Over the years,
Robin Hood has attracted an astounding number of men and women
who also want to be outlaws, for one reason or another.
Runaways, Jews, near-Vikings, cooks, idiots, whores, witches, petty thieves and peasants wishing a more exciting life - all have come at one time or another to the secret Greenwood at the heart of Sherwood Forest.
Robin Hood doesn't take every volunteer.
Some he turns away with a kind word and a coin, others he has
chased off, some he urges to reapply later. He can pick and choose,
and does. Above all, though it's never stated, Robin needs dedicated
people he can count on in emergencies AND in everyday life to
take orders without a grudge.
As Little John quietly tells every
new recruit, "There ain't but one rule you have to learn
to live in Sherwood: Robin's word is law." Since the outlaws
live from crisis to crisis, always on a razor's edge, one mistep
or misinterpreted order can plunge the whole band into deadly
As a footnote, the Merry Men actually pre-date Robin Hood. When young Robin flees to Sherwood, he finds a company of outlaws already dwelling in its depths. These were hard men without mercy, quick to pick on a youngster and take advantage of everyone. It's to Robin Hood's credit, his courage and his insight, that he could gradually take over a band of cutthroat thugs and turn them into a force for justice.
You can also meet Robin Hood's friends and foes.
And bear in mind these are MY interpretations. Your mileage may vary.
is Little John's cousin. He's tall and strong, but not
nearly as capable or bright as his famous cousin. Arthur
was a King's Forester loyal to the Crown.
When he met Robin
Hood, and then Little John (after many years apart), he switched
allegiances without a thought (key phrase) and joined the Merry
Men. As Robin pointed out, "Arthur might be one of
the foresters who cut off David's ears."
a doughty soldier: Robin knows he can rely on Arthur to carry
any job through without question, even unto death. From
years of practice, Arthur is the band's second-best shot.
For some reason, Arthur and Red Tom hate each other, and sometimes
resort to fisticuffs.
Arthur A'Bland was introduced in the ballad "Robin and the Forester".
Art by John Green in Life in a Medieval Castle and Village Coloring Book.
See Robin Hood's
Now a paperback
Mary is wife to Arthur A'Bland. She follows orders well, helping Clara cook. Just don't ask her to make any decisions. In a crisis she tends to panic and say/shout anything.
Mary was created by Clayton Emery.
Image from medieval times.
was an uninspired merchant until he met Robin Hood along Sherwood's
green roads.Ben is lazy as they make 'em, and only works
when prodded by his wife Clara.
Ben goes along with whatever scheme is easiest. Sensing this, Robin actually had no interest in recruiting Ben - until, after one particularly excruciating meal, he learned Clara could cook.
one spot of ambition is he plays the bagpipes. Robin christened
him "Barrel" for his girth and fondness of beer. Ben and Clara
had five children: an older son and daughter who live in York, and
three in the Greenwood.
Ben Barrel was created by Clayton Emery.
Artist unknown from Robin Hood: A Wishing Well Adventure Classic.
is Ben Barrel's wife. Hardheaded and practical, she runs
the Sherwood kitchen with an iron spoon.
Which is good, because Marian steadfastly refuses to cook.
Clara offered that Ben join the Merry Men, guessing it a better occupation than Ben's lackluster merchanting.
Clara was created by Clayton Emery. Clara was my grandmother's name.
Image origin uncertain.
(real name unknown) is son to Ben Barrel: a tub is a small barrel.
Tub is a friend and rival to Tam Gamwell.
him to Black Bart. The grouchy Bart scares the stuffing
out of Tub, but he is learning to be an excellent blacksmith
- until he succumbs to plague in London.
The children were created by Clayton Emery.
Art from Robin Hood by Eugene Pawczuk.
Shonet the Sower
was a prioress. Met during some adventure, she left the
church to marry David of Doncaster, who built and furnished a
hut for her in the Greenwood.
Their happiness was cut short when Shonet died of a crab (cancer) in BEASTS. Shonet, and the devout Sherwooders, couldn't help but wonder if her agonizing death weren't a punishment for quitting the cloister to marry.
Shonet is a creation of Clayton Emery. She's a counterpoint to the evil prioress of later legend who bleeds Robin to death.
David of Doncaster was always quiet and moody, subject to depression
and plagued by bad luck.
He poached a king's deer for his
large and hungry family, but was caught by King's Foresters.
They cut off his ears, so he wears his black hair long.
Though gloomy, David is a handsome man, but dresses carelessly. In summer his shirt is ragged and sleeveless, and his black hat has the brim pushed up out of the way.
|He was married briefly
to Shonet the Sower, and views her early death as a punishment
for his sins, which could only be too much happiness.
David has many relatives in Doncaster, but doesn't miss them. His brothers picked on him mercilessly. David has plans to pay them back someday.
David clings to Robin Hood like a drowning man. He was flogged by the king's man-at-arms, and even considered that a privilege. David slowly begins to shine again, and then he meets Helen in BELLS OF LONDON.
David of Doncaster appears in many early ballads. Jim Lees thought his only description was he was a young boy.
Artist unknown from Robin of Sherwood Annual 1986.
is the band's blacksmith. He's a wonderful smith, probably
as good as the legendary Wayland, whom Bart met and trained under
- and was ultimately betrayed by.
Bart knows "smith
magic" and is unphased by, say, salamanders crawling out
of his forge or ghosts swirling in the smoke. Phelgmatic
about everything, Bart pays homage to the gods of the underground, making people whisper he's a devil worshipper.
In fact, Bart doesn't worship, or fear, anything. To judge by a story he once told while drunk, "The Man Who Was Always Afraid", Bart was a coward as a youth and banished from his village. He was seized by trolls(?), dragged underground, and enslaved and apprenticed to an ancient crippled wonder-smith, probably Wayland.
|Betrayed by his master, Bart walked
out of the underground past horrors beyond imagining. After
that, the story goes, he was never afraid again.
Considered unkillable, Black Bart was blasted to atoms by a monstrous demon of black glass. Typically, he stayed to fight while everyone else ran for their lives.
It bothers Robin to have a devil worshipper in his band, but then, he's associated with worst. Bart is always dirty and grimy and grumpy.
We learn some of Bart's backstory - maybe - in BELLS OF LONDON.
Black Bart was created by Clayton Emery.
Bold Jane Downey
is Sherwood's tomboy grown up.
After Little John saved Jane's life - on the fly
during an escape - she fell in love with the big lug.
Bold Jane handles all her weapons well, and can swing nimbly
on a rope. Because she's small, she wears her longsword
down her back (to gentle joshing), and has problems controling
In London, using her own initiative, she adopted a disguise (just like Robin Hood) to infiltrate a castle where John was imprisoned.
Bold Jane Downey was created by Clayton
Emery. See my custom action figure of Jane.
is a tall ungainly redhead who fled her marriage bed
and ran to Sherwood - after breaking a chamberpot over her
elderly husband's head.
Fleeing was her entire plan, so it's lucky the Merry Men found her.
Robin nicknamed the clumsy woman "Grace" as a jest.
|She learned to be minimally competent with weapons, but never really embraced the outlaw life.
She did serve well in BEASTS, when Robin matched her against
one of King Richard's knights in a sword fight.
While in London, she marries a weaver named Anselm. The Merry Men gave her a fine wedding and presents, then a chivaree. Robin himself closed the bed curtains.
Grace was created by Clayton Emery.
Art by Piero Cattaneo from The Legend of Robin Hood.
left his plow for the exciting life of an outlaw. He was
killed within a year.
He appears in
Simon was created by Clayton Emery.
Stained glass art by Unknown.
was a tiler met on the road. He performed well as a Merry Man,
even made a secret visit to Nottingham dressed as a beggar, since
no one knew him, and brought back valuable information and victuals.
But seeing so many of Robin's men come out of battle unscathed, Brian emulated Black Bart and charged a phalanx of archers - and was swept from the saddle by arrows in BEASTS.
Brian was created (as cannon fodder) by Clayton Emery, named after my friend Brian Axtell. (Sorry, Bri.)
Art by Benvenuit from The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Pyle.
Friar Tuck is
the old man of the gang. Over 40, he finds it hard to live
in the forest, sleep on damp ground, and go stomping through
wet woods to ambush people. As such, Tuck takes his luxuries
as he can find them.
And he's fairly tough to begin with from all that walking: friars usually traveled from village to hamlet on a regular circuit, giving open-air sermons and collecting coins in places too small to have a permanent priest.
was invited to join the band because Robin, a devout Catholic,
knew his followers' immortal souls were in jeopardy by living
away from civilization and its church. So he went looking
for the legendary "fighting friar". Robin and
Tuck ferried each other across the stream, both getting soused,
had a rousing sword fight, and came out even when Robin summoned
his Merry Men and Tuck whistled up his dogs.
Tuck is only allowed two dogs in Sherwood, Deborah and Samson.
He's called "Tuck" for tucking his kirtle or cassock into his belt for battle - perhaps. And despite that clerics aren't supposed to use a blade in battle - for instance, Bishop Odo carried a mace at Hastings - Tuck swings a mean sword.
As Sherwood's conscience, he nags the Merry Men onto the straight and narrow. His devotion occasionally trips him up. To fight Vikings, the fairies provided the band with acorns as good luck charms. Tuck threw his away as "pagan witchcraft" and fell sick, the only Sherwooder to succumb.
Friar Tuck appears in the earliest Robin
Hood ballads. And may have had ballads of his own. And may have been based on a real historical
The only place I've ever read Tuck's real name is in Alexandre Dumas's Robin Hood: Prince of Outlaws.
Tuck says his real name is Giles Sherbowne, and he comes from "a good
family of countryfolk". The Dumas books are supposedly
swiped-translated from Pierce Egan's the Younger's Robin Hood and Little John; or, the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest, so maybe Egan named him.
See my custom action figure of Friar Tuck (scroll down).
Marian and the Merry Men
Now a paperback
And to see what the Merry Men wore,
view the rare and dazzling plates of
English Medieval Clothing taken from
the 1906 book by Dion Clayton Calthrop.