The Black Arrow Characters

The main characters in The Black Arrow are Sir Daniel Brackley, Richard Shelton, Joanna Sedley, and Lord Foxham, and John Amend-All.

  • Sir Daniel Brackley is a villainous knight who fights on both sides of the Wars of the Roses. He increases his own wealth by adopting children orphaned by the war.
  • Richard "Dick" Shelton is the orphan son of Sir Harry Shelton. He marries Joanna.
  • Joanna Sedley is the orphaned heiress of Kettley.
  • Lord Foxham is Joanna's legal guardian.
  • John Amend-All is Sir Daniel's sworn enemy. He fights exclusively with black arrows.

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Characters Discussed

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Sir Daniel Brackley

Sir Daniel Brackley, a villainous knight who fights on both sides during the fifteenth century Wars of the Roses. He adds to his own lands by becoming the guardian of children orphaned by war. He is killed by Ellis Duckworth.

Richard Shelton

Richard Shelton, called Dick, the orphaned son of Sir Harry Shelton of the Moat House estates. Sir Daniel is suspected of murdering Sir Harry in order to become the boy’s guardian. After many difficulties, Dick marries Joanna Sedley.

Joanna Sedley

Joanna Sedley, the orphaned heiress of Kettley, intended by Sir Daniel as a wife for Dick. She first meets Dick while disguised as a boy. Held prisoner by Sir Daniel, she is almost forced into marriage with Lord Shoreby, but at the church he is slain by a black arrow.

Lord Foxham

Lord Foxham, Joanna’s legal guardian and the enemy of Sir Daniel.

Alicia Risingham

Alicia Risingham, Joanna’s friend, the niece of a powerful Lancastrian lord.

Lord Shoreby

Lord Shoreby, who tries to force Joanna to marry him.

Richard of York

Richard of York, the Duke of Gloucester. He is saved from bandits by Dick, whom he knights after the Battle of Shoreby, in which the Lancastrians are defeated.

The Earl of Risingham

The Earl of Risingham, the judge of Dick and Lawless when they are denounced by Sir Oliver Oates.

Nick Appleyard

Nick Appleyard, a veteran of Agincourt, killed at Moat House by a black arrow.

Bennet Hatch

Bennet Hatch, Sir Daniel’s bailiff at Moat House.

Sir Oliver Oates

Sir Oliver Oates, Sir Daniel’s clerk, who is accused by the outlaws of causing the death of Sir Harry Shelton.

Ellis Duckworth

Ellis Duckworth, who was ruined by Sir Daniel and is now the leader of a band of outlaws. He calls himself


John (Jon) Amend-All, and uses only black arrows for weapons. Eventually he kills his enemy, Sir Daniel.

Will Lawless

Will Lawless, one of the outlaws and a friend of Dick. He finally takes orders and dies a friar.

Themes and Characters

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The Black Arrow is the story of an adolescent hero caught in a confusing world of rapidly shifting loyalties. Following the murder of his father, Sir Harry Shelton, Dick Shelton has been placed under the guardianship of the dubious Sir Daniel Brackley. Sir Daniel is a turncoat, siding with either the Lancastrians or the Yorkists depending on which faction seems to be winning the prolonged conflict. His chief supporters are Sir Oliver Oates and Bennet Hatch.

Dick only gradually realizes that Sir Daniel is capable of great evil. His first hint comes early in the novel when one of Sir Daniel's men is killed by a black arrow bearing the words "John Amend- All." Soon after, a note appears from the mysterious John Amend-All, accusing Sir Oliver of murdering Dick's father and warning that three more black arrows await Sir Daniel, Sir Oliver, and Bennet Hatch. While Sir Daniel's forces contend with the band of outlaws intent on avenging wrongs with their black arrows, Dick himself becomes a target of Sir Daniel's devious plots. The narrative traces his series of narrow escapes, in which he is aided by the outlaws, who prove to him that Sir Daniel's crimes include ordering the murder of Sir Harry Shelton.

In many ways the novel is an account of Dick's maturation. A misogynist early in the story, he outgrows his hatred for women only after the heroine disguises herself as a boy and earns his respect. Held captive by Sir Daniel, Joanna Sedley dons the disguise to make her escape. Dick helps...

(This entire section contains 830 words.)

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the disguised Joanna, who calls herself John Matcham, when he finds her stranded in a marsh. Dick agrees to bring John along with him, though the boy's effeminate manner annoys him. By the time Dick discovers Joanna's true identity she has already rescued him from drowning and saved him from Sir Daniel's murder scheme.

Joanna is most interesting when disguised as a boy, alternating between timidity and courage, effecting a masculine swagger but unable to subdue her femininity. Once her true gender is revealed she becomes a more standard heroine of romantic fiction and appears only intermittently. The flirtatious Alicia Risingham, who teases Dick, proves to be a more vivacious character.

The outlaws were men who had sworn to avenge the wrongs done to them, and it was they who sent the dreaded black arrows flashing through the air to hit unerringly their mark.
Through his adventures, Dick learns how difficult it can be to distinguish between good and evil. Indeed, The Black Arrow has no absolute villains or heroes. Even Dick, though nominally a hero, makes mistakes. During an attempt to rescue Joanna, he ruins an old sea captain by stealing his ship and causing a wreck in which the first mate dies. After the Battle of Shoreby, Dick tries to redeem himself by persuading Gloucester to spare the captain's life, but his ship, mate, and livelihood are all gone because of Dick's thoughtlessness. Though Dick has saved his life, Captain Arblaster tells him, "Y'ave played the devil with me," making Dick "understand the desperate game that we play in life, and how a thing once done is not to be changed or remedied by any penitence."

The outlaws are heroes on one level and villains on another. Ellis Duckworth (John Amend-All), the leader of the outlaws, salvages many desperate situations in the nick of time, but he is ravaged by his violent obsession for revenge. Lawless becomes Dick's chief companion among the outlaws, yet he confesses that he might not be able to suppress his instinct to rob Dick should the opportunity arise.

Just as the heroes are imperfect, even the characters who seem most villainous are not entirely evil. Sir Daniel and Sir Oliver feel some remorse for betraying Dick, whom they both like. Bennet Hatch, Sir Daniel's lieutenant, saves Dick when he and Joanna are trapped beneath the dungeons. Sir Daniel's ally, the Earl of Risingham, turns out to be a man of integrity, sparing Dick's life after he learns of Sir Daniel's treachery.

The most ambiguous character of all is Richard of Gloucester, who appears as a dashing swordsman, a charismatic leader, and Dick's leader and patron. An untrustworthy man, Richard shows no mercy and despises those who do. He knights Dick for his key role in the Battle of Shoreby, but Dick quickly falls from Richard's favor when he requests the release of Captain Arblaster. A politician seeking to fulfill his own ambition through any means possible, he foreshadows his later cruelty as depicted in Shakespeare's Richard III.

Stevenson wrote The Black Arrow chiefly as an adventure story, but its historical setting allowed him to comment on the harshness of life in the Middle Ages and the destructive cruelty of civil war. Stevenson emphasizes that while war enables some people to rise in the world and make their fortunes, it is essentially a collective madness that brings death and destruction to most of the people involved.




Critical Essays