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Home > Books > The Archer's Guide > Chapter II
Chapter II
Sketch of the History of Archery in England
Part 4 of 4

In the time of Queen Elizabeth, also, it seems certain, that the ladies occasionally shot deer, both with the long and cross bow.

Catherine of Portugal, Queen of Charles II., seems to have been much pleased with the sight, at least, of this exercise, for in 1676, by the contributions of Sir Edward Hungerford and others, she presented a silver badge, weighing 25 ounces, to the marshal of the archers' fraternity, on which was represented an archer drawing the string of a long-bow (in the proper manner) to his ear; with the following inscription: "Reginæ Catharinæ Sagittarii." The supporters were two bowmen, with the arms of England and Portugal.

In 1682, there was a most magnificent cavalcade and entertainment given by the archers of Finsbury. Charles II. was present on this occasion; but, the day being rainy, he was soon obliged to leave the field. So lately as 1763, targets were erected in Finsbury-fields during the Easter and Whitsun holidays, when the best shooter was styled captain for the ensuing year, and the second, lieutenant.

Archery had, clearly, from this time, degenerated from the glory of British warriors, to a mere recreation; it was still, however, esteemed as a manly exercise, and continued to be prac-tised as such by many societies in Great Bri-tain, as well as by the inhabitants of many parts of the continent. The most noted association of this kind now existing, is the Royal Company of Archers, or king's body guard for Scotland: for the following account of the supposed origin, and present management, of which, we are indebted to the new edition, now publishing in parts, of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

"The ancient records of this company having been destroyed by fire about the end of the 16th century, no authentic traces of its institution now remain; but from entries found in some of the old national records, this company must be of great antiquity. It is believed that the Royal Company owes its origin to the commissioners appointed in the reign of James I. Off Scotland, for enforcing and overseeing the exercise of archery in different countries. These commissioners, who were men of ank and power, picked out from the better classes under their cognizance the most expert bowmen, formed them into a company, and upon perilous occasions they attended the king as his chief body guard; and in that situation, they always distinguished themselves for their loyalty, courage, and skill in archery. The rank of king's body guard for Scotland was from tradition understood to be vested in the royal company, and they accordingly claimed the honor of acting as body guard to his Majesty King George IV. on the occasion of his visit to Scotland in 1822. His majesty was graciously pleased to recognise their claim, and the royal company were thus established as the king's body guard for Scotland. They attended his majesty at court, and on all state occasions during his residence in Scotland, and accompanied him on his visit to Hopetown House, from whence he embarked for London. The captain-general has since been appointed Gold Stick for Scotland, and the royal company now forms part of the household."

lt appears from the minutes of the royal company now extinct, that an act of the privy council of Scotland was passed in 1677, conferring on them the name and title of "His Majesty's Company of Archers," and granting a sum of money for a piece of plate to be shot for in that year as a prize; but no permanent king's prize was established until 1788, when his Majesty George III., as a mark of his royal patronage and favour, was pleased to grant a sum of money to be shot for annually, to be named the King's Prize, and to become the property of the winner. The gainer is bound to purchase a piece of plate, on which must be inscribed the king's arms and the date when the prize was gained.

During the revolution in 1688 the royal company were opposed to the principles then espoused; and for many years they had to forego their public parades, and the company in consequence had nearly been annihilated. On the accession of Queen Anne, however, their former splendour was revived; and, in the year 1703, a royal charter was granted, confirming all their former rights and privileges, and conferring others upon them.

Thus the royal company continued to flourish for a number of years; but their attachment to the family of Stuart was the cause at various times of a temporary prosperity and decline. These unhappy differences having long since terminated, the royal company, which consists of the principal nobility and gentry of Scotland, are now more prosperous, and perhaps more dexterous in the art of archery, than at any former period of their history.

The prizes belonging to this royal company, and which are annually shot for, are:

First. "A silver arrow given by the town of Musselburgh, which appears to have been shot for as early as the year 1603. The victor in this, as in other prizes, except the king's prize, has the custody of it for a year, then returns it with a medal appended, on which are engraved any motto and device which the gainer's fancy dictates."

Second. "A silver arrow given by the town of Peebles, A.D. 1626."

Third. "A silver arrow given by the city of Edinburgh, A.D. 1709 "

Fourth. "A silver arrow given by the town of Selkirk, which was shot for in 1819, after an interval of 144 years."

Fifth. "A silver punch bowl, made of Scottish silver, at the expense of the company, A.D. 1720, to which a gold medal has annually been attached. This prize can only be gained by three consecutive ends; and if not won during the summer, it is shot for as an ordinary prize at the end of the season"

Sixth. "A gold medal made of pagodas, being part of the money paid by Tippoo Sultan, at the treaty of Seringapatam, and presented to the royal company by Major James Spens.

Seventh. "An excellent silver vase and gold medal, presented by General John Earl of Hopetown, in commemoration of the visit of his majesty George IV. to Scotland, in 1822, called the royal commemoration prize, and which is shot for on the king's birth-day, annually "

These prizes are all shot for at the distance of 180 yards.

There is another prize, which was given by Sir George Mackenzie, of Coal, bart., to the royal company, to be shot for at the distance of 200 yards, and is called the "Saint Andrew prize."

These prizes are shot for at rovers, and, with the exception of the silver bowl, are gained by the person who counts the greatest number of points in a given number of ends.

Besides the above, there is another prize shot for, at the distance of 100 yards, being an elegant silver bugle-horn, presented to the royal company by one of the general offlcers, Sir Henry Jardine, knight, and which was shot for on the 9th of April, 1830, for the first time.

There are also two prizes contended for at butts, or point blank distance, being 100 feet. The first is called the Goose. The ancient manner of shooting for this prize was, by building up a living goose in a turf-butt, having the head only exposed to view; and the archer who first hit the head was entitled to have the goose as his reward, and have the title of Captain Goose for the season. This barbarous custom has long since been laid aside; and in the place of the goose's head a small glass globe is put into the butt, of about an inch in diameter, and the archer who breaks this is declared victor, and is entertained by the company at dinner. He wears a medal which was presented by Major pens, also made of Tippoo Sultan's pagodus. The other butt prize is a gold medal, which is hot for on the last Saturday of January, February, and March, annually, and is gained by him who gains the greatest number of points in the three days' shooting.

The affairs of the royal company are managed by a council, consisting of seven, who are chosen annually at a general meeting of the members. The council are vested with the power of receiving or rejecting candidates for admission, and of appointing the officers of the company, civil and military.

The royal company consists of about 500 members. There are weekly meetings of members at Edinburgh, in the meadows, when they exercise themselves in shooting at butts and rovers; and in the adjoining ground they have a building called Archer's Hall, erected within these 50 years, where they dine, and hold their elections and other meetings relative to the business of the company.

The field uniform of the royal company is of dark-green cloth, faced with black braiding, with a narrow stripe of crimson velvet in the centre. The hat is of the same colour, with a handsome medallion in front, and a plume of black feathers.

The royal company have two standards, which are very old. The first of these bears on one side Mars and Venus, encircled in a wreath of thistles, with this motto, "In peace and war." On the other side a yew-tree, with two men dressed and equipped as archers, encircled as the former; motto, "Dat gloria vires." The other standard displays on one side a lion rampant, gules on a field or, encircled with a wreath; on the top a thistle and crown; motto, "Nemo me impune lacessit." On the reverse side, St. Andrew on the cross, on a field argent; at the top a crown: motto, "Dulce pro patria periculum."

His present Majesty King William IV. has presented the Royal Company of Archers, his body guard for Scotland,with new colours. The one combines both the old ones, with the words "The Royal Company of Archers;" and the other bears the royal arms of Scotland, with the words, "King's body guard for Scotland." His Majesty has also expressly confirmed the appointment of the Royal Company to be "The King's body guard for Scotland."

In Scotland, besides the Royal Company of Archers., is the Kilwinning Society of Archers, which has long held an annual meeting, and is well known in Ayrshire by the name of Papingoe. Some of the members of these societies possess considerable dexterity and skill in the use of the bow and arrow.

Previous to the discovery of gunpowder, observes Mr. Roberts, the bow was unquestionably the most efficacious weapon of war; it united and concentrated the distinct powers of the only two weapons of distant offence that had been discovered and made use of, namely, the dart, javelin, or lance; and the sling. To the certainty of the former, it added the velocity of the latter; for it must be apparent to every one who considers the construction and effect of this weapon (the bow), that the arrow is but the lance, reduced in quantity of matter, and increased in quantity of motion, by the power of an instrument capable of communicating a velocity far greater than that given by the arm, and of continuing it to an infinitely greater distance than the latter can, by any means, be made to attain. Yet, effectual as the long-bow must have been before the invention of its use was even at that period occasionally neglected, which is attributed to the length of time that was required to train an expert archer, of which the preambles to many of our statutes are sufficient evidence--a reason which, if valid, must be allowed to operate incontrovertibly in proof of the disadvantages of the former favorite weapon of the English, when compared with those with which warfare is now carried on by all nations, and to the complete use of which a man may be trained in a few weeks.

It appears, as already observed, that the longbow continued to be in estimation for more than two centuries after gunpowder was introduced. This will excite no astonishment when it is remembered, that, until within the last century, muskets were among the most cumbersome and unwieldy instruments of war; they were never used without a rest, had no bayonets, and could be discharged not nearly so frequently as at present.[6]

It is well known that rapid movements are generally decisive of the campaign; and for such the archers were particularly adapted, because, as they could not be annoyed at the same distance by the weapons of the enemy, they had scarcely any occasion for armour. The flower of ancient armies, likewise, was the cavalry, against which the long-bow never failed to prevail; and hence the great number of French nobility, who were prisoners at Cressy, Poictiers, and Agincourt; for, being dismounted, if not wounded, whilst they were also clad in heavy armour, they could not make their escape. The same reason accounts for the English obstaining these signal victories with so inferior numbers; for the nobility and gentry thus becoming prisoners, the other parts of the French army made little or no resistance. No wonder, therefore, that in England the greatest anxiety was shewn to promote the exercise of this most important weapon, and that so many statutes were made for that purpose.

In Scotland, also, little less attention, though apparently not with equal success, was shewn to the encouragement of the art. In both kingdoms it was provided, that the importers of merchandise should be obliged, along with their articles of commerce, to import a certain proportion of bows, bow-staves, and shafts for arrows. In both, every person was enjoined to hold himself provided in bows and arrows, and was prescribed the frequent use of archery. In both a restraint was imposed upon the exercise of other games and sports, lest they should interfere with the use of the bow; for it was intended that people should be made expert in the use of it as a military weapon, by habituating them to the familiar exercise of it as an instrument of amusement. As there was no material difference between the activity and bodily strength of the two people, it might be supposed that the English and Scots wielded the bow with no unequal vigour and dexterity; but, from undoubted historical monuments, it appears that the former had the superiority, of which one instance already has been narrated. By the regulations prescribed in their statutebook, for the practice of archery, we find that the English shot a very long bow, those who were arrived at their full growth and maturity being prohibited from shooting at any mark that was not distant upwards of 210 yards.

The principal uses for which archers were valued in battle, have been divided under the following heads, viz. to begin the fight at a distance; to provoke the enemy, to harass and draw him out of his advantageous post; to wound the enemy at a distance; to disorder the enemy as he makes his approach; to gall the horses; to cope with, and hinder efforts of the light-armed troops of their antagonists; to scout and discover ambushes, as well as to lie in ambush themselves; to make speedy and sudden attempts in line of battle.

The greatest danger to which archers were exposed proceeded from the attacks of cavalry. The English archers carried long stakes, sharpened at both ends, one of which was driven into the earth before each man, in an oblique direction, similar to the position in which the first rank of a battalion of foot defends itself with fixed bayonets when attacked by dragoons. If the ground which the archers occupied was not very strong, their flanks must often have been exposed, unless they were at the same time well supported by other troops, particularly by cavalry. An army consisting entirely of archers, notwithstanding the rapidity of their movementss movements, not long have kept the field; but, when duly proportioned, the destruction which they occasioned must have been incalculable.

Their principal advantage was the facility of retreating when hard pressed by the forces opposed to them; but there were many situations in which they could not act either with advantage or safety.

Notwithstanding all the encomiums which ancient and modern writers have lavished on the importance of archery, it must be admitted, that in many respects, it was not worthy of being compared with the use of fire-arms. In some states of the atmosphere it could not be applied with any effect; moisture not only impairs the elasticity of the bow, but relaxes the strings, and soon renders them unfit for use. The direction and intensity of the winds must also have been still more disconcerting; except in a calm, or in a very moderate wind, the best marksman cannot shoot straight, and when the wind is very boisterous, especially if it be either an opposite or a side wind, it is impracticable to shoot far. Another disadvantage under which the archers must have laboured was, the being attacked in the night, or in a fog; in either of which cases, they might have been cut off before they found time to bend their bows. Even in the most favorable state of the air, it must be difficult to calculate the projectile force of arrows; they must lose much more of their velocity in passing through the air than musket bullets do, because they have much less density, and present a much greater surface. For the same reason, their deflection from the parabolic curve must also be greater, independently of the force and direction of the wind; the range of a musket bullet is four times greater than that of an arrow, and the impetus is also much more uniform.

How then does it happen, that, at very moderate distances, scarcely one shot in one hundred takes effect; whereas the archers at such distances very rarely missed their aim, although the exertion requisite in drawing the bow must have greatly increased the difficulty of hitting the object? We must ascribe something to the exaggerated statements of the perfection to which archery was carried; and we must also take into account the careless mode of levelling, practised in almost all modern armies, in consequence of which the musket generally produces a very trifling effect.

One of the circumstances which contributed to render archery so destructive, does not seem to have been generally taken notice of. The wounds produced by arrows were often instantaneously fatal, and in almost every case extremely malignant; even when a vital part was not penetrated, the effects, in warm countries at least, never failed to be dangerous. The patient was generally seized with locked jaw, or some other species of tetanus, and rapidly carried off. It is well known, that, in tropical climates, a very slight puncture in some parts of the body, especially if produced by a piece of rusty metal, or by any hard substance having an irregular surface, will speedily induce the most fatal symptoms.

We have already noticed, that after the reign of Charles II., the art of archery had become a mere amusement in this country; indeed, it would almost appear that the very name of archer was forgotten for nearly a century. About 1780, however, it was resumed as a fashionable pastime, and the origin of its resumption at that period is stated by Mr. Roberts in his "English Bowman," p. 79, to have been as follows:

"About the year, 1776, Mr. Waring, (the father of the present bowyer of that name, resident in Caroline Street, Bedford Square,) who then lived with Sir Ashton Lever, at Leicesterhouse, and who may be justly styled the father of modern archery, having, by continual business, contracted an oppression upon his chest, (arising principally from sitting too closely to his desk, and pressing his breast too much against it, and which the most eminent in the faculty had in vain endeavoured to remove,) resolved to try the effect of the bow in affording relief. He accordingly made it a regular exercise, and in a short time derived great benefit from the use of it; and ascribed his cure, which was perfect, sole]y to the use of archery. Sir Ashton Lever, perceiving the good effects which so engaging an amusement had upon the constitution, followed Mr. Waring's example, and took up the bow ; he was soon joined by several of his friends, who, in the year 1780, formed themselves into a society, under the title of Toxophilites, and met regularly at Leicester House, having butts erected in the gardens belonging to it. And this society was the parent stock of the numerous societies of archers known at this day--about 1790."

In 1792, the principal societies existing were as follow:

Honourable Artillery Company, Royal Edinburgh, Toxophilite, Woodmen of Arden, Royal Kentish Bowmen, Royal British Bowmen, Robin Hood Bowmen, Loyal Archers, Yorkshire Archers, Hainhault Foresters, Southampton Archers, Bowmen of Cheviot Chase, Kentish Rangers, Woodmen of Hornsey, Surrey Bowmen, Bowmen of the Border, Mercian Bowmen, Broughton Archers, Staffordshire Bowmen, Trent Archers.

Of these various societies it appears that not any one of them signalised itself more, upon all occasions, than that of the Toxophilites, who, at the grand meeting of all the societies of archers in England, on the 27th of May, 1791, at Blackheath, bore off the best prize. Of this society his late Majesty George IV., then Prince of Wales, was patron; his Grace the Duke of Bedford, president; and the Honorable Mrs. De Crespigny, lady-patroness. Its members, as well as those of several other societies, formed a brilliant assemblage of the nobility and gentry of the land, and it must certainly be considered no small favor conferred upon archery at that period, that the heir-apparent to the British throne, and many of the nobility and first personages in the kingdom, patronised its revival. The Prince of Wales, for many years, gave a silver bugle and chain annually to the most successful shooter in the Toxophilite ground. This prize was contended for every year with much anxiety by all the best archers in the kingdom, and it appears that there were many very skilful bowmen then living, who would not have disgraced Robin Hood's corps of Sherwood rovers. His Majesty George III. was also pleased, about the same time, to revive the ancient royal prize, annually shot for by the Royal Company of Archers in Scotland. Archery was, in short, for a time, the favored pastime of the day.

Whether to the caprice of fashion, the difficulty of finding suitable associates, the incompatibility of the practice of the art with the other pursuits of life, or to whatever other cause it may be assigned, the majority of the societies which we have enumerated appear to have dwindled into utter insignificance within twenty years after their formation. We have the authority of an individual, aged 35, who was apprenticed to a celebrated bowyer and fletcher, for asserting, that before he was "out of his time," as it is termed, he thought it necessary, to use his own words, "to look about him" with much anxiety, to devise some other mode by which to get his living, than by the exercise of the art in which he had been brought up; and we ourselves can speak with confidence, that from about the year 1805, until very recently, archery was spoken of by some old practitioners only.

Within the last few years, however, the attention of the gentry of England has been again directed to this manly, elegant, and healthful exercise, which, for many reasons, will, we trust, now long continue to be practised among them. It is not the least of its recommendations that, unlike cricket and other equally athletic and invigorating sports, the archer's art may be enjoyed either in his own grounds, alone, or among his immediate relatives and friends, or at least in some spot selected by an association, the members of which have the power of introducing or excluding any candidate for admission who may be agreeable or otherwise to the majority. By such means, a company may be always kept select, which can but rarely be the case with any other pastime in the open air in which numbers participate. In truth, for some reason or other, archery is exclusively the gentleman's pastime; the paraphernalia of the sport are too expensive for a poor man, even if it were adapted to his taste, which in general it is not; and as the exercise need not ever include the necessity of drinking and pot-house confraternity, which too frequently constitute the charm of every amusement in the minds of the sensual and the low, such characters will seldom be disposed, if allowed the opportunity, to unite themselves with a well-regulated society of archers.

That the art possesses many excellences as an amusement, it will require but little trouble to prove. From the position of the body, and the exertion used when shooting, it is calculated to open the chest and strengthen the arm in particular; and from its being practised in fine weather only, in the open air, to invigorate the system generally. As the mind of a lover Off the art is also highly interested in the pursuit, it will frequently be found to operate with a highly beneficial influence over those indescribable symptoms which characterise the complaints of the nervous. Other decided advantages of this exercise are, that "it may be adapted to every age and to every degree of strength; and the blood may be driven with any required velocity, by increasing or diminishing the power of the bow. It is not necessarily laborious, as it may be discontinued at the moment it becomes fatiguing; a pleasure not to be enjoyed by the hunter, who, having finished his chace, perceives that he must crown his toils with an inanimate ride of forty miles to his bed. Archery, also, as an amusement, is attended with no cruelty: it sheds no innocent blood, nor does it torture harmless animals;--charges which lie heavy against many other favorite pursuits. It has been said, a reward was formerly offered to him who could invent a new pleasure. Had such a reward been held forth by the ladies of the present day, he who introduced archery as a female exercise would deservedly have gained the prize. It is unfortunate that there are 80 few diversions in the open air in which women can join with that unassuming dignity which ornaments their character; and as their sedentary life renders motion necessary to health, it is to be lamented that suitable amusements are wanting to invite them. Archery , however, seems well calculated to remedy this defect; and, since the practice of it has become polite and fashionable, we have been tempted to be as diffuse in treating of it as we are anxious to promote so pleasing and elegant an exercise" [7]

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