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Home > Books > Book of archery > Section V: French Archery
Section V
French Archery
Part 1 of 2

           Sometimes I gallop o'er the ground,
Upon my well-breath'd nag, to cheer my echoing hound.
Sometime I pitch my toils the deer alive to take,
Sometime I like the cry the deep-mouth'd kennel make.
Then underneath my horse I stalk, my game to strike,
And with a single dog to hunt him eke I like.
   *   *   *
The stately hart his hind cloth to my presence bring
The buck his tawny doe, the roe his dappled mate,
Before me to my bower, whene'er I sit in state.
I' the morn I climb the hills, where wholesome winds do blow;
At noontide, to the vales and shady groves below.
Drayton.


"God thee save, my dear mastyr,
      And Chryste thee save and see."--
"Raynold Greenleafe," said the sheriffe,
      " Where hast thou now be?"

"I have been in the forest;
      A fayre sight did I see,
It was one of the fayrest shewes
      That e'er yet sawe I me.

"Yonder there stood a ryght fayre hart,
      His coluere was of greene;
Seven score deere upon a herd,
      Be with him all bedene:

"His antlers are so sharp, mayster,
      Of sixty and well mo;
That I durst not shoot for dreade
      Lest they would me sloo."
Old Ballad

IT was in the sports of the field only, that the ancient inhabitants of France used the long bow with any considerable address. Their princes, indeed, with the warlike dukes of Burgundy, and other independent nobles, laboured for centuries to create efficient bands of military archers in their respective dominions. Sensible of the advantages which would result from being able to combat the English with their own weapons, during the scourging visitations of those "nock shotten islanders," they heaped honours and rewards upon all who excelled in drawing the bow.[1] "Ordonnons," says the decree issued to promote this object by Charles VII. "qu'en chaque paroisse de notre royaume, y aura un archer qui sera, et se tiendra continuellement en habillement suffisant, et seront appellés les francs archers. Et seront tenus en habillement sous dit, et de tirer a l'arc, et aller en leur habillement toutes les fastes et jours non ouvrables," &c. &c. But experience at length convinced them of the vanity of these attempts. "In the end," says a passage from one of the Harleian MSS., "the French king and the captains of many nations did manifestly see, that neither his, nor any other people, could attain to shoot so strong, and with that dexterity and excellence which the English bowmen did. Whereby they, seeing our archery in our sort of long bowes, was a very peculiar gift of God given to our nation, they left off the practice and use of that weapon." While Englishmen, from childhood to age, retained an enthusiastic attachment for the bow, the French abandoned it so soon as the penal enactments were relaxed, returning to the use of the arbalist, which in course of time gave place to the arquebuse.[2]

The preference thus given to an arm requiring no exertion of bodily strength, would seem to imply a difference in the physical conformation of the two nations. When exercising with the same weapon, the one exhibited a vast superiority of manly vigour over the others, the French archer rarely considered his arrow effective beyond one hundred and forty, and found its extreme range limited to three hundred yards; the Englishman sometimes killed man or horse, at two hundred and forty, and cast his flight shaft a full quarter of a mile.

Drayton, probably availing himself of popular traditions of his own age, has a very remarkable allusion to this amazing vigour of arm. He states that old men encouraged their descendants to join the standard of Henry V. by recounting the valorous deeds of their yeomen ancestors, who fought in the Continental war, and introduces a veteran endeavouring by these arguments to work upon the martial feelings of his son.

Upon their strength a king his crown might lay,
   Such were the men of that brave age quoth he.

The good old man with tears of joy would tell,
   In Cressy's field, what prizes Edward play'd;
As what at Poictiers the Black Prince befel,
   How like a lion he about him laid.

      *                  *                 *

"And boy," quoth he, "I've heard thy grandsire say,
   That once he did an English archer see,
Who shooting at a French, twelve score away,
   Quite through the body nailed him to a tree."

The French had a considerable number of archers at Agincourt[3], but the narrow space occupied by their army forbade their being brought into action. After the battle, many carts, laden with bows which had never been even unpacked, fell, with other warlike munitions, into the hands of the victors.

Since then, the history of French archery, in a military point of view, has little to interest our attention: we will now consider it in reference to the destruction of sylvan game.

That pre-eminence in all matters of vénerie by which England is at present distinguished, seems to have been conceded to her by most of the Continental nations five or six centuries ago. Not only were our dogs and horses considered vastly superior to theirs, but our implements of archery were gifts worthy the acceptance of a monarch. In the reign of the second Richard, Sir Peter Courtney obtained leave from the king to send Northampton herald, and Anlet pursuivant, with the following present to the French court:--Six small (i. e. hunting) bows, one sheaf of large arrows, and a sheaf of quarrils, for the crossbow[4]. These, with a greyhound and other dogs, were intended for the use of the king's head gamekeeper.[5] Sir Peter Courtney was allied by blood to the royal family of France, which may account for his desire to compliment them with these gifts.

Among the books preserved in the Royal Library at Paris, there is a treatise on the use of the bow in hunting, written about two centuries and a half previous to the "Toxophilus" of of Roger Ascham.

I am not aware that any English writer has made allusion to this curious work; and to the archer corps, for whom chiefly such a subject has attractions, I am convinced it is wholly unknown. Indeed, the whole external aspect of "King Modus" appears so unprepossessing, that, with even a large share of the enthusiasm possessed, more or less, by all bowmen, not one in fifty would have resolution to turn the second page. Let the reader figure to himself a book printed in coarse wooden black letter types of the fourteenth century, filled with vague and constantly recurring abbreviations, and words not only long obsolete, but sometimes changing their orthography three or four times in the course of a dozen lines; he will then properly estimate the difficulty of "doing" the old savage into intelligible English. Having thus interceded for the reader's indulgence, without further preface I will place before him --

The Book of King Modus.[6]

This brief treatise on archery setteth forth how King Modus instructed his scholars that the bow is an instrument not only profitable for recreation, but also for defence. And he likewise taught-them, that the man who invented it was named Fermodus, whose son, Triquin, was the- best archer that ever lived; and so greatly did he affect this weapon, and the art of shooting in it, and so well had he profited by his father's lessons, that he became marvellously firm and steady in his bow-hand, and could' at every discharge, strike with a bolt an apple placed on the top of a pole at the distance of thirty fathoms or more. And Modus likewise set forth, that when the said Triquin was yet but eight years of age, Fermodus, his father, furnished him with a bow, and taught him the use thereof.

Here follows a particular chapter, entitled "Instructions in the Art of Archery," containing the elements of that exercise as it was anciently practiced in France. And now, continues Modus, he taught his son more things respecting the mystery of the bow.

The first was, that the string thereof should be of silk, and nothing else, for three reasons: because it is strong and endures a long time without breaking; because, when the threads thereof are properly united together, and well set on, it is so stiff and hard, that it will drive an arrow or bolt farther, and strike a heavier blow, than any string made of flax or hemp; because it can be made of whatever strength and thickness the shooter pleaseth.

The second instruction in archery is, that you endeavour always to shoot straight; to which end, be careful, when placing the arrow upon the bow, that the feathers run flat thereon, otherwise your shaft will assuredly fail of the mark.

The third instruction in archery is, that you draw the arrow with three fingers, holding the nock (coche de la fléche) between the forefinger and the next thereto.

The fourth instruction in archery is, that the steel point of your arrow be not too heavy, and that, in ordinary, the feathers thereof be cropped short and low; nevertheless, if it is a weighty shaft, you may shear them proportionately higher and larger.

The fifth instruction in archery is, that your arrow be headed so as the barbs may answer to, and run parallel with, the nock.

The sixth instruction in archery is, that the arrow be ten handsful[7] in length, measuring from the end of the nock to the barb of the steel head.

The seventh instruction in archery is, that a well made bow ought to have exactly twenty-two handsful between the upper and lower notch.[8]

The eighth instruction in archery is, that when your bow is braced, there be a full palm and two fingers' breadth between its belly and the string.

The ninth instruction in archery is, that you draw the bow with your right, and hold it in your left, hand.

Then King Modus's scholars demand how archers take stand, to shoot deer in a forest. And Modus replies, this mode of hunting may be practiced two ways, either with hounds or without.

When an archer designs to hunt in a thicket where he perceives game is harboured, let him carefully notice from what point the wind cometh, that he may place himself with advantage, and so the animals may not get vent of him. And if several archers follow this chase together in an open country, they must station themselves much farther apart than where the trees and underwood are more abundant. The chief forester who manages the dogs should be on horseback, and his hounds must be taught to couch and cower down, until he has appointed for each bowman his respective station.

This done, if the cover be large and thick, they must let loose from three to five dogs, according to its extent. Those who are appointed to drive the deer should now talk loudly and call to each other, that they may not attempt to pass between them. When an archer espies a deer approaching his stand, he must order himself after this fashion:--Let him endeavour to keep out of sight as much as possible, while he raises his bow perpendicularly, holding the drawing hand with the arrow ready nocked, directly before his face; and if the animal continue to approach without stopping, he should very silently and cautiously extend his arms, and draw his bow softly, that the arrow may be pulled up to its head, before the game come near; and his bow should be very weak and gentle[9], so that he may hold it drawn a reasonable space; and he must pull the bowstring ever to his right ear; and whilst the deer is passing by a few paces, the archer should follow him with his bow, drawing and redrawing the shaft. Then, having made sure of his aim, he is to let fly with a sharp and steady loose.

If the beast come very leisurely, and in a direct line, the hunter must aim his arrow straight at the breast: but if it cross him unexpectedly on the right or left hand, let him shoot in a slanting direction behind the shoulder, about the centre of the ribs, allowing the game to pass him a few paces, as before mentioned.

And now I will set forth why the crafty and cunning archer should ever do thus: for to shoot in any other manner is wholly unsportsmanlike, and a violation of the laws of archery, for these four reasons following:--Firstly; should the arrow pass straight through her body, it may fail to wound a vital part, and the deer will not die near so quickly as when shot obliquely just behind the shoulder, and in the direction of the heart. Secondly; because, having seen the archer, she will make a bound, and most probably cause him to miss his aim. Thirdly; from the flurry produced by her sudden appearance, he cannot point his arrow so deliberately as when shooting after her. Fourthly; if the game cross the hunter very swiftly, and at any considerable distance from his stand, the arrow shot in a direct line may fail to reach it before it passes by.

Thus have I explained the reasons why the hunter should manage his bow according to the peculiar circumstances of the case.

And if the deer at which he aimed be struck by the arrow and mortally wounded, the huntsman should whoop loudly for his bloodhound, which is abiding with the other dogs. Let him also blow a note upon his horn, to warn his comrades to cast down the blinks.[10] Should the wound, on the contrary, be only a slight one, not the bloodhound only, but the other dogs must be slipped, the forester on horseback spurring after them with all the speed he may.

And now I will explain how the cunning archer may discover, by the colour of the blood which falls from the stricken deer, whether the wound be fatal or not.

When dark red, and slightly covered with froth, it is a sure token that the arrow has met her in a good place, and she shall die quickly. Item, if the blood be clear and thin, with a few bubbles on its surface, be satisfied that your arrow, having struck upon a bone, has done little hurt. If the game be hit in the belly, then small portions of grass or other food, on which she has been feeding, shall flow with the blood. When this is the case, you may allow her to repose a considerable time before laying on the bloodhound, for two reasons: firstly, because she cannot live long thus; secondly, because where she lyeth down, she will remain, and permit the hunter to take her. But if, when you follow with the bloodhound, she should happen to spring up from her lair, loose four or five steady dogs, and you shall see her taken with much pleasure.

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