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Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter VIII: Archery Tackle in the Middle Ages
Chapter VII
Military Archery in the Middle Ages
Part 2 of 2

The feathers employed for war arrows were, no doubt, as a rule, those of the goose, and in a letter to the sheriffs in 1417, six feathers from the wings of each goose (except the so-called Brodoges) are directed to be collected in the towns and counties for dispatch to London. Peacock feathers are very often mentioned, and though Ascham says these were 'taken up for gayness,' and that 'many who so used them lay them down again for profit, the goose feather being the best feather for the best shooter,' still the very various owners of such feathers, and the long period of time during which mention is made of them, point to there being some better reason than mere 'gayness' for their adoption; and we know by experience that they arc stiffer than geese feathers. In 1390 the will of Peter Barleburgh, a tailor, mentions such, and in the years 1420, 1436, 1442, we find wills of individuals in which these feathers are recorded. The Bursar's accounts of the Bishop of Winchester also include similar ones. William de Kyrkby in I 39 I bequeaths arrows feathered with 'pennis altiliis ' (domestic birds' feathers). Adam Tyldesley in 1457 leaves arrows 'pennatas cum albis plumis.' In 1475 Thomas Eme bequeaths his best sheaf of arrows, 'plumatarum cum gruibus nigris' (black crane feathers). In the inventory of Sir John Fastolfe's effects (1459) are mentioned arrows feathered with swanne, and, no doubt, many other birds yielded their plumage for this purpose. In Edward I.'s time, as appears from the household accounts, the feathers were prepared with 'virido greco,[6] some preparation of copper, probably to colour or preserve them from the effects of wet. But, besides the feathers being damaged, they sometimes came off altogether, as we learn from a letter of Skeffington to Walsingham in 1535, where, in an account of a recent engagement in Ireland, it is remarked that the archers' bow strings were damaged, and most of the feathers fallen off the arrows on account of the rain.

Arrow-makers were necessary artificers in an army, and Henry V. took over to France in his army in 1415 six bowyers and six fletchers or arrowmakers for repair of the arms. In 1533, among the payments made in the Tower occurs, to William Tempelle, the king's fletcher, for 310 sheaves of new livery arrows at 18d. the sheaf, and for nocking, new feathering, new heading, and new trimming 500 sheaves of old arrows which came from the wars when the Duke of Suffolk was captain in France, at 9d. per sheaf. In 1522 arrow feathers are mentioned at 21d. for 1,400. In 1580 the Borough of Plymouth paid to the fletcher for feathering of seven sheaves of arrows, 6d.

98. Arrow-heads.
98. Arrow-heads.
(From 'Histoire de la Milice Française')

With regard to the arrow-heads, some few still are preserved, and a paper with illustrations on this subject will be found in vol. xvi. of the 'Journal of the Archaeological Association.' In 1341 arrows, 'aceratae,' or headed, cost 14d. per garb, those non-accratae 12d. At this date the white bow is quoted at IS., and the painted bow at 1s. 6d.

In 1405 a statute was passed regulating the making of arrowheads, which were to have steel points and to bear the mark of the maker. In the Duke of Norfolk's accounts, 1462-1469, the arrow-head-maker was to supply them at five a penny, and the bows were 3s. each. In 1528 John Laake was arrow-headmaker to the king, and in 1530 William Lory, arrow-headmaker, was paid at the rate of 4d. per diem. The cuts given of arrow-heads are taken from Le Père Daniel, and are copied from the work of Ambroise Pare,[7] a celebrated surgeon who, from the time of Francis I., attended the army. He mentions the different shapes of arrow-heads in use, describes how the wounds caused by them are to be treated, and gives woodcuts of the necessary surgical instruments to be used for extracting them.

Bearing arrows are mentioned in the Earl of Northumberland's expedition to 5 Henry VIII., thus:--'Longe arrowes like standarts with socetts of stell for my Lord's foutemen to bere in their hands when they ryn with my Lorde.' They also occur in the Lord Mayor's proclamation about shooting in Finsbury Fields in 1557.

The archer generally carried his arrows in a quiver slung over his shoulder or at his waist, but when in action some at least of the arrows were placed either lying on or sticking in the ground at his feet, or else stuck in his belt. The archer himself is always shown as standing with his feet apart, and the right hand is seldom above the level of his breast. Ascham speaks of the archer having his hair short, and in connection with this we may remember Ollivier de la Marche, who mentions a Greek ambassador at the court of the Duke of Burgundy in 1442, who, shooting with a bow on horseback, took the precaution to put his beard in his mouth 'pour doute de la corde.'

99. Battle of Tewksbury.
99. Battle of Tewksbury.
(From a contemporary MS. 'Archaeologia,' vol. xxi.)

That English bows and tackle were valued highly abroad we have many proofs. Gaston Phoebus, Count of Foix (1388), himself an accomplished archer, praises the English bow, and bids would-be archers learn from our countrymen. His description of what a bow should be is as follows:--It should be of yew or of boxwood, 70 inches in length between the points of attachment for the cord, and when strung the centre should be 7 4/5 inches from the cord, which should be of silk, as that is harder than hemp or any other material. The arrow should be 28 1/3 inches long in the stem, with a barbed head of five fingers in length and four fingers across the barbs.

In 1400 the accounts of the Bailly of Hainault mention English bowstrings as costing more than those of Valenciennes, and in the next year we find the English Queen presenting two English bows to the Queen of France. In 1426 the Duke of Burgundy paid 40 livres to a man who had been sent into England to get bows for him, but without letting it be known. In a French poem of 1480, the writer expresses a wish as an archer to have English bows of fine yew, and straight, well-metalled arrows. As late as 1597, a warrant was issued to allow the servant of the Landgrave of Hesse to transport loo bows, 2,000 bowstrings, 3,000 arrows without payment of custom.[8]

The English archers are often referred to by foreign writers, and especially by the Venetian ambassadors in their reports to the Seignory. In 1497 Francesco Capello's secretary speaks of the long-bow as being the weapon of the English, as the pike was that of Germans. Giustiniani, in I5I9, says the English infantry was supposed to amount to 150,000 men, whose peculiar weapons were the long-bow, arrow, sword, and two stakes --one before and one behind--with which they made their palisadoes or stockade, but all their prowess was in the bow. In 1531 Faliero says of the English infantry, 'although they fight in the old fashion with bow, sword, and buckler, celata, and a two-pronged iron stake to resist a charge from the enemy's horse, yet are they beginning to use harquebuses and artillery.'

The stakes referred to by Giustiniani and Faliero were the improved form of the Agincourt device; but judging from the payment in 1529 to Richard Rowley, blacksmith, for 2,500 sockets, rings, and staples of iron to garnish archers' stakes, and 5,000 archers (stakes) ready garnished with heads, sockets, rings, and staples, 6l. 13s. 4d., the sixteenth-century appliance was a much more serious affair than the earlier idea. Archers' stakes also occur in the equipment of ships, but these must have been intended for landing parties.

An important part of an archer's equipment was a maul, or heavy mallet of lead, having iron rings round the ends of the head, and a handle five feet long. Some of these mauls must have been formidable weapons, as, at the ' Battle of the Thirty,' in 1352, Bellefort, one of the English side, wielded one weighing 25 lbs.[9] They were carried slung on the back. Ascham, speaking of archers, says: 'When they shall come to hande strokes, (he) hath ever redy, eyther at his backe hangyng, or els in his next felowes hande, a leaden maule, or suche lyke weapon, to beate downe his enemyes withal!'[10] Le Père Daniel cites some MS. memoirs in the King's Library, Paris, to prove that mauls were used in about 1520, but from the above extract from Ascham, and from an MS. treatise on the equipment of archers in Queen Elizabeth's reign, quoted by Grose, it is clear that they were in use at a later date. It is singular that the Laplanders represent the god Thor with a how in one hand, and a mallet or maul in the other.[11]

100. Arrow-heads.
100. Arrow-heads.
(From 'Histoire de la Milice Française')

In 1533 the Earl of Derby directed the Abbot of Whalley to have twenty of his tenants put in readiness as archers, well harnessed after the manner of the country, in white jackets with 'my bage of the leggis of Man' of red cloth on the breast and on the back. Of course the ordinary English soldier, both then and for many generations previously, had worn the red cross of St. George in a similar mariner (fig. 101). Hall states that Henry VIII. had at the siege of Terrouenne, in 1513, 600 archers of his guard all in white gabardines and caps.

In 1566 we find the following prices for the parts of an archer's outfit: Bow and arrows 6s. 8d., a steel cap 4s., shoes 2s., coat 12s. 4d., hose 8s., sword and dagger 8s., shirt 4s., doublet 4s. In 1567 the city of Liverpool supplied archers dressed in 'blue watchet cassocks of Yorkshire cloth, yarded or ornamented with two small yards stitched with two stitches of blue apiece, a red cap, a buckskin jerkin, and armed with a very good yew bow and a sheaf of arrows in a case.' In 1577 the men from Yorkshire were equipped at the following prices:--Clothes 375. 2d., yew bow, arrows and case 35. 4d., coat of plate 135. 4d., sword, dagger, and girdle 8s., shooting glove, bracelet and string 1s., skull and Scottish cap to cover it 3s. 4d.

Sir John Smythe in 1591 advises that archers using no vambraces, but certain strips of cere cloth or mail within their sleeves, to defend the cut of a sword, might through the smallness of their sleeves easily draw and shoot without the string hitting upon any part of their sleeve, but only upon their bracer. He also advises that archers should either wear 'iletholed doublets,' that will resist the thrust of a sword or dagger, covered with some trim and gallant kind of coloured cloth to the liking of their captains, with their sleeves striped with certain narrow strips of such cloth to resist the cut of a sword, or else jacks of mail quilted upon fustian to resist a blow or a thrust, of a considerable length, and the skirts not too long.

A fair idea of the dress and arms of archers may be gathered from the cuts taken from various MSS., as the archers would probably be depicted as they appeared at the time the illumination was executed, though in fig. 95 the artist has introduced composite, probably Turkish, bows.

It should be remembered that for the appearance of the archer of Froissart's Chronicles we must not trust to the illuminations of his works, as most of them, as seen in the British Museum and elsewhere, date at least some hundred years later than the events recorded in them. But from the text of these Chronicles, and from the various orders for supplies of soldiers, we may gather a fair idea of the archer of Créçy and Poictiers. He bore his bow and arrows, the latter in a quiver hanging at his waist or over his shoulder, with a sword, or perhaps an axe, at his waist. For armour he had an iron scull or, as at Agincourt, a wicker-work head-piece, with iron cross-bands on it. Perhaps, also, a shirt of mail or some piece of plate armour, the spoil of a former battle; but the active life he led would forbid any great weight being added to his equipment. When in action he would further ease his movements by loosening the points or laces attaching his hose to his body garment, and thus free from the constraint of his clothes would be ready at the proper moment to rush in and continue the fight, or rather slaughter, with his sword, axe, or heavy leaden mallet, and obtain from his richly-armed foe 'egregious ransome.'

101. From the 'Departure of Henry VIII. from Calais.' 1544
101. From the 'Departure of Henry VIII. from Calais.' 1544
(From 'Monumenta Vetusta. Pictures at Cowdray)

For the appearance of the archer in the latter part of the fifteenth century the best authority is the fine MS. history of the life of the Earl of Warwick, by John Rous, now Cott. MS. Julius E IV. Art. 6 in the British Museum, two of which are reproduced on pages 113 and 117. Here we see many representations of soldiers of all sorts, and especially archers, and as the MS. was written end drawn before 1487, the authority is a most excellent one. For Henry VIII.'s time the engravings of the ancient pictures at Cowdray now unhappily destroyed (see pages 118, 135, 146) will furnish many examples of the English archer's equipment, and in the picture of the Battle of the Spurs at Hampton Court--as also in the bas-relief representing the meeting of Henry VIII. and Francis I. at the Field of Cloth of Gold, stir] existing at Rouen, of which a cast may be seen at the Crystal Palace--we have the appearance of a mounted archer of the time.

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