Author Interview: A.E. Chandler / The Scarlet Forest A Tale of Robin Hood



 Welcome Readers to another author interview. Today we are talking with A.E. Chandler about her new book on Robin Hood. Grab a cuppa something and settle in for a good chat. 

JMR-Welcome to the Books Delight, A. E. Tell our readers where you live, what you do for fun and what does the perfect day look like?

AEC- Thanks for having me, Jeanie. I currently live in Calgary, home to the Glenbow Museum, where I’ve been a visiting expert with the military collection for seven years. I re-catalogue and research the edged weapons and European plate armour, which is a lot of fun, sometimes frustrating, and very interesting to do. I also like travelling (though not this past year). When I lived in Nottingham, taking a train or a bus to a new town every other weekend was a great way to explore the country. My perfect day would take place in England.

JMR-What’s your favorite historical time period? Why?

AEC- Thirteenth century England. There was so much going on. The country was put under a papal interdict. The French tried to invade and place their prince on the English throne. Barons were rebelling against the kings. Henry III rebuilt Westminster Abbey as we know it today. Edward I crusaded, and conquered Wales. Thirteenth century England is where Robin Hood’s legend originated, spreading through the country as its first major legend solely in its native language.

I also enjoy spending time in Victorian England. It feels very solid and comfortable, and there were so many great authors – from a number of countries – putting out amazing literature.

JMR-Who is your favorite historical figure? Why? If you could ask them one question, what would it be? (I think I might know the answer to this!) Who is your favorite female historical figure? Why?

AEC- Robin Hood is my favourite, though that’s tricky, because he might be a literary figure rather than a historical one. He’s a hero. He stands for a fair social order where everyone upholds their social responsibility toward one another. He stands against corruption, and promotes the rule of law. He’s devout, and respectful of those deserving respect. We still see instances of corruption, especially when it comes to those in positions of power; we see people out for themselves rather than helping others; and we see people ready to throw right and wrong out the window whenever it suits them. We’re facing many of the same problems that were faced by people in Robin Hood’s day, so I find his example still very relevant.

As for asking him a question, if he was real, I’d ask what his life was really like. The medieval stories we have about him were written down about two centuries after his legend originated. We can pick out some of the historical elements and some of the literary ones, but we don’t have a full picture, and it would be wonderful to have an opportunity to flesh that out.

I haven’t thought about singling out a favourite female historical figure before. Some of the female historical figures I find particularly interesting are: Adela of Blois, a daughter of William the Conqueror who seems to have inherited her father’s unwavering determination – when her husband abandoned the Crusades, she forced him to return to honour his word – she was also a respected literary patron, spent decades governing as regent of her county, and became a saint; Marguerite of Provence, Queen of France and married to St. Louis – when he was captured on Crusade, she issued orders from bed, where she gave birth during a siege; Queen Victoria, who adapted for her people, and became an empress when other countries’ monarchies were crumbling; George Sand, a writer who wore men’s clothes not as a disguise but to enjoy the greater freedom and flexibility that men were granted; Berthe Morisot, one of the painters at the heart of the Impressionist movement; and Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt as a pharaoh.

JMR- You have an advanced degree in Medieval Studies, when did you know you wanted to write historical fiction? Is that why you pursued an advanced degree? What advice would you give a new writer interested in the Middle Ages?

AEC- Knowing I wanted to write historical fiction came at pretty much the same time that I developed an interest in history: junior high. I spent my first year of undergrad studying for an English major before re-evaluating and deciding that it would make more sense to major in the history I wanted to write about. I spent time in the workforce before deciding to go for a graduate degree, and the ideal place for that was the University of Nottingham.

There’s so much misinformation about the medieval period, and many widely held prejudices against the people who lived then. The advice I’d give new writers interested in the period would be to make sure you’re getting up-to-date information from scholars who specialize in the period as well as the subject matter, and not just one or the other. That’s the most efficient way to get at the best data. A lot of people recommend reading primary sources instead of secondary sources but, if you’re new to the culture you’re researching, this can leave the door wide open for misinterpretation. For example, new researchers might not realize that medieval chronicles are notoriously more fictional than factual, or that the medieval concepts of time, plagiarism, mythology, and religion are very different from our culture’s definitions. After reading secondary sources by professional medievalists, it’s a lot easier to spot satire, tropes, and sometimes the straight out lies in primary sources.

JMR- A.E., tell us about your new book, The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood.

AEC- The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood blends true history with new stories, popular inaccuracies (like Maid Marian), and some almost forgotten medieval legends. The story starts when Robin is outlawed at age eighteen, and follows his entire career. While living in Nottingham, I visited most of the locations involved in the legend, so their physical descriptions are very true to life. The medieval “ballad” Robin Hood and the Monk is rarely ever told, and takes place partly in a church I would often visit in the city centre, and in the prison across the street. That story is included in The Scarlet Forest, and puts sometimes neglected characters like Marian and Will Stutely in the spotlight while Robin is indisposed. I also made sure to include a story about Rufford Abbey, which is a fascinating twelfth century abbey in the middle of Sherwood Forest. Now in picturesque ruins, when Robin Hood’s legend was forming Rufford Abbey was in multiple disputes with Henry III because the monks kept chopping down his trees and selling them for their own profit.

The second edition of The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood was just released, and notably includes more bonus material. In addition to the historical note, which talks about some of the research from my master’s dissertation on Robin Hood, and a glossary of some Middle English terms, there are now book club questions, medieval recipes in period calligraphy to show what medieval script actually looked like, and a translation into modern English of one of the five surviving medieval Robin Hood “ballads”: Robin Hood and the Potter.

JMR- What, if any, of the Robin Hood story is based on fact?

AEC- The most energetically debated question surrounding Robin Hood is whether or not he was a historical figure as well as a literary one. A good case can be made for both sides of the issue. When looking at the five known extant medieval Robin Hood tales, we can see that, unlike stories about other outlaws from the same time, the events portrayed have a literary twist but are still realistic, though occasionally farfetched. Every amazing feat of archery that Robin Hood is said to have performed is possible with the equipment available in early to mid thirteenth century England, assuming that the archer had the skill. The places in West Yorkshire where Robin Hood is said to live and travel are all described accurately, and with a level of detail that would only have been known to locals. The adventures we are told about were obviously meant to be understood as happening in the real world, though whether or not they did actually occur we still don’t know for sure. It is possible that Robin Hood was a real person. Some characters, like Maid Marian, we know are later additions. Friar Tuck was a later addition who seems to have been based on a real outlaw, but one who lived at least a century and a half after Robin Hood’s legend started. The historical note at the end of The Scarlet Forest goes a lot further into this, separating fact from fiction, and explaining how the legend changed over time.

JMR- What is the biggest misconception about Robin Hood? What surprised you most as you researched your book?

AEC- The biggest misconception about Robin Hood is probably that he was a rebel. The medieval character is much more complex than the modern one we frequently see in movies. In the extant medieval stories, Robin Hood is a satirical character who, despite being an outlaw and so exiled from society, enforces the law and the social order better than the corrupt higher-ups within that social order, who are his enemies. Robin Hood is not a rebel at all, but the opposite. What he fights against is the corruption that perverts the social order he loves.

JMR- King John is always portrayed as the villain and King Richard the hero, but the truth is a bit more complicated. How are they portrayed in your story?

AEC- They’re not in the story at all, actually. Richard I was only added to the Robin Hood legend in the sixteenth century. He wasn’t a very good king, spending his time and England’s money on foreign wars, rather than on looking after the country. In some ways, John was a better king than Richard (which is pretty scary). Richard I reigned during the twelfth century, while Robin Hood’s legend portrays him as being active during the early or mid thirteenth century, during the reigns of either John or Henry III. Medieval records show that some form of Robin Hood’s legend had spread to southern England by 1262. In The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood, I have Robin outlawed in 1260, which gives him the legendary “thirteen years and something more” to make a name for himself by 1262, and receive a pardon when Edward I returns from crusading in 1274. The Scarlet Forest balances the best of both worlds, starting Robin’s outlawry under Henry III for historical accuracy, and ending it under Edward I, a crusading warrior king who genuinely cared about England and its governance, and left the country better than he found it.

JMR-What projects do you have in the pipeline?

AEC- I’m working on a historical novel set in France during the Hundred Years’ War, about a group of English archers who go rogue, becoming routiers. There’s also a series set in the nineteenth century that centres around the curiosity cabinet of Colonel William Creighton, as his daughter and her friends travel the world discovering strange objects to add to the collection.

JMR- Tell our readers how to find you on social media and the web.

Author website  Goodreads   YouTube   Amazon Author Central   Zazzle

JMR- What question were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?

AEC- What does the Robin Hood legend say about medieval women?

The image we have of medieval women has been heavily coloured by the assumptions and prejudices of the Victorian Era. Many people think that in the medieval period women could be forced to marry against their will, couldn’t marry without their fathers’ consent, or could be raped by their lord with impunity - all of this is false. The women in the medieval stories of Robin Hood are more empowered than most people would expect, from the Sheriff’s wife to Robin’s cousin the Prioress of Kirklees. They were individuals with their own minds, and portrayed as such, rather than the meek objects that Victorian misconceptions tried to turn medieval women into. In The Scarlet Forest, Robin tends to go back to his medieval roots, when he stood for the ideal social order, while Marian – a later addition to the legend – takes on the role of the rebel, a concept that is also a later addition. This helps to showcase the balance the book strikes, between the “classic” tale people expect, and the medieval story that goes so much deeper.

JMR- A.E., thank you for stopping by and talking with us! Good luck with your writing.

AEC- Thanks, Jeanie!

JMR- Readers, I know you're going to want to buy this book, so I've included a link below. 


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