Societies of Modern Archers
Part 1 of 6
"What is the wager ? " said the queen
" That must I now know here;"--
"Three hundred ton of Rhenish wine,
Three hundred ton of beer;
Three hundred of the fattest harts
Which run on Dallom Lea."
"That's a princely wager," said the king,
Needs must I tell to thee."
With that bespake one Clifton then,
Full quickly and full soon,
"Measure no marks for us, my sovereign liege,
We'll shoot at sun and moon."
"Full fifteen score your mark shall be,
Full fifteen score shall stand."
"I lay my bow," said Cliflon then;
"We cleave the willow wand."
Robin Hood and Queen Katharine.
A SMALL body of archers accompanied the Duke of Buckingham in his expedition against the Isle of Rhé in 1627; a few fought also at the siege of Devizes, during the civil troubles which ensued shortly after; one Neade and his son, both veteran bowmen, having been commissioned to raise a body of archers for his majesty's service. The besieged also had a similar force within the walls, and to these reference is intended in the following extract:-- "I, having the guard of the riverside," says Captain Gwynne, "and standing by Sir Jacob Ashley, a bearded arrow stuck into the ground betwixt his legs. He plucked it out with both his hands, saying, 'Ah! rogues, you missed your aim.'" Bowmen formed part of the forces commanded by the gallant, but unfortunate, Marquis of Montrose, during the contest between King Charles and his Scottish subjects, some few years afterwards; and these are stated by modern authorities to have been the last who carried the warbow and barbed arrow into the battle-field. But does not the honour of being one of the latest upholders of military archery more properly belong to a redoubtable old soldier of the church militant, mentioned in my account of the Royal Scottish Body Guard? Could we trace his subsequent history, is it not more than probable he would be found to have actually done battle with his "artillery" in defence of protestantism and the sacred order to which he belonged?
However this be, we have abundant means of knowing that archery, as a national English pastime, never became wholly extinct. Even whilst our bowmen were carrying a scourging hand in France, and the statute of Queen Elizabeth declared their weapons to be "God's special gift to our nation," the fraternities of St. George and Prince Arthur were bowmen incorporated for pastime only, both owing their origin to Henry VIII, who appointed Sir Christopher Morris master of the ordnance, and Antony Knevit overseer of the former. For the latter he selected a title as romantic as it was appropriate. "Let them be called," said he, "The ancient Order, Societie, and Unitie laudable, of Prince Arthure's Knightes and his Knightlie Armory of the Round Table;" and wherever he saw a good archere and a fair, he chose and ordained such an one to be entered on their list. The associates were fifty-six in number, each assuming the name of one of the illustrious worthies in that brotherhood of chivalry. When Robinson published his "Famous History of Prince Arthur's Knights," during the succeeding reign, every archer, as we learn from a MS. catalogue of his typographical labours, bought a copy, commencing with Master Thomas Smith, her Majesty's Customer, who being Prince Arthur himself, payed 5s., his fifty-six knights 1s. 6d., and every esquire 8d. each, for the volume. A no less personage than Justice Shallow claims to have been one of these archers: "I played Sir Dagonet," says he, "in Prince Arthur's shew," by which Shakspeare clearly meant a meeting of the toxophilites, and not an ordinary pageant. They assembled at Mile-end Green, near London. Probably Shakspeare himself was often among them.
Their charter authorised them to shoot at "all fowls and game" --in that age, no trifling privilege-- within the suburbs of the metropolis; and it was further declared, that during their weapon shewings, each archer should, by way of caution to the spectators, pronounce the word "fast," before he loosed his arrow: which done, provided public proclamation had also been made that the populace should abstain fifty paces from either side of the butts, none of the fraternity were liable to prosecution, even for manslaughter, in case of accident from their arrows.
At the very commencement of the seventeenth century, we had the Royal Edinburgh Bowmen, and shortly afterwards the Richmond Archers, who possess a record of their silver arrow having been won by Henry Calvert, of Eyreholme, Esquire, as far back as the year 1673, and both still flourish as connective links between ancient and modern days. It is scarcely just, therefore, to term the numerous bow-meetings established at various recent periods, a revival of archery; since, speaking figuratively, the strema, though at times faint and low, has never, even for the shortest period, been wholly annihilated.
To the north of England, generally, must be assigned the merit of having preserved a traditionary knowledge of the long bow, when its practice was extinct in other parts of the kingdom. Lancashire and Cheshire, counties once famous for recruiting our armies with those bands of tall archers, each one of whom boasted of carrying four and twenty Scotsmen under his girdle, are at present conspicuous for numerous and clever bow-meetings. In a day's journey through that portion of England, butts and marks erected upon the lawns, before the drawing-room windows of gentlemen's mansions, meet our eyes almost as frequently as rifle targets, along the shores of beauteous Leman's Lake.
I recollect a rather amusing proof of the laudable esprit du corps, existing among these Cheshire and Lancashire bowmen, a relic of ancient pride of skill, transmitted from their ancestors. Whilst target shooting with 3 small party at Tuttshill, a lovely spot on the summit of Vaga's rocky bounds, the author of the History and Antiquities of Cheshire, then residing at Sedbury Park, passed by. Being known as a good bowman, we challenged him to a shot; but, with ready wit, he made a familiar north country proverb to serve as his excuse: "A Lancashire man should never miss." Just then he was more devoted to the book than the bow; his literary labours left no time for practice, and he was unwilling, by exhibiting at a disadvantage, to compromise the reputation of his countrymen.
The ancient renown of our northern archers has been the subject of much panegyric by their contemporaries. Hear Drayton's description- of the Cheshire men engaged in civil broil at the battle of Blore Heath. The Earl of Salisbury, their leader, is the individual first alluded to.
He caused a flight of shafts to be discharged first;
The enemy, who thought that he had done his worst,
And cowardly had fled in a disorded route,
Attempt to wade the brook; he wheeling soon about,
Set fiercely on that part which then were passed over.--
There Dutton Dutton kills; a Done cloth kill a Done;
A Booth a Booth; and Leigh by Leigh is overthrown.
A Venables against a Venables cloth stand;
A Troutback fighteth with a Troutback, hand to hand.
There Molyneux cloth make a Molyneux to die,
And Egerton the strength of Egerton cloth try.
Oh Cheshire, wert thou mad? of shine own native gore,
So much until this day, thou never shed'st before.
In Weber's tale of Flodden Field, Lord Stanley addresses those who fought under his banner in the following pithy style;
My Lancashire most lovely wights,
And chosen men of Cheshire strong;
From sounding bows your feathered flights
Let fiercely fly yon foes among.
Enumerating the different towns and villages from whence they proceeded, he says--
All Lancashire, for the most part,
The lusty Stanley stout did lead;
A stock of striplings, stout of heart,
Brought up from babes with beef and bread.
From Warton unto Warrington,
From Wigan unto Waresdale;
From Wedicar to Waddington,
From old Ribchester, to Rochdale.
In another place it is said, that Sir Richard Bold brought considerable succour of his tenants and archers, out of Brundall in Lancashire, to the assistance of the Earl of Surrey. He behaved with great gallantry at Flodden; and to the Lancashire archers the fame of that victory has been generally ascribed. To Bosworth also--
A most selected band of Cheshire bowmen came,
By Sir John Savage led, besides two men of name.
I think it is in Weber's poem that a Lancashire man named "Long Jamie," one of the archer guard, shoots three of his comrades, in revenge for an insult offered to the Earl of Derby. Pleading his cause before the King, he first recounts the origin of his attachment to that nobleman; then the particular instance of skill and strength which led to his admission among the royal military attendants:--
They called me craven to my face,
When I was to my supper sat;
And bade me flee all from the place
Unto that coward, the Earle of Derbie.
Whilst I was little, and had small geare,
He was my helpe and succour true;
He took me from my father dear,
And kept me with his own,
Tyll I was able of myself
Both to shoot, and prick a stone.
Then, under Greenhithe on a daye,
A Scottish mynstrell came to thee,
And broughte a bowe of eugh to drawe,
But alle the guarde might not stir that tree.
Then the bowe was given to the Earle of Derbie,
And the Earle delivered it to me.
Seven shots before your face I shot,
And at the eighthe in sunder it did flee.
I bade the Scot bowe down his face,
And gather up the bowe, and bringe it to his kinge.
Then it liked your noble Grace,
Into your guarde me to brynge.
It is remarkable that Sir Ashton Lever, to whose zealous exertions the revival of archery in the metropolis may be partly attributed, should have been a Lancashireman. Whether his well-known coadjutor in this good work, the elder Mr. Waring, was equally far north, I cannot state positively, but I fancy he was. The "English Bowman" thus alludes to the circumstances which induced them to turn their thoughts upon this fine old rural pastime, whilst surrounded by the hurry, turmoil, and absorbing interests of what is called London life.
"About the year 1776, Mr. Waring, who may justly be styled the father of modern archery, resided with Sir Ashton Lever at Leicester House Having, by continual application to business contracted an oppression upon his chest, he resolved to try the effect of the bow in affording relief. Accordingly he made it a regular exercise, and in a short time derived great benefit from the use of it; and ascribes his cure, which was perfect, solely to the use of archery. Sir Ashton Lever, perceiving the good effects which so engaging an amusement had upon the constitution, followed Mr. Waring's example, and took up the bow. He was soon joined by several of his friends, who, in the year 1780, formed themselves into a society under the title of Toxophilites."
The patronage of his Majesty George the Fourth, and the gratification he seemed to feel, whilst Prince of Wales, in an amusement so many of his illustrious forefathers had delighted to honour, assisted in reviving the public taste for archery. Like Harry Percy-
He was indeed the glass
Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves.
* * * * So that in speech, in gait,
In diet, in affections of delight,
In military rules, humours of blood,
He was the mark and glass, copy and book,
That fashioned others.
Among the odd collection of miscellaneous items, ancient and modern, suspended around the walls of the den where I am writing, is a full-length portrait of his Royal Highness, in the costume of Captain General of the Kentish archers. He is represented reposing himself after a shooting match, and gracefully holds in his left hand a beautiful backed bow, the only correct representation of that instrument I ever met with in print or painting.
The northern archery societies, before Sir Ashton Lever's and Mr. Waring 's time, were--
The enthusiasm which attended the revival of archery can only be compared to that which animated the admirers of Shakspeare and the ancient drama generally during the Garrick era Soon after the Royal Toxophilites were established, almost every considerable city in the kingdom possessed its bow-meeting. The following may be received as a pretty correct list of the societies to which they gave birth, arranged alphabetically:--
Of still more recent formation, are the,
It is not pretended that the above catalogue comprises every society, large and small, within the compass of Great Britain. Many include merely a family party; others, though perhaps less exclusive, have still neither local habitation nor a name, and their proceedings never transpire beyond their own immediate circle. We find some excellent marksmen, of both sexes, among these little knots of archers, notwithstanding.
First in seniority among modern societies, are the Toxophilites, who originally erected their butts upon the lawn behind Leicester House; but alas I through the rapid journey which London has been making out of town for the last century, the place that knew them, now knows them no more. Reader, just fancy an honest country archer visiting the metropolis for the first time in his life, A. D. 1839. He had long previously discovered in Hargrave's anecdotes, perchance in those of little Oldfield, where this celebrated body shot in the days of Sir Ashton. Comfort, rather than the vagaries of fashion, has been, from youth up, the characteristics of his ancestral home in Wensley Dale, the romantic shores of Ulswater, or some spot equally remote and beautiful: he takes his "ease at his inn," at the Bedford, or other similar establishment within the purlieus of Covent Garden. Having indulged in a due degree of repose after the fatigues of a long journey, he enters upon its object, namely, to inspect the wonders of the Great Metropolis, but, above all, to witness some of its archery parades; and this he considers will be best done by a visit to the shooting-ground of the Toxophilites, as the chief society in town. Accordingly, whilst discussing a broiled chicken, and the remains of his bottle of Chambertin, many inquiries are directed to the waiter respecting the road to "Leicester House Gardens." These, however, he utters with an air of perfect nonchalance, anxious to escape being set down as altogether a greenhorn The man, accustomed to the little inaccuracies of country gentlemen, when conversing about streets and places in London, directs him to the square of that name, and, buoyant with expectation, he sallies forth. The evening turns out such as archers love--calm, serene, cloudless; and, hastening onwards, he meditates upon his chances of catching the Toxophilites engaged at their sport, when he will be enabled to judge, from personal observation, how far the Scroton and the Richmond have the odds in a challenge they contemplate sending to their Metropolitan brother archers. Although the localities he is compelled to traverse, in conformity with the waiter's instructions, certainly do not exactly "babble of green fields," nevertheless he pushes on, little dreaming of disappointment. But imagine his vacant stare, whilst some good-natured passenger explains the irresistible march of brick and mortar.