Juvenile Bowmen (continued)
Part 6 of 7
What the expense was about the time of Queen Elizabeth, will be seen by the following extract from some MS. accounts by the churchwardens of Eltham:--
The moderns have not departed from the old fashion, except that our butts, like those who use them, are rather more precise. Earth taken from a heath, common, or turbary, is pre- ferred, because its fibres render it more tough and adhesive than meadow turf. Butts are wedge-shaped, and taper somewhat towards the summit. Crown clods, that is to say, three pieces of sod rudely cut into the form of an urn, give a finish to the modern butt, and a piece of white pasteboard generally forms the mark. They are arranged in sets, at four, eight, twelve, and sixteen roods, in this manner: one hundred and twenty yards being measured, a butt ten feet broad, eighteen inches wide at the top, and about six feet in height, is erected at the two extremities. Thirty yards distant from one of these, and a little to the right hand, they place a second; sixty yards to the left, a third; and ninety to the right, a fourth; which forms a complete set, no one of which impedes the view of the others.
The Cheshire and Lancashire mode of shooting the "paper game" at butts is this:--
Seldom more than three pair of arrows arc allowed on each side, which do not reckon except when within the inches; that is, when they pierce a square paper mark of the following proportions. The weight of the arrows used at each distance is also added.
Seven the game. No lurch.
The archers usually draw lots to determine the order in which they shall shoot. Each maintains his original place during the contest, without reference to the position of their arrows. The diminutive size of the clout renders a marker necessary, at the twelve and sixteen rood length. Like the person who attends, for a similar purpose, during Swiss rifle matches, he stands near the butt, holding in his hand a white wand, which is placed, for a few moments, near each arrow. The signs made use of also much resemble those of his Alpine brother.
For the best arrow, the wand is thrice shaken above his head; second ditto, the same towards the ground. When the paper is pricked, he uncovers and bows; for the outer circle, once; the white, twice; the pin, thrice. For over. arrows, the wand moves briskly upwards; for wide arrows, horizontally; for short arrows, downwards.
Such appears to have been the usage of centuries. "A school of cross-bowmen", engaged at their exercise in a beautiful green alley, with butts at either end, figures as the illumination of an old French MS. dated 1450, at present in the King's library. A marker attends, and is represented making one of the signs specified above. Two centuries ago, they merely fixed a very diminutive blanc in the centre of the butt by a wooden peg, from which the marker measured to tile arrow, before giving his signal. We have this custom plainly alluded to in the following rather ludicrous paragraph:-- "Upon a time, being in the king's pavilion, who was desirous of par_ taking some novelty, there instantly appeared upon the table a pair of butts and whites to shoot at, where suddenly came in six dapper pert fellows like archers, in stature not above a foot high, and all other members accordingly proportioned. Their bows were of the side bones of an overgrown pike; their strings of a small sleevy silk, not bigger than the thread of a cobweb; their arrows less than picktooths, feathered with the wings of small flies, and headed with the points of fine Spanish needles. These gallants made a show as if they were to shoot a match, three to three, and roundly they went about it. In the middle of the game, there was a shot that rested doubtful, which, as it appeared, the gamesters could not well decide. Then Merlin called one of the servants, who had a somewhat big nose, and bade him measure to the mark, and give it to the best. To which, when he stooped and inclined his face, the better to umpire the matter, one of the pigmy archers that had an arrow to shoot delivered it from his bow, and pierced him quite through the nose, at which he started, and the king heartily laughed; for there was no room to be seen, the butts and the archers having together disappeared." Hitting the white was considered the feat of a very adroit archer; but to split the peg which fastened it to the butt, ranked as the ne plus ultra of his skill.
----Hold out, knight ! --
I'll cleave the black pin in the middle of the white.
No Wit like a Woman's
Give me town wits that deliver jests clean from the how; that whistle through the air, and cleave the pin at twelve score.--Lady of Pleasure.
The ancient marker had also certain terms to express the flight of arrows which entirely missed the butt. When they flew over he cried "gone." "Short" is sufficiently expressive; "wide," too much on either hand, right or left. In their fondness for archers' phraseology, the old writers applied these words in a figurative sense, to express failure of any kind.
Eschewing short, and gone, and on either side,--wide.
Giving or crying aim, an obscure phrase, rendered still more obscure by Ascham's interpretation, and which greatly puzzled Roberts, merely alludes to the marker's office. An old dramatist thus unlooses the Gordian knot of it:--
The silver game shall be yours; we'll stand by, and give aim, and halloo, if you hit the clout."-- Green's Tu Quoque.
Money was always staked during the archery matches of our ancestors. At times, the wager amounted only to a few pence; on other occasions, to half a mark.
Targets are of comparatively modern invention; I can discover no earlier notice of their use, than occurs in the records of the Finsbury archers, A.D. 1671, when they presented their brethren of London and Westminster with one of a novel construction. Not quite a century afterwards, we find them shooting at a square pasteboard covered with cloth, round the centre of which was drawn a circle, and about that circle four concentric rings. A black border ran around the outside.
Our modern target base is a flat circle of straw, manufactured by the beehive makers; painted canvass forms the face or covering, the centre being gilt, and surrounded by circles usually named the red, inner white, black, and outer white while dark green distinguishes its exterior edge, or petticoat. The relative and respective value of these colours shall be decided by the original targets adopted by the Royal London Toxophilites who used them of three different sizes, painted as above.
Gold - - 9 Red - - 7 Inner White - 5 Black - - 3 Outer White - 1
The Cheshire targets differ from those common to other parts of the kingdom; their colours are--
The following may be used as a correct scale for regulating the breadth of the various circles used in painting a target three feet and a half in diameter. Gold, seven inches, the entire surface being of that metal; red and inner white, each three inches and a half; black, one inch and a half; outer white,, which also may be termed the petticoat, one inch broad.
The following colours and value belong to a species of blazon used for the cross-bow in France:--Yellow, 1; white, 2; red, 3; yellow, 4 ; white, 5; red, 6; yellow, 7; white, 8; black, 9: game, 35.
The target varies in size according to its distance from the archer. When of four feet diameter, they are fixed 100 yards in the south, alla 120 in the north of England apart from each other. At eighty yards, the diameter should be three feet; at sixty yards, two feet.
In counting the target, the invariable rule is, that an arrow piercing the edge of the gold must come forth unmarked by the slightest tinge of red, the approximating colour, otherwise it is considered to have been in the red, and will reckon only as such. The same custom prevails in reference to all other circles.
My information on this subject would be still incomplete, were I to omit showing my young archer how the target card is kept during prize-shooting. It enables each party to ascertain exactly the state of the contest at any time of day, and is generally worn suspended to a button-hole of the coat. Each of the compartments being coloured as a duplicate of the target, we mark the hits with a pin attached to the card by a silken thread.
The smallest possible honour arises from hitting the corners without the circles, and the person who does this is presented, by very ancient custom, with a horn spoon, which he must wear in the button-hole of his coat until won from him by the next archer who plants an arrow in the same division of the target.
A stranger merely seeing the trophy won, and unacquainted with the laws of archery. would possibly mistake the honour for a disgrace.