Sunday, 28 October 2007
It’s Sunday so its round two of archery lessons or The Bushwacker versus The Paper Targets.
In England Sunday archery practice is a tradition that nearly 800 years old. In the 12th century the longbow was the black rifle of its day, a military technology that’s use was strictly prescribed by law.
As standing armies are notoriously expensive to maintain, in 1252 the 'Assize of Arms' became the first Medieval Archery Law requiring all able-bodied men, from 15 to 60, equip themselves with a bow and sufficient arrows. The law also "forbade, on pain of death, all sport that took up time better spent on war training especially archery practise".
With King Henry the first, later proclaiming that an archer would be not be tried for murder, if he killed a man during his weekly archery practice. The Plantagenet (literally the planting of cover to create hunting grounds) King Edward III took this further and decreed the Archery Law in 1363 which commanded the obligatory practice of archery on Sundays and holidays!
The longbow really was the super gun of its day, launching arrows faster than any previous bow. It’s said that a skilled bowman could shoot between 10 - 12 arrows a minute. The bodkin (a sort of longer sharper fieldpoint) tipped arrows could pierce a knight’s armour at ranges of more than 250 yards. Such was the value placed on this cutting-edge military technology that in 1365 archers were forbidden to leave the shores of England without a royal licence.
There are still quite a few place names in England that include the word Butts (Newington Butts in South London) meaning that they were traditional archery grounds with targets to aim at and embankments to keep the death toll to a respectable minimum.
Sadly practice in our local parks is no longer permitted, and on the other side of the pond, things aren’t any better. News has reached me that in the city of Eau Claire, in Wisconsin a public practice ground called Archery Park has just banned archery practice after a local resident complained of finding an arrow in his back yard.
Things, as they say, are tough all over.
Wish me luck