Robert Louis Stevenson often wrote novel loosely based on historical events to make the readers go back into the past and rediscover their roots. The Black Arrow (written 1883 – published 1888) is an example: it is a real journey of Dick Shelton into the forest among outlaws and a journey of the reader into the old Norman Period
During the Wars of the Rose, the story begins with the Tunstall Moat House alarm bell being rung: troops led by Sir Danile Brackley must be gathered to join the Battle of Risingham toward its end. Meanwhile a group of men known as The Black Arrow start shooting “four black arrows” which kill “four black hearts”: sir Daniel Brackley, Dick’s tutor, and three of his retainers, Nicholas Appleyard; Bennet Hatch; Sir Oliver Oates, the parson.
Some rhyming lines accompany the first arrow: when the protagonist Richard (Dick)
, ward of Sir Daniel, to read them he become curious about the fate of his father Sir Harry Shelton. On his way to Kettley, where Sir Daniel was quartered, he meets a fugitive from Sir Daniel, disguised as a boy, alias John Matcham, who in reality is Joanna Sedley, an heiress, kidnapped by Sir Daniel.
While travelling through Tunstall Forest John-Joanna tries to persuade Dick to join the Black Arrow outlaws who live in the forest. There they also met Sir Daniel himself disguised as a leper coming back after his defeat at a Battle of Risingham. Dick and Joan follow Sir Daniel to the Moat House. Here Dick changes finds out that Sir Daniel is the real murderer of his father, and escapes injured from the Moat House. He is rescued by the outlaws of the Black Arrow and joins them.. Dick is then engaged in the rescue of his true love Joanna from the clutches of Sir Daniel with the help of both the Black Arrow fellowship and the Yorkist army led by Richard Crookback, the future Richard III of
. The story ends with Dick knighted by Richard Crookback, Sir Daniel killed by the last black arrow, and Dick and Joan married.
There are mainly two time references for the two blocks of action that constitute the narrative: May, 1460 and January, 1461.
Richard Crookback, Richard III of England would have been merely 8 years old at the time of this story, but R. L. Stevenson follows William Shakespeare in retrojecting the personage of Richard of Gloucester into the earlier period of the Wars of the Roses and portraying him as a harsh. This characterization falls in line with the Tudor Myth, a tradition that excessively denigrates Richard of Gloucester and cast the entire English Fifteenth Century as a bloody, barbaric chaos in contrast to the Tudor era of law and order.
The fictitious Battle of Shoreby is modelled after the First Battle of St Albans in the Wars of the Roses. This battle in history as in the novel is a complete victory for the House of York.
In theopening lines of the Prologue Tunstall with its nearby forest is located in SE Suffolk County, England,
18 miles NE of Ipswich and less than 10 miles from the North Sea.
Some names of the place in the novel are adapted: Kettley is Kettleburgh in actuality, Risingham is Framlingham, and Foxham is Farnham. The identities of Shoreby-on-the-Till and Holywood are probably Orford and Leiston respectively. Orford is on the
North Sea and has a road going to the northwest to Framlingham (the “highroad from Risingham to Shoreby”), and Leiston has an abbey as does Holywood in the story.
The name of the main character Richard Shelton were probably a reference to an actual historical personage, Sir Richard Tunstall. He, Lancastrian and ardent supporter of King Henry VI of
England, held Harlech Castleagainst the Yorkists through most of the 1460s when Edward IV of ruled. In contrast, Richard Shelton, who becomes the knight of Tunstall at the end of The Black Arrow, is a staunch Yorkist. England
R. L. Stevenson was inspired by the great and various traditions of good-hearted ooutlaws who date back to Robin Hood (Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe is another example). Besides in the book the episode of the battle on the sea is like an homage to the various battles of the novels of the 18th century (Daniel Defoe Tobias Smollett’s diaries of mariners and stories of pirates).
The 1948 film portrays Richard Gloucester in a more favourable light than in the novel
The first adaptation dates 1911: a short film starring Charles Ogle. In 1948 film Gordon Douglas shot The Black Arrow In 1968 appeared on TV a seven-part Italian TV production entitled
La Freccia Nera, and a British TV series running from 1972-1975.