The Black Arrow: A Tale of Two Roses
is the 1888 historical adventure and romance novel written by Scottish novelist and travel writer Robert Louis Stevenson. Set in fifteenth century England during the Wars of the Roses, the story revolves around Richard (Dick) Shelton as he becomes knighted, rescues his beloved Joanna Sedley, and finds justice for the slaughter of his father, Harry Shelton. An outlaw named Ellis Duckworth equipped with a black arrow as his trademark weapon convinces Dick that his own personal guardian, Sir Daniel Brackley, has been disloyal. As a result, Dick helps a fellowship of outlaws called The Black Arrow to defeat Brackley and win back his lady. The Black Arrow
originally appeared as a serial in 1883, subtitled “A Tale of Tunstall Forest” as part of the Young Folks; A Boys’ and Girls’ Paper of Instructive and Entertaining Literature
. The novel has been adapted to the big and small screen several times, most famously in the 1948 film starring Louis Hayward, and the 1985 film starring Oliver Reed and Benedict Taylor.
Narrated in the third-person limited perspective, the story begins in the area of “Old King George” in England during the fifteenth century. The Wars of the Roses are in full swing. In order to recruit soldiers for the Battle of Risingham, the Tunstall Moat House doorbell is sounded. The Moat House lord, Sir Daniel Brackley, is absent yet needs to fortify the area when a “fellowship” of outlaws called The Black Arrow begins an attack. The Black Arrow aims its strike upon the “four black hearts,” which includes Daniel and his three cohorts: Nicholas Appleyard, Bennet Hatch, and Sir Oliver Oates. After the attack, Daniel’s ward, Richard (Dick) Shelton, becomes suspicious about the death of his father, Sir Harry Shelton.
Dick is sent to Kettley, where Daniel, his guardian, resides. Upon returning to the Moat House as ordered, Dick falls in love with a woman named Joanna Sedley, who is disguised as a boy named John Matcham. Daniel has kidnapped Joanna as a means of becoming her guardian, and plans to control her fate by marrying her to Dick. As Dick and Joanna traverse Tunstall Forest, they happen upon the Black Arrow campsite, led by outlaw captain Ellis Duckworth, in Grimstone Manor. When Duckworth claims Daniel killed Dick’s father, Joanna tries to convince Dick to betray the conniving Daniel in support of the fellowship. The following day, Dick and Joanna encounter Daniel in the forest, disguised as a leper, as he returns to the Moat House in defeat following the Risingham skirmish. Dick and Joanna follow Daniel to the Moat House, where Dick ascertains that Daniel, the knight who raised him, murdered his father. Dick gets into a tussle, escapes with injury and is rescued by The Black Arrow outlaws. Joanna remains captured, now to be wedded to Lord Shoreby.
The second half of the novel details how Dick rescues Joanna from Daniel with the help of The Black Arrow, as well as the Yorkist army led by future King Richard III of England, Richard Crookback. Primarily set in Shoreby, where the Lancastrian army is posted, Dick and the fellowship steal a barge called The Good Hope
and attempt to rescue Joanna by sea. The attempt fails, resulting in Daniel relocating Joanna to his main residence in Shoreby. Dick disguises himself as a Franciscan Friar and visits Joanna. Lord Shoreby is eventually killed by the fellowship, freeing Joanna from unwanted marriage to him. In order to escape Captain Arblaster, owner of the boat they stole, Dick recites the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
Upon tailing Daniel, Dick and the fellowship battle a rivaling gang of spies desperate for Joanna’s whereabouts. After a melee won by the outlaws, Dick confidently defeats Joanna’s true guardian, Lord Foxham. As such, Foxham agrees to betroth Joanna to Dick in a wedding ceremony so long as Dick attempts another daring seaside rescue of his bride-to-be. Dick agrees, but is again wounded in a failed seafaring mission. Following the attempt, Foxham writes letters to Richard Crookback recommending Dick’s services. Dick is tasked with locating Richard Crookback, aka The Duke of Gloucester, just outside of Shoreby. As Dick leaves Shoreby, he witnesses Crookback fighting several Lancastrian soldiers. Despite Crookback holding his own, Dick interferes to help the Duke defeat the soldiers. Crookback starts another skirmish later in the day, which Dick helps him win by using his intimate knowledge of the Lancastrian army. Dick proves himself as a worthy commander and is knighted by Crookback.
Dick disguises himself as one of Daniel’s men, infiltrating his headquarters. Dick successfully rescues Joanna, but his men are killed in the process. Dick, Joanna, and Alicia Risingham venture to Holywood, just as Dick promised they would to ensure Joanna’s safety. Dick and Joanna marry. On the morning of their wedding day, Dick spots the now fugitive Daniel attempting to escape to Burgundy, France through the Holywood seaport. Unwilling to lethally shed blood on his wedding day, Dick challenges Daniel to a hand-to-hand dual in order to stop his escape. If Daniel refuses, Dick will alert the Yorkist coastal patrol. Daniel gives himself up but is shot with the final black arrow by Ellis Duckworth. Following Daniel’s death, Sir Richard (Dick) and Lady Shelton return to live happily ever after in the Tunstall Moat House, unaffected by the remaining horrors of the Wars of Roses. Sir Richard and Lady Shelton support Captain Arblaster as well as an outlaw named Will Lawless by commissioning them and putting them up in a Tunstall village. Lawless reverses his viewpoints and returns to the Franciscan faith under the name Brother Honestus.
Louis Stevenson is best known for writing Treasure Island
and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
. Additional novels of his include Prince Otto
, The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale
, The Wrong Box
, The Wrecker
, The Ebb-Tide
, Weir of Hermiston
, and St. Ives: Being the Adventures of a French Prisoner in England