Silver Arrow Contest
Marian Fitzwater reports on the Silver Arrow Contest that took place at Butt-dyke outside Nottingham's town walls and the chaos and mayhem that followed. The Silver Arrow was won by Robin Hood but there then followed a ferocious battle between the Sheriff's men and Robin's band of outlaws.
In the Uproar and Confusion amid flying arrows and clashing swords, panic broke out with women shrieking in fright and children being trampled underfoot. The Sheriff had sparked off the fight when his men tried to arrest Robin Hood only moments after he himself had presented Robin with the winning Silver Arrow. The outlaws, led by Robin Hood, left a trail of wounded Sheriff's men in their wake as they fought themselves out of the ambush and fled into the forest.
The archery contest started peacefully enough with not the slightest hint of the mayhem to come. Fields around gleamed brightly with coloured tents pitched by traders and competitors who had come from afar. Young men had brought their fighting cocks and watched them do battle while others held contests in leaping, wrestling, putting the stone and throwing the thronged javelin beyond a mark - all done with plenty of gusto and in a sporting spirit.
In one corner of the field, a laughing crowd assembled around some lads engaged in a 'grinning match'. Many of the younger lads and lasses danced around a garlanded maypole. Hawkers of drinks, sweetmeats and pasties walked amongst the crowd, crying their wares; a palmer recently returned from the Holy Land tried to sell his sacred relics - it was just like any ordinary fair.
Most people ignored the bull and bear baiting. In this so-called sport, great bulldogs attack these fine animals which are tied to a stake. The bull and bear, with no means of escape, defend themselves with all their force and skill, sometimes injuring and killing the dog, though this is not the end of the 'contest'. The organisers supply fresh dogs and sometimes whip the bear to provoke its fury. You have to be bloodthirsty to watch this so-called sport.
Most people had come to witness the archery contest and so the largest number of spectators gathered around the archery butts. The local knights and their ladies, surrounded by their entourage of waiting-women, children, squires, pages and hounds, occupied the best seats in the stand, over which an awning had been placed in case the sun became too hot.
You could feel the excitement in the air. Expecting to see some fine shooting, no one was disappointed. Two of the Sheriff's men had already paced out the hundred yards from the marksman's stand to the butts and placed two targets made of wheat-straw faced with cloth and painted with black, yellow and white rings. An anticipation had been mounting from the very first day the Sheriff had announced the great contest for all the archers of the North.
Who would prove to be the best archer in the North of England? Everybody believed him to be Robin Hood but weren't sure whether he would come. They hoped he would. Everyone wanted to see the great archer shoot and, safe to say, all the locals wanted to see him win. Never mind the North, wasn't he the best archer in all England? All the money being wagered proclaimed he was.
Whoever shot furthest and straightest at a pair of targets would win the magnificent arrow like no other in England with its tip and shaft made of white silver and feathers of rich red gold.
Many bold archers were already shooting when Robin Hood did arrive. Six of his men had arranged to shoot with him, but unknown at the time, seven score of his men with their bows at the ready were amongst the crowd. Robin Hood obviously did not trust the Sheriff.
The shooting was best described as incredible. For an arrow to miss the bull's eye was a rarity. Unblinking, intensely focused with strong arms, the archers pulled the strings back from their bows, and the thudding of arrows unerringly into the target was closely followed by rousing cheers from the crowd. The crowd bubbled over with expectation when Robin stepped up to the mark to shoot and cheers were long and loud when his arrow found the bull's eye.
As their excitement grew, the crowd strained forward for a better view. The air grew hotter and so did the contest as Gilbert with the White Hand also hit the bull's eye every time, just the same as Robin Hood. The apparent ease with which this feat was achieved caused the onlookers to hold their breath in amazement. Little John, Will Scarlet (pictured right) and Much shot well, but not well enough, and had to drop out. Archers were eliminated one by one till Robin Hood and Gilbert were the only two left in the contest.
A willow wand replaced the targets and the crowd became hushed - you could hear a pin drop. Robin Hood split the wand with his first arrow. Gilbert, for the first and only time that afternoon missed, and it was enough to lose him the contest. Robin Hood split the wand with both of his next two arrows to prove he was the best archer in the North of England.
The crowd cheered heartily as Robin stepped forward to courteously accept the gift of the Silver Arrow prize presented to him by the Sheriff.
|Uproar and Confusion
Up to this moment it had been a grand sporting occasion, the finest archery contest you could ever be privileged to watch. Everything then turned into chaos. The Sheriff shouted to his men: 'Hold Robin Hood!'
This order was immediately followed by horns being blown, cries and loud shouts. 'Woe is the treason!' Robin shouted at the Sheriff. 'And woe to you, proud Sheriff, for making light of your word in the forest! If I had you back in the greenwood now, you would give better pledge than good faith!' The truth is that the Sheriff had earlier sworn on his bright sword not to harm Robin Hood or any of his men.
Unparalleled uproar and confusion then followed. Men were shouting, women shrieking and children screaming as bows bent to the full and arrows flew fast and furious. Many a kirtle was rent and bodies fell wounded. The outlaws shot their arrows so powerfully that the Sheriff's men could not get their hands on Robin, who fought his way towards his own men.
Then led by Robin, fighting with both sword and bow, the band of outlaws broke out of the Sheriff's ambush and headed for the greenwood.
A hail of arrows from the Sheriff's men followed them and Little John fell wounded with an arrow in his knee (pictured right). Sadly, he could neither walk nor ride.
'Master,' Little John pleaded with Robin, 'if you have any love for me and for the rewards of my service to you, don't let the Sheriff catch me alive. Take out my bright sword and smite me so deep and wide that no life is left within me.'
'I could not cause your death, John, if all the gold in merry England was heaped in front of me,' answered Robin.
'God forbid, Little John, that you should part our company,' cried little Much who lifted the big man on to his back and carried him a good mile into the greenwood, stopping every now and then to lay him down and shoot off an arrow.
The whole band of outlaws disappeared into the greenwood with the Sheriff's men not far behind. A witness later reported that he had seen the outlaws heading for the castle of Sir Richard at the Lee with the Sheriff's men still in hot pursuit.
A day containing all the skill and pleasurable excitement that anyone could wish for had ended in innocent people being injured. A great sporting contest, indeed a grand spectacle, had been turned into an ugly battle and no doubt where the blame lay - at the Sheriff's door.
Robin Hood won the Silver Arrow but all the Sheriff gained was infamy.
Premises at Top of Drury Hill, Nottingham
|Tales of Robin Hood