The term freelance today means self-employed, i.e. not committed to one single employer. This meaning developed in the late nineteenth century, but the word itself was first used by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) in his historical novel Ivanhoe, published in 1820 and set in twelth-century England. Freelance, or free-lance was used to describe a “medieval mercenary warrior”, meaning a lance not sworn to the service of a particular Lord.
Ivanhoe is a story of a Saxon family living under an overwhelmingly Norman establishment. Robin Hood, known as ‘Locksley’, appears in the novel and much of our modern conception of the character of Robin Hood derives from Scott’s depiction of him. The book is credited with contributing to the Victorian effort to romanticise the Medieval period. Alice Chandle in her article ‘Sir Walter Scott and the Medieval Revival’ writes that:
Mixing both the truths and fantasies about the middle ages that had grown up during the eighteenth century, Scott created an imaginary medieval world that most of his readers took for real. So vivid, in fact, was this world that a whole century dreamed and philosophized about it.
Many film and television adaptations of Ivanhoe have been made, most notably the 1952 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Fontaine which won three Oscars. Apparently there is another film being made currently, due for release in 2013!