Nottingham Castle was an impressive medieval stone structure that once stood in a commanding position overlooking the cliffs. It is no longer there, unfortunately, having been destroyed in the civil war, but at the time of our story such destruction was unthinkable. There may have been a castle there even before the Norman invasion of 1066, but it was William the Conqueror and his followers who really put the place on the map, castle-wise. The year after the Battle of Hastings, a wooden motte-and-bailey design was erected, which was replaced by a more permanent stone building during the reign of Henry II. When finished, the castle contained not one but three baileys, one of which (the middle one) held the royal apartments. When Prince John was in town, this was where he liked to stay. When he was not, it fell to the Sheriff of Nottingham to maintain the castle in a suitably regal manner. The sheriff himself never dared to occupy the castle, but regularly made sure it was kept in good condition, and glad he was now that he had done so. Two days before the archery contest, Prince John arrived with his royal retinue (or ‘hangers-on’ as we might call them). With him also was Sir Guy of Gisborne and his somewhat reluctant fiancée, Maid Marian.


Maid Marian was reluctant? Of course she was! She did not wish to marry Sir Guy? By no means! Although the surprise meeting with Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest (not to mention the relieving of Sir Guy’s purse and breeches) had taken her aback a little, having had time to reflect on the situation she had now returned to her previous position, that of wishing to get rid of Gisborne and seeking instead to live the life of a commoner. And now she knew exactly what kind of commoner she wanted to be.


‘But what is so wrong with Sir Guy?’ demanded Prince John on the morning of the archery contest. ‘This is what I cannot understand.’


‘I told you before, Uncle. He is too slimy!’


‘Slimy? In what way? I believe he is a very clean and well-presented gentleman.’


‘He might wash and perfume himself every morning – indeed, I believe he spends an hour or two doing so – but the way he deals with people is awful. He thinks everyone is there to do his bidding and they should all look up to him like he’s some kind of god.’


‘Well, of course, Marian. Whatever else do you expect? Sir Guy is a member of the nobility. Most of the people he meets are there to serve him and should look up to him. I am the same. So are you.’


‘I am not!’ demanded Marian, clenching her fists and stamping her foot. ‘I would rather live like a dirty outlaw in the forest than be with a clean but slimy gentleman like Sir Guy!’


At this, Prince John was so stunned he nearly fell off his throne (which he had insisted be brought with him all the way from Westminster, even though it was really King Richard’s). ‘You can’t possibly mean that, Marian.’


‘I do! So there!’


‘Well, you shall have a chance to see for yourself just how awful these outlaws are, my dear. If all goes according to plan, one of them will make an appearance at the archery contest this afternoon. The sheriff promises me he will be arrested on the spot. If that is the kind of life you seek, you shall witness the consequences of living it. They will not be pleasant.’


‘Which outlaw, Uncle? Is it Robin Hood?’


‘It is indeed. The one who twice stole from Sir Guy and who very nearly kidnapped you in the forest. Think of that, my dear – if it had not been for the good Gisborne’s actions the other day, you’d be living there now, a prisoner amongst all those men.’


‘Yes, Uncle. I have been thinking about that.’


‘Well there you are then, there’s another reason to marry Sir Guy.’


‘What is the prize for winning the archery contest, Uncle?’


‘The prize is the lure, my dear. A solid silver arrow I have had made especially.’


‘Oh. I thought the prize might be a kiss from your ward.’


‘No, no, no, that wouldn’t appeal to an outlaw, my dear.’


‘Wouldn’t it?’


‘That type of ruffian thinks only of gold and silver. Money, my dear, that is all they are interested in.’


‘I hear tell that Robin Hood gives all the money he steals to the poor, Uncle.’


‘Nonsense. He spends it all on foul liquor, Marian, take my word for it. I am pleased to hear you offer a kiss to the winner of the contest, though. I mean, you know who the winner will be, don’t you?’


‘Robin Hood?’


‘What? No, of course not. Haven’t you been listening? The sheriff’s henchmen will arrest Robin Hood as soon as he shows his ugly face. No, my dear, the winner will be Sir Guy. He is the finest archer in the land. I am sure he will be pleased to hear of your offer. Very pleased indeed. Now, let us both prepare for the contest; we must give these miserable commoners something glorious to look at. Where’s my make-up artist?’


Later that day, a very large crowd of not-so-miserable commoners was gathered in the grounds of Nottingham Castle, where the archery contest was to be held. The sheriff had arranged for bountiful supplies of food and drink to be made freely available, which accounted for the merry mood that permeated (that is to say, ‘went through’) the people. The sheriff’s unaccustomed generosity was, of course, nothing to do with them. It was all to impress the royal party, and in this it achieved its aim. The sheriff found himself invited to sit at the royal dais with Prince John and Maid Marian, while in the competitors’ arena Sir Guy of Gisborne paraded around in his finest green velvet jerkin and breeches, showing off his good looks and smoothly shaven face to the crowd. With Sir Guy were Sir William Moore, a rather elderly and short-sighted gentleman, and Sir Ranulph de Gluck, another smarmy landowner of the region. There was also a fourth competitor, a bearded fellow dressed in a simple brown tunic and a cloak of similar colour who gave neither his name nor any positive confirmation that he would even enter the contest. ‘We shall see, we shall see,’ was all he would say to those who asked. However, he had a bow and arrows and so was allowed to mingle with the other competitors. Sir Guy gave the mysterious stranger a close inspection, to see if behind the beard and hooded cloak the face of Robin Hood might be lurking, but he could make no positive identification.


On the royal dais, Prince John turned to his ward. ‘Well, my dear, it is a fine day for a contest, is it not? The sky is blue, the sun is shining, and soon we shall award this silver arrow to Sir Guy of Gisborne. I also have with me the royal purse, full of gold and jewels, which I am happy to give you, my dear, as a wedding present. Perhaps, before we leave this place, we might see the two of you wed, yes?’


This question delighted the Sheriff of Nottingham, but caused a scowl to darken the features of Marian. ‘I thought this contest was about arresting an outlaw, not marrying a maid. How will you know which one is Robin Hood?’


‘Yes, yes, my dear, very good question.’ Turning towards the sheriff on his other side, Prince John asked him the same question.


‘Well, your majesty,’ replied the flattered lawman, ‘that's an easy one. Robin Hood is the finest archer in the kingdom, everyone knows that. We shall simply arrest the man who wins the contest.’


‘What are you talking about?’ snapped the prince as Marian stifled a chuckle. ‘Sir Guy of Gisborne is the finest archer in the kingdom. He will win the contest.’


‘Oh yes, of course, sire. That is what I meant. We shall arrest the man who comes second.’


‘That’s more like it, Sheriff.’


‘Did you hear that?’ called the sheriff to his henchmen, who were standing on the ground in front of the royal dais. ‘Arrest the man who comes second.’


‘Yes, sir,’ said Hench. ‘We shall arrest the man who comes second. Have you got that, Men?’


‘What do you mean, “Men”?’ began Men, and then – after a glare from Hench – he said, ‘Arrest the man who comes second. Very good.’


Before long, there was a stir amongst the crowd. The Town Crier had been pressed into service as the commentator on events for the crowd’s benefit. Now he stepped forward and announced that the archery contest was about to begin. A burst of music came from the king’s official trumpeters and the crowd burst into spontaneous song.


Find out what happens next at: