Robin Hood’s Merry Men: Little John

Robin Hood’s Merry Men: Little John

As a companion to my blog series on the Magna Carta, I’m venturing forth with some character sketches of Robin Hood’s Merry Men. Let’s start with Little John, one of the oldest and most consistent characters in the legends.

Little John, or John Little, is reputed to have stood 7 feet tall and acted as Robin Hood’s chief lieutenant. In some translation the term “little” can mean crafty or tricky. His favorite weapon is a quarter staff. This element does not appear in the lexicon until the 17th C.

Most legends and myths evolve over time to suit the audience. Little John can be portrayed as a leader who hands over command of the outlaws to Robin’s superior intelligence and strategies. He is also depicted as a lumbering lout, his size draining his brain. In other tales he is an excellent swordsman and archer. The sword is the weapon of choice for noblemen and knights. A good one cost more than an entire suit of armor. The quarterstaff was the choice of tradesmen and peasants because it could be cut from a tree at any time and cost nothing. It could also double as a walking staff in the days when serfs and free holders were not allowed to carry weapons.

Contradictions abound depending upon the century and the bard weaving the tales.

The most popular legends place Robin Hood and Little John in Sherwood Forest during the time when King Richard I, the Lion Heart, had been imprisoned in Germany after his Crusade. This left Prince John, his youngest brother and sole surviving male heir to the throne, as regent of England and in command of taxes, which he increased to onerous levels. The Sheriff of Nottingham was chief tax collector in the region. The outlaws are pardoned and restored to their homes when King Richard returns and “saves” England from his little brother.

Prince John, and later King John were added by Sir Walter Scott in the late 18th and early 19th century. But then he gave us the middle ages as they should have been, not as they were.

If you go back further into the murky pre-Christian myths, you can find hints of Little John in the wildwood as the Green Man. Part tree, part man, his hair and beard sprout twigs, he is elusive and easily camouflaged, and he is the hereditary leader among the fae of the woods, their arbiter and judge. His roots spread throughout his domain giving him instant knowledge of all who trespass. Usually he is likened to a mighty oak, tall, strong, long lived, and incredibly durable. A forester in modern day Sherwood Forest says that oaks spend 300 years growing, 300 years living, and 300 years dying. Other authors make John a yew tree, the source of the flexible wood used in traditional English longbows.

Whichever version you choose to follow you can find multiple authorities on each one. In England there are cults that will show you where Little John lived and is buried. To me the tombstone looks far too new to be anything but modern wishful thinking and the typical wattle and daub hut of the 12th and 13th centuries would not survive or be anywhere as neat and charming as the typical thatched hut we see today.

For more information you can play with these links:


Phyllis Irene Radford is a founding member of Book View Café. You can find many of her books on her BVC page:

Or at her website:

You can contact her through FaceBook as:


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


Robin Hood’s Merry Men: Little John — 2 Comments