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Home > Books > Book of archery > Section I: Juvenile Bowmen
Section I
Juvenile Bowmen
Part 5 of 6

Having so far furnished an abstract and brief chronicle of exploits, where princes, nobles, or knights, alone figure as the chief performers, let us next glance at an inferior, but highly important class--I mean our yeomen archers, who drew their bowstrings at sixpence daily pay. Here, however, much patient research has been ill rewarded; and, where the amplest information was anticipated, nothing exists beyond a few meagre details. "In my time," says Ascham, "men that were learned, did not understand archery; and those who shot well, were unlearned." Indeed, a profound ignorance ot even the commonest elementary knowledge, distinguished the lower grades of society from the eleventh to the close of the fifteenth century. Oral traditions unquestionably abounded among the populace; but those qualified by education to collect and record them, unconscious of their value to the men of other generations, felt no interest in the task: and each romantic tale perished almost with him who was its hero.

The wages above cited were given to our archers at least five centuries ago. They seem disproportionate when we reflect on the relative value of money then and at present; but the Veel Manuscript expressly states that Sir Maurice Berkeley had the king's[46] warrant to receive, out of the customs of wool, at 61. per sack, his own pay and that of twenty men at arms; viz. 4s. per diem to himself as a banneret; 2s. each to his knights; 12d. for an esquire; and 6d. per diem for an archer. How highly, therefore, must the services of this force have been estimated, when a poor peasant was rewarded with an eighth of the stipend given to one of Edward the Third's most powerful feudal lords. And in cases of pressing emergency, some additional bounty seems to have been added: for instance, so much blood had been shed during the wars of the roses, that, on the termination of their fatal quarrel, the few persons of distinction who survived found themselves almost tenantless,[47] and, in consequence, often greatly embarrassed to complete their stipulated number of followers when summoned on foreign service. Some dilemma of this nature gave rise to correspondence between Sir Roger L'Estraunge who had fought on King Edward's side, and his brother in arms Sir John Paston, in the reign of Henry the Seventh. "Master Paston," says he, "I commend me to you; so it is, that I am not yet purveyed of men to my number of archers, such as should go over sea with me. Wherefore, sir, I beseech you to do so much, as to have purveyed for me two or three such as ye think shall be for me. Sir, I understand that Sir Terry Robsart lieth but little from you, where, as I bow, he might help me of one by your means; and as for their wages, say they shall have the king's wages and somewhat else, so that I trust they shall be pleased. Sir, I beseech you to take the pains for me this time, and I shall do you that service that lyeth in me, by the grace of Jesu --which preserve ye.--ROGER L'ESTRAUNGE.--Monday, April 16th, 1492."

The three famous archers mentioned below, often figure in scraps of ancient poetry. They seem to have stood equal, in popular estimation, with Robin Hood and his co-mate John Little; since, in Shakspeare's days--and no doubt long before and after--the name of one of them was used to compliment an expert archer. "Benedict. HE that hits me, let him be claps on the shoulder and called Adam."

Merry it was in fair forest,
      Among the leaves green;
Where as men hunt east and west,
    With bowes and arrowes keen.
To ryse the deare out of their den.
    Such sights hath oft been sene,
As bye three men of the north countrie
    By them it is I mene.
The one of them, hight Adam Bel,
    The other, Clym of the Clough,
The third was William of Cloudeslie,
    An archere goode enow.

Among the monuments in Clewer church are some memorials to the family of Hayes of Hollyport. One of these celebrates, in indifferent poetry, the exploits of Martin Expence, a famous archer, who shot a match against a hundred men, near Bray. In Glinton church, also, we have the effigies of a bowman, wearing his bugle horn and other insignia of the craft. Leland tells an interesting story of John Pearson, a Coventry archer, who, being at the battle of Dixemunde had one of his legs shattered by a cannon ball: but such was the indomitable spirit of the man, that he continued to use his bow kneeling or sitting; and when the French took to flight, addressing a comrade, he said, "Have these three arrows which remain, and continue thou the chase, for I may not."

"Here," observes the author of "The Troubles in New England,'' "I cannot but record the valliancy of George Forest, one of my soldiers, who, with seventeen arrows sticking in him, still stoutly resisted the foe, and then, for want of a chirurgeon, died."

The author of "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" has immortalised the fame of Wat Tinlinn, "who in my younger days, "says he, "was the theme of many a fireside tale." This person was a retainer of the Buccleugh family, and held, for his border service, a small tower on the frontiers of Liddesdale. Wat was by profession a sutor, but by inclination and practice an archer and warrior. Upon one occasion, the captain of Bewcastle, military governor of that wild district of Cumberland, is said to have made an incursion into Scotland, in which he was defeated and forced to fly. Wat Tinlinn pursued him closely through a dangerous morass: the captain, however, gained the firm ground; and seeing Tinlinn dismounted, and floundering in a bog, used these words of insult, "Sutor Wat, you cannot sew your boots; the heels risp, and the seams rive." "If I cannot sew," retorted Tinlinn, discharging a shaft which nailed the captain's thigh to his saddle,--"if I cannot sew, I can yerk," This latter word, signifying the twitching or tightening of the thread, practiced by his trade, alludes also to the act of letting off the bowstring. It may be here remarked that Lancashire Rawson, who still lives in the remembrance of many of my seniors, the best among modern archers, was also a shoemaker.

Carew, the ancient historian of Cornwall, alludes to the dexterity of one Richard Arundel, an intimate friend and countryman of his own, who, like a Parthian, could shoot twelve score from behind his head, with the right hand or the left. He, presently afterwards, tells a quaint anecdote of another archer, in language equally quaint. "I have heard," says he, "by credible report, of those who professed and protested themselves to have been eye-witnesses, that one Robert Bone, of Antony, shot at a little bird sitting on his cowe's back, and killed it--the bird I mean, not the cowe;--which was very cunning in the performance, or very foolish in tile attempt. The first of these somewhat resembles Menelaus, mentioned by Zosimus, lib. ii., who, nocking three arrows, and shooting them all at once, would strike three several persons; and might have deserved a double stipend in the Grand Signior's guard, where the one half of his archers are left handed, that they may not turn their tail upon their sultan when they drawe."[48]

Among the troops which composed the Floridan expedition, herein-before referred to, there were only two archers: one an Englishman named Coles; the other a Spaniard, who, being in London until the age of twenty, had acquired an Englishman's adroitness with the bow and shaft. These were the only adversaries truly formidable to the Indians, who, also, chiefly depended on their archery, but laughed to scorn the confined range of a Spanish cross-bow. The arquebuses, indeed, might have been more formidable; but these the Christians, having no iron, had been compelled to convert into "horse-shoe nails." Coles relates that, in their disastrous voyage up the river Chicagua, he received two dangerous arrow shots, and only escaped death by a miracle. At the same time, Don Gusman, one of the Spanish officers, was struck by above fifty arrows in his head and shoulders, and expired in the arms of his associates as they bore him from that scene of slaughter[49]

Many centuries ago, the barons of Berkeley Castle were at feud with Lord de Lisle. Having come to a resolution of putting their irreconcileable differences to the arbitrament of the sword, both parties met near Nibley Green, Gloucestershire, where the Berkeleys came attended by a large reinforcement from Bristol, whose citizens, at that period, were as famed for a turbulent martial spirit as for commercial enterprise. To these were added a band of archers from Dean Forest, who, secure in their native fastnesses, like the Kent woldsmen, owned vassalage to none, although they usually maintained an alliance, for mutual protection, with the neighbouring barons of Berkeley. Dwellers within the purlieus of a royal chase, stocked with countless herds of deer, each man, from infancy, had become well accustomed to the yew bow and grey goose shaft' which they handled with an adroitness that made them the terror of the west country. There is a circumstantial narrative of the battle of Nibley Green among the castle archives, from which it appears that their leader, Black Will, marked the Lord Lisle, when he lifted the visor of his helmet for fresh air, and loosing against him an arrow, it pierced his brain, and he fell dead from his horse. Du Carell's poem of De Wyrale makes this redoubtable personage confess and glory in the feats of arms he performed during that sanguinary fray.

And note, advancing through the tall trees' shade,
     A stranger bold and armed, a bow who bare
Some six feet long, of toughest yew-tree made.
     A goodly sheaf of arrows bright and keen,
     Were deftly stuck beneath his baldric green.

Thus accoutred, he falls in company with the "chief forester in fee."

'Say, who and whence art thou?' De Wyrale[50] said.
I reek not,' he replied, and careless laughed,
     Of Briton, Saxon, Norman, or of Dane,
If I compacted be; so I my craft
     Well know, nor ever do dismiss in vain,
Drawn to my ear, the unerring cloth yard shaft;
     Nor know I fear--nor crouch to sword or lance,
As many a daring deed might testify.
     He too, the Lord of Lisle, who dared to prance,--
     At his life's cost, in an ill-omened day,
     Joining with Berkeley's earl in deadly fray:--
'T was I that drew the bow, the shaft that sent,
     And planted deep its steel point in the brain
Of that proud lord, what time Fitzharding[51] vent
     Gave to the wrath he did perforce restrain,
Rankling long time within his bosom pent;
Nor proved the cherish'd hope of vengeance vain.

I will here offer a few words respecting the mode by which Lord de Lisle met his death. A petition, presented to the king by his widow, states that the arrow entered his left temple, for, like Cæsar's soldiers at the battle of Pharsalia, our English yeomen were prone to strike at the visage, although from very different motives. Strong mail protected the person of knights and men-at-arms, over and above which a triangular shield, fenced with steel plates, and suspended by a strap round the neck, gave additional protection to the vital parts. None but very "strong and sinewy bows" could drive an arrow through this panoply of' metal, so the archer, keen-sighted as the lynx, and no less cruel, constantly directed his aim at face and throat, when the foeman, who played his game of war beneath a summer's sun, unwarily lifted visor, or removed gorges, to breathe a cooler air. Few who ventured to do so ever lived to close them again; and this favourite manuvre with archers of our own and other countries, is repeatedly adverted to in the chronicles. At Towton, the most fatal battle in all that long quarrel of the Roses, when the Lord de Clifford, fainting with pain, heat, and thirst, took off his gorges, instantly an arrow-- tradition says a headless one--passed through his neck; "end thus," adds the chronicle, "he rendered up his spirit."-- Again, during the same wars, John Paston, writing to a friend, relates, as a piece of news, that the Earl of Oxford, making a sally from a castle where he was besieged, was shot through the bars of his helmet. "This day,"says Paston, laconically enough, "I saw the man who did it; and there I leave him[52]". In his first engagement with Hotspur's forces, Hollinshed states that Harry the Fifth, then Prince of Wales, received a shot in the face; and Shakspeare introduces him upon the stage, immediately after that accident.

Enter the Prince of Wales wounded

    Westmoreland. Come, my lord, I'll lead you to your tent.
    Prince. Lead me, my lord! I do not need your help.
And heav'n forbid I a shallower scratch should drive
The Prince of Wales from such a field as this.[53]

One instance more, and I have done. Some pirates, from the Orcades, once entered the port of Anglesea in their long vessels; and the Earl of Chester, apprised of their approach, boldly met them, rushing into the waves upon a spirited horse. Magnus, the commander of the expedition, standing upon the prow of the foremost ship, aimed at him an arrow: the earl was completely equipped in a coat of mail, which guarded every part of his person except the eyes; but the unlucky weapon struck him in the right eye, and, entering his brain, he fell a lifeless corpse into the sea. The victor, seeing him in this state, proudly and exultingly exclaimed, in the Danish language, "Leit loup "--let him leap; alla thenceforward the power of the English ceased altogether in Anglesea.[54]

From the fragment of a humorous ballad, entitled "The Kynge and the Hermit[55]," we have a droll insight into the character and mode of life peculiar to many a jovial friar of the fourteenth century.

Arise up, Jack, and goe with me
And more of my privitie
    Thou shalt see somethinge
Into a chamber he him led:
The kynge saw about the hermyt's bed
    Broad arrowes hang.
The frère[56] get him a bow in hande:
Jack,' said he, 'draw up the bonde[57];'
    He[58] might only stir the stringe.
'Syr,' he said, ' so have I blisse,
There's no archere may shoote this
    That's with my lord the kynge.'--
An arrowe of an elle longe,
In hys bowe he [59] it throng,
    And to the head he gave it hale:
'There is no deere in this forest,
An it would on him feste[60],
    But it should spill his shale.[61] it
Jack sith thou can of fletcher crafte,
Thou mayst me ese with a shafte.[62]
Then,' said Jack, 'I shall.'
'Jack, an you will a' of my arrowes have,
Take thee of them, and with thy leve,
    Now go we to our play.'
And thus they sate with fustie bandy,
And with strike partner in that place,
    Till it was near hand day.
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