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Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter XIII: Scottish Archery
Chapter XIII
Scottish Archery
By J. Balfour Paul
Lyon King of Arms
part 1 of 2

ARCHERY never flourished in Scotland with that vigour which it displayed in the sister kingdom. The bow was, of course, used from early times both as a weapon of the chase and for purposes of military warfare; but it required the fostering care of the sovereign to make its use at all efficient for the latter object, and whenever the royal attention was withdrawn from it the practice of archery perceptibly declined. The references to archery, however, in the ' Statute Book ' and other ancient records of the kingdom are numerous. We are told, for instance, in the ' Leges Forestarum ' that a man following his dog into the king's forest must divest himself of his bow and arrows or bind them with the bowstring. The importance of the bow as a military weapon early impressed itself on the minds of the Scottish kings. Robert the Bruce ordered every person worth a cow to have a spear or a good bow and sheath with twenty-four arrows; and in the reign of his son we find Scotland able to promise to send a contingent of archers to the assistance of the king of England if required. It was James I., however, who seriously set himself to encourage the practice of archery in his country. All persons above twelve years of age were ordered to be archers; bow-marks were to be set up near every parish kirk, and persons not practising were to be fined. All merchants, too, were to bring home bow-staves in proportion to the amount of their cargo. James II. was even more peremptory in his injunctions than his father: football and golf--evidently more popular pastimes then as now in Scotland--were to be ' utterly cried down and not to be used'; shooting at the butts was to be practised every Sunday from Easter to Allhallowmas, each man having to shoot six shots at least under a fine of twopence to be paid as drink-money to those present. James III. and James IV. made very similar enactments regarding shooting with the bow. In the reign of the former the uniform of an archer consisted of a ' brigandine,' or jacket composed of rings or small plates of metal sewed on leather, or quilted between folds of canvas or fustian. Scottish battles, however, were not destined to be won by skill in archery; and Parliament ceased to insist on its practice after the reign of James V. By that time, indeed the bow was nowhere so much used as a weapon of war as formerly, but we have traces of archery as a pastime. Mary Queen of Scots was very fond of it; she had butts in her gardens both at Holyrood and St. Andrews, and in one of the inventories of her effects mention is made of a velvet glove which she used when shooting. Shortly after the murder of Darnley, in 1567, we find that she and Bothwell won a dinner from the Earl of Huntly and Lord Seton in a match at Seton Castle. It is probable that all the shooting at this period and for long after took place at butts or at the papingo or popinjay. The latter continued to be a popular country sport for many years. There is a tradition that it was practised at Kilwinning so early as 1482, and in a deed of I665 reference is made to the papingo set up by the magistrates of Irvine: ' conforme to old antient practices so that the Burgessis might adres themselffs theirto with their bowis and arrows.'

There is no doubt that early in the seventeenth century archery was practised in many Scottish towns, and prizes given for proficiency among the competitors. The Musselburgh Silver Arrow, which is still shot for by the Royal Company of Archers, but which was originally open to all comers, has one medal attached to it bearing the date i603; and there is at least one other undated, probably of a still earlier year. The latter is in the shape of a bell such as is used for a child's rattle, a form in which prizes for horse-racing were frequently made at the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth centuries. Among other ancient silver arrows which testify to the practice of archery in Scottish towns in bygone days may be mentioned that belonging to the burgh of Peebles (also still shot for by the Royal Company), its earliest medal bearing the date 1628; and three arrows belonging to the University of St. Andrews, which were competed for annually by the students of St. Salvator's and St. Leonard's Colleges. The earliest medal is of the year 1618, and several of them bear names which afterwards became famous in Scottish history. These university competitions, however, do not seem to have continued beyond 1751 .

It will be observed that all the trophies above mentioned belong to places in the east of Scotland; but it was in the west of the country that, in earlier years at least, archery chiefly flourished. Reference has been made above to the papingo at Irvine in Ayrshire, but the head-qurters of that form of shooting were undoubtedly at Kilwinning. The records of the Society Archers there commence in 1688, and were kept without a break down to 1870, when the last meeting (held only for business purposes) took place. the Annals open with the following statement:

Shooting with Bow and Arrow at Butts and Papingo has been used and practised at Kilwinning by the inhabitants thereof for the space of two hundred years and upwards. The prize shot for at the game of Papingo in former times was a piece of fine Persian taffetie, three ells long and three-quarters broad, of several colours --red, blue, green, scarlet, &c.-to the value of twenty pounds [Scots] at least, which they termed a Benn.[1] The person who gained the same by shooting down the Papingo on the day appointed for that effect had the said benn tyed about his waist as a badge of honour, and was thereupon denominated Captain; and, making a parade through the town attended by the former Captains, each wearing about their waists the Benns they had gained, and accompanied by the rest of the Archers, each changekeeper brought forth to them ale and- other liquors to drink the Captain's health, &c. The said antient game turning into disuetude for some years, was restored and again renewed at Kilwinning on the 4th day of September, 1688--

by certain gentlemen who are named, three of whom appear also in the earliest list of members of the Royal Company: How the shooting was conducted when the abbey was entire we do not know ; but after the wreck of the buildings in 1561 the fine north-west tower survived, rising to a height of 105 feet. From its summit the wooden figure of the popinjay, painted green and red, supported on the upturned end of an iron spike attached to a pole, several feet in length, was projected into the air. It was then shot at from below. In the early part of this century the tower was seriously damaged by lightning, and was afterwards almost entirely rebuilt. In early times an open space probably surrounded the abbey, but after its demolition this was encroached upon by buildings and partly occupied as a burying-ground, many of the tombstones in which bear to the present day the marks inflicted on them by falling arrows.

There were three Societies of Archers in Kilwinning--the Gentlemen's, the Tradesmen's, and the Juvenile or 'Callans'.' Each competitor wore a bonnet of white and green with a red top. The benn was latterly not ' Persian taffetie,' but a broad pink silk ribbon with a narrow band of gold lace running down the centre. There is a fine silver bow and arrows belonging to the Kilwinning archers, with one gold and 117 silver medals attached. The oldest of these is dated 1697, and bears the name of David Muir, an ancestor of the late well-known Peter Muir, bowmaker and archer. This trophy continued to be the prize gained with the captaincy till the sports came to an end. It was shot for after dinner, the retiring captain having first shot an arrow over the ruins of the abbey in token that he had discharged himself of his office. The winner was ' crowned ' by being patted on the head by the members present, invested with his benn, and then, marching at the head of the archers, he proceeded to the Cross, where a reel was danced.

The town of Irvine has already been mentioned as being the seat of a similar competition at the papingo. The archers there, however, do not seem to have formed themselves into a regular society till 1814, when the Irvine Toxophilites was constituted a body which survived its jubilee by a year or two. The most important occurrence in its history was the fact that its members, to the number of sixty, served as bodyguard to the Queen of Beauty, Lady Seymour, at the famous Eglinton Tournament in 1839. In recognition of their services on that occasion Lord Eglinton presented the society with a challenge prize, a gold belt and quiver set with carbuncles, which since the dissolution of the body is in the possession of the town of Irvine. Besides shooting at butts--the mark in their case being a paper twelve inches across, divided into six circles, while that in use at Kilwinning was nine, divided into three-- the Irvine Toxophilites shot at an 'elevated target.' A small target, eighteen inches across, was fixed to the top of a pole rather over thirty feet in height, and was shot at from a distance of forty yards.

Several other societies of archers flourished at various periods in the West of Scotland. Among these may be mentioned the Zingari Archers, chiefly composed of Montgomeries, Boyles, and Hamiltons. The Dalry, Saltcoats, St. Mungo, and Kinning Park Archers were all for a time prosperous, but have been for many years extinct.

For a good many years in this century a Scottish National Archery Meeting was held annually with considerable success, at which the York Round for the gentlemen and the National for the ladies was shot. one of the largest meetings was that at Eglinton Castle in 1858, when seventy-five gentlemen and twenty-five ladies competed. The attendance at the meetings, however, gradually got smaller, and they were entirely abandoned some years ago.

The Royal Company of Archers

While archery was thus practised in the provincial towns of Scotland, it is not likely that it would he neglected in the capital itself. The annals of the Royal Company, dating as they do so far back as 1676, may fairly claim to he the oldest records of any society in Scotland, and, probably, in the United Kingdom. It has, indeed, been suggested--though there is really no evidence on the subject---that the Company is a survival of the old Scottish Archer Guard of France,[2]

but in sober fact it is quite ancient enough to be able to do without such a mythical pedigree. In the year above mentioned certain ' Archers and Bowmen residing within and about the City of Edinburgh resolved

to enter and list themselves in a particular Society and Company for Archery and Shutting with Bows and Arrows, to be called His Majestie's Company of Archers in time coming, which may not only be a nurserie for Archers in these parts, but may likewise be a ready mean to raise ane emulation in others, and incourage them to use and practise Archerie in other places of this His Majestie's Antient Kingdom.

By the constitution of the Company, which has remained practically unaltered to the present time, it was provided that there should be an executive of seven members, called the council, elected annually; there were to be three judges for the determination of disputes in shooting, a clerk, treasurer, and other officers. The entry-money was fixed at a minimum of fifty-eight shillings Scots; public butts were to be erected, and a prize of a silver arrow, or other piece of plate, was to be shot for annually. No uniform was at first required, the only distinctive badge of members being ' the Company's seal and arms on their Hatts or Bonnetts.' The laws then drawn up were submitted to the Privy Council of the king, and by them approved: so the Company was started under due sanction from the Government. For a year or two we are told of several meetings being held, but from I679 to 1703 there are no records extant. In the latter year, a charter of incorporation was granted to the Royal Company by Queen Anne, the reddendo, or service to be performed, being the presentation of a pair of barbed arrows on Whitsunday if required. The members also took part in a competition which deserves some mention--the ancient sport of shooting at the goose.

They went to the buts (we are told), where a living goose was fixed a convenient distance from the north but, and nothing but her head in view. The same was shot through by the captain- general (Viscount Tarbet), the arrow entering the left eye and going out a little behind the right eye, about four inches quite through, so as she never moved after she received the shot.

This cruel sport, in which the unfortunate bird was buried in turf, the head only being left out, continued to be practised for many years, as it is only about 1764 that the item of ' half a crown for a goose ' disappears from the treasurer's accounts. The competition is still kept up, but the prize is now a medal, and the goose's head is represented by a small glass globe of about an inch in diameter placed in the centre of the buttmark, which is a circular piece of cardboard four inches across.

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