Thursday, January 7, 2010

From King John to Batman

I like reading bathroom readers. They are full of interesting and unusual facts. Some of them are well researched and some of them are not so well researched. Yes, Wikipedia has all kinds of misinformation but so do many books.
As you may have guessed, I am going to refer to something that I read in a bathroom reader and it is the origins of the name Gotham City, the home of Batman. I do have a reliable guide to names in the U.K - Brewer's Britain and Ireland - so I can go and check these things. Indeed there is a connection between King John ( the fellow who signed the Magna Carta) and Batman, the caped crusader.
Batman lives in Gotham City, which was a 'byname' for New York City in Washington Irving's Salmagundi. Bob Kane decided to use this name for the city in his comic book which is meant to be New York City. Irving took the name from history as there is a village in Nottinghamshire (where Robin Hood and the notorious Sheriff lived) called Gotham. The name comes from the Old English and means an enclosure where goats are kept.
Gotham has this reputation for village idiots; not just one idiot but the entire village is supposed to be made up of idiots. The story is that King John made plans to visit the village because he wanted to establish a hunting lodge there. The villagers, not wanting to be stuck with the cost of supporting the court (which often would include large amounts of land becoming Royal hunting grounds and off limits to all), whenever the Royal messengers were passing through, did stupid things to convince the messengers that it was not a good place to set up a hunting lodge. King John, when he heard about all the lunatics in the area, abandoned his plan. Is the story true? Who knows but this is how name of Gotham became associated with craziness.
What does this say for Batman? I have not read Salmagundi so I cannot say but I will end it with this nursery rhyme:
Three wise men of Gotham,
They went to sea in a bowl,
And if the bowl had been stronger,
My song had been longer.


Kristin said...

Good story! Who knew?

How about a post on Robin Hood, too?

Tracy said...

And no-one suspected they were pretending?

Where does that leave Batman? In the city of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.

I have a soft-spot for Batman (hence my catwoman avatar :) )

The Red Witch said...

I still owe you one on Bernard de Clairvaux. Problem is I don't think there was a Robin Hood. Maybe Hereward the Wake?
People were gullible back then. Remember the story about the King of France, Philip Augustus, walking back and forth across the bridge to Paris hoping the relics of St. Genevieve would save the bridge from being washed away by a flood. He lost.
I think we would have to read Irving to get the whole story.