Maid Marian
Tales of Robin Hood and his Merry Men character
Woodcut of Maid Marian,
from a 17th-century broadside
First appearance16th century AD
Created byAnonymous balladeers
Portrayed byBernadette O'Farrell
Patricia Driscoll
Judi Trott
Kate Lonergan
Olivia de Havilland
Joan Rice
Sarah Branch
Gay Hamilton
Anna Galvin
Christie Laing
Diana Lynn
Enid Bennett
Audrey Hepburn
Uma Thurman
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Amy Yasbeck
Kate Moss
Cate Blanchett
Lucy Griffiths
Eve Hewson
Voiced byKatherine Shannon
Sarah Natochenny
Monica Evans
Naoko Matsui
Jo Wyatt
Grey DeLisle
In-universe information
AliasMaid Marion
Marian Fitzwalter/Fitzwater
Lady Marion of Leaford
OccupationShepherdess (earlier stories)
Noblewoman (later stories)
FamilyRobert Fitzwalter/Fitzwater (father, in some stories)
SpouseRobin Hood (in some stories)
Significant otherRobin Hood
NationalityEnglish or Norman
Robin Hood and Maid Marian (poster, c. 1880)

Maid Marian is the heroine of the Robin Hood legend in English folklore, often taken to be his lover. She is not mentioned in the early, medieval versions of the legend, but was the subject of at least two plays by 1600. Her history and circumstances are obscure, but she commanded high respect in Robin’s circle for her courage and independence as well as her beauty and loyalty. For this reason, she is celebrated by feminist commentators as one of the early strong female characters in English literature.


Robin Hood and Marian in their Bower (1912). Maid Marian wears a Tyrolean hat and carries a hunting horn.

Maid Marian (or Marion) is never mentioned in any of the earliest extant ballads of Robin Hood. She appears to have been a character in May Games festivities (held during May and early June although it could be rarely held mid June , most commonly around Whitsun)[1] and is sometimes associated with the Queen or Lady of May or May Day. Jim Lees in The Quest for Robin Hood (p. 81) suggests that Maid Marian was originally a personification of the Virgin Mary. Francis J. Childe argues that she originally was portrayed as a trull associated with a lascivious Friar Tuck: "She is a trul of trust, to serue a frier at his lust/a prycker a prauncer a terer of shetes/a wagger of ballockes when other men slepes."[2] Both a "Robin" and a "Marian" character were associated with May Day by the 15th century, but these figures were apparently part of separate traditions; the Marian of the May Games is likely derived from the French tradition of a shepherdess named Marion and her shepherd lover Robin, recorded in Adam de la Halle's Le Jeu de Robin et Marion, circa 1283.[3] It isn't clear if there was an association of the early "outlaw" character of Robin Hood and the early "May Day" character Robin, but they did become identified, and associated with the "Marian" character, by the 16th century.[4] Alexander Barclay, writing in c. 1500, refers to "some merry fytte of Maid Marian or else of Robin Hood".[5] Marian remained associated with May Day celebrations even after the association of Robin Hood with May Day had again faded.[6] The early Robin Hood is also given a "shepherdess" love interest, in Robin Hood's Birth, Breeding, Valor, and Marriage (Child Ballad 149), his sweetheart is "Clorinda the Queen of the Shepherdesses".[7] Clorinda survives in some later stories as an alias of Marian.[8]

The "gentrified" Robin Hood character, portrayed as a historical outlawed nobleman, emerges in the late 16th century. From this time, Maid Marian is cast in terms of a noblewoman, but her role was never entirely virginal, and she retained aspects of her "shepherdess" or "May Day" characteristics; in 1592, Thomas Nashe described the Marian of the later May Games as being played by a male actor named Martin, and there are hints in the play of Robin Hood and the Friar that the female character in these plays had become a lewd parody. Robin originally was called Ryder.[citation needed]

In the play, The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon by Anthony Munday, which was written in 1598, Marian appears as Robin's lawfully-wedded wife, who changes her name from Matilda when she joins him in the greenwood.[9] She also has a cousin called Elizabeth de Staynton who is described as being the Prioress of Kirklees Priory near Brighouse in West Yorkshire.[10] The 19th century antiquarian, Joseph Hunter, identified a Robert Hood, yeoman[11] from Wakefield, Yorkshire, in the archives preserved in the Exchequer, whose personal story matched very closely the story of Robin in Anthony Munday's play, and this Robert Hood also married a woman named Matilda, who changed her name to Marian when she joined him in exile in Barnsdale Forest (following the Battle of Boroughbridge) in 1322, and who also had a cousin named Elizabeth de Staynton[12] who was Prioress of Kirklees Priory.[10] If these parallels are not coincidental, then the Marian of Robin Hood fame, whose origins may be distinct from the Marian of the May games or of Monday's play, may derive all her roots from her association with the historical Robert Hood of Wakefield.[13]

In an Elizabethan play, Anthony Munday identified Maid Marian with the historical Matilda, daughter of Robert Fitzwalter, who had to flee England because of an attempt to assassinate King John (legendarily attributed to King John's attempts to seduce Matilda). The "Matilda" theory of Maid Marian is further discussed in[14][15] In later versions of Robin Hood, Maid Marian is commonly named as "Marian Fitzwalter", only child of the Earl of Huntingdon, is the Maid Marian[16][17]

In Robin Hood and Maid Marian (Child Ballad 150, perhaps dating to the 17th century), Maid Marian is "a bonny fine maid of a noble degree" said to excel both Helen and Jane Shore in beauty. Separated from her lover, she dresses as a page "and ranged the wood to find Robin Hood," who was himself disguised, so that the two begin to fight when they meet. As is often the case in these ballads, Robin Hood loses the fight to comical effect, and Marian only recognizes him when he asks for quarter. This ballad is in the "Earl of Huntington" tradition, a supposed "historical identity" of Robin Hood forwarded in the late 16th century.[18]

20th-century pop culture adaptations of the Robin Hood legend almost invariably have featured a Maid Marian and mostly have made her a highborn woman with a rebellious or tomboy character. In 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood, she is a courageous and loyal woman (played by Olivia de Havilland), and a ward of the court, an orphaned noblewoman under the protection of King Richard. Although always ladylike, her initial antagonism to Robin springs not from aristocratic disdain but from aversion to robbery.[19]

In The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), she, despite being a lady-in-waiting to Eleanor of Aquitaine during the Crusades, is in reality a mischievous tomboy capable of fleeing boldly to the countryside disguised as a boy.[20] In the Kevin Costner epic Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, she is a maternal cousin to the sovereign, while in the BBC adaption of 2006, she is the daughter of the former sheriff and was betrothed to Robin before his leaving for the Holy Land, and in his absence embarked on her own crusade against poverty in aiding the poor in a fashion similar to what Robin later achieved, becoming a skilled fighter in the process and leading the people to refer to her as 'The Night Watchman'.

Maid Marian's role as a prototypical strong female character has made her a popular focus in feminist fiction. Theresa Tomlinson's Forestwife novels (1993–2000) are told from Marian's point of view, portray Marian as a high-born Norman girl escaping entrapment in an arranged marriage. With the aid of her nurse, she runs away to Sherwood Forest, where she becomes acquainted with Robin Hood and his men.


There have been several books based on the fictional character:


Bernadette O'Farrell as Maid Marian


Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood giving Enid Bennett as Maid Marian a dagger
Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian


  1. ^ Knight (2003), pp. 11–12.
  2. ^ Child, Francis J. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, vol. 3, 122. Quotation is from A mery geste of Robyn Hoode and of hys lyfe, wyth a new playe for to be played in Maye games very pleasaunte and full of pastyme (c. 1561).
  3. ^ Hutton (1997), pp. 270–271.
  4. ^ Holt (1982), p. 37.
  5. ^ Richards (1977), p. 190.
  6. ^ Hutton (1997), p. 274.
  7. ^ Holt (1982), p. 165.
  8. ^ Wright, Allen W. "Other Merry Men". A Beginner's Guide to Robin Hood. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  9. ^ "The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington". Robbins Library Digital Projects, University of Rochester. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  10. ^ a b Zaaijer, Reijer (7 November 2013). "Fact or Fiction E04 Robin Hood". Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 5 December 2017 – via YouTube.
  11. ^ Midgley, Tim (2011). "Robin Hood... of Wakefield". Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  12. ^ Midgley, Tim. "The Prioress of Kirklees". Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  13. ^ Cawthorne, Nigel (2010). "Chapter 10: Maid Marian and Friar Tuck". A Brief History of Robin Hood. London, UK: Robinson. ISBN 978-1-84901-301-7.
  14. ^ Thomson, Richard (1829). An Historical Essay on the Magna Charta of King John: To which are Added the Great Charter in Latin and English. London, UK: J. Major & R. Jennings. pp. 505–507.
  15. ^ Wright, Allen W. "Marian". A Beginner's Guide to Robin Hood. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  16. ^ In McSpadden, J. Walker (1926). "Chapter I: How Robin Hood Became An Outlaw". Robin Hood. London, UK: George Harrap – via Project Gutenberg.
  17. ^ "Maid Marion". The International Catalogue of Heroes. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  18. ^ Wright, Allen W. "Robin Hood Tales". A Beginner's Guide to Robin Hood. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  19. ^ Richards (1977), p. 200.
  20. ^ Richards (1977), p. 201.
  21. ^ King, Stephen (2003). Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 326–327. ISBN 1-880418-56-8.
  22. ^ Ellis, Jeffrey (5 July 2018). "Review: Adam Szymkowicz's MARIAN, OR THE TRUE TALE OF ROBIN HOOD is Truly Legendary". Broadway World. Retrieved 31 May 2023.
  23. ^ "Robin Hood (1953– ), Full Cast & Crew". IMDb. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  24. ^ "interview: Katherine Shannon". 30 March 2015. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  25. ^ "Robin Hood: Ghosts of Sherwood (2012) Full Cast & Crew". IMDb. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  26. ^ Jaafar, Ali (30 September 2015). "'Robin Hood: Origins' Shortlist: Eve Hewson, Gaite Jansen, Lucy Fry & Gugu Mbatha-Raw In Mix For Female Lead". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  27. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (15 October 2015). "Eve Hewson Landing Maid Marian In 'Robin Hood: Origins' Opposite Taron Egerton". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 5 November 2017.