and give to the poor. Despite regional variations, their presence was universal. Hobsbawm devised a typology of these social bandits (‘noble robbers’, ‘avengers’, and ‘haiduks’ – the latter are the robbers of Southeastern Europe, akin to the outlaws of the marsh) and relegated Robin Hood to the archetype of the Noble Robber. Despite his Marxism, and though his book concerned itself mainly with bandits in actual history, Hobsbawm was quite sympathetic to the image or symbol of the robber. I quote: ‘… there is more to the literary or popular cultural image of the bandit than the documentation of contemporary life in backward societies, the longing for lost innocence and adventure in advanced ones. There is (…) a permanent emotion and a permanent role. There is freedom, heroism, and the dream of justice.’ (p. 131-132).

Historical studies as that of Hobsbawm are eager to separate fact from myth, but one of the interesting things is how difficult this is: partly because already at a very early stage the role of noble robber, as I said before, becomes a cultural script, available to everyone with the nerve and dash to act it out. This already starts quite early in medieval times, as we have seen. The key slogan for this script became: take from the rich and give to the poor, something instantly recognizable by all people who find themselves poor and have a grudge at what they see as the undeserved and anti-social wealth of the rich. There is hardly ANY evidence that the real Robin Hoods of the 13th century did give their booty to the poor. Their attitude may more have been such as ironically depicted in the 1969 comic book Jesse James, a volume in the famous Lucky Luke series. This is an excellent though simplified example of how a cultural script works: Jesse becomes a bandit inspired by a book on Robin Hood, but then decides to keep the booty he takes from the rich in his own (poor) family.

We do not know if real Robin Hoods didn’t operate from the same mind-set as Rene Goscinny’s Jesse James. We do know however that the idea of take from the rich, to give to the poor, is evident in popular festivities in 15th-century England. I quote Spraggs: ‘It is likely that much of the performance [of early Robin Hood plays] would have been improvised extempore, as the young men of the parish engaged in archery contests or went ‘gathering’ – collecting money among the crowd who turned out to see the fun. This would have allowed for plenty of appropriate role-playing, since, after all, relieving passers-by of their spare cash was one of the things for which Robin Hood’s band was famous’. We have here a kind of ‘creation of situations’ or happenings in which young people acted out their fantasies of Robin Hood and the free and wild outlaw life in a more or less structured environment, a parallel in daylight to the wild nightly revels of the Walpurgis night. This, of course, was not to everybody’s liking. ‘… a disapproving commentator in Elizabeth’s reign [note, we are now in the second half of the 16th century] complained that those who refused to pay up on these occasions could expect to be ‘mocked and flouted at shamefully’, and he says that in extreme cases they might even be ducked in water or ‘carried upon a Cowlstaffe’ – set astride a pole and carried about to be jeered at.’ But it is unlikely that such rough treatment was typical. As a general rule, the ‘gatherings’ took place under very respectable auspices: they were organised, or at least countenanced, by the churchwardens, and the money that was collected was handed over to them. Some of it would be spent on a feast for the men who had played the parts of Robin Hood and his company, and the rest would be put towards the expenses of the parish. This may offer another clue to the beginnings of the notion that Robin Hood ‘took from the riche and gave to the poor’, since it was common for the parish authorities to pay out sums in charity to people who were in need.’ [Spraggs, 53-54]

Goscinny’s example may be a caricature, the cultural script of Robin Hood was available to robbers in England. I give one example: a 17th-century highwayman who consciously tried to portray himself as a noble robber in the tradition of Robin Hood. James Hind (1616-1652) was arrested in London in November 1651, after his denunciation by a comrade soldier from the army of Charles II. Two months before the forces of Oliver Cromwell had defeated the royalist troops. Charles had to make a sensational escape to the continent and it was rumoured that Hind had assisted him and even engineered the escape. But he was also known in another capacity: as a robber on the highways.

Hind was tried in March 1652 and claimed benefit of clergy. Unfortunately it turned out he could not read aloud the text he was given, so proving his claim. Still, he seemed to escape his sentence, because in the aftermath of the Civil War Parliament had passed an act of general pardon. But Hind’s luck did not hold, since he now was tried on the charge of treason, a charge for which the act did not apply. He was convicted and, in November 1652, hang, drawn and quartered.

While in prison Hind discussed his exploits with one or more hack-writers, who brought out two pamphlets: Hind’s Ramble, and Hind’s Exploits. These made him the most famous robber of his day, but also show how carefully Hind tried to live up to a reputation as a genuine Robin Hood.  He was depicted as a sympathetic robber, who carried out his robberies with style (Grace), and who had courage, presence of mind, ingenuity and a prankish wit. In another pamphlet he was reported to have said:

‘I owe a debt of God (…) that he hath kept me from shedding of blood unjustly (…) Neither did I wrong any poor man worth of a penny, but I must confess, I have  (…) made bold with a rich Bompkin, or a lying Lawyer, whose full-fled fees from the rich Farmer, doth too too much impoverish the poor cottage-keeper.’ [Spraggs 164]

Was this a true statement? We do not know, but that is not the point here. The point is that he wished to present this image to the public. In a similar vein, an eighteenth-century robber once declared explicitly that he robbed the rich to give to the poor. And this would not just be an image for the public. Significantly, the former highwayman and medical doctor James Clavell tells us in his 1634 memoirs that his fellow robbers would whistle the tune of a Robin Hood ballad as a signal to mount an attack.




The archetype of Robin Hood is typically English, but both myth and reality show themes that are obviously themes in other cultures as well. The noble robber becomes an outlaw and breaks the law. To many, he is no more than a bandit, who out of greed and anti-social impulses takes what is not his, if necessary by violence. But to others, and this is not necessarily limited to the poor, he is a hero: he breaks the law, that is true, but only because the law is the law of the rich and powerful, and often unjust. He (and occasionally she) dares what other men and women do not, but deep in their heart would crave to do: out of lust for adventure, out of hatred to the rich, out of a feeling of justice. In short, the noble robber is an ambivalent figure, both in myth and in reality. But his ambivalences transcend local, Yorskhire or English culture: they are presented wherever people feel oppressed or cramped.

We should find the Noble Robber therefore where we are now. I hardly can read any Danish and am not particularly familiar with Danish history, and could not find much literature on the Danish situation in languages I do read. So I asked my friends here to come up with Danish examples of Robin Hood, and they came up with Jens Langkniv {Longknive|, Jens Olesen, and what I can gather in him all ambivalences of the Noble Robber are present. Was he a bandit, or a hero?


I was also given another Danish example, and I think he is even more complicated because he is not so much an individual robber as one who leads collective action against the powers-that-be.

‘In the northernmost part of Jutland, in the region known as Vendsyssel, the rebellion took a particularly disturbing turn [by the summer of 1534]. Egged on by one ‘Skipper Clement’, a privateer in Christian II’s service, peasants and townspeople in Vendyssel took up the case of the captive king [Christian II], seizing Alborg and defeating a noble levy at Svenstrup in October. The intended target of Skipper Clement’s mob was not so much the pretender from Holstein [Christian III] as it was the nobility in general and consequently the Vendsyssel rebels engaged in an orgy of class-based violence, burning noble manors and hunting down local magnates.’ [Paul Douglas Lockhart, Denmark, 1513-1660: The Rise and Decline of a Renaissance Monarchy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 27]

Is Skipper Clemens an example of medieval and early modern revolutionaries who by violent action wish to topple down existing structures and create a heaven on earth? There are many of them around in the 16th and 17th centuries: in the German Peasant Revolt, in the Anabaptists at Munster, in the attempt of Anabaptists to take over the city of Amsterdam in 1535 etc. The privateer Skipper Clemens is Robin Hood turned revolutionary. And here he points forward to another powerful strain in the Robin Hood tradition.


The French revolution and the Romantic Movement gave new impetus to the image of Robin Hood as not only a noble, but a revolutionary robber. In 1795 the English lawyer and antiquarian Joseph Ritson (1752-1803) published a collection of poems, songs and ballads of Robin Hood. Ritson was a republican and a vegetarian, who hated the reigning royal family. Contemporaries attributed this to his ‘incipient insanity’: Ritson was removed to the lunatic asylum of Hoxton and died there after a few days. In his introduction to his Robin Hood collection he portrays Robin as a noble robber, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, only killing in self-defence and gallant to women. But Ritson goes even further and enlists Robin in the course of his own republicanism and anticlericalism:

‘Our hero, indeed, seems to have held bishops, abbots, priests and monks, – in a word, all the clergy, regular and secular, – in decided aversion […] the pride, avarice, uncharitableness, and hypocrisy, of these clerical drones, or pious locusts, will afford him ample justification […]

[He} for a long series of years, maintained as sort of independent sovereignty, and set kings, judges, and magistrates at defiance […[

[He was] a man who, in a barbarous age, and under a complicated tyranny, displayed a spirit of freedom and independence, which has endeared him to the common people, whose cause he maintained, (for all opposition to tyranny is the cause of the people)…’

The revolutionary outlaw became a staple-place of Romantic literature, who gave him a tormented and dark twist, as in Schiller’s Robber or in Byron’s Corsair. And this dark twist remains when we jump from the Romantic era to that of our own, and look at an omnipresent and transcultural image of the noble robber as revolutionary.

The images for this revolutionary Robin Hood can come from all kinds of unlikely sources. Here is one that is around right here, at the present moment, visible in any social protest around the globe:

Guy Fawkes (1570-1606), one of the instigators of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament) was himself from Yorkshire, as was Robin Hood. James Sharpe in his study of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot (Remember, remember, the Fifth of November, 2005), has unearthed popular rhymes on Fawkes. Most of it is quite negative, for instance:

Remember, remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason, why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,

Gunpowder, treason and plot!

A stick or a stake for King James’ sake

Will you please to give us a fagot

If you can’t give us one, we’ll take two;

The better for us and the worse for you!


Guy, guy, guy

Poke him in the eye,

Put him on the bonfire,

And there let him die


But see this interesting rhyme:

Here comes three jolly rovers, all in one row.

We’re coming a cob-coiling for t’ Bon Fire Plot.

Bon Fire Plot from morning till night !

If you’ll give us owt, we’ll steal nowt, but bid you goodnight.

Fol-a-dee, fol-a-die, fol-a-diddle-die-do-dum !


The V for Vendetta movie, the 2005 adaptation of a 1980’s comic book series written by Alan Moore, is an excellent example of the re-circulation of the Robin Hood image in an unexpected form (in contrast to the stereotyping of most actual Robin Hood movies), and shows how symbols are taken up in a worldwide culture. And we also get back again to one of my own basic fascinations for Robin Hood. Because the Guy Fawkes of V for Vendetta is a consummate martial artists and swordfighter.

Slavernij en geneeskunde: lepra in 18e eeuws Suriname

Binnenkort kunnen we vieren dat het 150 jaar geleden is dat de slavernij in Nederlandse gebiedsdelen werd afgeschaft. Pas 150 jaar geleden moet ik zeggen, want Nederland liep decennia achter bij andere Europese landen. Ter vergelijking: op 1 januari 1863 vaardigde de Amerikaanse president Abraham Lincoln de Emancipation Proclamation uit, waarbij de slaven in de zuidelijke staten van de Confederacy (waarmee de noordelijke staten van de USA in een bloedige burgeroorlog waren verwikkeld) bevrijd werden.

Een half jaar later, op 1 juli 1863, werden ook de slaven in Suriname en op de Nederlandse Antillen door de Nederlandse regering bevrijd.



De slavernij heeft uiteraard zijn erfenis nagelaten op de Caribische maatschappijen, tot vandaag de dag toe. Ook de gezondheidszorg heeft met die erfenis te maken. In een net gepubliceerde artikel in Social History of Medicine laat ik aan de hand van lepra zien hoe niet alleen de medische praktijk, maar ook de medische kennis zelf in het 18e eeuwse Suriname letterlijk werd gekleurd door de slavernij en de angst voor de eigen slaven.





Historicus en publicist