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Home > Books > Book of archery > Section III: Female Archery
Section III
Female Archery
Part 3 of 3

Proud of his silken jesses and embroidered hood, the docile bird sat perched upon his mistress's hawking glove; now pluming his dappled breast; now answering her caresses by mantling wings, and the harmonious chime of his silver bells. The velvet kirtle of antique fashion, the heron's plume waving in her snooded hair, showed nothing inconsistent with female bashfulness. And, when she thus rode forth on ambling barb, schooled to obey the slightest motion of her hand, and encircled by a knot of obsequious cavaliers, far from appearing an outrage on decorum, there was something graceful and becoming in a lady's participation of this noble recreation. But, anon, loud shouts of "heron a la vol!" heron on the wing!" proclaimed the approaching quarry. The falconer, unhooding his fierce gyrfalcons, cast them into the air; and then it is this sport loses all its external gentleness, and becomes distinguished for danger, as, in the last century, it was for cruelty, perhaps beyond every other[34]

Since, then,

--To range the wood,
And follow hawk and hound,

are amusements subversive of that tender sympathy for all created beings, the meanest as well as the noblest, which forms the basis of so many virtues dear to womanhood, it becomes the duty of society to discountenance them. Still, nature having decreed the "healthy body, and the mind at ease," in either sex, shall mainly depend on pure air and active exercise, it was desirable to find some substitute for these robust pursuits equally healthful, and unsullied by their danger and their cruelty.

Eternal honour be the award of that distinguished society of archers who first made the happy discovery. To the good sense and discrimination of "the Woodmen of the Ancient Forest of Arden" are we indebted for the introduction of archery, as a perfectly unexceptionable recreation for ladies. It was fortunate their individual position in society entitled them to dictate the laws fashion; under whose all-powerful influence the bow again made rapid advances in the estimation of the British fair.

The example of the noble and the wealthy had, no doubt, considerable influence on the spread of archery; nevertheless, its own intrinsic excellencies were its chief recommendation. Requiring no excessive corporal exertion, a combination of the most graceful positions of all the bodily exercises, and invariably associated with refined and polished society, the bow appears especially adapted for relieving the sedentary occupations to which women are still far too much devoted. But why seek to justify the practice, when, in our own day, we see the name of Her gracious majesty, alexandrina victoria, queen of the isles, and a nation's hope, inscribed upon the Archer Rolls? That illustrious lady, in imitation of the warrior race of monarchs from whom she springs, has given a proof of real British feeling, by the appointment of a Master of Archery[35] among her household officers.

About sixty years have elapsed since the commencement of this era in the annals of modern archery. Our countrywomen, long rebels in heart, did not neglect so favourable an occasion for emancipating themselves from the ancient tyranny of harpsichord, spinnet, backboard, and embroidery frame, and

In the good greenwode,
Among the like flower,

they wandered, bow and shaft in hand, to seek that health and vivacity the pure breath of nature can alone bestow.

The ladies associated with the Woodmen, were originally limited to their immediate family connections. Soon' however, the admissions became more general; and they complimented the fair members of other societies with freedom of access to their grounds. The prizes distributed by the Foresters of Arden have always been remarkable for splendour and variety; but then the Mordaunts, the Adamses, the Morlands, and the Bagots, of the last, with the Boultbees, the Parkers, the Gresleys, and the Grimeses, of the present age,--those fair victors who have won, and who still "win and wear them," contest their possession with a skill and enthusiasm well worthy of their magnitude.

Among the ladies on whom, at an early period, these archers did themselves the honour to confer the freedom of their society, was the Marchioness of Salisbury. The diploma which conveyed this privilege, and of which I insert a copy, was richly emblazoned' end deposited in a box of heart of oak, made from a tree which grew in the Forest of Arden.

"Riband, garter blue,
with white border
at each end.
Suspended from it
A gold crescent, bugle,
and shaft.
(Signed)
Aylesford, Warden.
In a wreath of oak.

AR
A shaft on a gold
ground.
DEN.
Red riband with black
border at each end.




(Signed) John Dilke,
Master Forester.
Fugitur in Jusso Nostra Sagitta Loco
Striped riband, of pale violet blue.
Wriothesley Digby, Secretary.
To the Most Noble the Marchioness of Salisbury,
PATRONESS;
And all other the members of the society of the
Hertfordshire Archers,
The Woodmen of the ancient Forest of Arden
SEND GREETING:
BE IT KNOWN, that, in token of the great love we bear the Patroness and Members of the said Society, We have given and granted, and by these presents Do give and grant, to each and every of them, the free Use-of all our Butts, Targets? and Marks now erected, or hereafter to be erected, within the Bounds, Purlieus, Privileges, and Assorts of the FOREST OF ARDEN the property of the Woodmen of the said Forest.
"In Witness whereof we have hereunto set our Hands and Common Seal this sixteenth day of November, MDCCLXXXIX.

(Seal) "ARDEN"

The archery fetes at Grove House, Camberwell, the residence of the handsome, witty, and accomplished Mrs. Crespigny[36], still live in the remembrance of many a veteran toxophilite. This lady was an early and enthusiastic advocate for the adoption of the bow as a becoming recreation for her own sex; yet in her ardour to promote a fashionable amusement, she exhibited the same spirit of benevolence which rendered life one lengthened scene of active usefulness.[37] Selecting utile dulci as her motto, she very adroitly made her gay and thoughtless visitants contribute largely to the support of a Sunday school, by levying fines on the unskillful. Her muse too' was frequently put into requisition on these occasions; and many songs written by her, and sung, to vary the pleasures of the entertainments, have survived in manuscript. We have, here, the two concluding stanzas of one of them, intended to be sung by a chorus of gentlemen, in which archery, on the score of humanity, is made to bear the bell from every other rural post.

The huntsman pursues, too, an innocent foe,
And drives the poor suff'rer with shouts to and fro,
That, distracted by fear, and perplex'd in its way,
Made bold by despair, e'en in death stands at bay;
So I think, my good friends, I shall prove what I say,
That the pleasures of archery carry the day.
     Then, sons of the bow,
     'T is meet, era we go,
That, to wish it success, ev'ry glass should o'erflow.

For no devastation here follows our gain;
Our pleasure 's to no one productive of pain.
Though we pierce through the centre and bear off the prize,
The wound never rankles, the victim ne'er dies.
Where humanity points you will sure lead the way,
So the pleasures of archery carry the day.
     Then, sons of the bow,
     'Tis meet, ere we go,
That, to wish it success, ev'ry glass should o'er flow.[38]

Fortunate did the votary of fashion esteem himself who received an invitation ticket to Mrs. Crespigny's archery breakfasts. The company shot "games" as they are termed in archer's language. Eleven was the winning number, and each arrow counted according to its position in the target. Thus, a shot in the gold centre reckoned as 9; in the red, 7; in the inner white, 5; in the black, 3; and in the outer white, 1. The targets lay 100 yards distant. After the gentlemen had shot, they escorted their fair associates within 70 yards, and at that unusual distance the latter drew their bowstrings. Half-crown forfeits were paid by the unsuccessful; and the little orphans of the charity attended in dresses of grass green, the whole forming a very interesting group. Each revolving summer witnesses the revival of many similar bow meetings throughout the sylvan glades of this romantic land. The presence of women is now regarded as indispensable to the perfect enjoyment of these genuine fetes champêtres; for the trim shaft, launched from the hand of some fair toxophilite, faultless in face and figure, inspires us with an enthusiasm which belongs not to the most adroit display of archery in the other sex. It was this sort of gallant admiration that inscribed the following record of a fair victor's achievements upon the walls of the Royal Toxophilite banqueting room.

"October 1st, 1790. A match was shot at Mr. Wyborough's, Branhope Hall, Yorkshire, at one hundred yards? between Miss Littledale, Mr. Gilpin, and Mr. Wyborough, in which Miss Littledale was victorious. During the shooting, which lasted three hours, Miss Littledale hit the gold four times; and, what evinces superior skill, the three last hits made by Miss Littledale were all in the gold."[39]

Appropriate costume--

To sport the gay sash of Toxophilite green--

is indispensable in both sexes; indeed, the verdant livery of the woods should, of course, be the predominant hue throughout;--

We're clad in youthful green, we other colours scorn;--

for I never knew but one exception to the rule: it was the Marquis of Blandford's Society of Bowmen, who wore purple, with white velvet collars; the buttons gold, with a bull's eye pierced in the centre by an arrow, and encircled with this well-conceived motto:--

Je ne suis volage qu'a fixer.
I am volatile only to become the more steady.

In reference to the ladies, I may observe that all such vital matters are arranged by the lady patroness, assisted by a committee of her own sex. On them, also, devolves the weighty responsibility of selecting a characteristic full dress costume where the pleasures of the ball-room succeed those of the target ground.

Although to hazard anything original on the subject of female attire is an act of presumption at which even the boldest of us might justly feel a trembling, I am resolved on omitting nothing essential to the general interest of my book. Three specimens of archery costume are therefore, with diffidence, presented to the fair reader's criticism, certainly distinguished by that simplex mundities[40] which I regard, as well as Horace, as the basis of whatever is elegant in female attire. One of them was proposed to the ladies of the Royal Surrey Archers, by their patroness, as a ball dress, about five and forty years since.

White muslin round gown, with green and buff sash: white chip hat, bound with narrow green riband. Riband of the same colour as the sash encircled the crown, on which were two bows, rising one above the other. A magnificent snow-white ostrich plume waved over this tasteful head-gear, and a sprig of box was so arranged beneath, as to appear just above the wearer's left eyebrow.

The second was worn by the fair members of a very happy, well-conducted, hospitable little band, who, about the year 1792, assembled among those scenes of rare beauty, the Piercefield domain, in the vicinity of Chepstow, and were called, " Bowmen of the Wye " Their dress, then, like the former, consisted of plain white muslin, bound with green satin riband; a green and white sash; small green satin hat, with a white feather tipped with green, and having a motto inscribed on the bandeau.[41]

"Oh, the horrid frights! Is this your simplex mundities?" some fair reader may possibly exclaim Even so, lady; according to my poor judgment. Naithless, chacun a son gout; and the third, perhaps, may be destined to the honour of your patronage. It belongs to the present age, being that of a numerous and distinguished society, who style themselves the Harley Bush Bowmen.

Robe, a judicious arrangement of white and green; white hat and feathers; shoes of grass green. The bow and quiver slung gracefully over their shoulders.

Right glad am I to make my escape from the subject; for in treating it, one feels like a man treading among eggs in a taperless room, or the wretch who, unable to swim, finds the current every moment hurrying him beyond his depth. Once more on terra firma, let us prize, a gold heart, enriched with a bow and shaft set in diamonds, a costly stake, first won by the Marchioness of Salisbury. But a list of the presents distributed, during a series of years, by leading society, will be most satisfactory, since it affords an opportunity of recording the names of many a lovely votaress of the shaft and bow.

Woodmen of the Forest of Arden.

September, 1794. Gold bugle, - Miss Mordaunt.
Gold arrow, - Miss Moland.
September, 1795. Gold bugle, - Miss Boultbee.
Gold arrow, - Miss Croxhall.
September, 1797. Gold bugle, - Mrs. Bree.
Gold arrow, - Hon. Miss Summerfield.
August, 1798. Gold bugle, - Mrs. Col. Pack.
Gold arrow, - Miss Mordaunt.
August, 1799. Gold bugle, - Miss Beresford.
Gold arrow, - Miss Digby.
September, 1800. Gold bugle, - Miss C. Mordaunt
Gold arrow, - Miss Ayre.
August, 1801. Gold bugle, - Mrs. Carter.[42]
Gold arrow, - Miss Bree.
August, 1802. Gold bugle, - Miss Mordaunt.
Gold arrow, - Miss Hartopp.
August, 1804. Gold bugle, - Miss Moland.
Gold arrow, - Mrs. H. Grimes.
September, 1805. Gold bugle,) - Miss More.
Gold arrow,)
September, 1806. Gold bugle, - Miss Boultbee.
Gold arrow, - Miss Sharpe.
August, 1807. Gold bugle, - Miss C. Grimes.
Gold arrow, - Miss Boultbee.
August, 1808. Gold bugle, - Miss Greenway.
Gold arrow, - Miss Bourgeois.
August, 1811. Gold bugle,) - Miss Greenway.
Gold arrow,)
August, 1812. Gold bugle,)
Gold arrow,) - Miss Birch.
August, 1816. Gold bugle, - Mrs. Tongue.
Gold arrow, - Miss Knightly.
August, 1818. Gold bugle, - Miss Bradish.
Gold arrow, - Miss Payne.
August, 1832. Gold bracelet, - Miss E. Gresley.
Torquoise gold knot, Miss Isabel Simpson.

The following are the names of some skilful Female Archers of the present day, with the Societies to which they belong.

Archers of the Abbey of Bury St. Edmonds.

Misses Jane Roy and Wilkinson.

Herefordshire Bowmen.

Lady Cornwall, Misses Walley, Jane Salway, -- Miney, Margaret Salway, &c. &c.

Melksham Foresters.

Misses Hale, Merewether, &c. &c.

Selwood Foresters.

Mesdames Medlicot and Plunket; Misses Talbot, Doveton, &c. &c.

West Somerset Archers.

Miss Guerin, &c. &c. &c.

Staffordshire Bowmen.

Honourable Mrs. Beaumont, Misses Child, Broughton, Lefroy, Wheeler, Reddlestone, &c.

Newton Villa Archers.

Mesdames Blake and Powell, Miss Sarah Lawton, &c.

South Saxon Archers.

Conyborough Park.

Ladies Gage and Shiffner; Honourable Mrs. Trevor; Honourable Mrs. Thomas; Misses Wilde, Partington, Irvine, and Syms.

Derbysghire Archers.

July, 1829. Gold medal, - Miss Crumpton.

     2d Prize, - Mrs. Julia Fox.

Carisbrook Archers.

Mrs. Hastings, Miss Glynne, &c. &c.

West Berkshire United Archery Club.

Misses Pearson, Meyrick, Catherine Bulter, &c.

Royal Sherwood Archers.

The bracelet presented by his Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, to be shot for as the first ladies' prize, was originally won by Mrs. Colonel Wildeman.

Lady Bromley, Mesdames Hull and Nixon; Miss Barron, &c. &c.

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