Here's another Merry Man you shouldn't underestimate. Friar Tuck is very overweight and seems to love food and ale as much as his God. He can be jolly, foolish, lecherous, an alcoholic, a devout holy man and sometimes wise. He is also a dangerous opponent.
Just ask Robin Hood. The outlaw leader was foolish enough to pick a fight with him.
Tuck lived by a small ford. Robin wanted to cross the river. So, he climbed on Tuck's back and ordered the friar to carry him across the water. Tuck did so. But then he forced Robin to carry him back across the water. Now, Robin climbed onto the friar's back again. But halfway across, Tuck dumped bold Robin into the water.
Then, they had an archery contest and fought with swords. Tuck won.
Robin asked a boon. He blew three blasts of his horn and fifty Merry Men appeared. Tuck asked a favour in return and blew a whistle. Fifty dogs appeared to fight the Merry Men. (In the play version, Tuck summons some men of his own. It's hard to get fifty fighting dogs on the stage.)
But Robin Hood called the fight off and asked the friar to join his band. Tuck accepted.
Click here to read the ballad Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar.
It's said Tuck comes from Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire or Fountaindale in Nottinghamshire. A 19th century celebration pegged the spot of Robin and Tucjk's first meeting to be along the banks of the River Skell, which flows from the abbey. Occasionally his full name is given as Michael Tuck. Sometimes Tuck is the Sheriff of Nottingham's chaplain. In some stories, his connection with Robin is unknown by the bad guys and, like Marian, he can give secret help to the outlaws.
In the novel Ivanhoe, Tuck is known as the Clerk of Companhurst and lives at a hermitage with his dogs, his wine and a storehouse of freshly killed venison. When he goes into battle with Robin of Locksley, Tuck discards the hermit's grey robes and dons a Lincoln green uniform. Tuck declares "When I am cased in my green cassock, I will drink, swear, and woo a lass with any blythe forester in the West Riding." He promises to confess his sins to his grey-clad priestly self.
Friar Tuck isn't in many ballads, but he's still an important part of the outlaw band.