1902 Encyclopedia > Archery > Archery - Introduction. Archery - Early England.

(Part 1)



ARCHERY, the art of exercise of shooting with a bow and arrow. The origin of the bow as instrument of war is lost in obscurity. With all the ancient peoples, both civilized and barbaric, the bow was a favourite weapon, and skill the use of it was regarded by the Scythians as princely accomplishment. The Greeks and Romans employed archers to draw the enemy into action, and the exploits of the ancient Egyptians rivaled those of the archers of the Middle Ages.

There is no record of the use of the bow in France until the reign of Charlemagne, in the beginning of the 8th century, although we have evidence that in England both the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes employed it in the chase, as well as in battle against the primitive inhabitants of England, many years before the Conquest. The probability is that it was first introduced as a military weapon into Britain by the Romans; but it was under the Norman rule that the practice of archery in this island was not only greatly improved, but generally diffused throughout the country, so that England soon became famous for its archery, and her archers took precedence of those of every other nation. To preserve this superiority by constant practice appears to have been the study of many of our monarchs; and numerous statutes for enforcing and regulating the use of the bow among the people were enacted from early times until after the invention of fire-arms. Many laws were also made for securing the presence in distant and obscure parts of the country of persons skilled in the manufacture of bows and all the apparatus appertaining to archery, for guarding against fraud by those artificers, and also for the procuring of a constant supply of bow-staves from abroad. These laws appear to have been absolutely necessary, for in the olden time the English chiefly depended for their success in battle upon the bravery and expertness of their archers, whose appearance in the field generally led to success. William the Conqueror is reputed to have been so admirable an archer that few could bend the bow he used, and his victory at Hastings was certainly due to the skill and intrepidity of his archers. Richard I performed great exploits with his archers in the Holy Land, where, according to Gibbon, 300 archers and 17 knights, headed by the king, sustained the charge of the whole Turkish and Saracen army. It was in his reign that the renowned Robin Hood flourished in Sherwood Forest. Edward II levied a company of "Northumbrian archers" in the year 1314, for the invasion of Scotland.

The battles of Cressy and Poitiers were gained by the English archers in the years 1346 and 1356 respectively. Edward III was extremely jealous of the honour of the bow, and anxious that its glory should be maintained. In the early part of his reign it was ordered that most of the sheriffs of England should each provide 500 white bows and 500 bundles of arrows for the then p ending war with France. In the following year this order was reissued, with the difference that the sheriff of Gloucester should furnish 500 painted bows in addition. This kind embodied a company of soldiers, whom he called the "Archers of the Guard." Edward III also, in 1363, commanded the general practice of archery on Sundays and holidays by the people in lieu of the ordinary rural pastimes, which were forbidden on pain of imprisonment. In this reign the price of bows was regulated by Government; a white bow was 1s., a painted bow 1s 6d., a sheaf (24) of sharp arrows 1s. 2d., and a sheaf of blunt arrows 1s. Richard II, in 1392, directed that none of his servants should ever be unfurnished with bows and arrows, and that they should avail themselves of every opportunity of practicing archery. At the same date an Act of Parliament compelled all persons employed as servants to shoot with bows and arrows on Sundays and other holidays. In the year 1402 the English archers won the battle of Homildon; and in 1403, at the battle of Shrewsbury, where Hotspur was slain, the most terrible havoc was created by the archers on both sides. In the reign of Richard III, it was enacted that for every ton of Malmsey or Tyne wine brought into England, ten good bow-staves should also be imported, under penalty of 13s. 4d. for every deficient stave; and to encourage the import of bow-staves, those above 6 feet long were freed from duty.

For the manufacture of bows yew was generally preferred to all other woods, but to prevent a too rapid consumption of yew, bowyers were ordered to make four wych-hazel, ash, or elm bows, to one of yew; and no person under 17 years of age, except those possessed of portable property worth 40 marks, or the sons of parents owning an estate of 10 pounds per annum, was allowed to shoot with a yew bow, under penalty of 6s. 8d. for each offence. That distant counties might be properly supplied with bows and arrows, the king claimed and exercised the prerogative of sending, if necessary, all arrow-head, bow-string, and bow makers, not being freemen of the city of London, to any part of the realm that required the services of such artificers; and neglect of an order to visit a place after the receipt of instructions to repair thereto, was punishable by a fine of 40s. for every day the workman remained away.

In the reign of Henry IV it was enacted that all arrow-heads should be well brased and hardened at the points with steel, and stamped with the name of the maker, under penalty of fine and imprisonment, and forfeiture of the arrows, &c., in default; and by another statute passed in the same reign, it was enacted that persons from places whence bow-staves were derived, should import four bow-staves for every ton of merchandise taken on board, under penalty of 6s. 8d. for every bow-stave deficient. In this reign the highest price permitted for a yew bow was 3s. 4d. In the reign of Edward IV it was enacted that every Englishman, and every Irishman living with an Englishman, should have a English bow of his own height; and also that in every township shooting butts should be set up, at which the inhabitants were commanded to practice on holidays, under the penalty of one halfpenny for each neglect. In the same reign the king, in preparing for a war with France, directed all sheriffs to procure a supply of bows and arrows for the service of the state. In 1405, it was made penal to use bad materials in the manufacture of bows and arrows. In 1417 the archers of the army of Henry V won the battle of Agincourt. This kind directed the sheriffs of countries of take six wing-feathers from every goose for the feathering of arrows. In 1478 archery was encouraged in Ireland by statute. In the year 1424 JamesI. Of Scotland, who was himself an excellent bowman, revived the practice of archery among his subjects. Richard III lent 1000 archers to the duke of Bretagne. The same troops afterwards fought at the battle of Bosworth .

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