Popular representations of Robin Hood invariably portray him as a hero of the common man, fighting the rich and restoring what they stole from the populace through tyranny.  According to a newly-discovered reference, the people of his own time didn’t have quite so much affection for him — not even the community from which Friar Tuck would have come:

According to legend, Robin Hood roamed 13th-century Britain from a base in central England’s Sherwood Forest, plundering from the rich to give to the poor.

But Luxford, an art history lecturer at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, says a 23-word inscription in the margins of a history book, written in Latin by a medieval monk around 1460, casts the outlaw as a persistent thief.

“Around this time, according to popular opinion, a certain outlaw named Robin Hood, with his accomplices, infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies,” the note read when translated into English, Luxford said. …

“I saw his name, it leapt out at me,” Luxford, 41, said Saturday. “I knew enough about the relative dearth of references to him from the medieval period to know this might be important.”

Luxford, an expert in medieval manuscripts, said the find “contains a uniquely negative assessment of the outlaw, and provides rare evidence for monastic attitudes towards him.”

I was just thinking about Robin Hood and his influence on Western thought last night while watching the movie Fried Green Tomatoes.  In one scene, Idgie convinces Ruth to raid a boxcar shipping food in order to toss the goods to people living in Hoovervilles by the tracks.  The music swells as Ruth sees how happy her own personal theft and redistribution makes the recipients, while Idgie assures her that the church people from whom they are stealing the food often drink, so it’s okay.  No, I’m serious.

Maybe that’s why we have so many people who think of redistribution as a great idea.  It’s the entire Robin Hood scenario, which demonizes the victims while he steals their property and determines who wins in the transaction.  In the fifteenth century, people apparently had more sense and could recognize theft when they saw it.  Nowadays, we celebrate — and elect — people who promise to confiscate property and redistribute it as they see fit.

Update: Some commenters object to the analogy, saying that Robin Hood opposed the government, but he stole from travelers on the highway. He stole from the rich, not strictly from the government, and became the world’s first populist. And more to the point of this post, the entire redistributionist notion that someone needs to take (by force) from the rich and give to the poor (as deemed worthy by the redistributors) either springs from Robin Hood or finds substantiation in the legend. It’s not a large leap from cheering Idgie and Ruth to getting the government to do it for you.

Update II: Ace agrees with most of the commenters:

We know him through folklore. I just never got the Randian thing of casting him as a villain. Given the premise of a tyrannical state, how is Robin Hood cast so easily as a left-winger? Isn’t this the sort of thing Rand would have wished kulaks had done in her poor, abused Russia?

Besides that, every thief is first and foremost a capitalist, and if he was “stealing from the rich to give to the poor,” let’s just say I think he and his men were defined as First Among the Poor, and got almost all of the loot. And tossing out some money to the locals? Buying goodwill and protection. Same thing the Mafia does in its strongholds; same thing, in fact, Hezballah or Hamas do.

There you have it — Robin Hood is Hamas!  Look, can we at least agree that Kevin Costner was the worst Robin Hood in entertainment history?