Robin Hood is accompanied by many people who not
only make each tale more interesting, but also make the legend more
complete and believable.
According to Edward C. Meyers's theory off Usenet
(soc.history or some such), "there was, in the 12th century, a Saxon farmer
named Robert Hodde who was outlawed because he opposed the severe taxation
imposed by the Normans (French/Scandinavians who ruled England for some
time). Hodde and his wife, Miriam (note the resemblance to Marian), fled
into the forest at the northern end of Sherwood, then a much larger tract
of forest than now. About the same time a King's soldier, name of John
Little, left London for Yorkshire planning on settling on a small farm, He
also was last seen in Sherwood. During the same time frame a recent
arrival from Italy, name of Guillarme Scarletti, was known to be roaming
around Sherwood. Add these names to the dozens of outlaws then making the
various forests of northern England their homes along with travelling
troubadors and itinerant monks, and you get the basis for the legend of
Robin Hood. It is a possibility that Robert Hodde, Miriam, John Little and
Will Scarlet, banded together with others, became the basis for the Robin
Hood legend. It's a good theory. I like it. Comments, anyone?" Yes, I like
it. ;) This is just one interpretation of how the Merry Men could have
joined Robin. It also emphasizes how important it is to keep an open mind
when studying Sherwood.
Little John is Robin Hood's right-hand-man, if you
will, almost as great an archer as Robin Hood himself. He is extremely
tall, making his name a misnomer. Little John is also amazingly strong, yet
intelligent. Little John, like Robin, also seems to have many names, like
John le Nailer and John Little. Little John is a later addition to the
Sherwood legends, and is sometimes shown to be extremely skilled with the
quarterstaff (a former shepherd?) or the bow. This passage below describes
Little John's skill with the bow (note how this version indicates that
Little John is a better bowman than Robin himself).
"Thre tymes Litell Johnn shet aboute,
And alwey he slet the wande;
The proude sherif of Notingham
By the markes can stande.
The sherif swore a full greate othe:
'By hym that dyede on a tre,
This man is the best arschere
That ever yet saw we.'"
-A Gest of Robyn Hode
Little John's name is a misnomer, for he is mammoth
in size. However, he is a kind and gentle man, as
this story, contributed
by Deborah Purganon, shows.
Little John's gravesite can be found in Hathersage,
Derbyshire. Hathersage is about thirty miles northwest of Mansfield and
approximately forty miles north-northwest of Nottingham. The gravestone's
existence can be verified; it is clearly marked... Not surprisingly,
Hathersage uses Little John's gravesite to attract tourism, I'm told. ;)
Thanks, Mr. Heafield, for this information about John Little's burial
wrote me, "A recent Discovery Channel episode of 'Would you
Believe it?' claims that in the 16(17)00's (I can't remember which)
Little John's supposed grave was dug up and a thigh bone, some 32
inches long was uncovered....which could have only belonged to a
man over 7 feet tall." Excellent.
Someone else wrote me: "I cannot cite it, but was looking for it on
your website. I remember reading that Little John's cap was left hanging in
a church on the end of a pole. It deteriorated over the years and finally
the cloth separated and the cap fell to the ground. the article went on to
state that the cap was kept in some sort of container - wood box, glass
cabinet for visitors to view." Again, this is purely hearsay, and should
be treated as such.
Maid Marian, is, of course, Robin's sweetheart and
love. Not surprisingly, the facts surrounding Marian are ambiguous as
well. Some tales describe her as Robin's childhood love (she is usually
of Saxon descent in this case), while others say Robin rescued her later
in life (usually of Norman descent). Some stories say Marian is an excellent
swordswoman, while others tell the reader that she is just a weak maid, or
even a pagan priestess. People these days are more inclined to believe the
former, stuck in the modern mentality that women have always been as good as
men in any skill. This is not true, however, as women were almost never
allowed into the military, especially not in the Middle Ages. Their
fighting roles came about only when the lack of men called for it, like
when they had to defend the castles. In any case, the important thing is
that Robin loves Marian dearly, and their affection is illustrated in
The Once and Future King by T.H. White:
"Robin Wood lay happily with his head in Marian's
lap. She sat between the roots of the lime tree,
clad in a one-piece smock of green girded with a
quiver of arrows, and her feet and arms were bare.
She had let down the brown shining waterfall of her
hair, which was usually kept braided in pigtails
for convenience in hunting and cookery, and with
the falling waves of this she framed his head. She
was singing a duet with him softly, and tickling the
end of his nose with the fine hairs..."
Wayne Brailsford, who has many stories to tell about the town of
Blidworth and its connection to the Robin Hood legend, says this
about a tale he heard about Marian as a child: "I was told when I
was younger that she is reputed to have been born in one of the oldest
houses still standing in the village. Me and my brother had a look
round the village to try and find this house but it was difficult to
nail down." A possibility? Perhaps? No? Interesting, nonetheless!
Mr. Allen Wright on Maid Marian:
"In the 17th century ballad, Maid Marian disguises herself as a page
and goes looking for Robin. She finds him in disguise as well. Not
recognising her, Robin picks a fight. And Marian holds her own. As
usual, Robin calls the whole thing off and that's when the lovers
recognise each other. Marian is also a strong figure in the 1630's
unfinished play, The Sad Shepherd. Sometimes Marian is not Robin's true
lover. Instead Clorinda, Queen of the Shepherdesses plays that role.
Clorinda was a superb huntswoman too. She's faded into obscurity except
for Roger Lancelyn Green's popular kids book from the 1950's. There,
Clorinda is a disguise employed by Marian.
"Ironically Marian is much tougher in the stories I mentioned than she
is in many of books from the early part of this century. In one book
from the 1920's she has the fight with Robin, but faints when she sees
blood. In another, Robin is said to win the fight easily. Both in the
older and more recent stories, Marian is a much stronger character."
I've discussed this a lot with various people. Personally, I think
Marian had to have some sort of hunting or fighting background, given
the fact that she was an outlaw and had to provide for herself as well
as the others in Robin's band. For someone whose main goal is to
survive, the ability to protect oneself seems to be a necessity. If
Robin and Marian ever were to fight, I think Robin's belief in not
hitting a woman would have won out, and so in order for a woman to
fight him, she would have to be disguised or Robin would back out.
Will Stutely is also part of the merry men, but he is
a minor character.
Tricket shows up in a few of the tales as Robin's dog.
Allan'a'Dale isn't written about often, but he is a fine lute player and bard.
Richard the Lionheart isn't really mentioned in any stories I've
read, as he is fighting in the Crusades during the Sheriff's brief reign.
What's amusing is that Richard the Lionheart was one of the worst kings for
Britain, yet has been portrayed as extremely courageous in every movie that
involves him. He was also supposedly gay. You'll never see Sean Connery
in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" in the same light again, huh?
The Sheriff of Nottingham is the central evil character, the man who attempts
to get rid of Robin Hood so his treasury will no longer be looted from.
Prince John is traditionally the man who the Sheriff serves under.
Guy of Gisborne, sometimes the Sheriff's cousin, shows up as a hunter of
Robin Hood in one weird tale with an abrupt and gruesome end. Robin Hood
and Guy of Gisborne have an archery contest, and Robin of course wins. Soon
afterwards, the two fight and Robin wins again, killing Guy of Gisborne.
Other times, Guy is a mere bounty hunter or even the main villain himself
(instead of the sheriff).
Much, in the story I read which talked about him, is
one of Robin's closest friends. Robin and Much, according to the story, met
while hiding from the Sheriff's men, an event which occurs just after Robin
escapes from having his hand cut off for hunting the Sheriff's deer. Much
has a limp, and he ends up going to Sherwood with Robin.
I've been under the general impression that Much is a
very kind soul, but there's always that one tale that always shocks me. Sir
James Holt says there is an account of Much killing a squire just to make
him be quiet. Strange, indeed!
Will Scarlet, Will Scarlett, Will Scathelocke, or
Will Shacklock is associated with daggers in some versions of the Sherwood
stories (Robin Hood: Men in Tights, remember?). Here's one tale explaining
how Will may have become one of Robin's Merry Men (contributed by Deborah
"Will Scarlett's true name was William Scathlocke. Scathlocke was just
another ordinary Englishman, a bit hot tempered but good-hearted. Actually,
Will himself was very much aware of his faults and that was why he was
very surprised when he found out that the woman he loved and considered to
be the most beautiful woman in the village loved him as well. Things could
not have been better for Will. He worked hard so as to give Meg (for that
was her name) the best possible life. But one sad day when Will came home
from the market he found his beloved wife dead, gang-raped and murdered by
the Sheriff's soldiers who were barely better than any marauding band of
cutthroats. Will's life and peace were shattered and in a rage he pursued
and killed the ones responsible for this crime, but he was never to be the
same. With nothing to live for but revenge and hate, he now lives only to
kill anyone capable of committing crimes like that of his wife's as well
as those who he feels are further accountable for her death. His old life
dead, he is now named Scarlett for the blood he sheds in retribution."
Mr. Allen Wright contributed a lot of information about Will Scarlet.
Rather than summarize it, I will quote what he wrote to me, in its
"In the ballad "Robin Hood Newly Revived", better known as Robin Hood
and Will Scarlet, Robin meets a stranger dressed in a silk doublet and
scarlet stockings. They get into a fight. As usual, Robin gets creamed.
It turns out this stranger is Young Gamwell. He had come into the forest
seeking Robin Hood, for the stranger is the son of Robin's sister.
Robin's nephew joins the band, and is named Will Scarlet.
"Will, under various names like Scarlock, Scadlock, Scarlet and
Scatheloke had been in the legend since the earliest surviving ballads.
This story was added in the 17th century, one of many "origin" stories.
Most of them follow the same pattern. Both Little John and Maid Marian
best Robin too, for example.
"The name Gamwell is interesting. It's a homage to old outlaw legends,
that of Gamelyn and the story of Robin and Gandelyn. In the ballad Robin
Hood and the Bold Pedlar, the pedlar's name is Gamble Gold and he claims
to be the son of Robin's mother's sister. A character named Gamwell,
sometimes the true name of Will Scarlet, is in many versions of the
legend. For example, Will is called Will of Gamwell in the 1938 Errol
"Whether Robin was Will Scarlet's uncle or first cousin, they could
properly be called cousins. In older days, cousin meant any close
relative who wasn't a part of the immediate family."
Sometimes, according to Susan
Macdonald, stories say Will Stutely (see below) changed his name to
Will Scarlet. Others say they're two separate characters altogether.
The lesser-known characters are obviously hard to explain, even the
most basic facts of their lives being ambiguous.
Susan, in her e-mail to me, also verified another story I had heard, about
Will Scarlet actually being Robin's first cousin, then called Will
Gamewell. His last name Scarlet was given to him because he wore bright
red in the forest, an obvious blunder.
Wayne Brailsford informed me of news referring to Will Scarlet's supposed
gravesite in Blidworth, "about 12 miles north of Nottingham itself, 3
miles from Mansfield, and about 9 miles from Edwinstow where the Sherwood
forest visitor's centre is." He says, "Well the only evidence of Will
Scarlet being buried in our church yard (Blidworth) is a gravestone which
is unnamed (it stands at the gate of the graveyard). A church has been on
the site for many years now, unfortunately. I don't know the full details,
but I believe it's been holy ground for over 800 years (give or take a
few). The gravestone is very perculiar in shape. its about 3 feet high,
symmetrical, and is made of what I believe is 3 different units of
stone. It is hard to make a comparison to what it looks like, but it
has a pointed top!"
Brandon Goldsworthy points out
a possible correction: Scarlet could not have been buried in the
churchyard as he was a outlaw, and outlaws were not permitted to be
buried in a cemetary.
Friar Tuck is captured by Robin and his men and is
eventually convinced to give sermons to the outlaws in the forest. I think
Robin allows this stranger into his camp because of his religious loyalty.
Robin may also have understood the power and importance of religion in
those whose lives are hardly worth living, like the bandits'. Friar Tuck
is generally known as being merry and fond of wine.
Someone, supposedly a descendent of a Friar Tuck, sent to me
information to me
regarding our merry Friar Tuck. I recommend reading
through it, for it provides some insight into the
derivation of his name, and some possible meanings of it.
The author of the comments in the above link says this information
is public, and easy to be found if you know where to look. Regardless,
I have not done research into this myself and cannot vouch for its
authenticity. But it gives you some areas to look in for your own work.
Please remember the uncertainty of this info in any quotes and such.
Dr. Frederick Walker has this to
say about Friar Tuck, and I think it's an excellent analysis:
"A highwayman named John Stafford, alias "Friar Tuck" was hanged in, I
believe 1415. If he is the original, then he cannot have had anything to
do with Robin Hood. It is also possible that he used the alias because it
was already popular. The name Tuck, by the way, means "curtel", and so the
traditional ballad of "Robin and the curtel friar" is more than likely the
source for the legend that Robin's men included someone named "Friar Tuck."
In any event, there were no friars in England before 1221, so no friar
named Tuck could have fought for Good King Richard. Another possibility is
that he was actually a French monk, who could have been named Frere Tuck.
Since the 1220s are also the period in which the sheriff of York was
demonstrably looking for a certain "Robert Hode, fugitive" I am inclined to
place the historical Robin in this era.
"I've done some more research on our favourite fat friar. It turns out his
first name was Robert, not John, and his crimes were in 1417, not 1415 as I
previously believed. It now seems he wasn't caught, as he is still listed at
large as late as 1429. Two more points of interest: he was a legitimate man
of the cloth, having once served as chaplain of a place called Lindfield; and
I wonder if the name "Robert" itself could have been an alias, taken in
honour of Robert or Robin Hood?"
Dr. Walker has contributed some very interesting ideas indeed! It turns out
that perhaps Friar Tuck may not be as simple to pin down as the general
public would seem to think!
Seeming to appear only in the Hollywood versions of
Robin Hood are Azeem, Wolf, and Duncan. Azeem is a Moor who is helped by
Robin to escape from an Arabian prison. His knowledge of science far
surpasses Robin's (remember the scene in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"
with the telescope?) and he uses a scimitar. Christine, a frequent poster
on the "Robin of Sherwood" mailing list gave me a story of the origin of
Azeem. Thanks! "The real scoop is that the producers of "Robin of
Sherwood" were shopping a feature film script around Hollywood and the
Hollywood folks said, 'what a great idea--we'll do our own schlocky version
with Kevin Costner' and another group said 'great, we'll do our own schlocky
version with Patrick Bergin.' Anyway, "Robin of Sherwood" introduces a new
Merry Man to the legend called Nasir -- a Saracen who joins the Merry Men.
The "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" first draft had a character called
Nazeem! Guess where they got the idea! So, "Robin of Sherwood" started it
with Nasir and then we got Azeem, then Atchoo in 'Robin Hood: Men in
Wolf is rescued from the Sheriff's men by Robin and is later
found to be Little John's son.
Duncan is the loyal servant to the Locksleys and has lost his vision
(perhaps a twist on King Duncan from Macbeth, since there
is some sight imagery in that play) by the Sheriff's own cruelty. He
helps Robin tremendously in telling Robin what happened while he was
away, but also unintentionally leads the Sheriff's soldiers to the