ROBIN HOOD AND HIS MERRY MEN
In modern renditions of the Robin Hood stories, Friar Tuck is an essential element to the cannon. Usually he is portrayed as fat, jovial, a glutton, a prodigious drinker of ale, and wise; a mediator in disputes and spiritual advisor. For all of his sins his constant faith redeems him.
We see him introduced to Robin Hood in a tale where Robin asks the hermit Tuck to carry him on his back across a shallow river. Tuck agrees, but then demands that Robin carry him back across the river to his home. On the third trip across the river Tuck dumps Robin into the water. Some versions tell of each calling up reserves and a battle ensues. Other versions skip straight to the back slapping and laughter.
Tuck is, thereafter, a friend to Robin and his men, a spiritual leader, and often a spy for he is not known in Nottingham where the Sheriff plots dastardly deeds against outlawed Robin. Tuck also has the benefit of being clergy, and therefore exempt from civil arrest, trial, and punishment. If found breaking the Sheriff’s laws, he must be taken to Church authorities.
However, he is a mass of contradictions. His brown robe marks him as a Franciscan, but that order did not come to England until almost a generation after the traditional setting of the stories in the times of King Richard I, reigned from 1189-1199, and King John who ruled from 1199-1216. Nor could he be a Dominican, the first of the mendicant orders established in France in 1216. The tradition of the mendicant monk comes much later in history.
Tuck himself does not appear in the Robin Hood mythology until 1427 in a royal writ as the name of a chaplain from Sussex. Friar Tuck is a nom de guerre for one Robert Stafford. He becomes associated with Robin Hood shortly thereafter.
So why is Tuck such an important part of the cannon? Aside from comic relief, his contradictions are also a poke in the eye of the Church in Rome that was fast becoming a bloated and power-hungry institution in need of reform. The Borgia’s came to power in the late 15th C. Martin Luther began the Reformation in 1517.
The fact that Tuck’s faith is never shaken and he is a wise counselor, is an indication that a man can love God and not necessarily conform to Church Law.
If we go back further, into the folkloric versions of the Robin Hood legends the need for spirituality among the Wildfolk who inhabit the forest comes from their close contact with the land. The Green Man comes closer to this role than a mendicant monk full of contradictions.
Pagan culture remained deeply embedded in the life of English peasantry for a long time after the coming of Christianity. The Robin Hood cannon did not need a monk/priest as a wise man and guide until more than 200 years after the traditional setting.
You can explore Friar Tuck’s role more thoroughly at: