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Home > Books > The British Archer > Anecdotes of Archery
Part I: Anecdotes of Archery
Part 3 of 4

Whilst Edward III, was engaged with his expedition which he made into Scotland, in 1355, his Son the Prince of Wales was playing the same part in France, with a chosen army, amounting to (at most) 12,000 men. He had carried destruction through Langue-doc, and many of the finest provinces; when drawing near Poitiers, he found that King John, with 60,000 horse, and infantry in proportion, had so far surrounded his small force, that his retreat to Bourdeaux was cut off. Willing to save his gallant comrades from almost certain slaughter, he offered to give up his conquests, and not to fight against France for seven years. Nothing however, would be accepted, but his becoming a prisoner; the gallant youth replied, that " England should never have his ransom to pay."

On the morning early of September 19th, 1356, the battle of Poitiers began. The cool intrepid valour of the English, opposed to the impetuous, and ill regulated ardour of their enemies, exhibited precisely a second Crecy. At the first onset, the English Archers being judiciously posted in vineyards, and behind hedges, severally galled the assailants, who, consisting chiefly of dismounted cavalry, stumbled at every step, and became an easy mark for the hostile shafts. The slaughter was immense, and in a very short time, the defeat of the van-guard of the French, was completed. Those who took care of the Dauphin, frighted at the first appearance of a rout, left the battle that he might be safe ; and the Duke of Orleans with three of the King's Sons and 800 Lances, accompanied their flight. Then the Lord Chandos crying aloud, " the Day is ours," the Prince of Wales attacked the main body of the French, and though King John and his youngest son, by their personal bravery during four hours, supported the dispirited legions, they were at length wearied out, and taken.

Sir John Smith relates, that at this great battle so glorious for the British Arms, " Prince Edward having not in his whole army above 8,000 English and Gascoins (of the which there were 6,000 archers, and 2,000 armed men) overthrew King John, (that valiant Prince,) who, at that battle, was accompanied with a great part of the nobility of France, and of other nations, as princes, dukes, earls, and other great captains, and had in his army above 60,000 horsemen and footmen, of the which there were above 10,000 men at arms, and of horsemen of all sorts above 30,000: where a little before the battle, the Prince, considering the small number that he had to make head and resist the French King with so huge an host, did take a ground of some strength and advantage for the guard of his flanks, and rear of his small army. Placing a great part of his archers in front, in the open place where the French horsemen and footmen were to enter, and give battle, the archers, with their wonderful vollies of arrows, did that day so wound, kill, and mischief both horses and men, that he overthrew King John of France with his whole army, and took him and one of his sons prisoners; and of earls, barons, knights, and esquires, to the number of 1.600, or more: besides that, there were slain, the Duke of Athens, with so many earls, barons, knights, and esquires, that they were numbered to be above 700, and so many prisoners of all sorts taken, that they far exceeded the number of the Prince's army."

Grafton says, "that at this battle of Poitiers, there were divers English Archers that had four, five, or six prisoners." Froissart particularly notices the regularity of the discharges of the English arrows, at this same battle, the effects of which he says were dreadful.

Not only large, but even very inconsiderable bodies of archers, have done great service in the field. Leland, in his "Collectanea" vol. 1, has mentioned several feats performed by a few English archers in France, in the time of Edward III,—Ascham, notices an action performed by Sir William Walgrave, and Sir George Somerset, with only sixteen English archers against a large body of the enemy, who were entirely routed by them. Barnes, among others, notices an action, which, in its effect, may well be ranked among the Wonders of Archery. This was the battle fought near Mauron, between Rennes and Plomerel, (15th August 1352.) between the English and French; the former, who were only 300 men at arms, and 600 archers, were led by Sir Walter Bentley and Sir Robert Knowles The army of the French and Bretons, being four times as great as that of the English, was under the conduct of Lord Guy de Nesle, Marshal of France, and other great officers; and was so ordered, that having a steep mountain behind at the back, the French and Bretons might be enforced to stand to it resolutely, by despairing to fly. This array was so dreadful, that it dismayed the hearts of several Englishmen, and they began to fly, and thirty of the archers actually deserted. But by the courage, good conduct, and resolution of Sir Walter Bentley, the English, after a doubtful and bloody fight, obtained a famous victory.

The battle of Naveretta in Spain, fought by the Prince of Wales in the reign of his Father Edward III, testifies " the wonderful effect of archers, where there were above 100,000 Spaniards, Frenchmen, Portuguese, Genoese, cross-bow men, and Moors, both horse-men and footmen, overthrown in that batlle."

Walsingham, the historian gives a lively description of the effects produced by the bow, at the battle of Homildon hill, against the Scots, during the reign of Henry IV. in 1402, he says ; "Thus the glory of the victory was entirely owing to the archers, who delivered their arrows, so briskly, so warmly, and so effectually, that they battered and bored the helmets, they split the swords, they shivered the lances, pierced through and through the men at arms, notwithstanding the armour with which they were clad, and even the best tempered mail, proved but a weak defence against the execution they did."— " The panoply worn by the Earl Douglas, who led the Scots in this battle, was of remarkable temper,[47] and that not only his armour, but that of his men at arms, had been three years in making, yet the English arrows rent it with little adoe;" and Douglas himself received five wounds.[48] Andrews writes, (speaking of this engagement)

"Earl Douglas who led the Scots, enraged at the havoc made by the English archers, and trusting to the goodness of his armour, rushed forward, accompanied by eighty men of rank who were also clad in steel, to disperse that formidable corps, but was wounded in five places, and made a prisoner. Those eighty lords, knights, and gentlemen who accompanied the earl, soon had reason to repent their rashness, being "received by showers of arrows, which were discharged with so much force and effect, that no part of their armour could repel them."—These brave companions of Earl Douglas, were either killed or made prisoners with their leader.[49]

There is a recorded fact of a French soldier, who, in ridicule of the English archers, turned a little out of the ranks in an engagement between the two contending powers in Flanders, during the reign of Henry IV. (in 1402) and turning up his bare-breech, cried out, "Shoote Englishe," almost in the instant, an arrow from an English bow, was firmly fixed in the Seat of Honor, and before the Frenchman could recover himself from the unexpected blow, another shaft penetrated his body, and struck him to the earth.[50]

The battle of Shrewsbury which was fought in 1403, has been esteemed as one of the most desperate that England has ever seen. The archers on both sides, did terrible execution.—Henry IV. and the Prince of Wales on one side, and Earl Douglas with Henry, called Hotspur, son of the Earl of Northumberland, who agitated his rebellious movement,[51] on the other, performed prodigies of valour.

At length, Hotspur being slain, and Douglas taken, Henry remained master of the field. Besides the vast slaughter amongst the private soldiers, not fewer than 2,291 gentlemen, on both sides, fell in this dreadful conflict, 200 of whom were natives of Cheshire.

Of all the actions that have been recorded, and handed down to us on the page of history, none are more highly calculated to create some touches of that respect and veneration for the long-bow, than the great and glorious Battle of Agincourt.

In the month of August 1415, Henry V left Southampton with an army of about 30,000 regular troops,—with which he besieged and took Harfleur, in six weeks after his landing on the coast of France.—An epidemic disease had greatly reduced the English forces, and Henry's army was also much lessened by a strong garrison left in Harfleur, and by many ships full of invalids who returned to England. The French had raised an army of at least 100,000 men, to oppose the invaders of their country.—The English army, after suffering in the manner just described, did not even according to the accounts of the French Historians, consist of more than from 20 to 25,000, but according to our best records, their numbers did not amount to more than 10,731 on the eve of the battle. Early on the morning of the 25th October, 1415, (the day appointed by the French, three days before the action,)[52] the English and French armies were ranged in order of battle, each in three lines, with bodies of cavalry on each wing. The Constable D'Albert[53] who commanded the French, fell in the snare that was laid for him, by drawing up his Army between two woods. This deprived him of the advantage he should have derived, from the prodigious superiority of numbers. His lines were formed unnecessarily deep, and his troops, particularly his cavalry, were so closely pressed together, that they could hardly move or use their Arms. The first line of the French army consisting of about 80.000 men at arms on foot, with 4,000 archers, and 500 men at arms mounted on each wing, was commanded by the Constable D' Albert, the Dukes of Orleans. Bourbon and many other nobles. The second line was under the command of the Dukes of Alençon, Brabant, &c, and the third was directed by the Earls of Marche, Damartine, Fauconberg, &c. Henry employed various arts to supply his defect of numbers. He placed 200 of his best archers in ambush, in a low meadow, on the flank of the first line of the French. His own first line consisted wholly of Archers, four in file, each of whom, besides his bow and arrows, had a battle-axe, a sword, and a stake pointed with iron at both ends, which he fixed before him in the ground, the point inclining outwards, to protect him from cavalry. This was a new invention, and had a most happy effect. That he might not be encumbered, Henry dismissed his prisoners on their parole, to surrender themselves at Calais, if he obtained the victory, and lodged his baggage in the village of Agincourt in his rear. The command of the first line of the English army was, at his earnest request, committed to Edward, Duke of York, assisted by the Lords Beaumont, Willoughhy and Fanhope. The second, was conducted by the King, with his youngest Brother, Humphry, Duke of Gloucester, the Earls of Oxford, Marshall, and Suffolk ; and the third line was led by the Duke of Exeter, the King's Uncle. The lines being formed, the King in shining armour, with a crown of gold, adorned with precious stones on his helmet, and mounted on a fine white horse, rode along them. He addressed each corps with a cheerful countenance, and animating speeches, inflaming their resentment against the enemy, by telling them, that they had determined to cut off three fingers of the right hand of every prisoner, and he roused their love of honor by declaring, that every soldier in his array who behaved well, should thenceforth be deemed a gentleman and be entitled to wear coat-armour. When the two armies were drawn up in this manner, they stood a considerable time gazing at each other in solemn silence. The King dreading that the French would discover the danger of their situation, and decline a battle, commanded the charge to be sounded about 10 o'clock in the forenoon. At that instant, the first line of the English, kneeled down, and kissed the ground, then starting up, discharged a flight of arrows, which did most dreadful execution amongst the crowded ranks of the Enemy.[54]

"Upon the Horses as in chase they fly,
Arrows so thick, in such abundance light,
That their broad buttocks, men like butts might see,
Whereat for pastime, bowmen shooting be."

The well directed, and repeated vollies of arrows from the first line, under the Duke of York, have been particularly compared to " the fall of a hail or snow storm." The confusion caused by the English archers among the enemy's horse was great, and almost instantaneous. The horses sides have been noticed as being "larded with Arrows." The archers being together in such great numbers, with their vollies of arrows, "darken'd the air and dimm'd the light of the Sun"![55] and while the French army rushed on the English with the frantic valour of an Indian intoxicated with opium, the gallant, but calm demeanor of Henry, which had inspired his soldiers with almost more than human courage did, with the steady and successive discharges of arrows, effectually check the superficial torrent of the French fury. When the first line of the English, (with those in ambush) had expended their arrows, they advanced with swords and battle-axes, and completed the ruin of the opposing French cavalry.[56]

The first French line, was by these means defeated, and its leaders were either killed or taken prisoners. The second line commanded by the Duke D'Alençon, who had made a vow to kill, or take the King of England or perish in the attempt, now advanced to the charge, and was encountered by the second line of the English conducted by the king. The conflict was more close and furious than the former, the Duke of Gloucester, wounded and unhorsed, was protected by his royal brother, till he was carried off the field. The Duke D'Alençon forced his way to the king, and assaulted him with great fury, but Henry brought him to the ground, where he was soon despatched. Discouraged by this disaster, the second line of the French army, made no more resistance, and the third fled, without striking a blow; yielding a complete and glorious victory to the English, after a violent struggle of three hours duration. The success of the fight, was greatly owing to our brave and irresistible archers, who galled the enemy with such "storms of arrows," that their multitudes at length gave way in every direction. Not fewer than 14,000 Prisoners were taken, a number that far exceeded the whole of the English Army.[57]

There is a muster-roll of the Army of Henry V, preserved amongst Rymer's unprinted collection in the British Museum. The Earl of Cambridge appears in it, with a personal retinue, of 2 knights, 57 esquires, and 160 horse archers. The Duke of Clarence brought in his retinue, 1 earl, 2 bannerets, 14 knights, 222 esquires, and 720 horse archers. The roll includes 2536, men at arms, 4128 horse archers, 38 arblesters,[58] 120 miners, 25 master gunners, 50 servitor gunners, a stuffer of Bacinets,[59] 12 armourers, 3 kings of arms, a Mr. Nicholas Colnet, a physician, who brought 3 archers, 20 surgeons, an immense retinue of labourers, artisans, fletchers, bowyers, wheel-wrights, chaplains, and minstrels,—Foot archers are not enumerated, but the total number of effective soldiers, amounted to 10,731. these were the men who gained the field at agincourt!

"In Henry VI. time," says Sir John Smith[60] "John Lord Bellay, being accompanied with 200 Lances at the least, met by chance with an English Captain, called Berry, who had to the number of 80 archers; who perceiving the Frenchmen, presently reduced his men into an Hearse, turning their backs to a hedge, that the lances might only charge them in front; and so giving their vollies of arrows at the French lances charging, did so wound and kill men and horses, that they overthrew them, slew many, and took divers of them prisoners." "And within a while after," continues Sir J. Smith, "a French Captain, Guion de Coing, accompanied by 120 lances, went out to seek an adventure with the English, and was met by Sir William Olde, with 16 or 20 archers on horseback [61] who dismounted, and formed in a broad way, where the lances could not charge them but in front: and the French charging them, the vollies of arrows of those few archers, wrought such notable effect against the French horsemen, that they broke and overthrew them in such sort, that there were divers of the French slain, and many taken prisoners."

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