Alan a Dale

Allan-a-Dale Singeth Before Our Good Queen Eleanor

Alan a Dale

CharactersName Variants: Alan-a-Dale, Allin-a-Dale, Allan a Dale, Allen a DaleBackground Essay Author: Stephen Knight
Alan a Dale is a character who found his way into the Robin Hood tradition. Not present in the major early long ballads or the Gest of Robin Hood, he is first mentioned in a seventeenth-century ballad in a story where Robin and the outlaws save a young man’s beloved from being married to an older wealthy man, and in a tricksterish spirit they supervise her marriage to Alan himself. With his name variously spelt, he became a minor and intermittently recurrent member of the outlaw band, but his romantic heroism was not forgotten, and occurs in some nineteenth-century fiction and subsequent story. Later Alan gained the characteristic of bringing music into the outlaw band, being used as a musical commentator in some elements of the film tradition, with the honour of being played by Bing Crosby in the 1964 musical Robin and the Seven Hoods. More recently he recurs as just one of the outlaws, but his musical capacity has re-emerged in the 2010 film starring Russell Crowe.
 
The earliest version of the Alan a Dale story is found in a broadside ballad from the printer Francis Coles and his partners, preserved in the collections of ballads made by Francis Douce, Samuel Pepys and the Duke of Roxburgh: F. J. Child suggested that a version of this could have originated from any part of the period 1655-80 when Coles was working with other printers, but according to the more recent English Short-Title Catalogue the earliest version comes from the period between 1674-79.
 
This ballad begins with the familiar “Robin meets a stranger in the forest” opening:
 
As Robin Hood in the forrest stood,
All under the green-wood tree,
There was he ware of a brave young man,
As fine as fine might be.
 
The youngster...

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