In the Robin Hood
legends, Friar Tuck
is one of the principal members of Robin Hood's outlaw band, known as the "Merry Men
." Tuck is typically depicted as a corpulent tonsured
monk, known for his jovial fun-loving nature and his love of food and ale, as well as his great strength and fighting ability. According to tradition, Tuck was a monk at the Cistercian Fountains Abbey
before being expelled for lack of respect for authority.
The best known version of Robin's first meeting with Tuck has Robin meet Tuck on the bank of a river. When Tuck demands a fee to carry Robin across the river, Robin draws his sword and forces Tuck to carry him across. But when they are almost across, Tuck throws Robin off his back into the water, draws his own sword and forces Robin to carry him back across on his back. Robin then dumps Tuck in the river in turn and two men, having gained each other's respect, become fast friends, with Tuck joining Robin's band.
Historically, Friar Tuck was one of the latest additions to the Robin Hood pantheon. Tuck did not appear at all in any of the early ballads that first spread Robin's fame throughout England. His only major appearance in a ballad is in a very late one called "Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar" in which the said Friar is unnamed, but clearly an early version of Tuck. His other major appearances are in two surviving plays written 1475 and 1560, reflecting the fact that by the end of the 15th century, Tuck had become a major figure in Robin Hood dramas in the May Games festivals.
The Friar first received his name "Friar Tuck" in the 1475 play. The name was borrowed from a real-life outlaw named Robert Stafford - two royal writs issued in 1417 demanding his arrest listed "Frere Tuk" as one of his known aliases. Almost nothing is known about Stafford's life or his ultimate fate, although another writ issued in 1429 lamented the fact that he was still at large, and the assimilation of Stafford into Robin Hood's band suggests that an active oral tradition about his exploits had been developed. But besides the fact that Stafford lived 250 years after Robin Hood was said to have been active, before becoming an outlaw he had been chaplain of Lindfield, Sussex, which is in the south of England, hundreds of miles from Robin Hood's stomping grounds near Nottingham.