Myths, legends and other archery related trivia……….

Donations welcome!

At various times in Britain’s history, monarchs have banned the likes of football, bowls and even golf, because men were playing these sports rather than practising archery in their spare time. In fact, during the reign of Henry VIII, every man in the country had to “Practice at the Butts” after church on Sundays to hone their archery skills.

One of England’s greatest victories was because of the skill of its long-bowmen. During the Battle of Crecy in 1346, they killed almost 2000 French knights and soldiers. The English lost just 50 men.

Archery was the only sport that women could take part in, when they were first allowed to compete in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics.

The “two fingered salute”

Myth! This did not start at Agincourt as many will have you believe. It stems from the old English insult of ‘cuckolding’ which means roughly, “I’ve slept with your wife”!

The bowman explanation is unlikely, since no evidence exists of French forces (or any other continental European power) cutting off the fingers of captive bowmen; the standard procedure at the time was to summarily execute all enemy commoners captured on the battlefield (regardless of whether they were bowmen, foot soldiers or merely unarmed auxiliaries) since they had no ransom value, unlike the nobles whose lives could be worth thousands of florins apiece.

Keep it under your hat

Supposedly comes from an archer keeping a spare bowstring under his hat to protect it from the weather.

Adding a string to your bow

As an archer became more proficient, he would often step up to a stronger bow that needed more strands in the string.

Playing fast and loose

When practising archery or indeed, during a battle, the command “Loose!” would be given to signal the archers to start shooting. “Fast!” is the command to stop shooting for whatever reason. The word ‘fast’ is used to avoid confusion with similar words for stop.

A bolt from the blue

I’m not sure about this but apparently it is used to describe a crossbow quarrel (Bolt) falling out of the sky on an enemy. So that would be an Arbalism myth then?

Cock up

Yes! It is an actual saying! It refers to the arrow being shot with the cock feather vertically as many traditional archers do to avoid the fletchings catching on the bow.

Therefore, a cock-up can be a good thing!

Going for gold

Self explanatory for a target archer.

The following comes courtesy of Sir Justyn

Military archers were terribly deformed – This is somewhat true yet often blown out of proportion or taken out of context. Deformities such as Os Acromile, asymmetric forearms and other tendon or bone deformities were not out of the ordinary in the Middle Ages in a multitude of professions as they are not out of the ordinary today. Many athletes, labourers and professionals who have a measure of physical activity have these same deformities and they are, for the most part, not visible to the naked eye except under scrutiny. Consider the blacksmith, cooper, mason even a knight; they all have similar “deformities”. Consider the deformities such as curvature of the spine form sitting in front of a computer screen or TV in our modern times. Such physical changes were not a hindrance and were and are still commonplace in many walks of life. Deformity in an archer is a moot point and not a valid reason to dismiss why people can’t or shouldn’t do it today

A typical Mary Rose archer as he may have appeared in life based on the skeleton on the right.

Military bows were not heavier than around 100lbs draw weight – A quick look at the dimensions of the 130 odd military bows found on the Mary Rose show this is not the case. Modern bowyers have replicated these bows using the same type of timber and the same dimensions and it has been proven that the draw weights of these bows varied from 95lbs-165lbs with a minimal number of bows within the lower draw weights.

Archers were defeated by cavalry– Archers were not sent fleeing by a cavalry charge. Not that they could stop one either; there is no recorded instance in history where archers halted a cavalry charge in battle with arrows alone. Yet once the cavalry met with the archers they were not met with fleeing, cowardly wretches but with staunch fighting men, prepared to fight toe to toe with their attackers using hand held weapons. Which leads into the next myth…

Archers did not need to fight in hand to hand combat- You better believe they did. The English archer was renowned for his ability to fight in hand to hand combat and often did, bolstered by dismounted knights and squires among their formations. It was this tactic that made the archers so devastating in war. Later on archers were mounted as well not to shoot from horseback but to increase their mobility and logistic speed when on campaign.

More to come………..