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Home > Books > The British Archer > Anecdotes of Archery
Part I: Anecdotes of Archery
Part 2 of 4

Charton, in his history of Whitby Abbey, records, that Robin Hood " when closely pursued by the civil or military power, found it necessary to leave his usual haunts, and retreating across the moors that surrounded Whitby, came to the Sea Coast, where he always had in readiness, some small fishing vessels; and in these putting off to sea, he looked upon himself quite secure, and held the whole power sent against him at defiance. The chief place of his resort at these times, and where his boats were generally laid up, was about six miles from Whitby, and is still called ' Robin Hood's Bay.'"

Several stratagems were used to apprehend this renowned person, but in vain. Force he often repelled by force, nor was he less artful than his enemies. At length, being closely pursued, after encountering many vicissitudes, and finding many of his followers slain, and the rest dispersed, he took refuge in the Priory of Kirk-lees about twelve miles from Leeds in Yorkshire, the Prioress being nearly related to him. According to Hargrove, "Old age, disappointment, and fatigue, brought on disease. A monk was called in to open a vein, who either through ignorance or design, performed the operation so ill, that the bleeding could not be stopped. Feeling that his dissolution was approaching, and desirous of pointing out the place where his remains should be deposited, he took his bow and discharged two arrows, the first fell in the river Calder, the second falling in the Park, marked the spot for his future Sepulture."[26]

"But give me my bent bow in my hand,
And a broad arrow I'll let flee ;
And where this arrow is taken up,
There shall my grave digg'd be."[27]

Robin Hood died on the 24th December, 1247, aged (about) 87. The following Epitaph was preserved by Dr. Gale, Dean of York, and inserted from his papers by Mr. Thoresby in his Ducat Leod and is as follows :

HEAR UNDENEAD DIS LATIL STEAN
LAIZ ROBERT EARL OF HUNTINDON,
NEA ARCIR VER AZ HIE SA GEVD
AN PIPL KAVLD IM ROBIN HEVD.
SICK VTLAWZ AZ HI AN IZ MEN
VIL ENGLAND N1VR SI AGEN
Obit 24kal. Dekembris, 1247.

In a small grove part of the cemetery formerly belonging to this priory, is a large flat grave Stone, on which is carved, according to Hargrove, the figure of a cross of Calvary, extending the whole length of the stone, and round the margin is inscribed in monastic characters:

DOVCE: IHV: DE: NAZARETH: DONNE:
MERCY: ELIZABEH: DE. STANTON:
PRIORES: DE: CETTE MAISON. [28]

The Lady whose memory is here recorded, is said to have been related to Robin Hood, and under whose protection he took refuge some time before his death. These being the only monuments remaining at the place, make it at least probable, that they have been preserved on account of the supposed affinity of the persons over whose remains they were erected.

In the church-yard of Hathersage, a village in Derbyshire, were deposited, as tradition informs us, the remains of John Little, the servant and favourite companion of Robin Hood.—"The Grave is distinguished by a large stone placed at the head, and another at the feet, on each of which are yet some remains of the letters I. L. " (Hargrove)

Mr. Barrington remarks, "There is not on record, any particular cognizance of Military Archery from the days of Richard I; till the reign of Edward HI, being an era of about a century and a half, when, as it appears, in the 15th year of his reign, that King issued orders for providing bows for the war against France : " and this writer says, " that the use of Archery, as expressly applied to the Cross or Long-bow, is not mentioned by our Chroniclers, till the death of Richard I, who was killed by a Cross-bow."[29]

A very little attention however to our best historical writers, will soon prove these statements of Mr. Barrington to be ridiculously erroneous !

Archers are mentioned in the accounts of the civil contests between Stephen and Matilda, and in the reign of Henry II.[30] according to Lord Littleton,[31] the English Infantry "consisted of Archers and Slingers," and we find this Prince frequently triumphing, by the power of his Archery !

We also read that at the battle of Cuton Moor, in Yorkshire, 22nd of August, 1138, between Stephen and David, King of Scotland, both armies had their archers, and that those of Stephen " Terribly galled the Galwegians," and obliged them to quit their post, after they had compelled his men at arms[32] to give way."

Giraldus[33] has justly celebrated the Welsh as most expert archers, and who vied with the English in their exploits with the Long-bow. The following feats of archery are related by this writer.

During a siege in Wales, " it happened that two soldiers running in haste towards a tower, situated at a little distance from them, were attacked with a number of arrows from the Welsh, which being shot with prodigious violence, some penetrated through the oak doors of a portal although the breadth of four fingers in thickness. The heads of these arrows were afterwards driven out and preserved, in order to continue the remembrance of such extraordinary force in shooting with the bow.[34]

"It happened also in a battle at the time of William de Breusa, (as he himself relates,) that a Welshman having shot his arrow at a horse-soldier of his, who was clad in armour, and had his leather coat under it, the arrow, besides piercing the man through the hip, struck also through the saddle and mortally wounded the horse on which he sat."

"Another Welsh Soldier having shot an arrow at one of his horsemen, who was also covered with strong armour, the shaft penetrated through his hip, and fixed in his saddle:—but what is most remarkable, is, that as the horseman was in the act of turning round, he received another arrow in the other hip, which also passing through into the Saddle, firmly fixed the rider on both sides."

In the year 1298, Edward I. gained the great battle at Falkirk, over the Scots. Many thousands of the Scotch army, commanded by the Patriot Wallace, were left dead in the field.—This decisive victory was obtained chiefly by the power of the English archers.

Sir John Smith, in his discourse on Weapons, remarks on the exploits which were achieved by the archers under Richard I. in the Holy Land, " by overthrowing (principally by the wonderful effect of his archers) the brave Saladin and his whole army."

Mr. Gibbon notices the singular dread with which the English archers filled their enemies in the Crusades, and says, "that at one time, Richard, with seventeen knights and three hundred archers, sustained the charge of the whole Turkish and Saracen army."[35]

Speed records a feat of archery performed in the Holy Land, chiefly by means of an arrow.—" Certainly, he remarks, Hugo de Neville, one of Richard's special familiars, is recorded to have slain a Lion in the Holy Land, driving first an arrow into his breast, and then running him through with his sword."

The Scotch forces, under Archibald Douglas, in 1333[36] with most of the Scottish nobility, attacked the English at Halidown Hill, near Berwick, Edward III, here gained a most signal victory, in which his archers, as usual, had the greatest share. Douglas was slain, almost almost all his Nobles were taken or killed, and his Army was utterly destroyed, with hardly any loss on the side of Edward."[37]

A very few years after the above mentioned battle, at Halidown Hill, a great victory gave lustre to the arms of England, at sea.[38] "Four hundred stout ships with 40,000 men on board, were fitted out by Philip, to prevent Edward III from landing at Sluys. The English King had but 240 ships, but his own personal bravery, and the expertness of his seamen, carried the day; and 200 French vessels with 30,000 of their crews, afforded a glorious trophy of his success.

The extraordinary brilliancy of this victory, was attributed to the effect of the archers. Barnes says, speaking of the sea engagement before Sluys, "the English arrows fell so thick among the French, and did so sting, torment, and fright them, that many men, rather than endure them, leaped desperately into the sea."

A confirmation of this fact is recorded by Andrews.[39] "When the French courtiers did not venture to inform Philip of his defeat, a Buffoon undertook it! 'Cowardly, dastardly Englishmen,' cried he: 'how so?' said Philip. 'Because, they did not dare leap into the sea, as our brave men have done,' rejoined the Buffoon."

In the first part of this book it is stated, that the bow gained a hieroglyphical figure amongst the ancients, and was represented "as a king, and the arrow as an ambassador." Soon after the battle before Sluys, Philip of France refused a single combat with Edward of England. On this occasion, the following distich was written, and soon came into Edward's possession. The king was so pleased with it, that he swore "by St. George, that the verses were valiant verses," and he caused them to be shot from a Bow, into the town where the French king kept his residence:—

"Si valeas, venias Valois! depelle timorem!
Non lateas; pateas; moveas. Ostende vigorem."

IMITATED.

" Valois, be valiant! vile fear can't avail thee,
Hide not, avoid not, let not vigour fail thee!"

thus exemplifying the apparent prophetic allusion.

In the revolution which delivered the Swiss Cantons from the Germanic yoke, at the beginning of the fourteenth Century, the celebrated William Tell was the principal instrument. Grisler, the Austrian governor, exercised the most glaring acts of tyranny and oppression. Amongst others, he ordered his hat to be placed on the top of a pole, and commanded every one to pay the same respect to it in his absence, as to his person when present. Tell, refusing this base submission, was brought before the tyrant, who ordered him to shoot an apple from off the head of his son, the failure of which, was to have been the forfeit of his life. The boy was placed at 150 paces from his father. The latter drawing his bow with a trembling hand, let fly the arrow, and, fortunately, carried away the apple, amidst the shouts of thousands of spectators.

Grisler, perceiving that Tell had another arrow, partly concealed, asked him "for what purpose it was intended, as he was only to have had one shot?" to which he boldly replied, " To have shot thee, Tyrant, to the heart, if I had had the misfortune to kill my son."

So enraged was Grisler, that he ordered him to be bound, and carried prisoner to a place on the lake of Lucern. Tell however, escaped, and his fellow citizens, animated by his fortitude and patriotism, flew to arms, attacked and vanquished Grisler, who fell by an arrow from the hand of Tell. The consequence was, that the association for the Independency, took place on the instant.

The year 1346 will ever be remarkable in the annals of England. The "Great English Bow,"[40] now reigned in successive triumph over the foes of this Country, and our arrow seemed to be fulfilling its destiny, as the ready and irresistible winged thunderbolt of the land. Edward III, with a great inferiority of numbers, was attacked at Crecy, by the forces under Philip, consisting of at least 100,000 men, the Flower of the French forces. His well chosen position, his own coolness, and the steady valour of his men, aided by the despair of safety by any other means than their own exertions, gained him the most glorious victory which had ever yet been won[41]. A strong body of Genoese cross-bow men, who marched in Philip's front, finding themselves much fatigued, had begged a short space to repose, and to dry the strings of their cross-bows. Philip refused this, and ordered them to advance. They marched forward, leaped thrice, and shouted at each leap, discharging their Cross-bows at the third, but ineffectually, for the shower that had fallen, had so wetted their strings, that each shaft fell short, while the arrows of the English, whose long bows had been covered with cases, each took effect.[42] This disheartened the Genoese, and when they fled, no passage was allowed to the fugitives through the French ranks, that they might form in the rear of the army, but they were slain without mercy by the hands of Noblemen on Horseback, as enemies. The French Nobility having wearied themselves with slaughtering the runaways, rushed in confusion to attack the English.—They fell by hundreds under the English arrows.

Froissart, speaking of the battle of Crecy, says, "when the Genoese felt the arrows persyng thro' heeds, armes, and brestes; many of them cast downe their Cross-bowes, and dyd cutte their strynges and retourned discomfitted." The English Archers, according to custom stood in the form of an hearse about 200 in front, and 40 in depth,[43] when they were first charged by the infuriated French Nobles : and with this good order[44] "the wonderful effect of our archery and arrows was such, that flying in the air as thick as snow, with a terrible noise, much like a tempestuous wind preceding a tempest, they did leave no disarmed place, of horse or man, unstricken and not wounded."

It appears that the King of Bohemia, 11 other Princes, 80 Bannerets, 1,200 Knights, 1,500 of the Noblesse, 4,000 men at arms, and 30,000 private soldiers, all of the French army, were left on the field of battle ; whereas, strange as it may appear, (and according to Andrews) three Knights, one Esquire, and a very few Soldiers, were all the loss on the English side.[45] And further, from Sir J. Smith, we find "that the wonderful effect and terror of shot of arrows was on that day such, as neither the French King with his men at arms, nor any other of his great Captains with their brave and well armed bands of horsemen, of divers nations, were able to enter and break the archers, who with their vollies of arrows, did break both horsemen and footmen; wounding and killing both horses and men, in such sort, that the French King himself being in great peril, had his horse with the shot of arrows slain under him." Edward had not forces enough to take any other advantage of this wonderful victory, than that of besieging Calais ; and it was before the walls of that place, that his ears were gladdened with the account of the battle fought between his troops, under the happy auspices of his Queen Philippa, and the Scots, who were utterly defeated, and their King, David Bruce, made a prisoner. At this famous battle of Durham, " Sir David Graham, a valiant Baron, with a wing of 500 horse, well appointed, gave a full charge upon the left flank of the English Archers, but was received with such a shower of arrows, that after two or three attempts in vain, having lost many of his men, he was fain to fly back to the main batlle, upon the spur, in great danger of being taken.[46]"

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