On the Englifh Long-Bow.
Part 1 of 12
AS the Englifh Long-bow formerly held fo diftinguifhed a rank among the military weapons of Europe, and as many of the moft important battles and conquefts were obtained by the aid of Englifh Archers ; it is neceffary for me to infift, at fome length, on the hiftory of the Bow in this ifland ; were it only in compliment to the fame of our anceftors.
Whether the eulogies which have been fo liberally paffed on the Englifh Archers,by Englifh writers, be perfectly juft; and whether they really were more expert in the practice of this branch of war than many of the ancient nations, I think may be difputed. The perpetual attention paid to inure youth to the practice of the Bow, by many warlike people of antiquity, was, I conceive, a much more fevere difcipline, than that of this country. Perhaps, indeed, our Archers might derive a fuperiority from their Bows being conftructed on better principles, being more fkillfully made, 1 and of better materials than thofe ufed in other countries.
But leaving this point undifcuffed, I fhall now endeavour to trace the Bow, in this ifland, during the early periods in which it feems to have been known; continuing the hiftory through the feveral fucceffive ages and reigns, till the period in which that inftrument was difcontinued, as a military weapon, in the Englifh army.
Having had an opportunity of confuling a fine collection of chronicle-writers, and hiftorians, I have been induced to fpare no pains in the inveftigation of this part of my fubject. A tedious refearch has enabled me, however, to collect only a few folitary fads with refpect to Archery in this kingdom, before the time of the Norman invafion: but thefe few fads, I think, will prove fufficient evidence from which to judge of the ftate of the Bow in the early ages.
I have been much furprized to find, that fome of our hiftorians, and particularly the more modern ones, have reprefented the Englifh at the Battle of Haftings, as entirely ignorant of the effect of Archery; and fpeak of the aftonifhment with which the troops were feized, in finding death inflicted on them, whilft the enemy was far at a diftance. Speed obferves, that the firft difcharge of Arrows from the Norman army, "was a kind of fight both ftrange and terrible unto the Englifh, who fuppofed their enemy had beene already even in the middeft amongft them." Echard expreffes the fame fentiment in his account of the battle with William. "The fight," he fays, "began with great fury, order and equal bravery on both fides; in which the Englifh were feverely gaul'd by the thick fhowers of Arrows from the Norman Long-bows, before the battle joined; which was a weapon then unufed in England, and thereby the more furprizing, the wounds coming from enemies fo far diftant, and not fuddenly to be revenged."
Hume mentions nothing of this extraordinary furprize among the Englifh troops, neither do Mat. Paris, nor many others. Sir J. Hayward fays, the ufe of the Bow was firft brought into the land by the Normans, and that afterwards the Englifh being trained to the practice of it, became the beft fhooters in the world.133
That the Englifh could be ignorant of the Bow at the Conqueft, appears inconceivable, as both the Saxons and Danes made ufe of it in battle againft the inhabitants of this country, for many centuries previous to that time. It is true, there is no mention made of Archers among the troops of Harold, but it does not follow that they were ignorant of the effect of Archery, or that the Bow was not then ufed in England.
At what time this inftrument was firft brought into the ifland, is uncertain; the hiftory of our country extends with accuracy fo few ages back, that it is im-poffible to afcertain the true aera in which the Bow was introduced.