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Home > Books > Book of archery > Section II: Juvenile Bowmen (continued)
Section II
Juvenile Bowmen (continued)
Part 5 of 7

The bracer is a well known contrivance for protecting the archer s wrist from being bruised by his bowstring. Its form and materials have varied little' though anciently a leathern gauntlet, fitting close to the arm, was worn by many archers, and with a thin oval leaf of ivory, or mottled horn, sewn upon the cuff, I know nothing which looks or answers better. The old bowmen sometimes had bracers formed entirely of ivory, as is shown by a unique and very elegant specimen preserved among the rarities at Goodrich Court. Where the bowstring strikes, you have a smooth polished surface only; but every other part is covered with rich carving and scroll-work. The initials M. R., and the arms of a society of bowmen, appear in the lower corner; the upper one is adorned with a medallion, containing the head of a Roman soldier; altogether, it forms a relic very interesting to the lovers of archery.

There is, also, an ancient black leathern bracer in possession of the Honourable Miss Grimstone, which exactly illustrates my motto from Chaucer. It resembles a half sleeve; the part frayed by the bowstring (the marks of which are still visible) being without ornament; but a rose, with many curious devices beautifully embossed cover the other portions, and the words JESUS HELPE are inscribed on a gilt ground. This curious spe- cimen of an old English archer's shooting gear was found at Boulton Hall, Yorkshire, where it had been left by one of Henry the Sixth's followers, when retreating from the fatal field of Hexham. Oriental bracers are described in the treatise on female archery. The North American Indian uses a piece of badger's or black fox's skin fastened upon his arm by slips of beech bark; and the Matryas, a nation of Brazil, are said by Dr. Southey[21] to twist plaited horse-hair round the arm. A number of quil feathers from the macaw or paroquet's wing constitutes the bracer of another South American tribe. These entirely encircle the wrist, their quills pointing towards the hand, the plumed ends towards the elbow. A more effectual, elegant expedient could hardly be devised; and of an Indian warrior, thus equipped, it may be truly said,--

Upon his arm he wore a gai bracer.

But the ancient bowman not unfrequently dispensed with this part of his shooting gear. When a bow is highly braced, it becomes unnecessary. Ascham seems to have thought so:-- "In my judgment," says he, "it is best to give the bow so much bending, that the string need never touch the arm, and, consequently, that a bracer should become needless. This is practiced by many good archers with whom I am acquainted."

Most of my readers know that the modern shooting-glove consists of three leathern finger stalls sewn to corresponding straps, and buckled round the wrist. Anciently it was a leathern gauntlet, of which the cuff reached nearly to the elbow. "Leather," says Ascham, "if it be next the skin, will sweat, wax hard, and chafe; therefore scarlet, on account of its softness and thickness, is good to sew within a glove."

In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the finest woollen cloth imported into England was that mentioned by Ascham. We should at present call it superfine; but our native looms were then unequal to its manufacture.

The same writer puzzled his commentators, by directing that the glove should have a "purse," to hold some waxed cloth for polishing the bow. An old French work of rural sports advises the archer to carry a file, or small whetstone, there also, for sharpening his arrows, when engaged in the chase. Surely, says a modern author[22], very gravely, a bowman of the present day would never think of putting these things in his shooting glove.

At the present day he could not; but the long leathern cuff, anciently worn almost to the elbow, was a receptacle for these little items. According to my motto, the archer appears to have sometimes carried even his game there. The frontispiece to an early edition of "An Ayme for the Finsburie Archers," represents a bowman equipped with a gauntlet in the manner here described.[23]

The contrast between the prices of the foregoing articles- two centuries ago and those common at the present day is so well illustrated by the following document, that I am sure the reader will be pleased with its insertion: [24]--

10th Aug. 1627. s. d.
Item. Given away at the Tower 14 6
To see the Iyons 2 0
For the shooting-gloves 2 6
For a Turkey bowstringe [25] 1 0
Paid for feathering an arrowe 0 2
For mending an arrowe 0 0
For heading arrowes 0 3
For six bowstringes 0 8
For a bracer 0 6
For seven butt shots 3 6
To Ed. Terry for five prick shots 4 4
To the: bowyer for bow cases 4 8
Given him for coming down 2 0
Paid to Trustrum the bowyer 6 8
Paid for the bow-cases 2 6
For marks for the arrowes 2 6
Paid for arrowes 12 6
Paid for velvet for bow handles 3 0
A quiver 11 0
Paid to Dennis for twelve bow strings 1 6
Paid to Trustrum for mending of bowes 5 6
For two bow-cases for Master Richard and Master John 10 0
For two shooting gloves and bracers 3 6
For a quiver and 12 arrowes 7 0

OF THE BOWSTRING.

The Ancient and Worshipful Company of Stringers still sur- vive. They possess a hall somewhere in the city of London, although their vocation has long ceased. I believe few bowstrings are now made in England, the great mart being Flanders, where both materials and workmanship arc excellent. In selecting them, see that the eye is large and thick; inferior strings being always weak at that part, and therefore liable to break themselves and your bow. When thinner at the centre than elsewhere, they are worthless also, because the whole strain of the bow acts on that part; though a bowstring equally slender throughout, the noose excepted, proves good and far casting. Choose such as feel hard, and are of a very dark brownish-gray colour.

The sinews of deer, cord made from the silk grass of Guiana, a thong of undressed hide, and even a strip from the outside of the bamboo, are severally used by various uncivilised people. The ancients say their archers had leathern thongs for the same purpose:--

Greek text
He drew the arrow by the leathern string.

The Roman Sagittarii seem to have preferred the sinews of a horse:--

Reciproca tenders nervo equino, concita tela, &c.

Drawing the arrow with a horse's nerve,
They reciprocally spring forwards

Every one of you, my boys, has read of those heroic Carthaginian ladies, who, during their husbands' and lovers' struggle for independence, actually cut off their beautiful long hair, and devoted it to stringing up the catapultæ! I According to Lady Mary Wortley Montague, the fair dames of some place she visited in Austria were at one time not a whit inferior in patriotism to these heroines of the ancient world. The lasses in question are remarkable for exceedingly beautiful hair, at all times their greatest embellishment; and once, like that of Sam_ son, the strength and safeguard of the land. Historians relate --in whose reign, I believe, is rather dubious--that the city, during a long siege by the Saracens, was ill provided with provisions; but a total want of the materials for making bowstrings appeared almost as likely to cause a surrender. In this dilemma, a patriotic beauty stepped forth and proposed that the whole of the women should devote their glossy tresses to the bowmen, a proposition which was adopted with enthusiasm.

"The hair of our ladies," observes one of their quaint poets, "is still employed in the same office; but now it discharges no other shafts but those of Cupid, and the only chords it forms are chords of love."

I remember De Vega tells a story of an Indian cacique, who, being defeated in a great battle, and seeing himself surrounded by heaps of his fallen countrymen, and all hopes of escape cut off, resorted to a very characteristic expedient for terminating his existence and his despair. After the battle of Mauvilla, this Indian alone remained in the town, and, the fury of the combatants having subsided, he became conscious of his danger, and hurried to the walls, with the design of escaping into the forest; but, espying the Spanish cavalry and infantry scattered far and near over the plain, all hope forsook him. He then loosed the string from his bow; and having tied one end to the branch of a tree, and the other around his neck, leaped desperately from the wall, and was strangled. Some soldiers who hastened to his assistance found him already dead. Such is the invincible courage of a Floridan warrior.

To rush upon an archer and sever his bowstring by the stroke of a sword, or otherwise, seems to have been a common expedient in ancient battles, either to place an enemy hors du combat, or check the impetuous velour of a brave companion in arms. From numerous instances which are scattered throughout early writers, I shall content myself with selecting the two following:-- "Eltchi Behader eut son cheval tué sous lui, et cependant combattoit toujours avec un extrême valeur, son arc a la main. Timour, qui vouloit partager la gloire, et manager un si brave homme, lui arrachoit ['arc, et en rompit la corde, de peur qui son intrépidité le fist périr."[26]

"I seized hold of a firebrand," says George Hubbard, when describing an attack upon an Indian fort, in his History of the Troubles of New England, "at which time an Indian, drawing an arrow, would have killed me, had not one Davis, my sergeant, rushed forwards and cut the bowstring with his courtlace."[27]

OF THE ARCHER'S MARKS

    Mistress Openworke. Did'st ever see an archer, as thou walk'st by Bunhill, look asquint while he drew his bow?
   Mistress Gallipot . Yes; and when his arrows flew towards Islington, his eyes went clean towards Pimlico --Roaring Girl

How ugly is a bald pate! It looks like a face wanting a nose, or like ground eaten tare by the arrows Or archers; whereas a head all hid in hair gives ever to a most wicked face a sweet proportion-- Gul Decker's Horn Book, Dr. Nott's edit.

The second shot had the wight yeoman,
     He shot within the garland;
But Robin he shot far better than he
    For he crave the good white wande.
Guy of Gisborne.

THE ancient public butts, observes Dr. Nott[28], were in general so thronged with archers, particularly at holiday times, that they raked up the surrounding turf by the very arrows that missed, in such a manner as never to suffer the grass to grow there.

The continual trampling of feet as the bowmen circulated about the marks also contributed to destroy the verdure. In the vicinity of large and populous towns, the concourse must have been prodigious, and for this reason each archer used but a single arrow. Besides the impossibility of getting a second shot amidst so much confusion, he found it necessary to hurry away to the opposite butt, in order to catch up his shaft, before it was trodden under foot.

Peers and churchmen were privileged by law, but no other persons, aliens excepted, could absent themselves from these public exercise grounds without incurring what was shell considered a serious penalty. Thither the lordly baron sent his vassals, alla thither came the independent franklyn, the wealthy yeoman' the rude peasant, and the unwashed aartizan. Distinction of rank was for the time lost sight of, and adroitness alone gave a title to superiority.[29]

In 1570, Catharine Stanton bequeathed a piece of ground at Andover called "Common Acre," for the recreation of its inhabitants. A lease of this acre, for twenty one years, was granted to William Gold, on condition that he should keep a pair of butts for men to shoot at, and permit all persons to take their pastime there. Also, in 1603, Robert Aubie devised one rood of land for providing butts for the exercise of archery in his native place Indeed every town' small and great, had one or more pairs: and changed as may be the aspect of the ground where they once stood, their names in many instances survive unaltered. Thus, we have Newington Butts in London; St. Augustine's Butts at Bristol; and many closes of pasture land in the vicinity of country towns still retain the appellation of "butt fields." In the parish accounts of Faversham, shore is an entry for a new pair then recently erected in the parsonage mead near the church.[30]

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