I’ve watched this film many times through the years, but until I watched it again for the purposes of this blog, I don’t think I’d ever realized how much a part clergy and the Church play in the story (and in many other tellings of the the legend we’ll be looking at this month). The good Friar isn’t the only representative of the church in the story. Let’s begin with another one.
Richard the Lionheart, has gone off to the Crusades -- which in this film is portrayed as a noble endeavor. Richard is captured and held for ransom, and his evil brother, Prince John usurps the throne of England. With the aid of Sir Guy of Gisborne (Basil Rathbone) and the Sheriff of Nottingham, John exploits the common people with burdensome taxes. John is also allied with the Bishop of the Black Canons, who also robs from the poor by taking compulsory tithes. We see the Bishop enjoying an opulent banquet while his parishioners throughout the land starve.
When Richard returns to England, he disguises himself and his men as men of the cloth (and Robin tries to rob them). And when Robin and Richard need to sneak into John’s castle, they again dress as clergy.
Robin asks Friar Tuck to join his troop to provide spiritual counsel, “someone for our christenings.” Friar Tuck does join in with Robin and his men and looks out for the bandits’ best interests. “He’s one of us!” Robin says.
In the end, King Richard is restored to power, Robin is honored, as is Friar Tuck. But the Bishop is exiled from the land.
(Bonus Robin Hood clergy - Robin Hood Daffy (1958), in which Porky Pig plays the good Friar Tuck. In this version, Friar Tuck is wiser and more competent than Robin Hood. Considering that Robin Hood is played by Daffy Duck, that’s not a very high bar. It is amazing punsters at Warner were able to resist switching roles to have Friar Duck. See also Rabbit Hood. )