This Sunday .. do Archery or get Arrested?

18 down 4,982 to go

While archery is simply a sport today (and a damn fine one), it was once vital for national defence. English, Welsh and Scottish medieval armies all used archers to a greater or lessor extent. Fielding a comparative small numbers of troops, there needed to be a skilled and pretty large support industry to provide weapons and ammunition as well as requiring a large pool of troops in long term training.

In the 14th century the population of England was only 2.5 million and Scotland anywhere from 0.5 to 1 million so producing the 100k to half million arrows a small army needed per battle was quite a strain. Easton don’t exist yet and there’s no mass production so the arrows had to be made laboriously by hand. This is fun when you are making 12 arrows as a hobby … not so much when you have to have 5000 ready by the end of the week! I doubt anyone working to produce arrows wanted to see the things during their time away from the workshop – I sure as heck don’t want to look at spreadsheets out of the office!
Fun Fact: There’s a reason Fletcher is a common name in England.

At the other end of the relationship, were the archers. As we all know it takes a lot of practice to hit what you are aiming at. The further away the target, the harder it gets. The more practice you need, the more time practice eats up. However much we see archery as “fun”, archery in medieval times was seen more as an obligation and chore than an entertaining pastime. After a hard week serfing, the medieval peasant wanted to kick back and do something he considered “not work”. The several hours a week he was supposed to be practicing archery, he would much rather goof off.

It got so desperate with all these people – the archers and artisans needed for the defense of the realm – slacking their “responsibility” to their liege lord/the crown that laws had to be passed. The display (left) is at Callender House in Falkirk which explains you’d get a fine of 4 pennies (a silver coin called a Groat) – for being a slacker. That’s the equivalent of about £300 today.

It was worse in England where a Statute of Henry VIII from 1515 re-enacted King Edward III ‘s Archery Law of 1363. These acts demanded practices with a longbow but not just on Sundays like the Scottish act. They stipulated that archery practice was mandatory on every (religious) feast day, Sunday and (religious) holiday for adult men (ages 12 and over).
But why Sundays, holidays and feast days?
This was so it could be enforced by the Church and the Church at this time was all powerful and very much a part of the state. The statute goes on to forbid, in dire, threatening terms, all sport that took up time better spent on war training. This was quite a bit harsher than the Scots act which just hit you in the money pouch (admittedly a fate worse than death to a Scotsman ;o).

So playing a game like the newly invented foot the ball, smacking some balls around a wicket with sticks or seeing how many hits it took you and your pals to knock small balls into the rabbit hole over by that big tree could be quite dangerous. If you got caught, it was going to hurt!

Let ye be sensible … take nae chances get thee doon to the butts Sunday for to shute archary. Know ye it makes sense!

*          *          *

Interesting article on Henry VIII’s 1515 Statute

Glasgow Archers

We are an amateur archery club based in the centre of Glasgow.

Leave a Reply