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Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter XIII: Scottish Archery
Chapter XIII
Scottish Archery
part 2 of 2

In 1713 the following rule was adopted for shooting at 'rovers,' or long-distance shooting, a form of archery which the Royal Company have always kept up in preference to shooting at the shorter ranges which are usual in England. ' Any person who shall touch or pierce the mark shall carry the shot before any other that does not touch or pierce, though he be nearer to the mark.' It will be kept in view that the targets in those days were not made of plaited straw and canvas, but simply a square piece of canvas stretched on a frame without any backing, and called 'the clout.' the holes made by the arrows in going through it, or, to speak technically, in ' making clouts,' were at the end of shooting pasted over with paper, so that the marker might know next day what were new shots. At present the usual outdoor range at which the Royal Company practise is 180 yards; one prize is shot for at 200. All arrows within 24 feet of the target (which is smaller than those used for shooting at 100 yards and less) count, the nearest being the shot. A 'clout' counts two, whatever circle of the target may be hit.

It is interesting to note that, even in the early days of the Company, while arrows and bowstrings were imported from abroad --principally from Ghent-- bows were made at home by the Company's own bowmaker, and from native wood. In 1727, Mr. Colquhoun of Luss allowed the Company to cut some of the yew wood on one of the islands in Loch Lomond and the Company's officer accordingly brought home two cartloads. At a later period the council ordered all bows made by their officer to be stamped, so as to bear evidence of the work having been examined and approved; but this practice did not remain long in use. The records of the Company do not, for many years in the last century, contain much of outstanding interest, but it is gratifying to observe that the shooting was kept up with great zeal, and many valuable prizes were provided for competitors. Among notable shots of the period may be mentioned Mr. St. Clair of Roslin, who joined the Company in 1721, and died praeses of the council in 1777; and Dr. Nathaniel Spens, probably one of the best and most enthusiastic archers who ever drew a bow. A noble portrait of him by Raeburn, representing him in the act of shooting, now hangs in Archers' Hall; he was admitted a member in 1749, became praeses of the council in 1809, and died in 1815. The shooting must have been very good for many years, and some notes thereon are not without interest. We are told, for instance, that a party of six were engaged in a match in 1781 (presumably at the usual distance of 180 yards), when one of their number won eight successive ends and nine successive shots in those eight ends. In 1794 we read of a special meeting being held to eat a hare which had been shot by Sir James Pringle, the president of the council, with an arrow. And there is a tradition of a later time, to the effect that a jovial party of archers shot, dined, and slept at Archers' Hall for three consecutive days and nights, their servants coming every morning to shave them.

In 1822, on the occasion of the visit of George IV. to Edinburgh, the Royal Company tendered their services as bodyguard, which were accepted, and the Company occupied a conspicuous position in the various ceremonials which then took place. At the beginning of the following reign the king conferred a further honour on the Company by presenting a gold stick to the captain-general and a silver stick to the next two general officers, thus putting the Company on a footing with the Household Brigade in London; the council also received seven ebony sticks. At the coronation of William IV. the captain-general, as gold stick of Scotland, walked immediately after the gold stick of the Life Guards, a position which he also occupied at the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen. It may also be noted that a handsome stand of colours was presented to the Company by William IV.

In 1842 the bodyguard was again on duty during the visit of the Queen to Scotland in that year, and the subsequent occasions on which their services were similarly called into requisition were at the Volunteer review in 1860, in 1876 when Her Majesty unveiled the statue of the Prince Consort in Edinburgh, in 1881 at another Volunteer review, when the weather was of such an atrocious description that the Duke of Cambridge remarked, 'This is like active service'; in 1886 when the Queen visited the International Exhibition at Edinburgh, and at a similar ceremony in Glasgow in 1888. On all these occasions, except in 1881 and 1888, the reddendo of barbed arrows, by which the Company holds its charter, was duly presented.

The shooting practised by the Royal Company differs considerably, as has been indicated above, from that in use by most other societies of archers. The distance most favoured is 180 yards, and out of eighteen prizes, of which almost all are competed for annually, twelve are shot for at that distance, one at zoo yards, four at 100 yards, and the remainder at the butts. This being the case, the members do not often come into competition with other societies whose custom it is to shoot at the ranges more generally favoured in England. But kindly relations have for long been cultivated by sister societies; in 1785 and 1786 diplomas conferring the freedom of their respective bodies were exchanged between the Toxophilites of London and the Royal Company, and similar courtesies were exchanged in 1787 with the Woodmen of Arden, and the warden of the latter society, Lord Aylesford, was made a brigadier-general in 1788, when he happened to be in Edinburgh. The intimacy then begun has been revived in recent years, and several pleasant meetings have taken place between the two bodies both in England and Scotland. The freedom of this Company has also been accorded to the Society of Bowmen of the Border, now extinct, and to the Royal Kentish Bowmen and Royal British Bowmen.

A word may be said as to the uniform of the Royal Company, which has since its commencement undergone many changes. In 1677 the 'garb' was described as consisting of a white vest, green breeches and bonnet; the colour of the coat is not mentioned. About 1713 we find it consisting of a Stuart tartan coat lined with white, white stockings, and a linen bow-case of the same colour, and a blue bonnet with a St. Andrew and a ' coque ' of white and green ribbons. This appears to have been the costume for many years, and a very handsome one it was, though one of the newspapers of the day made rather a bad shot in describing it as 'an antique Roman dress.' In 1778 the 'common uniform' was ordered to he a green frock with white waistcoat and stockings; the shooting uniform being a short coat of 42nd tartan, trimmed with green velvet and frogged with silk. This is the dress in which Dr. Spens is represented in his fine portrait by Raeburn. It was modified in 1813, the white crossbelts being done away with and the bonnet being made gayer. On the occasion of George IV.'s visit the Archers were attired in a dreadful costume, consisting of a green tartan coat and trousers, large white gauntlets, and an Elizabethan ruff round their necks. In 1825 a court dress was assigned them by the king; this seems to have been a very gorgeous affair of scarlet, green and white, but it was altered a few years afterwards to the present handsome dress of green and gold. The shooting dress as it at present exists was first introduced in 1829, though certain modifications have been made on it from time to time.

The prizes shot for by a society do not usually present much attraction, save to the competitors themselves. There are some, however, in the possession of the Royal Company which have a more general interest. The Musselburgh arrow has already been mentioned, but that given by the Corporation of Edinburgh is also worth) of note. It was presented in 1709, and has now about 175 gold medals attached to it, or rather to the stand on which it hangs. The silver bowl was provided by the Company in 1720, and the winner of each year has since then hung a gold medal on it. It was enlarged in 1751, and in 1875 the value of it and the medals attached was estimated at 2,000l. As in course of time there was no more room to hang medals on it, a new bowl was made in 1887, and is now shot for. Among other prizes may be mentioned the Hopetoun Vase, a splendid piece of silver plate presented by the captain general in 1823; the Dalhousie sword, an oriental sabre, the hilt and scabbard of which are lavishly studded with turquoises, and which probably graced the person of some Indian potentate before it reached Archers' Hall; and the papingo medal, originally shot for at a papingo or popinjay (latterly a piece of cardboard) placed on the top of a pole seventy-five feet high.

And, lastly, one of the most esteemed prizes is that presented annually by Her Majesty, of the value of 20l. Not the least interesting possessions of the Company are the following old bows, which are hung on the walls of Archers' Hall.

1. A yew bow backed with ash, dated on the back 1650, which belonged to Mr. Bisset of Lessendrum, in Aberdeenshire.
2. The Flodden bow, presented by Colonel Fergusson of Huntly Burn to Mr. Peter Muir. It had been preserved for centuries in a house near Flodden Field. Its strength is estimated at from 80 to 90 lbs.
3. A bow, presented to the Royal Company by the Marquis of Aylesford, Lord Warden of the Woodmen of Arden, in 1788. It was made about the beginning of the sixteenth century, and was discovered in a house in Scotland in 1776.
4. Bow made by Grant, at one time the property of Mr. Wallace, banker, Edinburgh. Lord Aylesford is said to have offered him fifty guineas for it, but the offer was refused. Dr. Thomas Spens, whose property it afterwards became, presented the bow to the Royal Company in 1840.
5. A very fine and perfect yew bow, alsopresented by Dr. Spens, whose father, Dr. Nathaniel Spens, recovered it from a family in Fifeshire. Its date is probably about the end of the eighteenth century.

125. The Flodden Bow
125. The
Flodden Bow
From a photograph

In connexion with the subject of bows, it may be mentioned that the late Peter Muir, when he was first appointed bowmaker to the Royal Company, planted several yew-trees in the piece of ground adjoining the butts. He was happily spared to see them cut down half a century afterwards; some of them measured about nine inches in diameter three feet from the ground; the wood was good, straight and free from fault, and several bows were made out of it, but none of them are reported to have made more than average weapons. After being made they increased in strength, and a bow originally made with a pull of 55 lbs. was found ere long to be difficult to bend with 70 lbs.

It is not within the scope of this chapter to enlarge on the hospitality for which the Royal Company have been ever famous, but it may be said that there are few prettier sights than the dinner-table at Archers' Hall resplendent with the valuable plate which testifies to the shooting prowess of generations. The Company has many honoured traditions, and, composed as it is of the best blood and culture of Scotland, it seems in a fair way to perpetuate them for years to come.

126. Montrose Archery Medal
126. Montrose Archery Medal
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