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Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter X: Archery as a Pastime
Chapter X
Archery as a Pastime
By Colonel Walrond
Part 1 of 3

THE practice of archery as a pastime by no means commenced when the use of the bow in war ceased; indeed, its general popularity as an amusement was greatest when it was most formidable as a military weapon. Though essentially practiced by the lower classes, from necessity as well as from choice, the higher are also found shooting with the bow both for pleasure and sporting purposes.

110. Bracer of Henry VI.
110. Bracer of Henry VI.
(From the Collection of H.J. Ellis, Esq.)

Many of our kings and queens have been conspicuous for their skill with the bow. To go no further back than to the reign of Henry VI.. we find he was a skilled bowman, and an interesting memorial of his fondness for archery is a bracer left by him at Boulton Hall in Yorkshire, an illustration of which is given. It is made of thick leather, having stamped upon it in relief his device and the motto, 'I. H. S. Helpe,' the ground having been gilt. It was given to Sir Henry Ellis, the grandfather of the present owner, H. J. Ellis, Esq., and is a fine example of the leather-work of the time.

Henry VII. and his eldest son Prince Arthur were archers, and Henry VIII. was not only a great patron of archery, but also a good shot. Holinshed says that in 1510 'His Grace shotte as stronge and as grease a lengthe as anie of his garde.' He also gives an account of his going a 'maienge,' when a certain archer asked leave to show his skill before the king which permission being granted, 'the man put the one foot in his bosome, and so did shoot, and shot a verie good shoot and well towards his marke, whereof not onlie his Grace, but all the others, greatlie marvelled'; and no wonder! John Taylor, clerk of the Parliament, tells us in the diary which he kept while he followed the English army in France in 1513, that three ambassadors came to the king, 'who was practicing archery in a garden with the archers of his guard. He cleft the mark in the middle and surpassed them all.' At the Field of the Cloth of Gold he is said to have excelled all in shooting, both for distance and accuracy of aim.[1] He frequently attended shooting matches, and on one occasion is said to have promised one of his guards, called Barlow, that if he won, he should be created Duke of Shoreditch, and this title, and similar fantastic ones, seem to have been handed down and used by skilful archers for a considerable time, as Wood, in his 'Bowman's Glory,' uses them to designate certain leading archers.

Henry VIII. himself shot matches with his courtiers for what would now be considerable sums, and archery must in his reign have served as an opportunity for a very fair gamble. A few of the many entries relating to archery in his privy purse expenses are given, from v hich it will be seen that Anne Boleyn also patronised the sport:--

1530-- May. Itm. the same daye paid to Scawseby for Bowys Arrowys, shafts, brode heads, bracer, and shooting glove for my Lady Anne, xxxiijs iiijd.
June. Itm. the same daye paied to the Kings Bowyer for iiij bowes for my ladye Anne at iiijs iiijd a pece, xiiijs iiijd.
Itm. to the same Sir John Hurte for money loste at shotyng, xxvs.
1531-- 8 May. Itm. paid to George Coton, for that he wonne of the Kings Grace at the roundes the last daye of Aprill iijl.
30 June. Itm. paid to the iij Cotons iij setts, the which the Kings Grace lost to them at Greenwiche Parke, xx livres.
8 July. Itm. paid to my Lord of Rocheford for shootyng with the Kings Grace at Hampton Court, lviijl
26 July. Itm. paid to my Lord of Rocheford for shooting money, vi ryalles iij livres viis vid.
1 Sept. Itm. paid to Master Page for so much money as he wonne of the Kings Grace at shootyng, xxs.
1532-- 7 Oct. Itm. paid to Henry Birds for divers bowes and shaftes for the Kings Grace for one year, xvil.[2]

In 1530 Lord W. Howard was sent as ambassador from England, to negotiate an interview between James V. and his uncle Henry VIII.; and the Queen-mother challenged James to produce three landed gentlemen and three yeomen to contend in archery with six of the ambassador's suite, the prize being 100 crowns and a tun of wine; and though the Englishmen are reported to have conducted themselves as skilful and excellent archers, the Scots won. From this it is evident that at this time archery was a popular pastime among all classes. Ladies also used the bow to good purpose in the field-sports of the day, as Sir F. Leake, writing (in 1605) to the Earl of Shrewsbury, says: ' My right honourable good Lord, --Yo. Lordshippe hath sense me a verie greatte and fatte stagge, the well-comer being stricken by yo. right honourable Ladies handes . . . howbeit I knoe her Ladishipp takes pitie of my bucke sense the last tyme yt pleased her to take the travell, to shote att them. I am afreyde that my honorable Ladies, my Ladies Alathea and my Ladie Cavendishe wyll commande their aroe heades to be verie sharpe: yett I charitablé trust such good Ladies wylbe pittifull.'[3]

The first writer on the art of shooting with the long-bow was Roger Ascham; he was born in 1515, went to Jesus College, Cambridge, when he was fifteen, and in 1544 wrote 'Toxophilus.' Ascham was of a studious disposition, but his health not being good, he was obliged to take outdoor exercise. Archery was chosen by him, and he eventually became so fond of the sport that he devoted himself to it more than his contemporaries approved of, and they accused him of wasting time on archery which might be more profitably employed in reading. He seems to have been, besides his love of archery, of a sporting turn of mind generally, as in one of his epistles he speaks of cock-fighting, and expresses his intention of writing on the subject: which, however, he does not appear to have done, and it is very possible that it was not his archery practice alone which was objected to. 'Toxophilus' is, therefore, not only a treatise on shooting, but also, to a certain extent, an apology for his devotion to the bow. It is well worth reading, and his description of the attitude in which venous archers shoot is true to the life. Every subsequent writer on archery has borrowed more or less from his book, either with or without acknowledgment; and his 'five points' have hitherto been the basis of all text-books on the subject. In 1545 he presented 'Toxophilus' to Henry VIII., who was so pleased with it that he awarded the author a pension of 10l. a year, which was confirmed by Edward VI. In 1548 he was appointed reader to Princess Elizabeth, and probably the skill of Edward VI. and Queen Elizabeth with the bow was due to his instruction. Edward VI. seems to have been fond of archery, and from entries in his diary[4] we find that he frequently saw his guards shoot, and himself contended with his courtiers; and he mentions that on one occasion M. le Mareschal St. Andre came to see him shoot, quite as if it was (which it may have been) a sight worth seeing. Archery, however, seems to have been falling off in popularity at this time' es Latimer in his sixth sermon laments the fact that young men indulged in more hurtful pastimes than the use of the bow.

111. Harrow Shooting paper
111. Harrow Shooting paper

Queen Elizabeth was, according to the Veel MS.,[5] a good shot, as it says she 'was so good an Archer that her side was not the weaker at the Butts,' and she is also said to have organised a corps of archers among the ladies of her Court. In this reign Harrow School was founded by John Lyon, and his Orders and Statutes ' directs that besides paper, pens, ink, &c., parents shall provide their sons 'at all times (of the year) with bowshafts, bowstrings, and a bracer.' Probably archery was common in all our early public schools; it certainly was at St. Albans, and at Eton not many years ago part of the Playing-fields was known as the 'Shooting' field. At Harrow the custom of shooting for the 'Silver Arrow' lasted till 1771, when it was put an end to, not without vigorous protests,. by Dr. Heath. The reasons given for abolishing the custom was that undesirable characters were drawn to Harrow on the occasion, as it seems to have been a regular show, the competitors wearing green and silver spangled dresses, with sashes and caps to match: trumpeters being retained to blow a merry blast when the bull's-eye was hit. It appears also that the boys who were to take part in the contest claimed, as a privilege not to be infringed upon,' time for practice, which put difficulties in the way of the regular school work.[6] It is worth noticing in connection with this competition that a paragraph appeared in the 'Morning Herald' of August 3, 1816, saying that the Silver Arrow was shot for as usual at Harrow on the previous Thursday, and won by Master Jenkins. Miss Banks (to whom archers are greatly indebted for her archery collections), on visiting Harrow on the following 14th of October, found this to be entirely without foundation, and duly notes the fact.[7] In the library at Harrow one of the dresses worn on these occasions is preserved, as well as two bows, some arrows, and a few other relics of the competition for the Silver Arrow.

The fields round London had been used by the citizens and others for the practice of archery from a very early date; but in course of time the owners seem to have enclosed their land, which led to frequent conflicts. In 1513 we are told that, feeling themselves aggrieved at the enclosure of various. fields 'whereby they could not be suffered to exercise their bongs,' the citizens pulled the hedges down; and statutes were passed in the reign of Henry VIII. and subsequently directing that the fields should be available for practice. There were a great number of marks or rovers in these fields --some of wood and others of stone-- with various devices on them, placed at various distances, as well as butts. Two can be seen in fig. 115 and from the only remaining stone mark having traces of a hole or socket on the top, probably it formerly had a post fixed on it with a device as shown in the cut. At various times 'aims' or guides to the Finsbury Fields were published containing a plan and list of the marks (each of which had a distinguishing name) and showing their relative distance from each other. From these we find that in 1628 there were 164 marks, which however had decreased to 21 and three butts in 1737. In 1858 two are mentioned as having been recently destroyed, and two as being in existence. One of these, which was called 'Whitehall,' is stated to be at the end of Dorchester Street, Hoxton; and the other, 'Scarlet,' was built into a wall by the canal[8]. The latter was removed in 1881 to the Armoury House of the H. A. C., and an illustration is given of it, but of the former no trace can now be found. The ownership of these marks was vested in the H.A.C., and notices are found down to the end of the eighteenth century of their pulling down hedges and filling up ditches in Finsbury Fields which prevented free access to the marks, and debarred them from exercising their ancient privileges. The archers frequenting these fields for practice formed themselves into societies or associations, and there were apparently three of these: the Society of Saint George, or the Honourable Artillery Company; 'The auncient order societie and Unitie laudable of Prince Arthure and his knightly armory of the round table,' of which no record exists, except a book published in 1583, from which it appears that these Archers called themselves after King Arthur's knights; and the Finsbury Archers.

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