Archer
The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
home - about - books - articles - prints faq - news - contact - search
   
Home > Books > Book of archery > Section I: Juvenile Bowmen
Section I
Juvenile Bowmen
Part 3 of 6

At this crisis, a well-looking young man, of tall stature, mounted on a horse without a saddle, and accompanied by a servant carrying a bow and two or three arrows, came to the place, and inquired the reason for the assemblage of so great a concourse, and their outcries. Some of them informed him, pointing me out with their fingers. The youth having examined my situation, and the folds of the serpent around my neck, said, 'Are there here any of the nearest kin to this death-devoted person?' Upon which my brethren and relations present, who were shedding the tears of regret at my condition, replied, 'Yes; what would you say to us ?' The youth continued, 'It must be evident to all that death already sits upon the forehead of yonder unfortunate, whose escape from calamity by means of human wisdom seems improbable, if not impossible; yet if, laying hold on the strong cord of resignation, you will give me leave, trusting in Him who is all-powerful to deliver, I will shoot an arrow through the body of the blood-devouring snake, and try the predestination of this death-seized youth. I am a perfect judge of distance, and in the skill of archery a professor. I can hit the foot of an ant in a dark night; and should they hang a grain of mustard seed by a single hair, I should not miss it a hair's breadth. My skill in this art is such as I cannot express; for the direction point of the arrow is the bent of my power. As an instance--at present I shall not miss, and at the first aim so bring down the head of yonder serpent, that even the wind of the arrow will not reach the face of the young man, or an injury happen to a single hair. Thus far I confide in myself;--yet as Divine decree rules all things, and Providence acts for itself, it is possible that the matter may turn out contrary to my wishes, and you in that case, fixing your hands on my skirts, may accuse me of shedding his blood.'

The whole concourse now, with one voice, exclaimed and said, For the delivery of the young man there can be no remedy but this; if he has a predestination of longer life, the arrow of prayer will reach the mark of acceptance; if not, he is already placed in the jaws of fate. My kinsmen, also, resigned themselves to destiny, and consented to the young man's shot.

The youth--may the mercy of God attend his soul!--took his auspicious omened bow in his grasp, and placing an arrow on the string, prayed the Almighty to direct his aim for my sake. Then, like a magician practiced in sorcery--not magic-like, but altogether miraculously drew the shaft, and aiming at the eye of the serpent, let fly.

The heavens exclaimed Well! and the world Bravo!

The point of the arrow reaching its mark, brought down the monster's head to the ground; and this exclamation from the crowd ascended to the skies, 'Praise be to the Giver of life I He cannot die whom he destines to live, though he seemeth dead. God is potent over all things.'[28]

The weapon remained in the jaws, and the young archer laying his arrows aside, advancing, took up the head of the serpent, which suddenly moving, and as if the cup of the hero's age was become flowing over, seized his lip with its mouth, and closed its envenomed teeth. The noble youth, angel like, fleeted to Paradise in the twinkling of an eye; and the head of the snake, like a paper-catching fish[29], remained fastened on his lip.

The Persians assert that Aresh, the best archer of his day, shot an arrow previously marked, in order that it might be recognised, from the top of the mountain Damovend to the banks of the river Gihon. Agoutha, a Tartar prince, long before his tenth year, displayed the greatest fondness for the bow, and even at that early age was an unrivalled archer. One day, certain ambassadors being in the court yard of his father's palace, and espying Agoutha, who stood holding his bow in one hand and an arrow in the other, they requested him to shoot at some birds then passing over their heads; Agoutha complied, and with three arrows brought down an equal quantity of game. One of the ambassadors, delighted with this proof of juvenile adroitness, exclaimed,-- "Behold an extraordinary child, worthy to reign over the great empire of the Manchons!" an opinion amply justified by the transactions of his future years. On another occasion Agoutha, assisting at a banquet in the house of Ono Li Han of the He che Lie tribe, went out with several of the guests to stroll over a neighbouring plain. Perceiving a hillock at some distance, he requested all present to loose their arrows at it, but none fell within even a reasonable space of the mark; then Agoutha, with his first arrow, shot beyond the bank, and on measuring, the distance was found to be 320 paces. The arrow of Manthou, a boy of the same race as Agoutha, and previously accounted the cleverest bowman of his age, fell 100 yards short of that of his kinsman. In the year 1151, a monument was erected where the successful shaft had alighted, with an inscription commemorative of such extraordinary distant shooting in a child.

"When I was in Tartary," says the Baron de Tott, "they made me particularly notice Khrim Gouray's second son, whose youthful courage burned for an opportunity to distinguish itself, and who, by the constantly exercising his arms, was enabled to bend two bows at once. This prince had occupied himself with archery almost from the cradle, and when not more than nine years of age, the Khan, wishing to mortify his self- love, observed, contemptuously, that 'a distaff would better become the hand of such a poltron, than the manly weapon with which he was then exercising.'--'Poltron!' cried the child, and his countenance became of an ashy paleness, 'I fear no man, not even you,' at the same time furiously loosing an arrow, which happily missed the Khan, but buried itself in the wainseoting owainscotingof the apartment two fingers deep.

Teon Man, Khan of the Tartars, wishing to disinherit and destroy his eldest son Mothé, in order to give the kingdom to a child by his second empress, sent him as hostage to the king of the Yuetchi, whose dominions he immediately afterwards ravaged with fire and sword, in the hope this outrage might be avenged by the death of his obnoxious son. The unnatural desire would have been gratified, had not Mothé mounted a swift horse taken from the stables of his enemy, and fled with the utmost speed homewards. On the boy being thus suddenly restored to his presence, nature resumed her sway, alla Teon Man, admiring such courage and address in one of tender years, appointed him over 10,000 horse, whose devotion and attachment Mothé used every art to secure, being desirous of retaliating upon his father the fate to which he had been recently consigned. To this end, he caused a number of whistling arrows [30] to be prepared for his own use, but ordered his men to ride with quivers filled with those having sharp steel heads. He next published a general order, that such of his squadron as hesitated to loose the latter at any object, to which he directed attention by first shooting at it himself, were to suffer instant death. Being at the chase soon afterwards, he aimed a whistling arrow at an antelope: through forgetfulness, some disobeyed the order, and these he ordered to be beheaded upon the spot. A few days subsequent to this transaction, he shot at one of the noblest Arab horses in his stud; again many cavaliers, influenced by fear, hesitated to obey, and instantly underwent the fate of their companions. His next victim was a very beautiful female slave, for whom he had manifested the extreme of tenderness. The death signal, whistling through the air, struck her full upon the breast: pity and terror again binding up the hands of many, with savage sternness he ordered their companions to hew them in pieces with their satires. As he rode forth soon afterwards he espied one of the finest Of his father's horses grazing in a meadow instantly he struck him with a fatal shaft. Then, his whole suite following the example, rained a storm of arrows upon the poor beast, which fell absolutely larded therewith. Apparently now secure of their devotion, Mothé one day persuaded his father to take part in a grand hunting match, and, loosing at him the death signal, in an instant he sunk from his horse pierced by a thousand arrows. The wretched parricide immediately returned to the palace, where he was soon declared Schen Yu, that is, emperor, in the room of his murdered parent.[31]

Some years previous to the treacherous massacre of the Mamelukes by Mohammed Ali Pasha, that splendid barbaric chivalry, as they are happily styled by Sir Walter Scott, held frequent archery parades. One of these magnificent spectacles, which took place about two centuries ago, has been graphically described by an eye-witness, and I shall here give the substance of his very accurate narrative.

On one side of the castle of Cairo there was a large plain field, which had been prepared for a review of the Mameluke horsemen in manner following. About its middle, and on one side, were three artificial hillocks of sand, about fifty paces distant one from the other, and on the summit of each stood a spear and banner, being marks destined for the archers. Similar preparations had been made on the opposite side, so that the intermediate space barely allowed six horses to run abreast. Here was drawn up a body of youths selected to exhibit their address in mimic warfare, who, accoutred in their usual light harness, and mounted on sprightly steeds, awaited the signal to begin. The Sultan himself, a "swart and lusty companion," viewed the spectacle from an elevated kiosk, having latticed windows. He wore a pointed diadem, a black thick curling beard, and was arrayed in the purest white, as were the whole sixty thousand Mamelukes who stood before him, with an air of the most respectful submissive devotion.

He waved his hand, and immediately the sports commenced by several of these youths running at full career between the first two hillocks, dexterously shooting at the marks right and left, until they were absolutely covered with arrows, They next passed at equal speed throughout the other vacant spaces, not one missing his aim, but, galloping with reins loose, each discharged sometimes two, sometimes three arrows. Again they cantered back towards the goal' and, spurring their foaming horses, leaped on and off, six or seven times successively, and discharged arrows at intervals, without once missing their aim. Whilst the horses absolutely seemed to fly over the sand, three Mamelukes unstrung their bows, whirled them around their heads by means of the string; restrung them, nocked their arrows, and failed not to transfix the butt. A fresh party now advanced, who, after throwing themselves off their horses thrice backwards, again vaulted into the saddle, and drove into the mark without a single miss. Three times also did they saddle and unsaddle their galloping horses without dismounting, and used their bows at intervals with the same unrivalled adroitness. Some lay backward on the horse's croup, and, taking his tail between their teeth, raised themselves upright, and shot as well as at first. Others sat between sharp-pointed drawn swords, three before and three behind, whilst the riders were protected only by a light silken dress, so that the smallest inclination of their body could not fail of wounding them. Yet so adroitly did they manage themselves that there was, in reality, no danger, and, surrounded thus, they were still successful with their arrows. Of all these youths, however, one only was seen to stand barefooted and erect upon the backs of two of the swiftest horses, and, putting them to the utmost speed, to plant in the butt three arrows discharged in front, and also backwards like a Parthian. Another also performed several feats of dexterity peculiar to himself: galloping without a saddle, no sooner did he come between the marks, than, laying his back close to that of his horse, with feet elevated for an instant into the air, he sprang upright, and drove his shafts thrice into the object of his aim. At length, when the marks appeared quite loaded with arrows, the master of these youths, a venerable gray-bearded man, advanced, and seizing the banners, first held them aloft, and then cast them on the earth, whereupon his scholars showered down their lances and arrows, as if about to end the lives of ten thousand wounded adversaries, and then rode away, making their horses curves triumphantly up and down the arena.

So much for the ancient Mameluke archer. I shall only add, in reference to these Oriental matters, that, among the Monguls, a bow is symbolical of a king, an arrow of an ambassador or viceroy; the one sending, the other being sent. Common arrows made of reeds are called Schem in Arabic, and those of the Persians, formed of hard wood, they style Neschab. The latter nation possesses a very curious treatise, entitled "Ahkan al reini u besaif," or instructions for the use of the bow and the sword.[32] E Ks is the Arab word for the former weapon; and a particularly smooth well made arrow they style Azlam.


I have already remarked how solicitous our own brave forefathers were to train up a race of expert archers in defence of their own and their prince's rights. Their feelings on this important subject are well expressed in the spirited lines selected as a motto to the present chapter. My little toxophilites, however, may be tolerable historians, without knowing how many English monarchs and nobles excelled in the art which they admire, such information belonging rather to the private than the public annals of a people. Yet they must have heard of that gorgeous interview between our Henry the Eighth and Francis of France, styled, by way of pre-eminence, "The Field of the Cloth of Gold." Their sports were all of martial character, in accordance with the habits and practice of the age; and in these it is asserted that the crafty Frenchmen allowed our bluff King Hal a petty pre-eminence, since to effect the political objects of the conference was of far greater moment than splintering a lance, or the surrender of courser and corslet.[33] To a certain extent this may be true. France reckoned among her chivalry many noble and accomplished knights; and, in the sports of the tournament, policy perhaps dictated the surrender of a triumph where victory would have been easy. But when, after a morning passed in exercises of mimic warfare, Henry, at the particular request of the french monarch, undertook to exhibit the skill and vigour with which Englishmen wielded the long bow and cloth-yard arrow, he owed nothing to the concessions of his adversaries. Having retired to his tent, and divested himself of the heavy tilting armour, he re-appeared habited in the forest garb of merry England. The bugle horn of gold, suspended from his shoulder, was sustained by a baldric richly embossed with the same precious metal, a number of arrows couched beneath his embroidered girdle, and in his hand he carried a long bow of the finest Venetian yew. The crowd of nobles who waited on their monarch were equipped in a corresponding style of magnificence; and the gallant bearing of this hunter band, as they stationed themselves around the butt, called forth a spontaneous burst of admiration from the whole French court. Henry was then in the bloom of youth: to a handsome countenance he added a figure of the most perfect symmetry, and his height was considerably above six feet. The plumed bonnet and sylvan dress, assumed for the present occasion, served to enhance these personal advantages not a little, and, in truth, he appeared a noble personification of the tall English archer.[34] When, therefore, he stepped forth from among the group of attendant foresters, and, with a manly vigorous air, was seen to brace his trusty bow, expectation rose on tiptoe. As he drew the first arrow from his belt, the French, delighted with the novelty of this spectacle, suffered not a whisper to escape them; the English, forgetful that the fame of their archery resounded throughout all Europe, felt as though it depended solely upon their royal champion's success. And right well did Henry on that day maintain the reputation of his countrymen He repeatedly shot into the centre of the white, though the marks were erected at the extraordinary distance of twelve score yards apart. A simultaneous burst of admiration marked the delight and astonishment of the vast assembly who witnessed this fine display of skill and personal strength; applause, no doubt, as sincere as it was well deserved . for the attempts of some cross-bowmen belonging to the French king's body-guard, who tried their quarrels [35] at the same butts, served but to betray their own inexpertness, and the inferiority of that weapon. A contemporary writer, whilst briefly alluding to this gorgeous pageant, paints Henry's dexterity in the following quaint terms:--"Après allèrent firer a ['arc, et le Roy d'Angleterre luy même, qui est merveilleusement bon archer et fort; et le fesoit bon a voir."Afterwards they went to practice archery with the king of England, who is a marvellous good archer and a strong; and it was right pleasant to behold.

In after years, our bluff Hal lost none of the relish for this exercise which had distinguished his boyhood. When a gentleman named Cavendish waited on him at Hampton Court, in obedience to his majesty's commands, he found him engaged with a party, shooting rounds, or butts, in a portion of the park situated behind the garden. "Perceiving him so occupied," says he, "I thought it not my duty to trouble him, but leaned to a tree, intending to stand there, and await his gracious pleasure. Being in a great study, at the last the King came suddenly behind me where I stood, and clapped his hands upon my shoulders; and when I perceived him I fell upon my knee, to whom he said, calling me by name, 'I will,' quoth he, 'make an end of my game, and then I will talk with you;' and so departed to his mark, whereat the game was ended. Then the King delivered his bowe unto the yeoman of his bowes, and went his way towards the palace."

In the privy-purse expences of this monarch[36] we find nume- rous memorandums connected with archery. Of these, some relate to losses at shooting matches, others to presents of archery gear, dear ones, indeed, but with which the courtiers aimed to bespeak their prince's gracious favour by ministering to a dominant taste.

"Item, 2d 1530. Paid to a servant of my Lord of Suffolk, in reward for bringing bowes and arrowes to the king's grace, xls.
"Item, 18th August. Paid to the French fletcher [37],, in reward towards his surgery, xls.
"Item, 28th October. Paid to a servant of Maister Bryan's, in reward for bringing of a cross-bowe, a quyver with arrowes, and a hawk glove, xxs.
"Item, 20th March, 1531. Paid to George Coton, for vii shott lost by the King's grace unto him at Totthill, at 6s. 8d. the shotte, xlvjs. viijd.
"Item, 15th March. Paid in rewarde to a fletcher, that gave the King a cane staff and a stone bowe, xls.
"Item, 29th March. Paid to George Clifford, for soe much money as he won of tile King's grace at Totehill at shooting, xijs. vid.
"Item, 8th May. Paid to George Coton, for that he wonne of the King's grace at the roundes, the laste daye of Aprill, iiil.
"Item,-- Paid to one of the guarde, for shooting at Greenwiche, ijs.
"Item, 30th June. Paid to the iij Cotons iij setts, the which the King's grace lost to them at Greenwiche Parke, xx livres.
"Item,-- To the same Coton, for one upshott that he wonne of the King's grace, vjs. viijd. :
"Item, 8th July, 1531. Paid to my Lord of Rocheford, for shooting with the King's grace at Hampton Court, lviil.
"Item, 10th July. Paid to Thomas Carey, for shooting money, xxd.
"Item, 26th July. Paid to my Lord of Rocheford, for shooting money, vi ryalles, iii livres, viis. vid.
"Item --, Paid to Gwillim, for pellets for the stone bowe, viiis.
"Item, 7th October, 1532. Paid to Henry Birds, for divers bowes and shaftes for the King's grace, for one year, xvjl."

The attachment which Henry felt for the bow induced him to confer rewards and honours on all who exhibited any extraordinary dexterity. At the close of a grand shooting match held in Windsor Park, the upshot being given, he observed a guardsman, named Barlow, preparing to discharge his last arrow; upon which the king exclaimed, "Beat them all, Barlow, and thou shalt be Duke of Archers."He shot, and placed his arrow in the centre of the butt; whereupon the king immediately redeemed his promise, by conferring on this archer the title of Duke of Shoreditch, the place of his birth.

Copyright © 1998 - 2017 | Disclaimer | Privacy Policy