Robin Hood and His Merry Men: Will Scarlett
Will Scarlett has been a part of the Robin Hood mythology from very near its beginning. He seems to me to be a side character in the myths who changes, as needed, to fill the cast of the scriptwriter, or baladeer. Rarely does he appear solo or is he featured in the ballads and myths as other than a sidekick. Often, he is presented as a dandy, more concerned about the state of his clothes and his grooming of his mustache than the dangers of living as an outlaw in a time when life was brutish and short.
But all his elegant ways, give Will an entry to the society of nobles, the lawgivers and judges. He charms people, sings, flirts, and gains favors. In some tales he is closely related to Robin Hood, usually a cousin or nephew, but sometimes a younger brother. As such, he can offer Robin companionship on a social level not offered by the rough peasants who make up most of the band of merry men. As such he is a trained swordsman rather than an archer and fights alongside Robin as an equal, and reminds him of his roots, what he is fighting for—to regain his noble heritage as well as for justice for all the people. For only as a belted Earl can Robin truly find justice for his people.
Will’s last name, Scarlett, Scarlet, Scarlock, Scadlock, Scatheloke, Scathelocke and Shacklock varies from century to century and ballad to ballad. All of them are derived from Anglo Saxon names that suggest a barbered man, or a man with a shaven head. Likewise, Robin of Locksley is often portrayed as a Saxon lord. The conflict between the original inhabitants of England and the Norman French invaders was real in the century after the battle of Hastings in 1066. By the time of the traditional setting of the Robin Hood stories during the reign of King Richard I, the Lion Hearted, from 1189 to 1199, the language of England had begun to merge into the modern hybrid we speak today. The two societies had begun to merge through marriages and the customs of fosterage and wardships. The racial divide depicted in much of Sir Walter Scott’s fiction is highly exaggerated.
But Will Scarlett, a noble with a Saxon name, serves the literary purpose of extending the conflict and romanticizing Robin Hood, displaced Earl of Locksley, of Saxon heritage, outlawed because of his Saxon lineage rather than his misdeeds.
Then too, who doesn’t like a handsome, well-dressed man of impeccable manners, who flirts and woos gullible enemies? Will Scarlett can be the butt of practical jokes with a fist full of mud to mar his expensive clothes and well-groomed mustache. Or he can save the day by winning the good will of the Sheriff’s wife and the flick of his sword to liberate the dungeon keys from a noble’s belt.
And no matter what bribe or bounty Will is offered by his noble companions, he is always loyal to his kinsman, Robin Hood, and their joint heritage.
Will Scarlett’s true purpose in the mythology is to epitomize loyalty, the core of a man’s honor.
For a more scholarly study of Will Scarlett, you can check out this site: