This project is about the daily life and efforts of the common man in Elizabethan England. There are many and multiplying efforts to reproduce and study the military efforts of the time. This is not one of them.
However, there are certain elements of battle that cannot readily be removed from the life of the Elizabethan tradesmen, and it was especially to the benefit of those whose trades were the mastery of bows and arrows
In the Assize of Arms of 1252, Henry III decreed that all Englishmen “between the age of 15 and 60 years” would be required to keep, maintain, and practice with the longbow (Specifically “a bow and 4 arrows”) for the defense of the realm. This was allegedly in response to the rise of games that took men’s minds away from military things such as football and rounders. Though it was a repetition and expansion of an earlier law and was expanded by each ensuing monarch be they of the white rose or the red. By the reign of Henry VIII, the (c. 1541) rules had been laid down that all Englishmen should practice their archery for at least two hours every Sunday after mass under the supervision of an officer of the church.
Henry’s break with the Roman church and the ensuing reformation in England put the British monarchy at odds with all of her surrounding Catholic neighbors (except during the short, unhappy reign of Mary Tudor) most especially Philip II of Spain. Even in an age when gunpowder was in the ascendancy, it remained the law of the land that for two hours every sunday, arrows should fill the air. A law that remained on the books (mostly unenforced) until 1863.
Which means that yours truly has been in violation of English law since the start of the year.
|Though if you ask Robin Hood to teach you archery,
There are certain headgear expectations…
I want to make clear that I know nothing about archery. Sure, I grew up in a part of the country where bowhunting is practically a religion, but the last time I picked up a bow and arrows I was a cub scout and I don’t recall being able to hit the hay bale that the scoutmasters placed twenty feet ahead of me.
This experience cemented in my mind that archery was going to be near to the top of my list of Things I Am Not Good At.
So when I realized that in order to really breathe life into the world of the Elizabethan craftsman I’d need to learn to pull a bowstring, I did what any self-respecting artisan would do… I called Robin Hood.
What? Doesn’t everyone have a professional Robin Hood on speed dial?
Well, I’m just lucky, I guess.
If you recall, you met my friend Patrick back when we were failing to produce a drinkable pint of ale. Thankfully, he’s better at being Robin Hood than I am at being Samuel Adams, so I’m in good hands here. What’s more, he had an extra longbow that he was willing to loan me and a yard large enough to practice archery in.
You know he’s a good friend because he didn’t turn me away when I turned up on a Friday morning without providing coffee.
As usual, his lovely wife was kind enough to take pictures and make fun of me on Facebook, so it’s a win/win really.
- Longbows are essentially enormous semi-flexible sticks that taper at either end.
- The ends of the bow where the bowstring met the wood were actually made of horn.
- Did I forget to stress that these bows are only semi-flexible?
- This is more fun than I thought it would be…
With age, I was able to avoid hitting the inside of my arm most of the time and even hit the target five out of six draws from about ten paces. Not bad for a complete n00b… right?
The best part was around the fifth round of arrows when I was starting to get tired, but with some help from my teacher and our photographer, I finally started keeping my elbow down parallel to my shoulder and finding the rhythm of pulling the arrow from the quiver, nocking the arrow, and then releasing and repeating.
Whether or not I try my hand at bowmaking and/or fletching, I shall most certainly keep up my archery practice for the defense of God, Her Majesty and the Realm of England!
All photos by JoNell Franz © 2013, and are used here with gratitude and permission.
Yes, Patrick is a real honest-to-God professional Robin Hood! He is also founder and president of Presenters of Living History, bringing hands-on history demonstrations into schools and organizations. Patrick and JoNell give kids a chance to make a tactile connection to history by participating in demonstrations and crafts from the renaissance through the American civil war. Aside from being two of my favorite people on the planet, they do Good Work showing kids that history IS NOT BORING. You can hire them or find out more about their work at PatFranz.com.