Not entirely certain why, but as I was trying to fall asleep last night I began to think about Robin Hood. I had been thinking about Sean Connery, because one of the characters in my NaNoWriMo novel is "played" by him in my imagination. Sean Connery, of course, played King Richard Coeur de Leon as a cameo in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," but he also played Robin himself in "Robin and Marian."
The movie looks at an older Robin (in real history, it would only be about five years after Richard's return to England), a trusted captain of King Richard, reluctantly fighting on behalf of his liege in France. Robin doesn't like it and, after Richard gets killed, returns to England with Little John. He finds out that Marian is a nun, and goes to see her. Somehow the Sheriff of Nottingham becomes his enemy again; I don't really remember how it all happens. I have only vague memories of the movie, and while I recall it being fairly dull, depressing, and at times, a little disturbing (why isn't Robin wearing any pants?), the concept behind the film - whatever happened to Robin Hood? - always interested me.
I started to think about how "Prince of Thieves" ended, with Robin and Marian's wedding. Robin's noble status is presumably restored by King Richard, so he's got to have a manor and all that attends a feudal lord. Presumably - given not only the social obligations, but also their passionate love for each other and the lack of contraceptives - they'd start making some babies.
So how about a medieval campaign in which all of the PCs are Robin and Marian's children? Their parentage signifies them as "special" (in that glowy Player Character way), and they'd likely have no end of interesting patrons who would have influenced the development of their abilities and political ideals along the way. How many of the Merry Men are still around? How many of them have gone straight and are honest peasants now, and how many are still outlaws? As a landed lord, was Robin forced to issue justice and hunt them down? Or does he turn a blind eye to them out of gratitude for their past deeds?
(Wikipedia tells me that in the earliest tales, Robin is a yeoman - a commoner. The trend of later tales turning him into a nobleman suggests to my modern American mind a strain of elitist thought - "only a nobleman could or would choose to lead commoners in a just cause" - but for the moment I'm ignoring all of that and focusing on the image of Robin Hood that's currently most recognized.)
At first I was looking at it as a sort of investigation of what happens when the rebel outcast becomes The Establishment. But as I started reading up on the events following Robin's royal pardon, another story began to present itself.
1189 - King Henry II dies; Richard I becomes King of England and goes on Crusade. He doesn't take Jerusalem, but negotiates a truce that allows access for pilgrims.
1190-1191 - John attempts to overthrow William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely and Richard's justiciar. John promises the city of London (who likes John more) the right to govern itself as a commune in return for recognition as Richard's heir presumptive. Robin of Loxley, Earl of Huntingdon, begins his opposition of John.
1192 - Richard is taken prisoner by the Duke of Austria as he returns from Crusade. Robin urges his fellow nobles to collect his ransom, but is made into an outlaw by John's machinations. Robin becomes the leader of the Merry Men of Sherwood, stealing from the nobility to pay for Richard's ransom (going with the Good Guy model, this is what he does with his share of the loot, the rest going to aid the poor and oppressed).
1194 - Richard's ransom paid, the king returns to England in February. He restores Robin's status as Earl of Huntingdon, puts down John's rebellion and pardons him for trying to steal his authority. He is crowned again in March - in case there's any doubt about his claim to the throne - and names John his heir. Robin and Marian wed. Richard leaves England for France in May.
1199 - Richard dies in Chaluz, slain by an arrow fired by the boy Peter Basile. He pardons the boy, then dies. Mercadier, his faithful freebooter companion, has the boy flayed alive and hung. John Lackland becomes King of England, but faces revolt in the name of Arthur of Brittany, son of his dead brother Geoffrey. [5 years after Robin + Marian]
1200 - Mercadier dies, assassinated by another freebooter in John's service. Philip II recognizes John over Arthur of Brittany (who, by modern standards, has a better claim than John). [6 years after Robin + Marian]
1203 - Arthur attempts to kidnap his own grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Mirebeau, but is defeated and captured by John's forces. Arthur is imprisoned first at Falaise and then at Rouen. No one is certain what ultimately happens to him. In addition to capturing Arthur, John also captures his sister, his niece Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany. She will remain a prisoner until her death in 1241. Through deeds such as these, John acquires a reputation for ruthlessness. [9 years after Robin + Marian]
1205 - In hope of avoiding trouble in England and Wales while he's away fighting for his French lands, John forms an alliance by marrying off his illegitimate daughter, Joan, to the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great. John begins a dispute with Pope Innocent III over who would become Archbishop of Canterbury. This conflict will last until 1213. [11 years after Robin + Marian]
1207-8 - Franciscan order is founded.
1208 - Albigensian Crusade against Cathar heretics in southern France begins, continuing until 1229. Philip Augustus is strengthened by ruining southern nobles. [14 years after Robin + Marian]
1209 - John is excommunicated, and England is placed under Papal interdict. No religious services, including baptisms and burials, are allowed. Some of his barons rebel against John. Cambridge University is founded. [15 years after Robin + Marian]
1211 - John puts down the Welsh Uprising. [17 years after Robin + Marian]
1213 - Innocent threatens England with a Crusade led by Philip Augustus of France. Philip wants to place his son Louis, the future Louis IX on the English throne. John, suspicious of the military support his barons would offer, submits to the Pope, making England a papal fief. Innocent III quickly calls off the Crusade that he never really had any intention of carrying out. [19 years after Robin + Marian]
1214 - John turns his attention back to his overseas interests. The European wars culminate in defeat at the Battle of Bouvines, which forces the king to accept an unfavorable peace with France. The defeat finally turns the largest part of his barons against him, joining those who rebelled at his excommunication. The nobles join together and demand concessions. [20 years after Robin + Marian]
1215 - John meets the rebel nobles' leaders at Runnymede, near London on 15 June to seal the Great Charter (Magna Carta). Because he signs under duress, however, John receives approval from his overlord the Pope to break his word as soon as hostilities cease, provoking the First Barons' War and an invited French invasion by Prince Louis of France (whom the majority of the English barons have invited to replace John on the throne). John travels around the country to oppose the rebel forces, including a personal two month siege of the rebel-held Rochester Castle. [21 years after Robin + Marian]
1216 - Retreating from the French invasion, John takes a safe route around the marshy area of the Wash to avoid the rebel-held area of East Anglia. His slow baggage train (including the Crown Jewels), however, take a direct route across it and is lost to the unexpected incoming tide. This loss deals John a terrible blow, which affects his health and state of mind. Succumbing to dysentery and moving from place to place, he stays one night at Sleaford Castle before dying on 18 (or 19) October, at Newark Castle (then in Lincolnshire, now on Nottingham's border with that county). Numerous, possibly fictitious, accounts soon circulate after his death that he had been killed by poisoned ale, poisoned plums, or a "surfeit of peaches." John's nine year-old son succeeds him and becomes King Henry III of England. [22 years after Robin + Marian]
1217 - Although Louis continues to claim the English throne, the barons switch their allegiance to the new king, forcing Louis to give up his claim and sign the Treaty of Lambeth. [23 years after Robin + Marian]
So, the way I read it, the PCs take after their parents and oppose King John as he makes England's situation worse by the year. They might rally and/or champion the barons who fight against John, and could play a role in the stirring the ideals of the Magna Carta*.
John himself makes for an interesting villain. His reign is characterized as one of the most disastrous in English history. He functions as an efficient ruler, good at administrative detail, and is sought out as a judge in the Royal Courts for his fair-mindedness. However, he is suspicious, unscrupulous, lecherous (he had many illegitimate offspring and was accused of being envious of many of his barons and kinfolk, seducing their more attractive daughters and sisters), and mistrusted. His crisis-prone career is sabotaged repeatedly by the halfheartedness with which his vassals support him, and the energy with which some of them oppose him. He lost approval of the English barons by taxing them in ways that were outside those traditionally allowed by feudal overlords. He allowed for the tax called scutage, where payment is made instead of providing knights (as required by feudal law); this became particularly unpopular.
There's also the question of whatever happened to Arthur of Brittany. A new Merry Man, anybody?
Add these large-scale political events to that all of the other fun stuff that could happen in Medieval England, and I think it has the makings of a great campaign.
Heck, I might do something comics-related with this idea...
*It bears pointing out that John was pretty good with legal wrangling, and there is speculation that John made it so the document undermined the barons' power by extending rights to commoners, in order to get back at them. This being a primarily cinematic campaign, however, I don't know to what degree this would be a triumph on John's part as it is a chance for egalitarian-minded PCs to play a part in the creation of modern democracy.