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Home > Articles > Transactions of Lancashire and Chestershire Antiquarian Society > Archery In Manchester in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, by William E. A. Axon.
Archery in Manchester
in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.
Part 2 of 4

The longbow, it may be fairly said, was the distinctive weapon of the English soldier. The principle of a citizen army, however crude its form, is found at an early date in this country. Land was held on condition of military service, though the professional soldier— the man who, as the word implies, fought for pay— early made his appearance. The king took money in lieu of service, and with it paid for the service of foreign mercenaries. In the Assize of Arms of 1181, temp. Henry II., by which all the adult male members of the community were called upon to furnish, less or more, to the military strength of the country, it is remarkable that bows and arrows are not named although they were certainly in use. It has been suggested that there was an indisposition to entrust poor men with a weapon that could be used for the destruction of game as well as of men. A similar fear, it is believed, retarded at a later period the general use of firearms in the army. Whatever may have been the reason for the silence in 1181, the bowmen are duly mentioned in the Statute of Winchester of 1285. There is, however, a suggestive provision that those who lived in the forest should have not arrows but bolts for their bows. Thus, even Edward L, warrior and statesman as he was, risked something of military efficiency for the preservation of his deer. At Cambuskenneth his archers sustained the reputation they had earned in the days of Richard I. for the excellence of their aim and the deadly execution wrought by their weapons. At Bannockburn the archers failed because their flank was left unprotected, and they were thrown into confusion by the attack of Bruce's cavalry. At Halidon Hill, near Berwick, in 1333, the hail of arrows from the English bowmen broke the ranks of the far larger Scottish army, one-sixth of which perished on the field. The services of the bowmen at Crey in 1346 have often been celebrated, and that battle is also remarkable for the fact that the French had the aid of Genoese using the crossbow— a weapon denounced two centuries earlier by Innocent II. as unfit for Christian warfare,— whilst the English archers relied upon the longbow. Crey is notable as the first battle in which cannons were used, although these did not play a very important part. Perhaps even more remarkable was the victory of Poitiers in 1356, when the French cavalry charged into a ravine lined by the English archers, who poured upon them a pitiless storm of iron hail. The great fight of Agincourt in 1415 showed also the terrible power of our bowmen. The history of the English archer is the history of English warfare in the middle ages. The people were trained to the use of the bow. The archery butts were at once a place of recreation and a training ground for the battlefield. We have Bishop Hugh Latimer's emphatic testimony: "My father was diligent in teaching me to shoot with the bow; he taught me to draw, to lay my body to the bow, not to draw with strength of arm as other nations do, but with the strength of body. I had my bows bought me according to my age or strength; as I increased in these my bows were made bigger and bigger." And Latimer's king, Henry VIII., through his parliament and by royal proclamations, strove hard to encourage the use of the bow, which was, however, destined to be displaced by firearms. To this reign belongs Roger Ascham's Toxophilus, a book in which that great scholar defends and extols archery as a recreation and as a training for war. This quaint treatise is the classic of archery, and its author was rewarded by Henry's royal favour. The bow is mentioned in the Army Act of Mary, and even in Elizabeth's day, when the decline of archery had become notorious, practice with the bow was still enjoined in 1567, at the same time that a corps of arquebusiers was being formed for the defence of the coast towns. The force that put down the rebellion of 1569, known as the "Rising in the North," had but sixty firearms among two thousand five hundred footmen. In 1572, when Queen Elizabeth proposed to furnish Charles IX. with six thousand men, three thousand of them were to be archers.

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