1902 Encyclopedia > Archery > The Royal Company of Archers

(Part 4)



There are several societies of archers in the three kingdoms [of the United Kingdom], but the most noted of the kind now existing are the following:-- the Royal Company of Archers; the Royal Toxophilite Society; and the Woodmen of Arden.


The king's body guard for Scotland was first constituted in its present form in the year 1676, by an Act of the privy council of Scotland. An earlier origin has been claimed for the company, it being said by some that it was originally formed by commissioners for enforcing the exercise of archery appointed by James I of Scotland,. Who picked out the most expert bowmen in the various counties, and constituted them into a body of guards to defend the king's person, in which distinguished station they displayed great devotion and bravery at the battle of Flodden, the body of the king being afterwards found surrounded by those of his attached archer' guard. This, however, is mere tradition, no authentic record of their existence being found until the above-mentioned year 1676, when the minutes of the Royal Company begin by stating, that owing to "the noble and useful recreation of archery being for many years much neglected, several noblemen and gentlemen did associate themselves in a company for encouragement thereof·. And did apply to the privy council for their approbation, and after several meetings, did adjust and concert several articles and regulations of the said company, and did further apply to the privy council for their approbation, which was granted." The minutes of the company have been kept with great regularity from that time down to the present, with the exception of a period of about twenty years at the end of the 17th century, during which time there are no records. It is not supposed that the company was extinct at that time from what can be gathered from the succeeding minutes. It is probable, however, that during the revolution the royal Company was principally composed of upholders of the house of Stuart, and that on this account their existence was for a time suspended. This may be true, as we find that the company was subsequently a strong Jacobite body; but whether it is the case or not, it is certain that the records recommence in 1703 by informing us of the election of a captain-general to succeed John, second earl of Argyle, who held that office from the formation of the company in 1676, and who had just died. The new captain-general was Sir George Mackenzie, Viscount Tarbat, afterwards create earl of Cromarty. Owing to his exertions while principal secretary of state for Scotland in 1703, he procured for the company a new charter from Queen Anne, renewing all their former rights and privileges, and conferring others, all which were to be held of the Crown for the reddento of a pair of barbed arrows. This reddendo was paid to George IV. at Holyrood, when he visited Scotland in 1822, and to the present sovereign, Queen Victoria, on a similar occasion in 1842.

The history of the Royal Company since 1703 has been one of great prosperity. Large parades were frequently held, and were attended by numbers of archers dressed in the uniform of the body, which, in the last century, consisted of a green tartan coat and white knee-breeches. On such occasions the whole population of Edinburgh and the surronding district turned out to view the procession, as the company, with music and colours, marched down the Caonangate to Leith Links, there to shoot for a prize. Many distinguished men marched in their ranks, and, both at their competitions and at the mess table, the utmost hilarity and good fellowship prevailed. Several of the leading insurgents in 1745 were members, but the company was not at that time suspended in any way, and a few years later no subjects more loyal or more attached to the constitution could be found in Great Britain.

In 1777 at Royal Company erected at large and handsome hall in the vicinity of their shooting ground in the Meadows, Edinburgh. They meet there periodically for the transaction of business and to dine. The hall is decorated with several very fine portraits of eminent members of the body, in various uniforms, according to the rank which they held in the company and the time in which they lived. Among them are some masterpieces of Raeburn, Watson, Godron Grant P.R.A. Macnee, &c.

In 1822, when king George IV visited Scotland, it was though appropriate that the Royal Company should act as his Majesty's body guard during his stay. Consisting as the company did, and still does, of representatives of almost all the noble families of Scotland, together with a large proportion of landed gentry, professional men, and others, it was considered that no fitter body could be chosen, especially as there was a tradition, as we have seen, that the Royal company had at a former period acted in a similar capacity. On the landing of the king he was received by a detachment of the body, who surrounded his carriage inside the cavalry escort and marched up with it to Holyrood. They occupied the same position in subsequent state procession; while at the levee and drawing-room held by his Majesty they lined the staircase and presence chamber, performing the duties usually assigned to the band of gentlemen-at-arms. When Queen Victoria visited the Scottish capital in 1842, the Royal Company again did duty, and the last time they were called out in their capacity of royal body guard was in 1860, on the occasion of the great volunteer review in the Queen's Park, Edinburgh.

King George IV, besides authorusing the company to take, in addition to their former name, that of "The King's Body Guard for Scotland," presented to the captain-general a gold stick, thus constituting the company part of the royal household. In virtue of this stick the captain-general of the Royal Company takes his place at a coronation or similar pageant immediately behind the gold stick of England, who, with the exception of the officers on guard for the day, is next the sovereign's own person. The lieutenants-general of the company posses seven ebony ones. George IV., in addition to the grant of a gold stick, appointed a full dress uniform to be worn by members of the company at court, when not on duty as guards, in which latter case the ordinary field dress is used. The court dress scarlet and gold, but was changed in 1831 to a green coat with green velvet facings richly embroidered with gold thistles and arrows, gold epaulettes, crimson silk sash, gold-laced trousers, and cocked hat with green plume. The officers wear a gold sash in place of a crimson one, and an aiguillette on the left shoulder. All ranks wear swords. The shooting uniform has been frequently changed. We are not told what colour the coat was at the formation of the company, but there was a distinctive dress introduced about that time. In 1715 a green tartan was adopted (now the 42d tartan), which continued, with several modifications and alternations, to be the uniform down to 1829, when it was changed to green cloth. The present filed dress consists of a dark green tunic with black braid facings, with a narrow stripe of crimson velvet in the center; shoulder wings and gauntleted cuffs similarly trimmed; dark green trousers with black and crimson stripe; a bow-case worn as a sash, of the same colour as the coat, with a centre ornament of two arrows corssed saltierwise in a garter tie, surmounted by a crown; a black leather waist-belt, with richly chased gold clasp; a short sword, gilt hilted, made after the fashion of a Roman gladius; Balmoral bonnet, with thistle ornament and eagle's feather. The mess uniform consists of a dark green dress coat with velvet, collar, and gilt buttons, with a crown on them, white waistcoat, and blacj

The Royal Company possess two sets of colours. The first banner was got in 1714, and bears a representative of the common seal of the company, viz., a yew tree proper, supported dexter and sinister by an archer with a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. The second was procured in 1732, and bears on one side a lion rampant gules, on a field or, with the motto "pro patria dulce periculum," and on the other a St Andrew, with a large thistle above his head, with the motto, "Nemo me impune lacessit." King William IV. presented the company with a new stand of colours in 1832. the one banner combines the old ones, and the other has the Royal Scottish arms, with the words "King's Body Guard for Scotland."

The following are the noblemen who have held the office of captain-general since 1676:-

1676 - 1703, John, second earl of Atholl.
1703-1714, Sir George Macjenzie, first earl of Cromarty.
1715-1720, David, third earl of Wemyss.
1724-1743, James, fifth of Hamilton and Brandon.
1743-1756, James, fourth earl of Wemyss.
1756-1778, Charles, third duke of Queensberry.
1778-1812, Henry, third duke of Buccleuch.
1812-1819, Charles, fourth duke of Buccleuch.
1819-1823, John, fourth earl of Hopetoun.
1824-1830, James, third duke of Montrose.
1830-1838, George, ninth earl of Dalhousie.
1838 - The present duke of Buccleuch.

Most of the prizes shot for by the Royal Company are held for a year by the winner, and in some cases he receives a grant of money to enable him to affix a silver or gold medal with his name and crest inscribed thereon to the prize. The only prize which becomes the winner's absolute property is one of 20 pounds, presented annually by her Majesty to be expended in the purchase of a piece of plate. This prize was first given by the Scottish privy council at the very beginning of the company. It was not, however, continued for many years, but was revived by his Majesty George III. in 1788, and has since been shot for regularly. The following is a list of the principal prizes shot for by the company:-

The affairs of the company are managed by a council of seven, who are elected by the whole company annually. Although the company has a right, as a body, to elect their own officers and admit new members, yet both those powers have for many years been left in the hands of the council. The fees of entry to the Royal Company are 25 pounds, and the entrant has also to be balloted for by the council. There are several "uniform" dinners held in the course of the year, which are very popular both with members and their friends. Smaller and less pretentious, though not less pleasant, are the "match" dinners held once a month by the shooting members, after a friendly match shot at rovers or butts. The average number of members belonging to the royal Company is between 500 and 600.

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