A Minstrel of the Royal Court Picture

"The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death ye may find him;
His father's sword he hath girded on,
With his wild harp slung along behind him.
'Land of Song,' said the warrior bard,
hough all the world betrays thee,
ne sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!'"

Several years ago, I was re-watching Disney's 1973 Robin Hood and, though a wonderful and likeable film, it is unfortunately lacking, mainly due to the point that it related little to the original ballads, so I decided that I'd like to do a "re-telling" of the story, making it more literarily/mythologically/historically accurate as well, scissoring in other related literary works (such as Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, Anthony Munday's Huntington plays, William Shakespeare's King John, etc), as well as best aspects of film and TV, from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, starring Errol Flynn), The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952, the criminally underrated live-action Disney film, which the animated 1973 version was heavily inspired by), The Lion in Winter (1968, starring Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn), Robin and Marian (1976, starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn), Robin of Sherwood (1984-1986 British TV series), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991, starring Kevin Costner), etc.


Real Name:
  • Alain de Nesle (or Alan de Nesle)
  • Alan-a-Dale, Alan A'Dale, Alan Airedale, Alan Dale, Allan-a-Dale, Allan A'Dayle, Allan O' Dale, Allen-a-Dale, Allin-a-Dale.
  • Franco-Norman Brown Leghorn Rooster (Gallus gallus domesticus)
Employed By:
  • Baron Robert FitzWalter of Dunmow, Lady Marian (FitzWalter) of Dunmow (Maid Marian), and (to an extent) Queen Mother Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Merry Men of Sherwood:
  • Robert "Robin" of Locksley (Robin Hood or Robyn Hode), Earl of Huntingdon and Yeoman of Locksley — Saxon nobleman/knight, outlaw leader of the Merry Men of Sherwood, cousin to Will Scarlett and Sibyl of Crigglestone (Prioress of Kirklees); joined Will Scarlett in the Third Crusade as a youth, returned to find his lands stolen by Sir Guy of Gisbourne, in love with Lady Marian of Dunmow, famous for his longbow.
  • John Little of Cornwall (Little John or Jenkin) — Cornish Theodist freeman/farmer, widower, and ex-warden of the royal forests; second-in-command/co-leader of the Merry Men, in love with Fanny the Midwife, famous for his quarterstaff.
  • Sir William "Will" Scathelocke of Crigglestone (Will Scarlett), Lord of Crigglestone — Norman-Saxon nobleman/knight, cousin of Robin of Locksley, brother of Sibyl of Crigglestone, Prioress of Kirklees, noted womanizer but in love with Clorinda, Queen of the Shepherdesses; joined Robin of Locksley in the Third Crusade, famous for his double shortswords/daggers and lute.
  • Robert of Stafford (Friar Tuck or Brother Robert) — Norman Benedictine monk of St. Mary's Abbey, formerly a Cistercian monk of Fountains Abbey, disgusted by the wealth within the church and moved by the plight of the serfs, had no taste for cloistered life of the abbeys.
  • Clorinda, Queen of the Shepherdesses — Scottish Druid shepherdess and huntswoman/warrioress, daughter of Druid High Priestess and a nameless Celtic soldier who defended Ireland from Norman invasion; is not loyal to King Richard but to King William "the Lion" of Scotland, in love with Antonio the Mute (if briefly) and Will Scarlett, famous for her shortbow and shepherd's crook.
  • Azeem "the Moor" — Moorish Muslim scholar/philosopher/warrior, imprisoned with Robin at Jerusalem and helped him escape, owns Robin a debt and follows him until the day his debt is repaid, is in love with Rebecca of York, famous for his scimitar.
  • Nasir "the Saracen" (or "the Arab") — Saracen Muslim ex-assassin/wrestler, served Saladin in the Holy Land, captured in Palestine by Red Roger of Doncaster, hypnotized by Sir Hiss of Newbury to assassinate Robin.
  • George-a-Greene (George of Wakefield) — Irish pindar (cattle pound-keeper)/poacher/pickpocket, joined Robin Hood and the Merry Men to kill Normans, later betrays them to become squire/spy to Sir Guy of Gisbourne (and thus a Norman puppet).
  • Arthur-a-Bland — Welsh runaway serf and tanner, in love with David of Doncaster.
  • David of Doncaster — Jewish tailor, in love with Arthur-a-Bland.
  • Much "the Miller's Son" (Skippy) — Eldest son of the late Midge the Miller and Fanny the Midwife, arrested for theft of vegetables from the kitchen garden of Nottingham Castle and was to be executed for his crime until rescued by Little John.

Other Merry Men:

  • Lady Marian (FitzWalter) of Dunmow (Maid Marian) — Norman noblewoman/heiress, daughter of Baron Robert of Dunmow, ward of Queen Mother Eleanor, betrothed to Robin of Locksley and (later) Sir Guy of Gisbourne, divided between her feelings between the two, works as a spy at Nottingham Castle.
  • Lady Elaine Kluck — Scottish widow of an impovished lord, servant to Baron Robert of Dunmow, lady-in-waiting to Lady Marian (and formerly Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Mother of England), in love with Alan-a-Dale.
  • Sibyl of Crigglestone, Lady de Staynton and Prioress of Kirklees — Corrupt nun of Kirkless Priory, widow of Sir Everard de Staynton, sister of Will Scarlett and cousin of Robin of Locksley, attended her brother's injuries after his return from the Third Crusade, ally to Bishop of Hereford and Abbot of St. Mary's, works secretly as a spy for Sir Guy of Gisbourne (whom she is in love with), betrays his brother and cousin, nearly bleeds Robin to death.
  • Rebecca of York — Jewish healer, daughter of Issac of York, witnessed the Massacres of York where King Richard's persecution/execution of her people, is in love with Sir Ivanhoe and (later) Azeem the Moor.
  • Fanny "the Midwife" — Widow of the late Midge the Miller and mother of fourteen children (including Sis, Skippy, Tagalong, Cabbage, Dumpling, Muffin, Buttercup, Sunshine, Pickle, Lass, Cherub, Giggles, Poppet, and Imp), trusted midwife of Nottinghamshire and works as a spy for Merry Men, her husband was killed defending his mill that being taken away by soldiers, in love with Little John.
  • Baron Robert FitzWalter of Dunmow — Norman baron (by tenure) and widower, father of Lady Marian, (later) helped charter the Magna Carta and led the Barons' War against King John.
  • Sir Gilbert Wythehorne "the White-Horned" of Northumberland — Nobleman/knight, obsessed with Arthurian legends, lost this right arm (and horn) in the Crusades, precipitated in the Barons' War against King John.
  • Sir Richard at the Lee (Rycard de la Lea), Lord of Verysdale — Nobleman/knight whose inherited lands were forfeited to the Abbot of St. Mary's to require a loan he cannot repay until saved by Robin and Friar Tuck, works as a spy for Robin at Nottingham Castle, precipitated in the Barons' War against King John.
  • Duncan of Stoneykirk — Scottish warrior/outlaw, loyal to King William "the Lion" of Scotland, famous for his claymore and bagpipes.
  • Sir Ivanhoe of Rotherwood — Saxon nobleman/knight disinherited by his father, Cedric of Rotherwood, for joining the Third Crusade with Richard against the wishes, followed by squire Wamba, in love with Lady Rowena (and, secretly, Rebecca of York).
  • Wamba "the Jester" — Court jester/magician to Cedric of Rotherwood, ran off with Ivanhoe of Rotherwood to become his squire, has hopes to become a knight.
  • Cedric "the Saxon" of Rotherwood — Saxon nobleman, disinherited his son Sir Ivanhoe when he joined the Third Crusade with Richard, guardian of Lady Rowena, (later) allies himself Robin through his son.
  • Isaac of York — Jewish merchant/moneylender, father of Rebecca of York, witnessed the Massacres of York where King Richard's persecution/execution of his people, yet supports neither Richard nor John.
  • Thierry de Janville (Thierry la Fronde) — French lord betrayed by his steward, losing all his title and lands, and now fights against the English occupation of France (and Normandy) as an outlaw, famous for his sling.
  • Jane, Jean, and Joan (The Poplollies) — Barmaids for the Blue Boar Inn, the tavern that the Merry Men often use as a secret meeting-place, run by Master and Mistress Tidliwink.
Royal Allies:
  • King William I "the Lion" of Scotland — A good and wise ruler of Scotland but broken due to his long-suffering mistreatment by English kings, like Henry II (father of Richard I and John I), sent his young brother, Prince David of Scotland, as secret "ambassador" to Scotland during the Third Crusade.
  • Prince David of Scotland (Sir Kenneth of the Couchant Leopard) — Prince of Scotland, younger brother of King William "the Lion" of Scotland, and claimant to the Scottish throne, left his estate in the care of his "sworn brother" and steward, Robert of Huntingdon, as he fought (disguised as a knight) in the Third Crusade alongside Richard I, (later) led the siege against Nottingham Castle.
  • King Richard I "the Lion-Hearted" of England (Richard Cœur de León) — Older brother of John I, hypnotized by Sir Hiss of Newbury (under the instruction of John) to fight in the Third Crusade in order for John to usurp the throne of England.
  • Queen Mother Eleanor of Aquitaine — Mother of Richard I and John I, grandmother of Arthur of Brittany, imprisoned at Haughmond Abbey, Shrewsbury, by Fulbright de Bellême, Earl of Shrewsbury (under the instructions of John).
  • Queen Consort Isabelle d'Angoulême, Countess d'Angoulême — Second wife of King John (whom kidnapped her from her betrothed, Hugh X of Lusignan, Count of La Marche) following the divorce his first wife, Queen Consort Hadwisa of Gloucester, whom he married for her immense lands; he married his second wife for her immense wealth. Formed a conspiracy against King Louis IX of France, after being publicly snubbed by his mother, Blanca de Castilla, Queen Mother of France, later betrayed Robin to her husband.
  • Arthur of Brittany, Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond — Twelve-year-old son of the late Prince Geoffrey (son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, older brother of Richard and John), designated heir-apparent to the throne of by King Richard over his brother John.
  • Philip "the Bastard" of Cognac (Philip de Falconbridge) — Illegitimate son of (supposedly) King Richard through his mistress, Lady de Falconbridge, killed Viscount Aimar V of Limoges to suppress a revolt against his father.
  • Saladin (Salah ad-Din al-Ayubbi, or Saladin "the Lion" or "the Demon"), Sultan of Egypt and Syria — Noble ruler who led the Muslim opposition against Richard I in the Third Crusade, which ended in truce after eight years, came to respect the English king as a worthy opponent.
  • Lady Rowena of Hargottstandstede — Saxon noblewoman and descendant of the Saxon Kings of England, ward to Cedric of Rotherwood, betrothed to Aethelstane of Coningsburgh but in love with Sir Ivanhoe.

Alain de Nesle, as an orphaned egg, was left on the steps of Nesle Abbey, near the ever-changing, war-ravaged border of Normandy and France, who cared and educated orphans, runaways, and delinquents. Under the instruction of the monks, he learnt to read and write, but his first love was not prayer but poetry. The chick, eager to attend the feast day's festival, escaped his menial, pietistic chores to awe at the troupe of itinerant entertainers, from puppeteers to poets, from jugglers to jongleurs, and fell in love with song. However, the monks of Nesle Abbey, like many of the faith, had an ambivalent attitude towards musicians: On the one hand, they were heavenly angels who played celestial music in the glory of God and, on the other, they were servants of the Devil who encouraged dancing and sinful revelry. The friars attempted to beat this "Devil's work" out of the cockerel, but he continued to pursue his art, for "words are the language of the mind, but music is the language which the soul alone understands but which the soul can never translate. It is the shorthand to emotion. It is the breath of God. We musicians are as close to God as mere mortals can be. We hear His voice, we read His lips, we give birth to the children of God, who sing His praise. That's what musicians are. I cannot stop what comes out of me so naturally as the beating of my heart."

At the age of eleven, on the feast day of St. Cecilia of Rome, patroness of musicians, he left the Abbey with his apologies and joined an apprenticeship with the guild of minstrels. With a gilded harp under his plumed wing, entertaining both rich and poor, while living on the fringes of society from town to town, the Bohemian chanticleer soon became renowned as Alan-a-Dale. He could sing, dance, rhyme, compose, and recite epic ballads of chivalrous valour and courtly love with the flute, lute, fiddle, harp, drum, and zither; he could conjure, juggle, balance apples on the points of knives, perform acrobatics, jump through hoops, imitate songbirds, put performing beasts through their paces, and operate marionettes.

In 1170, the fifteen-year-old Henry, Duke of Normandy (son of King Henry II of England and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, older brother of Richard and John), was anointed "associate king" during his father's lifetime — a practice originally done by the French Capetian dynasty and later adopted by the English King Stephen and his son, King Henry II. However, despite his royal status, Henry the Young King, unlike his father and brothers, had no interest in the day-to-day business of politics and government; he preferred, in its stead, the thunderous roar of sport: The enthusiastic but spoiled Young Henry became a key patron of the tourney and all its pagentry, constantly moving from one tournament to another across Normandy and France between 1175 and 1182, with a procession of knights, spectators, and performers at his beck and call.

Performing his prose to audiences of the grandest in court to the lowliest in taverns, it was at the one of these tournament of magnificent hastiludes championed by the Young King, with a mighty retinue of five hundred warrior knights, where Alan-a-Dale stumbled upon an eight-year-old vixen who had lost her way. The attentive minstrel helped search for the whereabouts of the lost child's father by wandering through the rabble of the crowds, with the kit perched upon his shoulders, whilst performing her father's favourite song to gain his attention. As he neared the end of his serenade upon his stringed harp, the last verse was replied by one of the most powerful Norman feudal barons of England, Robert FitzWalter of Dunmow, and embraced his daughter, Lady Marian of Dunmow. To thank the harpist, the nobleman employed him to entertain his guests, including Henry the Young King and his queen, Margaret of France, at a feast that evening, and the one after that, and again after that. By the end of the celebration, he had suddenly grown weary of his vagabond lifestyle after his many years and discovered a kind of fondness for a warm hearth, good meals, a roof over his head, a library to devour, and a regular income, so he gathered what little possessions he had for England to enter the service of the honourable Lord and Lady Dunmow.

While there was no distinction between a servant whom cooked and cleaned to a servant whom wrote poetry and played music, Alan still proudly wore the colourful liveries of scarlet and gold emblazoned with his master's heraldic arms, yet he also expected to serve many other roles within the household: He acted as nightwatchman, ready to sound the alarm with trumpet to warn of fire or attack. With his knowledge of the written word and proclivity for language (Latin, French, Occitan, and English), he acted as a personal scribe for his lordship. More prominently, he became "nursemaid" to the young lady of the house, supervising her playtime with her childhood friends, Robin of Locksley, William of Crigglestone, Sibyl of Crigglestone, and Guy of Gisbourne, and keeping their attention with song when the kits became far too exuberant.

In 1189, King Richard was crowned, following the death of his father, Henry II, yet only spent a few months of his reign on English soil before embarking upon his crusade to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim rule. The now-teenage Robin of Locksley, William of Crigglestone, and Guy of Gisbourne enlisted as knights of the realm and was to join Richard in the Third Crusade. Lady Marian, due to her royal wardship, was to leave for London to further her education under the patronage of Queen Mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, while Sibyl of Crigglestone remained behind to be married, as approved by King Richard, to Sir Everard de Staynton. Before parting ways, Robin and Marian, proclaiming their love for one another, carved their names upon the bark of a tree at Locksley Castle. Accompanying the vixen to the capital and entrusted with her personal protection there was Alan-a-Dale and, upon their arrival, witnessed the empty throne of King Richard's be usurped by his younger brother (and Queen Eleanor's son), John.

At the Tower of London, Lady Marian FitzWalter became entrusted as lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother, to act as her royal companion, to accompany Her Majesty wherever she went, and to perform whatever duty she may required of her, and befriended fellow lady-in-waiting, the widowed Lady Elaine Kluck. Alan, unsurprisingly, became a favourite troubadour within the royal court, entertaining the wealthiest and most powerful of England; but, unbeknownst to many, Alan acted also as spymaster within the court for his master, Baron FitzWalter, whom secretly opposes "King" John. Yet, frustratingly, little to nothing was ever done with what information he gave — and at the risk of his own life, no less!

By 1192, the Third Crusade ended in a truce and King Richard was captured on his way home and imprisoned by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, and Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, demanding a random of 150,000 marks (65,000 pounds of silver). However, his treacherous brother, John, had little intention in paying for his release and no one had the stomach to oppose the usurper of the English Crown, except the mysterious "Hooded Man of Nottingham"...


The word "minstrel" is Old French for "little servant" and were of a lowly, menial social order where there was no distinction between a servant who cooked and cleaned to a servant who wrote poetry and played instruments. According to a 13th-century poet, a minstrel "had to speak and rhyme well, was witty, know the story of Troy, can balance apples on the points of knives, juggle, jump through hoops, play the flute, harp, and fiddle, know the arts of imitating birds, put performing asses and dogs through their paces, operate marionettes, and (believe it or not) break dance." However, these "little servants" were expected to perform many of different roles outside that of an entertainer, such as nightwatchman, to fire the alarm in case of fire or attack; they were to follow their masters into the battlefield and sound a trumpet to rally the troops, or cheer them on; and were even spies. They were also propagandist, recording their master's mighty deeds and bloody battles, whether they were factual or not. (Recommend the documentary of Terry Jones' Medieval Lives.) The feast day of St. Cecilia (or Cecily of Rome), patroness of musicians, is November 22.

It's believed that Alan-a-Dale (meaning "Alan of/from the dale valley") is based on the real-life Blondel de Nesle. Nothing is known about Blondel outside of his poetry. His popularity is apparent in the widespread use by contemporaries of his melodies, which are extant in various manuscripts, in addition to the mythological story of "How the Minstrel Saved the King", which was first mention in the 13th-century romance of Récits d’un ménestrel de Reims. According to legend, after the capture of King Richard in 1192, Blondel wandered from castle to castle in search of the whereabouts of his master, singing a particular song that only he and Richard knew, that the imprisoned Richard replied with the second verse — thus identifying where he was imprisoned. Discovering him in Dürnstein Castle, Austria, Blondel either aided the king's escape, or reported his position back to his friends. However, this story is, of course, pure fiction. There was no mystery about Richard's location, as it was widely publicized by his ransomers, and Richard never escaped his imprisonment, as the ransom was paid some two to three years later, after bleeding England dry, only to have his death happen a year-and-half later.

A late addition to the Merry Men, the character of Alan-a-Dale was first introduced in the 17th-century "Robin Hood and Alan-a-Dale" (Child Ballad 183), which portrayed him exclusively with a harp. Both in the stories and the illustrations, for the next 500 years, he played the harp: (1) 1795 illustrations by Thomas Bewick; (2) 1847 illustrations by F.W. Fairholt; (3) the 1883 illustrations by Howard Pyle; (4) 1883 illustrations by Walter Crane; (5) 1898 illustrations by Sir Amédée Forestier; (6) 1912 illustrations by Louis Rhead; and (7) 1952 statue of Alan-a-Dale in Nottingham. Similarly, he was also portrayed with a harp in film, such as Richard Coleman's portrayal in 1950s Adventures of Robin Hood TV series. However, the harp (inexplicably) changed into a lute in Disney's live-action film, The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), and it became permanent by Disney's 1973 animated feature; for 65+ years afterward, Alan's instrument became (inaccurately) the lute. During the medieval period, the "king of instruments" was considered to be the harp and, by the Renaissance, it became the lute. The lute was a foreign instrument brought to Europe by the Arabs, with special thanks to continental trade with the East as well as the Crusades. During the Robin Hood's 13th century-England, lutes would be considered exotic and, above all, uncommonly expensive. This is why, in my version of Robin Hood, Will Scarlett (who is a Crusader) has a lute and Alan-a-Dale (who is a non-Crusader) had a harp.

Henry the Young King, son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, older brother of Richard and John, was "associate king" during his father's reign. This tradition began with the earliest French Capetian monarchs whom were elective, not hereditary. Because of this, there was no mechanism for automatic succession unless an heir was crowned as "associate king," ready to step up as primary king when the previous king had died. Interestingly, Young Henry was exceedingly popular for his time, far more popular with any member of his family, but not due to political prowess, but because he was a "sports icon" of the tournaments; he was perhaps one of the biggest reasons why tournaments became as popular as they were and as long as they did. He patronized hundreds, if not thousands, of tournaments in France during his lifetime (and Lagny-sur-Marne was one of the most popular destinations). Sir William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, my real-life model for Sir Hiss of Newbury, made his own personal fortune from the tournaments, particularly those sponsored by the Young King, but later they had falling out. Eventually, Henry the Young King led the Revolt of 1173-74 against his father, Henry II, along with his mother (Eleanor of Aquitaine) and his brothers (Richard I, Geoffrey II, and secretly John I), which ended in failure after eighteen months. His father outlived the Young King and the English crown fell, by rule of session, to Richard.

In this picture, the shield in the back is that of the Baron FitzWalters. Alan-a-Dale, as a minstrel, would wear the livery (official uniform, or colours) of his master. The real-life Baron Robert FitzWalter of Dunmow has been romanticized into the father of Maid Marian, as he had a daughter named "Matilda" (or less commonly "Maud"). Historically, he is famous for chartering the Magna Carta and led the First Barons' War against King John.

A "lady-in-waiting" is a female personal assistant at a court, royal or feudal, to a queen, a princess, or a high-ranking noblewoman. The duties of ladies-in-waiting varied from court to court, but include proficiency in the etiquette, languages, and dances prevalent at court; performing secretarial tasks, reading correspondence to her mistress, and writing on her behalf; she must also be able to do embroidery, painting, horse riding, music making, and participation in other queenly pastimes. She is responsible for wardrobe care, supervision of servants, keeping her mistress abreast of activities and personages at court, and discreetly relaying messages upon command. It's preferred, particularly in England, that the ladies-in-waiting were noblewomen themselves, because no queen or princess should not such interpersonal relationships with the peasantry. Marian becoming a lady-in-waiting to Queen Eleanor has been seen in Disney's The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952).

Special thanks to my dear friend Iluvendure for her love, assistance, and interest in this project. She is my co-writer and co-conspirator here, which developed through our long, loooong conversations and discussions.
Continue Reading: Places