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Part III: The art and practice of archery
Part 2 of 6


"Steles," or arrows without feathers, or heads, are made of several sorts of wood. The wood generally selected for the sheaf, or war arrow, was most probably ash. Ascham says, speaking of the war arrows, "it were better to make them of good ashe and not of aspe, for of all other woodes that ever I proved, ashe being bigge is swiftest, and again, hevye to geve a great stripe withall, which aspe shall not do." This writer recommends the mean between the heavy and light woods, being taken for arrow making, such as birch, hardbeam and some ash. He observes, that a stele must be well seasoned, and "made as the graine lyeth, or els it will never flye cleane. A knotty stele is ever in danger of breaking, it flyeth not farre, because the strengthe of the shoote is hindered and stopped at the knot. It is better to have a shaft a little too short, than over long, somewhat too light than over lumpishe, a little too small, than a great deal too bigge." So is the mean best in all things. Yet if a man happen to offende in any of the extremes, it is better to offend in want of, scantnesse, than in too much, and outrageous excedinge. Let every man when he knoweth his own strengthe, and the nature of every woode, provide, and fit himselfe thereafter. Again, likewise as no one woode can be greatlye meete for all kinde of Shaftes, no more can one fashion of the stele be fit for every shooter." Ascham concludes with the following just remark, respecting the necessity of keeping the shaft round. "The shafte must be made rounde, nothing flate, without gall or wemme, for, because roundnesse (whether you take example in heaven or in earth) is fittest shappe and forme, both for fast movinge, and also for soon percinge of any thinge. And therefore Aristotle sayth, that nature hath made the raine to be rounde, because it should the easeyer enter through the ayre."

Arrows have lately been manufactured of red deal, asp, and a light white wood of which the Flemish shafts are now generally made, very similar to, and perhaps the same as our Lyme, or Arbele.

The red deal, is with some Fletchers, in high estimation, but as this wood is apt to wear soon and splinter, it is adviseable that the arrows be covered lightly over once or twice with lacker or varnish for their preservation, and which gives a handsome rich appearance to the shaft.[90] Lime is also an excellent arrow wood, its natural heaviness is destroyed by well seasoning, but at the same time, the seasoning renders it rather brittle. Of the proper forms for shafts, it is enough to observe, that those fly farthest and cleanest through the air, which are perfectly round, rather "high chested"[91] or tapering in a very small degree, from the shoulder or close to the pile to the nock, taking care that the pile be not heavier than will cause the arrow, when completed, to balance on the finger, about one third or a little more of the way from the pile to the nock, or rather more than half way from the nock to the pile.


Ascham has not noticed the length of the ancient English arrow, —but he says, that at the battle of Agincourt, the army of Henry V, consisted of such archers, that " most part of them drew a yard." Clement Edmonds informs us, that the bow-men under Henry V, did commonly shoot with arrows a yard long, "besides the head.'' Similar facts, says Roberts, have been recorded by Holingshed, Lord Bacon, and also by Carew, and others. But it has been contended, that at the time spoken of, the cloth yard was only thirty inches. Supposing, however, that the ancient English arrow was a yard, or thirty-six inches long, it must be concluded, that only few bows, if kept to the utmost length, agreeably to the act, could carry arrows of three feet, and that but few archers could draw them to the head. Consequently, as Roberts remarks, the yard of three feet "could not be the general standard for the English army, but only for the tallest archers." And it appears from Sir John Smith, that in his time, it was the usual practice for the soldiers to choose their first sheaf of arrows, and to cut those shorter which they found too long for their use. The statute of 5th of Edward IV, directs, " that the arrow be three quarters of the Standard." If this standard mean three quarters of the English ell, then the arrow would be of the length of thirty-three inches and three quarters of an inch; but if it refer to the English yard, (as most probably is the case,) then the arrows would be meant to be exactly twenty-seven inches. The arrows generally used in England and Scotland, have, time out of mind, been twenty-seven inches in length, including the pile. It appears, also, from Roberts, that the Leverian Museum contained an iron arrow twenty-nine inches long, including the head, and barbed, which was dug up some few years ago, near the ruins of Harwood Castle, in Yorkshire. This, in all probability, was a standard arrow for the North. To conclude upon this point of archery. It has been a long received opinion, that when a bow is of the length of 5 feet 8 inches, or 5 feet 10 inches between the nocks, the best length for an arrow is twenty-seven inches, and that, including the pile. But, as an arrow ought not to be drawn farther than the wood, or to where the pile commences, by reason of the danger of getting the arrow within the bow altogether, which would endanger both the archer as well as the bow, besides inevitably causing the destruction of the arrow, at the moment of loosing, so it appears adviseable, that the arrow should be twenty-seven inches exclusive of the pile.[92] Arrows intended for bows of 5 feet in length, should be twenty-four inches long, exclusive of the pile. Some Ladies use bows of 33 and 36 and even 38lbs. power. In such instances, they should be about 5 feet 4 inches in length between the nocks, and the arrows may then be made full twenty-five inches long exclusive of the pile. Flight arrows are made as long as twenty-nine and thirty inches; but drawing these long arrows to the head, with bows having but about .5 feet 8 inches between the nocks, must be always attended with the greatest degree of danger to the bow.


Considerable attention was, no doubt, paid by our ancestors, to the weights of arrows, and that the different sorts of arrows, were weighed against each other, or by certain standard weights, there can be no question. A very slight acquaintance with the art of archery, would point out the indispensable necessity and great importance of this nicety. For if an archer, after shooting for some time, (say at the targets when the distance would be limited,) with two arrows of equal weight, should change one of them for another of a different weight, he will immediately find, with equal elevation and loosing, that the heavier of the two, will fall short of, and the lighter one, fly over the mark. By paying attention to the weights of arrows by means of a given standard, many advantages are derived, and one of the greatest is, that it enables the archer to determine instantly, what arrow is best calculated, for the bow he intends to use, or for the distance he purposes to shoot. In archery, distance is measured by yards, and this distance is called length. By way of scale, generally speaking, for the proper weight of arrows according to the lengths for shooting, it may be said, that an arrow of four shillings weight, would be good for a length of 100 or 150 yards and upwards, and an arrow of five shillings or six shillings weight for a short length of 50 or 60 yards. The above are calculated for men's shooting—The weights of arrows and distances would be proportionably adapted for Ladies. Thus it appears, that the greater the lengths intended to shoot, the lighter should be the arrows, and vice versa.