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Home > Books > An Essay on Archery > Chapter XI: On the Englifh Long-Bow.
Chapter XI
On the Englifh Long-Bow.
Part 3 of 12

During the reign of Alfred, it feems probable, that Archery was much in ufe, both in the army of the Danes,139 and in that of Alfred. I am inclined to this opinion from a paffage in Afferius, who relates a curious anecdote concerning our good king. Alfred took refuge from the perfecution of the Danes, at a poor cottage, where he refided unknown to his benefactors, who little imagined their roof protected a royal gueft. It happened one day, fays that writer, as the king fat by the fire preparing his Bow, Arrows, and his other warlike inftruments, that the farmer's wife had placed fome bread cakes upon the hearth to bake, fuppofing he would take care to turn them as they occafionally required. He, however, neglected to do fo; and the poor woman enraged to fee her cakes fcorching by the heat, ran in hafte to fave them, and faying to the ftranger, "Thou fellow! (as Speed tranflates it) doeft thou fee the bread burne before thy face, and will not turn it ? and yet art thou glad to eate it before it be half baked?"140 Bows and Arrows are here called warlike inftruments, and we may with reafon prefume, therefore, that they were ufed among the other weapons in battle. Polydore Vergil confirms this fuppofition; for fpeaking of the troops of Ethelred, of which, part were commanded by his brother Alfred, he fays, a great number of Archers were placed in the right wing of the army.141

From this time till the aera of the Norman invafion, little occurs with refpect to Archery; but it is well known how fuccefsfully it was introduced by William, at the battle of Haftings.

Bows and Arrows, are fpoken of at this fight, by all our hiftorians: and the cataftrophe of the battle fully proves the advantage which the invaders derived from thefe weapons. Many of our early writers, neglect to particularize the kind of Bow made ufe of by the Norman army, but John Rofs, exprefsly fays, the Long-bow was ufed.142 Mr. Barrington is of opinion, that the Crofs-bow was the inftrument principally employed in the army of William, and the paffages which have occured to my obfervation, feem to prove the truth of his conjecture. From Sir John Hayward's account of Willis a, it feems almoft certain, that he himfelf ufed the Crofs-bow; but this part of my fubject will be more properly defered. till I treat on that weapon.

No circumftance worthy of obfervation occurs in our hiftory, from the conqueft till the time of Henry the Second, in whofe reign, Archery feems to have been firft carried into Ireland, by the troops of that king. Lord Lyttleton, in his hiftory of the life of Henry, fays, "it is ftrange that the Irifh, who had much intercourfe with the Welfh before Henry the Second's time, fhould not have learnt from that nation, who greatly excelled in Archery, that Arrows were better weapons to annoy an enemy with than ftones, thrown by the hand without the help of flings, which, unlefs at a fmall diftance, could have little or no effect." The fame author obferves,143 that "from many inftances, in the courfe of thefe wars, (the wars of Henry with the Irifh) it appears, that the Englifh conquefts in Ireland, were principally owing to the ufe of the Long bow in battle, which the Irifh infantry wanted: And therefore Giraldus Cambrenfis, in his chapter entitled, Qualiter Hibernica gens fit expugnanda, advifes, that in all engagements with that people, Archers fhould be intermingled with the heavy-armed troops.144

To fhew how worthy of imitation the Welfh were, at the time of Henry II. in the ufe of the Bow ; I fhall relate a few exploits performed by their Archers, as they are reported by Giraldus Cambrenfis.

There is a particular tribe in Wales, fays this ancient writer, named the Venta; a people brave and warlike, and who far excel the other inhabitants of that country in the practice of Archery. In fupport of this laft affertion, the following inftance is recorded. During a fiege, it happened, that two foldiers running in hafte towards a tower, fituated at a little diftance from them, were attacked with a number of Arrows from the Welfh; which being fhot with prodigious violence, fome penetrated through the oak doors of a portal, although they were the breadth of four fingers in thicknefs. The heads of thefe Arrows were afterwards driven out, and preferved, in order to continue the remembrance of fuch extraordinary force in fhooting with the bow. It happened alfo in a battle, at the time of William de Breufa, (as he himfelf relates) that a Welfhman having directed an Arrow at an horfe-foldier of his, who was clad in armour and had his leather coat under it; the Arrow, befides piercing the man through the hip, ftruck alfo through the faddle and mortally wounded the horfe on which he fat. Another Welfh foldier, having fhot an Arrow at one of his horfemen, who was covered with Huong armour in the fame manner as the before mentioned perfon, the fhaft penetrated through his hip and fixed in the faddle: but what is moft remarkable, is, that as the horfeman drew his bridle afide in order to turn round, he received another Arrow in his hip on the oppofite fide, which patting through it, he was firmly faftened to the faddle on both fides.145

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