Thursday, 14 August 2008

Back to the Days of Agincourt and Crecy

Yes, I have been watching the Olympics again; this morning it was one of the British women archers against a competitor from Japan. Unfortunately, our archer had trouble finding the gold area of the target with her early arrows, so even though she managed better with her final six arrows, the archer from Japan built up an early lead that was to prove unassailable.

In the middle ages, the longbow was the weapon of choice for foot soldiers serving in battles fought by English and Scottish kings. In those days there was no standing army, so many British monarchs from that time made archery practice compulsory for all males between the ages of 16 and 60 after church on Sundays. These men were all expected to have their own longbow equivalent in length to their height. The bows were made of yew, elm or ash, and the British archers were an extremely dangerous force to encounter.

At that time, the ranges, known as butts, were generally 200 yards in length and there would be a level area set aside for the purpose in every settlement of any size. The butts for modern archery competitions are 80 yards in length. The power of the longbow was such that the arrows could regularly travel 400 yards, a distance far greater than that possible with the crossbows that were generally used by the archers of Europe. The rate of fire from a longbow was also significantly greater than that possible with the crossbow because of the manner of priming the weapon to fire the arrow.

During the reign of Henry VIII, the use of the longbow for war was replaced by the introduction of the musket. However, the longbow did not disappear completely, for even at this time archery clubs, where archery was a sport, were being formed in England. Many of the rich enjoyed pursuing archery for sporting purposes, and Henry even passed a law that ensured that if someone was accidentally killed by an arrow during these sporting affairs, the perpetrator would not be accused of murder.

Maybe we could win some medals for archery in the Olympics if we were to reintroduce the compulsory Sunday archery training that took place in this country in medieval times.

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