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Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter IX: The Decadence of Archery
Chapter IX
The Decadence of Archery
Part 3 of 3

In 1595 Sir H. Cock[43] writes to Lord Burghley that the bow, for want of use, had become unserviceable; and the same year an order in council directs that the trained bands should be armed with calivers and muskets instead of bows.[44]

The following is from a MS. list of stores in the Tower in 1599[45]:--

Bowes with 386 decaied 8,185
Bowestaves 38 unservie 6,019
Wreckes[46] of Bowstaves 983
Slurbowes[47] 1 lacks a bender 15
Crossbowes 1 lacks a tiller 180
Bowestrings 196 gross 10 doz.
Lyverey Arrowes 14,125 Sheefes whereof 731 Sheefe to be repaired and 30 Sheefe decaied
Slurbowe arrowes 132 whereof 12 with fireworks.
Crossbowe arrowes decaied 500.
Musket arrowes with 56 to be fethered 892 Sheefe 13 arrows and 1 case full for a di. Culverine.
Longbowe arrowes for fireworks 12 Sheefe, and Longbowe arrowes with fireworks 96 Sheefe decaied .[48]

In 1600 an entry appears on February 9, 'payment made to Rd. Bowlte Master Bowyer of [£] 4-18-4 for repairing & straightening 295 liverie Bows beeing before unserviceable,[49] showing that, in spite of the trained bands being armed with muskets, bows were still thought of sufficient consequence to be repaired. 'Musket arrows' seems a curious item, but arrows were used in this way, as Sir Richard Hawkins, in his account of a voyage to the South Seas in 1591, speaks of their usefulness; he says they will penetrate through both sides of a ship's upper works, which are usually considered musketproof, and expresses his opinion that they are the best sort of shot in use for annoying an enemy at sea. 'Arrowes with fireworks' were intended to set fire to buildings, frighten horses, &c., and were actually used as late as 1604 at the siege of Ostend.[50]

The long-bow seems now to have rapidly fallen into disuse as a military weapon. In 1610 there is a remembrance from the Council in Ireland for the Lord Deputy saying that the offices of fletchers and bowyers should be abolished as obsolete,[51] and in muster lists men are no longer found armed with bows,[52] yet, strangely enough, the bowyers, who had long been a company by prescription, did not receive a charter till 1621.[53] Six years later, they petitioned the Council as to the decay of archery, and the Lord Mayor was directed to appoint a committee to inquire how archery could best be encouraged. The committee duly reported, recommending that four regiments or companies of archers should be formed, but nothing seems to have come of it.[54] The same year the lord lieutenants of counties are directed to see that of the newly levied men twelve m every fifty are archers.[55]

Charles I. this year also ordered the Council in Scotland to grant a commission to Alexander Macnaughtan to raise two hundred Highland bowmen serve in the expedition to the island of Rhé. Magnaughtan levied about a hundred men, who sailed on December II, 1627, but being caught in various storms were driven into Falmouth. On the following January 15, he writes to Lord Morton requesting that clothes, provisions, &c., may be provided for them in the Isle of Wight, which he hopes to reach soon.[56] Whether they ever got to Rhé does not appear, but archers of some sort took part in the expedition, their exploits not being however stated.[57]

In 1628 a commission was granted to T. Taylor, J. Hubert, J. le Neve, and others, to enforce the 33rd Henry VIII. as to the practice of archery; in 1631 the mayor end others of Newcastle-on-Tyne complain to the Council that John le Neve has been there with a patent directing this statute to be enforced. They say that the statute has long been in abeyance, and since the use of muskets, bows and arrows are no longer used: there are no bowyers or fletchers in the town or country, or bowstaves and other necessaries, and they are armed with muskets, pikes, and other arms. They therefore petition, that if the statute is to be enforced, time may be given them to procure necessaries, and ask the Council to send them bowyers and fletchers from London, and supplies of bowstaves.[58] In consequence of this and similar complaints, a proclamation v-as issued revoking this commission, as it caused 'exaction and unsufferable abuses' .... 'nevertheless, it is our will and pleasure that all mayors, &c., shall advance the auncient and commendable exersice of archery, according to the statute 33 King Henry VIII.'[59]

107. 'The pikeman stands coucht and charged for the horse, with his sword drawne'
107. 'The pikeman stands coucht and charged for the horse, with his sword drawne'
(From Neades's 'Double-armed Man', 1625)

In 1625 William Neade, archer, published a book called the 'Double-armed Man,' which explained a new exercise combining the use of the bow with the pike. This appears to have been performed before the king, who, though approving the invention, took no steps in the matter till 1633, when, after sundry petitions, he granted a commission to William Neade and his son to teach the use of the bow and pike together, directing the justices, &c., in England to do all they could to assist Neade, and strongly recommending the exercise to the 'chiefe officers and others of our Trayned Bands.'[60] Two years later Neade petitioned, saying that the king having approved the use of the bow and pike together and authorised him to teach the same, he had laid out his whole estate of 600l. and incurred debts in furnishing himself with ammunition for the purpose, but that owing to the evil example of the city of London, this service is wholly neglected, and he prays that the Lord Mayor may be ordered to direct the trained bands to furnish themselves with such ammunition, so that the petitioner may sell what he has provided, and that delinquents who refuse may be proceeded against.[61] It does not appear what was done on this petition, but probably some steps were taken, as in 1637 Neade petitions the Council that some reward may be given to encourage those who practice the exercise of the bow and pike together, and he mentions that this exercise was performed by 300 of the Artillery Company before his Majesty.[62] Two cuts are given from Neade's book, to show his method of combining the use of the bow and pike. (It is curious that the figures, which are those of foot soldiers, have their heels adorned with huge spurs.) This invention of Neade's was many years too late to become popular the musket was rapidly proving its superiority, and the bow falling more and more into disuse; though, in the same year, a commission was issued, ordering the statute 33 Henry VIII. for the maintenance of archery, and two other statutes of 12 Edward IV. and 13 Elizabeth, respecting the importation of bow-staves by merchant strangers, to be enforced.[63] In 1638, Lord Arundell and Surrey says: ' I hold it fit that instantly some quantity of bows with offensive arrows should be poured into our bordering shires of Cumberland, Northumberland, and Westmoreland (already used in archery), and their old arms of spear and jack restored.'[64]

Frequent complaints are found by archers of encroachments on their shooting-fields ; the owners of the fields also complaining against the archers. In this same year (1638) J. Oldfield says he is prevented from making bricks by being ordered off his own land on petition of the commissioners for archery for the 'superfluous pleasure of the citizens,' whereby he will lose 1,250l. He says he has already paid 1,000 marks to the king as duty on bricks,[65] and if allowed to go on with his business would pay much more--an argument which probably brought him redress; but from the words 'superfluous pleasure?' it does not seem as if the fields were shot over at this period for anything hut amusement.

108. 'The pikeman stands sloapt and shooting'
108. 'The pikeman stands sloapt and shooting'
(From Neades's 'Double-armed Man', 1625)

During the civil war instances occasionally crop up of the use of the bow. In 1642, a party of the king's troops are stated to have been met armed with bows, and they are mentioned as having been used at the sieges of Devizes and Lyme; but neither side could have employed them to any extent. It is evident that the 33 Henry VIII. was disregarded, in spite of the commissions for enforcing it, as otherwise we should find some at least of the king's armed with bows and arrows, for they were so much in want of weapons that on the march from Shrewsbury (1642) three or four hundred are stated to have been armed only with cudgels,[66] no bows being mentioned. The next year the Earl of Essex issued a precept (with what success does not appear) 'for stirring up all well affected people by benevolence, towards raising a company of archers for the service of the king and parliament.'[67] In 1644 Lord Kilpont commanded the bowmen who were on the left of Montrose's army at the battle of Tippermnir:[68] this seems to be the latest instance of the use of the bow as a war weapon in this country, though it is said to have been used at a great clan battle fought in the year 1688 between the Laird of Macintosh and Macdonald of Kippoch.[69] The last offensive use of the bow seems to have occurred in 1791, when two gentlemen fought a duel with bows and arrows at Edinburgh, shooting three arrows each without damaging each other.[70]

There are several instances of the suggested revival of the bow as a military weapon, long after its regular or even casual use. Writing in 1670, Sir James Turner says:

The bow is now in Europe useless, and why I cannot tell, since it is certain enough arrows would do more mischief than formerly they did: since neither men nor horses are so well armed now to resist them, as in former ages they used to be. There arc some who bring reasons for bringing the bow again into use, such as these:--First, arrows exceedingly gall horses and consequently disorder their squadrons, because being so hurt they will not be managed by their riders; secondly, a bowman can shoot many more arrows than a musketeer bullets; thirdly, all the ranks of archers may shoot their arrows over their leaders' heads with equal mischief to an enemy, whereas musketeers can conveniently but deliver their shot by one rank after another, or by three ranks at most, by kneeling, stooping, and standing--seldom practiced, and only at dead lift. These reasons are to me unanswerable, and I think might weigh much with princes to make the half, or at least a third, of their velites to be archers, and by the bargain they might save much money expended in powder and lead.[71]

About a hundred years later (1776) Benjamin Franklin, writing to General Lee, says, 'I still wish, with you, that pikes could be introduced, and I would add bows and arrows: these were good weapons not wisely laid aside.' He gives the usual reasons for his opinion, adding, as further advantages, that the accuracy of the bow is as great as that of the musket, the absence of smoke, and the ease with which bows can be procured.[72]

109. The archer covered
109. The archer covered
(From Neades's 'Double-armed Man', 1625)

In 1784 the Archers' division of the Honourable Artillery Company was formed, an account of which is given in Chapter XIV. It could hardly have ever been seriously contemplated to make it a military body, though the members when on duty were to wear a bayonet; and in a manuscript book containing carefully executed drawings of archery implements drawn in 1789, a bow with a bayonet to screw on to the end of it is depicted, which possibly was the weapon the division used. In 1794 the Court of Assistants passed a resolution 'that it be recommended to the Archers' division to adopt some better mode of arming themselves, so as to become more efficient on their joining the battalion on public emergencies.'[73]

The last advocate for the use of the bow in war was Mr. Richard Oswald Mason, a member of the Toxophilite Society, who in 1798 published a book[74] urging that as it was intended to have a general arming of the people, and probably many of them would from necessity be armed only with pikes, it was advisable they should also have bows. His idea is apparently borrowed from Neade's 'Double-armed Man,' though he does not refer to this book.

It will be seen, as was stated at the beginning of this chapter, that the how was generally looked upon as equal to firearms up to about 1590, but that a few years later it had almost entirely disappeared, though efforts were vainly made to revive its use up to the end of the eighteenth century. It is difficult to understand the attempts made in the reign of Charles I. to enforce the acts for the practice of archery, and for the importation of bowstaves, except on the ground that the falling-off in the efficiency of the bow was attributed more to the want of practice, and consequent deterioration of the archers, than to the superiority of firearms.

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