The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
Home > Articles > Outing > Thoughts on archery > Part 4
Thoughts on Archery
Part 4 of 5

At the Field of the Cloth of Gold all the sports were of a martial character; and it is asserted that the crafty Frenchmen allowed "Bluff King Hal" a petty preŽminence. France reckoned among her chivalry many accomplished knights; but the political object of the conference was of greater moment than planting a lance; but after some time spent in exercises of mimic warfare, Henry, at the request of the French king, undertook to show the skill and vigor with which Englishmen wielded the long bow and cloth-yard arrow.

Having laid aside his armor, he re-appeared, habited in the forest garb of "Merrie England:" bugle horn of gold suspended from his shoulder, sustained by a strap richly embossed with precious metals, a number of arrows couched beneath his embroidered girdle, in his hand a long-bow of the finest Venetian yew. The nobles who attended him were equipped in a corresponding style of magnificence, which called forth a burst of admiration from the whole French court. Henry, then in the bloom of youth, perfect in symmetry, over six feet in height, presented a splendid specimen of an English archer. When he stepped forth with manly, vigorous air, and was seen to brace himself, expectation rose on tiptoe. The French, delighted with the spectacle, were silent. The English, forgetful that their fame had already extended all over Europe, felt as if it depended upon their royal champion; and right well he maintained their reputation. He repeatedly shot into the center of the target at the extraordinary distance of twelve score yards (so the story goes), calling forth again and again the well-deserved applause of the French monarch's body-guard, who, in their attempts only showed their own imperfections. They fired with crossbows, thereby demonstrating the inferiority of their weapon.

Archery as an art of war was practiced as late as the reign of Charles I. Mosely says that in the year 1643 the Earl of Essex issued a precept for stirring up all well-disposed people by benevolence towards raising a company of archers for the service of the king. In studying the science of archery, there are many apparently minor points which are considered of the greatest importance to the skilled bowman. Take, for instance, the various ways of drawing the bowstring: the English draw with the forefinger and thumb; the Flemings with the first and second fingers; while the Asiatic is the reverse of both, the bowman drawing altogether with his thumb; the forefinger is bent, and pressed over the arrow nock, merely to secure it from falling; he wears on his thumb a broad ring of agate, carnelian, ivory, horn, or iron, according as his means will afford. The simple process of straightening of the thumb sets the string free. Then again the material used in the manufacture of the bow is another important consideration. Ancient bows were made of reeds or cane, particularly those of Persia and India. Yew is generally considered the best wood from which to construct a bow, although lemon and lancewood are much used. Maurice Thompson, who, I suppose, is the greatest living authority, gives the length of a bow as six feet, and says, when strung it shortens three or three and a half inches. The stringing of the bow is a delicate operation, and proficiency can only be attained by practice. We hear a great deal about the phenomenal distances that arrows have been sent by representative men of all nations; but I am inclined to think that in many of these legends there is a flight of imagination as well as the arrow. I know it would tax mine considerably to believe that Robin Hood and his followers shot a mile.