1912 depiction of Will Scarlet by Louis Rhead

Will Scarlet (also Scarlett, Scarlock, Scadlock, Scatheloke, Scathelocke and Shacklock) is a prominent member of Robin Hood's Merry Men. He is present in the earliest ballads along with Little John and Much the Miller's Son.[1]

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 stands laughing at Little John for the cost of clothing the knight (Richard at the Lee) being nothing. (Child Ballad 117A p,74) But after the knight has received four hundred pounds, 3 yards of every coloured cloth, a horse and saddle Will Scarlet insists the knight should have a pair of boots.(Child Ballad 117A p,77)[2]

Another very early ballad featuring Will Scarlet is one variant of Robin Hood's Death, in which Will's only role is to urge a bodyguard, which Robin scorns.[3]

A later ballad, Robin Hood and the Newly Revived, ascribes 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.

Later versions

Traditionally, when the outlaws are depicted as being middle-aged, 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[citation needed] (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.[4][citation needed] 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

This section may contain irrelevant references to popular culture. Please remove the content or add citations to reliable and independent sources. (January 2023)


  1. ^ Richards, Jeffrey (1988). Swordsmen of the Screen: From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York. London, Henley and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 190. ISBN 0-7100-0681-0.
  2. ^ "The Child Ballads: 117. The Gest of Robyn Hode". www.sacred-texts.com.
  3. ^ Holt, J. C. (1982). Robin Hood. Thames & Hudson. p. 25. ISBN 0-500-27541-6.
  4. ^ "Robin Hood - Visit Nottinghamshire". www.visit-nottinghamshire.co.uk.
  5. ^ Kit, Borys (19 September 2016). "'Fifty Shades' Star Jamie Dornan in Talks for 'Robin Hood: Origins'". The Hollywood Reporter.