Will Scarlet (also Scarlett, Scarlock, Scadlock, Scatheloke, and Scathelocke) was a prominent member of Robin Hood's Merry Men. He was present in the earliest ballads along with Little John and Much the Miller's Son.
The confusion of surnames has led some authors to distinguish them as belonging to different characters. The Elizabethan playwright Anthony Munday featured Scarlet and Scathlocke as half-brothers in his play The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntington. Howard Pyle included both a Will Scathelock and a Will Scarlet in his Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. Will Stutely may also exist as a separate character because of a mistaken surname.
The first appearance of Will Scarlet was in one of the oldest surviving Robin Hood ballads, A Gest of Robyn Hode. He helps capture Richard at the Lee and when Robin lends that knight money to pay off his debts, Scarlet is one of the Merry Men who insists on giving him a horse and clothing appropriate to his station.
A later ballad, Robin Hood and the Newly Revived, scribes an origin story to him. Robin finds a finely dressed young man shooting deer in Sherwood, and offers to let him join the band; they quarrel and fight. Robin asks who he is; he says he is Young Gamwell, who killed his father's steward and fled his father's estate to seek out his uncle, Robin Hood. Robin makes him welcome and renames him Scarlet. This story, more or less, is the common origin story for Will Scarlet, although variations occur.
Francis Child indexed those tales: A Gest of Robyn Hode as Child Ballad 117, Robin Hood's Death as Child ballad 120, and Robin Hood Newly Revived as Child ballad 128. He also listed several other ballads featuring Will Scarlet, sometimes in a very minor role. In Robin Hood's Delight (Child Ballad 136), the common story in which Robin meets a stranger, cannot outfight him, and must outwit him is altered: Robin has Little John and Will with him, and they meet three foresters, resulting in the usual fight and outwitting. In Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar (Child Ballad 123), Will Scarlet tells Robin of the friar, resulting in their encounter. In Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne (Child Ballad 118), Little John is captured coming to Will's rescue after two of their band had been killed and Will was fleeing. In an unusual Robin Hood ballad Robin Hood and the Prince of Aragon (Child ballad 129), Robin, Little John, and Will Scarlet come to the king's rescue, fighting the prince of the title and two giants, and ending with Will marrying the princess; this ballad, unlike the other Child ballads, is seldom used in later adaptations.
Traditionally, most of the outlaws are often depicted as being middle-aged, whereas Scarlet is often depicted as young or youthful, sometimes in his late teens. In the traditional tales, he is hot-headed and tempestuous, but has a love of fine elegant clothes and is often seen wearing red silk. He is the most skilled swordsman of the merry men whilst Robin Hood is the most skilled archer and Little John the most skilled staff wielder. In some tales Scarlet uses two swords at the same time (this was parodied in the movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights).
According to local tradition, Will Scarlet was killed after a battle with the Sheriff's men and is buried in the churchyard of the Church of St. Mary of the Purification, Blidworth in Nottinghamshire. The apex of the old church spire stands in the graveyard and is popularly referred to as a monument to Will Scarlet, whose grave is otherwise unmarked.
Other depictions of Will Scarlet
In both the 1938 film, starring Errol Flynn, and 1991 TV movie, Will Scarlet is portrayed as Robin's friend and companion (almost a squire) from the beginning, and is a witty, humorous character. In the 1938 film, his given name is "Will o' Gamwell". This character, played by English actor Patric Knowles, is quite possibly merged with Alan-a-Dale, as Will plays a lute and sings in one scene. In the 2006 BBC TV series, the same role is given to the character named Much.
In the classic 1950s series of The Adventures of Robin Hood, the character was played by Ronald Howard and later by Paul Eddington. When first met he and Robin Hood get into a fight with each other before Scarlet escapes from the Sheriff's men. He was initially depicted as a bearded yet youthful gentleman. Fun-loving, adventurous and a roguish womanising boaster. He was however also a loyal and experienced swordsman. This version of Will's real name was Will O'Winchester. In the first two episodes, a cynical Will Scathelock is the original leader of the Sherwood outlaws. On his death bed, Scathelock tells the outlaws to follow Robin Hood.
In AC Gaughen's Historical Fiction Young Adult Book, Scarlet is a young former daughter of a noble in drag. She is a knife thrower, and has a pronounced scar beneath one eye.
In the UK TV series Robin of Sherwood (1984-6), Ray Winstone portrays a very different version of Will Scarlet. Rather than the stereotypical merry sidekick, this interpretation gave us a much bleaker, more passionate character. An ex-soldier who fought in France, he is shown as the most violent of the outlaws, having turned to murder after powerlessly witnessing the brutalisation and trampling to death of his wife at the hands of Normans. With a burning hatred of the Sheriff of Nottingham's men – and a lack of respect for all authority – he tells Robin he has changed his name from Scathelocke to Scarlet having killed three men in revenge.
In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Christian Slater plays Will Scarlet, whom the film depicts as the illegitimate half-brother of Robin Hood. (Many older traditions make him a kinsman of Robin's, usually a cousin or nephew.) Robin Hood's father did not acknowledge Scarlet, and instead doted on Robin, leading Scarlet to become resentful of Robin Hood. He initially appears as a treacherous character, but later finds redemption when he helps the Merry Men rescue Maid Marian and several others from the Sheriff of Nottingham.
In the 2002 video game Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood, Will Scarlet is shown as Robin's troublesome nephew that rebels against the sheriff constantly and as a result of this is put in prison. He is later rescued by Robin Hood and added to the band of merry men. He is shown to be extremely violent, with the ability to strangle enemies from behind or finish them off when they are down, and it is implied that he wears red so no one can see the blood stains.
In the BBC 2006 series Robin Hood, Will Scarlet, portrayed by Harry Lloyd, is an eighteen-year-old carpenter whom Robin saves from hanging. He is a brooding, quiet character who is often one of the most sensible and moral of Robin's band of men. The youngest of Robin's men, Will fights skilfully with two axes. In this series, Will appears to be best friends with Alan-a-Dale (Joe Armstrong) although this is put in doubt when Alan is unmasked as a traitor and admits to love Djaq (played by Anjali Jay).
In "Princess of Thieves", Will Scarlet (played by Crispin Letts) is said to be Robin Hood's loyal friend and companion, as well as his brother (Robin's daughter Gwen refers to Will as "Uncle").
In a 2010 children's book 'The Time Hunters', Will Scarlet appeared as a main character and was living with a time traveller in modern-day Addlebury in northwest England. He was portrayed as a noble man and skilful archer, but sensitive about the popularity of the fictitious Robin Hood.
In 2013, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, a spin-off show of Once Upon A Time, which bases most of its characters on fairy tale characters, revealed in its third episode, Forget me Not, that one of its main characters was not only The Knave of Hearts from the popular children's tale, Alice in Wonderland, but also Will Scarlet.
- Jeffrey Richards, Swordsmen of the Screen: From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York, p 190, Routledge & Kegan Paul, Lond, Henly and Boston, 1988
- Holt, J. C. Robin Hood p 17 (1982) Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27541-6.
- Holt, J. C. Robin Hood p 25 (1982) Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27541-6.
- A website concerning his character
- Podcast of "Flushing Scarlet", a Robin & Marian Mystery starring Will Scarlet and his son Tam