There is no mention of Alan a Dale in any of the early ballads of Robin Hood. This character first appears in a seventeenth-century ballad called “Robin Hood and Allin a Dale”.
In the ballad, Alan’s sweetheart is being forced to marry an elderly knight. Robin Hood, who has taken a shine to the lad, attacks the church on the day of the nuptials and obliges the priest to marry Alan to his own true love.
Interestingly, there is a variation of this in the television series “Robin of Sherwood”. The writer Richard Carpenter features Alan in just one episode, a distraught and very bad minstrel Alan (played by Peter Hutchinson) is thwarted in his love for one Mildred, who is to be married (mostly for financial advantage) to the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Unlike other series, this is just a one-off appearance for Alan. We never see him again.
Elsewhere, in films and television, Alan is usually a mainstay character, often portrayed as a minstrel. Sometimes he appears as a bit of a dandy also. Occasionally a wooer of women to boot.
As far as I recall he only appears a few times in the Richard Greene “Adventures of Robin Hood” series of the 1950s, where he’s played by Richard Coleman.
When I was writing my Robin Hood novel “Loxley”, I decided to make Alan a rather more prominent character and give him some real back-story. Who is this minstrel? Where does he come from?
Minstrels in medieval times were interesting characters. Unlike most people they could actually wonder from place to place. Or they might be rooted in one castle. Because of this they were sometimes employed as spies – a concept that I found that I could use in my stories.
And what dale exactly does Alan come from?
On the borders of the present day counties of Cumbria and County Durham, on the lonely moorlands of Stainmore, you may even today seek out a boulder that was supposed to be the trysting place of Alan a Dale and his lover. I haven’t been able to discover how this legend started out.
And not many miles away, on Orton Scar, is a stone cairn said to be Robin Hood’s Grave (there are a lot of others!) Not that far distant in days gone by, was Inglewood Forest, the haunt of another legendary outlaw – Adam Bell (about whom more soon.)
So when I was writing “Loxley” I gave this background to my Alan a Dale, and I made him a minstrel in Nottingham Castle for good measure. A minstrel and something else besides.
And there’ll be more of him in the next novel.
You can read the first chapter of “Loxley” on the page above. It’s now available in paperback and on Kindle. Just click on the link below to see the reviews or to order a copy: