Will has a variety of last names -- Scarlet, Scarlett, Scarlock, Scadlock and Scatheloke. By one of these names, he's been a member of the Merry Men since the earliest tales. (In some versions, Scarlet and Scathelock are separate characters.)
The dandy-like Will Scarlet by Louis Rhead. Courtesy of the RH Project. One ballad says that Robin Hood met a stranger dressed in scarlet silk. Naturally, they got into an argument. The argument lead to a broadsword fight. The stranger won, of course.
Robin asked what the stranger's name was and where he came from. "In Maxfield was I bred and born,/ My name is Young Gamwell." Young Gamwell had killed his father's steward and was exiled to the greenwood. It turned out that the stranger is the son of Robin's own sister. That means Will is Robin's nephew. But in the same ballad, he is called Robin's cousin. Cousin used to mean any close relative beyond the immediate family and so this term is still correct. In other stories, Will is Robin's cousin in the modern sense -- son of Robin's mother's sister. Sometimes these cousins were outlawed together.
When he joined the band, Gamwell (which is often spelled Gamewell) was christened Will Scarlet.
Immediately after he joined the Merry Men one ballad says that Robin Hood, Little John and Will Scarlet saved a princess from three Turkish giants. For their good deeds, Robin and his men were pardoned. And the princess chose to marry Will Scarlet. Also, Will was reconciled with his father, the Earl of Maxfield. [Some claim Maxfield is really Mansfield, Nottinghamshire.]
Will Scarlet can be a scarlet-clad dandy, obsessed with fashion and even carrying a rose. Sometimes he is even musical.
But the early Will Scarlet was as violent and grubby as the other Merry Men. Some modern versions have returned to that tradition.
In the TV series Robin of Sherwood, Will Scathelock is his real name. Will was a mercenary, but his wife was raped and murdered by other mercenaries. Calling himself Scarlet, Will murdered his wife's killers. This Will Scarlet is hot-tempered and questions Robin's leadership. The angry young Will in Prince of Thieves follows in this tradition.
In the 2006 TV series, Will Scarlet is a carpenter who builds weapons and traps for Robin.
But whatever his name or nature, Will is a welcome member of the Merry Men -- next in importance after Robin and Little John. His advice is considered valuable.
Some legends say he was killed by the sheriff's men. Click here to see his unmarked grave in Blidworth, Nottinghamshire.