One day in Bolsover in the county of Derbyshire in the 1820’s, two pitmen were busy sinking an exploratory coalmining shaft into a side of a hill, when suddenly the earth gave way, revealing a yawning gap. It was the entrance to a cave.
After they had tentatively climbed down into this new discovery, amidst the dust and loose rocks, their lanterns began to reveal what appeared to be old swords, bows and iron pots with the wood ash and half-charred logs from an old fireplace. Against a wall was a rack of bows and belts, broadswords and quivers full of arrows. As the orangey light from their lanterns moved around and the dust began to settle, their eyes suddenly came upon the gruesome sight of the remains of a skeleton wrapped in an old woollen habit, one hand holding a crucifix, the other a chisel, propped up against the cave wall. Above its head were roughly scratched a long list of names on the cavern walls. At the top it said, these died that we might live. Requiescant in pace. Below it painfully said, I was the last, Michael Tuck.
After the two miners had climbed out and nervously clambered to the top, there came a great rock fall and the cave promptly collapsed under hundreds of tons of rock, completely burying the new shaft and all their equipment. The cave has never been located since. When the pitmen described to the local people from Bolsover village what they had witnessed, they laughed and dismissed the miners’ story as pure fantasy.
This incident is reported in the book, Robin Hood: His Life and Legend (1979) by Lord Bernard Miles. Lord Miles is a distinguished actor, writer and founder of the Mermaid Theatre in London.
“Rake away the gold leaves, roll away the red,
And wake Will Scarlett from his leafy forest bed.”
(Alfred Noyes, Sherwood 1904)
Overlooking the village of Blidworth in Nottinghamshire stands the church of St. Mary of the Purification. Up until the reign of Richard III (1483-1485) the medieval church on this site, was known as the Chapel of St. Lawrence. It was at one time completely surrounded by Sherwood Forest and can trace its history right back to Saxon times and even the Druids. At Blidworth Dale, King John had a hunting seat and nearby is Queens Bower, the site of a Tudor encampment during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Blidworth and St. Mary’s church have many connections to the Robin Hood legend and near a hill on which the village stands is a cave, where the outlaws are said to have stored their food. One of the local traditions states that Will Scarlet knew every path through these parts of the forest and lies buried in an unmarked grave against the old church wall, after being killed by one of the sheriff’s men. Today, in the churchyard, under some old yew trees, an apex stone originally part of the collapsed fragments of the old medieval church tower, acts as a tombstone to Robin’s loyal henchman.
In Disney’s Story of Robin Hood (1952), it was Anthony Forwood who played Robin’s cousin Will Scarlet. The character never develops in the movie and remains merely a member of the ‘merrie’ men who helps rescue Scathelok and Stutely from Nottingham Square. But it is interesting to note that all three of these characters are probably variations of just one original shadowy member of Robin Hood’s medieval band of outlaws.
Robyn stode in Bernesdale,
And lenyd hym to a tre;
And bi hym stode Litell Johnn,
A gode yeman was he.
And also dyd good Scarlok,
And Much, the myller’s son;
There was non ynche of his bodi,
But it was worth a grome.
Will Scarlok, (Scalok, Scadlock, Scatheloke, Scathelok, Scarlet, Scarlett) is one of the most mysterious of all Robin’s men. His name, like Little John and Much the Millers Son, could be an alias and all three appear as early as stanza 4 in the Gest of Robyn Hode. He appears by the side of Robin Hood in most of the early ballads. In Robin Hoode his Death as Will Scarlett he advises his leader to take fifty of his best bowman to Church Lees, when Robin is ill and needs to be ‘let blood.’
But Robin is scornful and tells him that if he is afraid he should stay at home!
And thou be feard, thou William Scarlett
Att home I read thee bee:
And you be wrothe, my deare master,
You shall never heare more of mee.
It is as Will Scadlock that he informs Robin Hood of the ‘curtall frier’ in the ballad The famous Battle between Robin Hood and the Curtall Fryer:
God blessing on thy heart, said Robin Hood,
That hath such a shot for me;
I would ride my horse a hundred miles,
To finde one could match thee.
That caused Will Scadlock to laugh,
He laught full heartily:
There lives a curtal friar in Fountains Abby
Wil beat both him and thee.
Will Scarlet’s background, like Robin and the rest of his band, is never explained, so it was left to the later ballad makers to construct a popular story around his origins for the new expanding printing presses. In Robin Hood and the Newly Revived Robin discovers a ‘deft young man as ever walkt on the way’:
His doublet it was of silk, he said, His stockings like scarlet shone, And he walkt on along the way, To Robin Hood then unknown.
Robin watches the smartly dressed, young stranger shoot deer and is impressed with his skill:
Well shot, well shot,quoth Robin Hood then,
That shot it was shot in time;
And if thou wilt accept of the place,
Thou shalt be a bold yeoman of mine.
But the young man rudely tells Robin to go away and eventually a swordfight ensues.
The stranger he drew out a good broad sword,
And hit Robin on the crown,
That from every haire of bold Robins head
The blood ran trickling down.
God a mercy, good fellow! quoth Robin Hood then,
And for this thou hast done;
Tell me, good fellow, what thou art,
Tell me where thou doest woon.
The stranger then answered bold Robin Hood,
I’le tell thee where I did dwell;
In Maxfield was I bred and born,
My name is Young Gamwell.
Young Gamwell had killed his fathers steward and fled to the ‘English wood’ to seek his uncle, Robin Hood. After much rejoicing the two of them make their way back to Little John.
I met with a stranger, quoth Robin Hood then,
Full sore he hath beaten me:
Then I’le have a bout with him, quoth Little John,
And try if he can beat me.
Oh no, quoth Robin Hood then,
Little John, it may [not] be so;
For he’s my own dear sisters son,
And cousins I have no mo.
But he shall be a bold yeoman of mine,
My chief man next to thee;
And I Robin Hood, and thou Little John,
And Scarlet he shall be.
As themes were re-worked and adapted in the later tales, names became changed and new elements introduced. In this case it seems the character Gamwell, later to become Will Scarlet, has been re-moulded from Gamelyn an outlaw in the earliest surviving English outlaw ballad, the Tale of Gamelyn (c.1350). In turn the name Gamelyn possibly evolved from the servant Gandelyn, in the mysterious old English carol about the New Year Wren hunt, Robyn and Gandelyn.
A later variation of the story of Robin Hood finding his long lost cousin, can be found in The Bold Pedlar and Robin Hood (c. 1846). By this time, when the stranger introduces himself, his name had transformed into Gamble Gold!
We come across Scadlock with Robin Hood and Little John in the unusual ballad Robin Hood and the Prince of Aragon (c.1660) in which he helps free the city of London by slaying the Prince of Aragon and an infidel Turk, marries a princess and finds his long lost noble father. In the much earlier Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne it is as Scarlett that he is pursued by the sheriff’s men:
And Scarlett a ffote flying was,
Over stockes and stone,
For the sheriff with seven score men
Fast after him is gone.
The prolific Tudor playwright Anthony Munday (c.1553-1633) settled upon using both characters, a Scarlet and a Scathlock- the sons of Widow Scarlet- for his influential production The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntington in (c.1600). A device also used by Howard Pyle in his classic Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883), where we find a Will Scarlett and a Will Scatheloke.
The character Will Stutely/Stutly appears in only two prominent later ballads, Robin Hood and Little John, where he Christens the giant stranger (a role played out by Will Scarlet in The Story of Robin Hood) and the other is the story of his freedom from the gallows in Robin Hood rescuing Will Stutly. On both occasions his name seems to be yet another derivation from Scathelok/Scarlet. The evidence of the evolution of this, was later found amongst the recently discovered ‘Forresters Manuscript,’ where the tale of this outlaws rescue from the hangman's noose is known as Robin Hood and Will Scathelok.
The anonymous compiler of the Sloane Manuscript (included on this blog under Robin Hood History) writing in about 1600 added to all this confusion with Scarlock included in a role later played out by Alan-a-Dale:
Scarlock, he induced, upon this occacion: one day meting him, as he walked solitary, and lyke to a man forlorne, because a mayd to whom he was affianced was taken from by the violence of her friends, and giuen to another that was auld and welthy.
The cross-over between Will Scarlet and Allan-a-Dale re-appears yet again in the Warner Brothers 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood. Patric Knowles, dressed in red, plays a rather dandy Will Scarlet to Errol Flynn’s Robin and during the fight scene with Little John, thinks nothing of picking up his lute and strumming a merry tune.
So the malleable character of Will Scarlet continues to show his various faces down the centuries. In more modern times we have seen the flamboyant Patric Knowles version, to the dark, (scarlet inside) menacing, Ray Winstone portrayal in TV’s Robin of Sherwood 1984.
More recently Christian Slater, with his Californian twang, played Will Scarlet as a maladjusted teenager in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves 1991. Slater explains his character in the movie:
Several things were put into the script after I was cast. For instance, the fact that Robin Hood recently screwed up my life when I was younger. His father dated my mother and I was the result. I came forth into the world as Robin’s half-brother. There is one point in the film when I have to tell Robin the truth. So it adds an edge to the whole movie for me.
There is disagreement surrounding the historical meaning of the unusual name, Scatheloke. Jim Lees (Mr Robin Hood) in his book The Quest For Robin Hood explains that the nickname is derived from scathe– to burn or harm, and locke meaning hair. So from this we get red head! But Professor Stephen Knight interprets the name in a more dramatic fashion. He says that it is more likely to mean lock-smasher, a name very appropriate for a hunted outlaw.
Which brings us to any historical evidence for a real outlaw with that name. There have been a number of interesting, although rather vague discoveries. A Schakelock is recorded in Scotland in 1305 and in December 1316 a Schakelock is mentioned as a soldier in Berwick town garrison. In November, two years later a William Scarlet is listed amongst the pardons for felonies.
In the Wakefield Court Rolls in Yorkshire an Adam Schakelok is recorded on 10th April 1317 as holding land at Crigleston and in the Assize Rolls a person known as W. Shakelok/W. Scathelok is recorded between the years of 1372 and 1381.
But the most fascinating discovery is the William Shyreloke, a novice of St. Mary’s Abbey York (the very abbey at the heart of the epic poem, the Gest of Robyn Hode) mentioned between 1286-7. According to Abbey documents he was thrown out because of a crime imputed to him!
© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007
(To see all posts about Will Scarlet please click on the label marked Will Scarlet in the right-hand panel or below).
(Time Magazine, Monday June 30th 1952. Taken from The New Pictures section):
Robin Hood (Walt Disney; RKO Radio) again fights for king, country and fair Maid Marian (Joan Rice) in a first-rate, all-live-action Walt Disney production. This Technicolored version of the old legend is a flavorful blend of fast movement, robust acting and authentic atmosphere, photographed in real English settings.
Robin Hood (Richard Todd) and his merry men in Lincoln green are still roaming the bosky shades of Sherwood Forest, eating sweet venison, quaffing sparkling ale, and speeding their grey-goose shafts with skill and cunning. And when King Richard the Lionhearted (Patrick Barr) goes off to the Crusades, and his villainous brother Prince John (Hubert Gregg) and the scurvy sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Finch) try to usurp the throne, Robin and his men engage these medieval hoods in many a stout bout to the twang of bowstrings and the knock of cudgels.
In the title role, Richard Todd is neither so athletic as Douglas Fairbanks was in 1922 nor so dashing as Errol Flynn in 1938; but he is a bold, bouncing and right jolly fellow, who is more faithful to the "beardless whelp" of tradition than were his screen predecessors. He is surrounded by a group of stalwart character actors: James Robertson Justice as Little John; James Hayter as portly Friar Tuck; Martita Hunt as Queen Eleanor; Elton Hayes as the roving minstrel Allan-a-Dale; Hal Osmond as Midge the Miller; Anthony Forwood as Will Scarlet. Even the production credits have a Robin-Hoodish lilt: Producer Perce Pearce, Director Ken Annakin, Cameraman Guy Green.
One of the special guests invited along by the BBC in Lincolnshire to see the pilot episode of their new series, was the man who had played Robin Hood for Walt Disney 54 years earlier, the veteran British actor Richard Todd.
This is the interview Richard Todd gave with Rod Whiting of BBC Radio Lincolnshire about making Walt Disney’s ‘The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men.’
Richard Todd: This went much against my instincts because I was an actor and you see I thought, Robin Hood, No! No! No! I don’t want to do that, hanging by my tail from trees and all that sought of thing. And Walt Disney came over to England and we had lunch together and he told me that he wanted a quick witted, quick thinking, quick moving, welter-weight. I really had a ball on that film. It was nothing like what you are able to do today. It doesn’t hold a candle to this in many ways.
Rod Whiting: What do you think about the new programme?
Richard Todd: From what I have seen it’s excellent. I told you. We couldn’t hold a candle to it. In the days when I made Robin Hood. Yeah! I think it’s extremely good. It’s very intelligent, its bright, its beautifully photographed, it has tremendous production values. Whether it will be intriguing for audiences, I wouldn’t know. As I said just now, I’m a bit old fashioned and I think I’m still a child at heart. I want to see Robin Hood! You know the Robin Hood that I have been nurturing in my mind for the odd ninety years. Or whatever it is I’ve been alive.
Rod Whiting: Not some chap with a beard then?
Richard Todd: (laughs) No! No! No! What happened to Friar Tuck? Does he come in sometime?
Rod Whiting: I think he will. I think he will at some stage.
Richard Todd: And Little John?
Richard Todd: Oh Good! Good!
Rod Whiting: Joan Rice was Maid Marian in your film.
Richard Todd: Yes.
Rod Whiting: And you know I was horrified to read that the biography of Joan Rice is nothing more than ‘A pert English actress....’
Richard Todd: She wasn't an actress.
Rod Whiting: Right.
Richard Todd: Poor little girl. I mean goodness knows why Walt and the others chose her. She was a waitress in a Lyons Corner House in London. She had never acted. She was a pretty little thing. She was a nice little thing. She tried her best. She did her best. It wasn’t there.
Rod Whiting: But you did have a chap called Bill Owen in the film.
Richard Todd: Oh a lot of other people that would be remembered today.
Rod Whiting: Peter Finch?
Richard Todd: Peter Finch, James Robertson Justice, James Hayter.