"But..." I hear you sputter, "he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor! He led the peasants in a fight for their freedom!"
Well, yes and no. He did rob from the rich and give to the poor. But he never tried to free the serfs.
"But..." you sputter again, "I've seen the movie! Morgan Freeman says 'If you would be free men, then you must fight!'"
But he only said that because even though it would be more historically accurate, it makes a lousy sound-bite to shout "If you would defend the power of your God-given feudal overlords, who only exploit you in the traditionally ordained amount, against these usurpers who seek to take from you more than what custom requires you to give, then you must fight!"
To look at what Robin's fighting for, it's helpful to look at what he's fighting against. The Sheriff of Nottingham's crimes were:
- He abused his power, taxing the peasants excessively.
- He conspired against his rightful king.
Of all the Robin Hood movies I've seen, I think the one that does the best job of expressing the essential nature of Robin's struggle is the Disney version. You know, the animated one. Where Robin's a fox and Little John's a bear. (And WTF are rhinoceri doing in medieval England? And how is it that Marian is the king's cousin if she's a fox and he's a lion?) Funny animal issues aside, though, this one does a great job of capturing the essential medievalness of the Robin Hood story. There's never any talk of the peasants being free, but instead a promise that things will be "like they used to be" when King Richard returns.
So there you have it: Apparently Robin Hood was robbing from the rich and giving to the poor not because the rich were taking from the poor, but because the rich were taking too much from the poor.