Shadow Plays: Virtual Realities in an Analog World

Further Insights: Garibaldi and Robin Hood

Further Insights

Garibaldi and Robin Hood

This is the time for tourists...the Alps bristle with Britannic invaders, and a chosen handful have lately elected to visit Mount Etna and Garibaldi. These last have the best of it: with their rifles on their shoulders—for who would trust himself unarmed in the Neapolitan States?—with a “handsome and picturesque” uniform by which they may recognize each other in the crowds around Messina; with a free passage, rations, and “compensations” given them by Garibaldi, always generous to the English, and the patron saint of all the lovers of Italy, —they will see one of the wonders of the World, and the greatest hero of modern history, under more favorable circumstances than other men can boast. They may see Vesuvius too, before they have done with the excursion, and being at the opening of the Neapolitan dungeons, they may help to knock off some rusty chains from a few hundred patriots, and carve their names in a nobler fashion than Smith and Brown who write theirs on the Pyramids.

—London Review52

In addition to retelling various episodes of the Garibaldi saga, Alexandre Dumas was also the author of two adventure novels featuring Robin Hood, Nottingham’s local folk hero.53 Indeed, a connection between Garibaldi and Robin Hood exists and not only in the realm of imagination. As mentioned earlier, the enthusiasm that the “eagle-eyed” hero in a red shirt aroused in the English provinces is also the effect of a media campaign that, as the Nottingham Guardian writes, had as its goal “one of the best [causes] that ever challenged the support of purse or pen or sword.”54 This support was not only monetary but was also meant to make possible “that a handsome contingent will be sent from Nottingham to warm the heart and strengthen the hands of the Italian Hero.”55 This Nottingham contingent would have joined the ranks of the British volunteers who joined Garibaldi and his red shirts in southern Italy between the early summer and late fall of 1860. As Marcella Sutcliffe has written, “All British ‘red shirts’ belonged to the ‘amateur,’ ‘citizen-soldier’ typology, with the possible exception of a handful of mercenaries and adventurers.”56 An engraving representing British volunteers en route to Palermo appeared on the Illustrated Times on July 21: in their colorful attire, they look more like swashbucklers than ordinary soldiers (fig. 19). While a first contingent was composed by “radicals, moved by internationalist rhetoric,” a second group, that took the name of the British Legion, “had the tacit approval of the establishment, as it increasingly appeared to be defined not by its republicanism and radicalism but by the liberal values associated with England.”57

The history of these transnational volunteers is intertwined with that of the many national volunteer corps popping up all over Britain between 1859 and 1860, mainly in response to a supposed threat from France. One of these corps, the Robin Hood Rifle Volunteers, was commissioned in Nottingham on November 15, 1859. With their “Lincoln green” uniform, “with black braid and facings,” and “bronze mountings,” the Rifles certainly cut an elegant and colorful figure.58 Their parades and exercises were often accompanied by Italian operas played by their band: Pas Redoublé by Rossini and music from Bellini's Norma.59 Articles about the “patriotic” Rifles appear in the local press alongside the reports of Garibaldi's progress in southern Italy. Were the Robin Hood Rifles among the British Legion volunteers who, led by Lieutenant Colonel Dunne, fought in the battle of Milazzo (July 17–24), as illustrated in scene 43 of the panorama (fig. 20), which was inspired by an engraving of a sketch by Vizitelly published in the Illustrated London Newslink on August 11?60 While the manuscript does not make any mention of them, a small ad published in the Nottingham Daily Express a year later—on July 4, 1861, Garibaldi's birthday—provides a tantalizing clue that at least a few of the Rifles might have shed their bright green uniforms to don Garibaldian red shirts: the ad advertises the sale of “the Garibaldi Shirt as Worn by the Robin Hood Rifles, Superior in Quality to Any Yet Produced, though charged at a much lower price.”61

Whether the Robin Hood Rifles were actually seen in action at Milazzo or not, another, perhaps even more compelling connection with Story’s panorama exists. The British volunteers were also known as the “excursionists.” The edict of the volunteers’ organizing committee, published in various newspapers in August, explains the reason behind this name:

A select party of English excursionists intends to visit South Italy. As the country is somewhat unsettled, the excursionists will be furnished with means of self-defense, and with a view of recognizing each other, will be attired in a picturesque and uniform costume [the red-shirts]. General Garibaldi has liberally granted the excursionists a free passage to Sicily and Italy, and they will be supplied with refreshments and attire suitable for the climate.62

Echoing Grand Tour travels, the title of “excursionists” provided plausible cover for this peculiar contingent of tourists carrying arms.63 Perhaps among the excursionists there were also Robin Hood Rifles (in which case they would have left too late to take part in the battle at Milazzo). Indeed, war tourism and the liberal spirit of the British Legion were intimately connected. This is perfectly reflected in Story’s panorama: actual and virtual war tourists from Nottingham are united in the local version of the Garibaldian saga, including the Robin Hood Rifles. Garibaldi and Robin Hood may not exist in the same dimension, but for the audiences of Nottinghamshire, the Italian patriot and the prince of thieves who fought with his “outlaws” against the usurper king and his ruthless minion, the Sheriff of Nottingham, were clearly part of the same illustrated history. Indeed, Garibaldian lore was popular for decades in Nottingham, the city of Robin Hood and also the cradle of British football: a year after Garibaldi's 1864 triumphal visit to London (at the peak of his popularity in England), at the founding meeting of the Nottingham Forest Football club, “the committee passed a resolution that the team colours should be ‘Garibaldi red,’” in honor of the Italian hero—although the Garibaldis (as the Foresters were also nicknamed) “identified themselves more by their headgear than their shirts and a dozen red caps with tassels were duly purchased.” Nottingham Forest was indeed “the first club to officially wear red, a color that has since been adopted by a significant number of others.”64

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