Archer status

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LadyT
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Archer status

Postby LadyT » Mon Sep 15, 2008 4:47 pm

Hello All.
A newbie here, with a question thats driving her nuts!
I've done countless searches on crawler/google and heaven knows what search engine. (!)

Please can anyone tell me the social status on an English Medieval Archer. From what I've found out a yeoman/archer was around 1390 who would of owned land. Some were 'retainers' and dressed according to their boss as well as a knight. In 1334 I've found an archer could be as high up as a Captain (e.g. a sargent or valet)
I'm trying to discover how he would of dressed, what his wife would have been and how she would of dressed. e.g. she's not likely to be a noblewomen... but then again, maybe? one search engine suggested a businesswomen making leather goods, but nothing could confirm this.
I realise the answer will depend on the time period (I say Medieval and give you about 900 years to choose from!) But, if anyone can point me in the right direction, it would be much appreicated!



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Postby Chris, yclept John Barber » Tue Sep 16, 2008 12:46 pm

How many answers are there for that question even just for the late 15th century, let alone the whole 900 years!

The problem is that in theory every full-grown man was an archer, thanks to the laws requiring weekly practice. When an army went out on campaign or a militia was raised to defend a town or city, people from all walks of life would want to come along for the possibility of plunder or glory, or both.

In practical terms, that probably meant that the man in charge of raising the contingent from that particular town or estate would select those he knew from the butts to be the best archers of those who wanted to go. He'd take a variety of volunteers, from veterans of previous campaigns to untried lads, some with more harness than others, and the less well-equipped ones might be equipped by others who weren't going along as part of their contribution. There are people on this forum who will endlessly debate documents like the Bridport muster roll and what it means when someone is listed who's a woman, or has more kit than one man can fight with.

But on the whole, veteran archers will probably have more war-gear than newcomers, either because they plundered it in a previous skirmish, or because they spent the money they earned on it in the expectation that they'd be fighting again.

As far as social status goes, once again it's anything goes, as long as they are below the rank of knight. There would have been fairly wealthy types out to 'get richer quickly', and landless men looking to improve their lot by grabbing enough to buy a tenancy or set up in business. Being an archer was not limited to the landholding classes. (At the time, of course, you didn't own land, except in towns and cities, but held it from a lord who in turn held it from another lord, ultimately up to the King.)

Many soldiers, and the bulk of any English medieval army would be archers (up to five-sixths of the strength in the HYW and WOTR), were 'professionals', in the sense that if there wasn't a war on, they didn't have jobs, so they turned to mercenary activities abroad, or banditry at home. With nothing except what they carry on their horse to display their wealth, they would probably look very flash!

Certainly one of the reasons why the French prosecuted the HYW so long was that whenever there wasn't an English campaign, the English soldiers went off into French lands and turned bandit. (The term 'brigand' comes from that period, referring to the fact that many of the English bandits wore no more armour than a brigandine.) Sometimes the French even paid off the English at the end of a phase of the war by hiring them to go to wars in Italy - Sir John Hawkwood was one of them, and his White Company then dominated the wars of the Italian city-states.

There would be lots of Captains of Archers around - every unit would need one to organise things and give commands, and to negotiate with locals for supplies and billets. It doesn't imply any social status outside the duration of the campaign, but archer-captains would probably be people of consequence in their normal lives too. The man who raised the unit would select a Captain who'd be able to haggle effectively to keep expenses down and have the aura of leadership which would maintain discipline with minimal punishments.

As for his wife, obviously that would be as variable as the archer. Most wives wouldn't accompany the army on campaign - they need to stay home and tend the crops or run the business, and raise the kids. The few camp-followers who would accompany their husbands would probably be those who had no other home, married (of sorts) to the rootless types who turn bandit between wars. But, just like hubby, that means that how finely she wants to be dressed and equipped depends on how successful he's been in his campaigning.

So you're not going to get one simple answer. An archer is an archer, and can be anything else as well!


Of course he has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives - it's 1183 and we're barbarians.

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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Tue Sep 16, 2008 1:20 pm

Chris uses the word "professional" and that is a good starting point for you as the English archer, like his higher status buddy the man at arms was certainly a professional.
What he wasn't though was a professional soldier.
So he's a professional blacksmith, a professional, clerk, a professional mason, professional remover of night soil.
If you first hink about what he might be doing when he wasn't unlucky (or lucky) enough to be serving in an army, then you a better starting point for how he would dress, and the status he held.


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Postby Dave B » Tue Sep 16, 2008 1:40 pm

Yup.

I guess probably he works in agriculture in some capacity though, as the majority of people did.

You might imagine that he lives in a little cottage on the local landowners farm, has a patch of land of 'his own' to farm and also works on the bosses land.

Whilst he is away fighting, his wife is at home working in the fields and looking after the kids.


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Postby The Methley Archer » Tue Sep 16, 2008 2:33 pm

Whilst he is away fighting, his wife is at home working in the fields and looking after the kids.


I do wish for that life but it doesn't always work out. :D


Oh bu@#er, her she comes with knife again :shock: I should stop making flippent remarks on a public forum :!:


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Postby LadyT » Thu Sep 18, 2008 8:49 am

WOW!! So many answers, and so many possibilitys. Thank You, each and every one!
I'm doing research for a film scriipt. It was going to be set in a "Robin hood era"(though this is slightly negociable)... althought the main characters wife, rides sidesaddle, knows falconary and can almost shoot a bow, (she has to shoot from a horse towards the end of the script) To be able to do all that, I now figure she must be a Lady of some sorts. She certainly doesnt sound like a farmers wife, does she? LOL!
Her husband is a master/whizz at Archery. Probably teaches archery etc. He's going to have a lot of loyal friends, through the locals (so he doesnt want to be too high and mighty?) But this is not a mini series of Robin Hood. I've been told "Medieval Period" though someone suggested Merlin in this...(Go figure!) We know King Henry viii was a good archer in his younger days but trying to head for just before his time.

Although the famous Robin Hood tale has been told as history or Legend - My problem has been trying to assertain if any of this legend holds true. IF Maid Marion was a Cousin of the King, was it usual for Robert/robin of Loxley to have wed her? As a Lord maybe. If he was a Lord, would he really have been so good at Archery?
This keeps going around my head, despite the fact that I want to steer away from Robin Hood, there are similarites within the script.

I love the reply "An Archer is an Archer, and can be anything else as well"
Makes it all sound so simple!
(yeah, like researching english Language, saddles, types of horses, costumes etc, is easy... the writer wanted dark blue velvet cloaks.... we now know, thanks to this site & others, blue was a dye imported by the rich and velvet wasnt dreamt of!)
My job is important to me, and I know I'm sounding off, but it really p****d me off, to see a german hollow bit (mouth piece for a horse) in the Lord of te Kings films.... they werent invented til the late 19th century
I'm just trying to do this 'Right.'

Thank you, Chris, yclept John Barber and to everyone else. Your most kind!



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Postby Chris, yclept John Barber » Thu Sep 18, 2008 12:43 pm

If she can fly falcons (you'll need to research the particular birds used by ladies of the appropriate rank - I know that the merlin is a lady's bird, but not what others were used), ride sidesaddle (a noble style of riding - I doubt you'd find a sidesaddle in the average merchant's stable), and can "almost" shoot, then she'd be a nobleman's wife. All those are normal achievements of someone of that rank, who would use all those abilities while out hunting.

But shooting from horseback wasn't common in medieval England, as far as I know. I don't know why - probably just the simple bl**dy-mindedness of horses, who are bound to move at the wrong moment. Also, the medieval English tradition is for longbows, which would have to be shot off to the left-hand side of the horse. That would mean stopping her mount and turning its head away from the direction of the target(especially if she's riding sidesaddle!), not something you'd want to do on the chase. That would allow her to be an experienced hunter and quite a good shot with the bow normally, but in the climactic scene the difference of shooting from horseback drops her skill level to "almost able to shoot".

Hubby can be a nobleman who simply enjoys archery and takes it further than most of his rank. All noblemen would be expected to be competent archers, of course (along with having a skill at dancing and a musical instrument, table manners...), but it's easy to accept a nobleman who has discovered a passion for archery. He probably has a reputation for being slightly eccentric for the amount of time he spends shooting, and the strength of the war-bow he uses in preference to the lighter hunting-bows favoured by his equals, but it would be a 'respectable' eccentricity, being so warlike.

He's become a favourite with the locals because of the amount of time he's spent down at the butts with the lower orders. (It's unlikely that a minor nobleman would have a private set of butts just for his own use, when he can go to the village butts and test his skill against his tenants man-to-man.) They can discuss their problems with him and feel connected, so when he gets into trouble the peasantry is behind him.

As to the "truth" of Robin Hood - there were definitely noblemen who turned outlaw - Hereward the Wake being the best-known - and were supported by the locals. That implied that they were the "well-beloved Lord" type, so the locals didn't take up the reward on their heads. You can't really live as an outlaw without local foresters, poachers, etc. knowing where you live, and if you're unpopular that reward will attract a lot of unwelcome attention. There are some good books available about the historical characters on whom the Robin Hood legends are based, but I can't remember the titles and authors at the moment.

So if Robin Hood was Lord Robin of Loxley, nobleman, then he could have been engaged to Marian since they were very young. I don't recall Marian being the cousin of the King in any of the stories, just his ward (which would be the usual state of any noblewoman with no living male family members). However, once Loxley becomes outlaw, he is attainted, his estates seized, and all contracts involving him, including the engagement to marry, become null and void. It would take a full pardon from the King, once he returns from captivity, to overturn Prince John's decree as Protector that Loxley was outlawed, which in turn would reinstate the contract to marry.


Of course he has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives - it's 1183 and we're barbarians.

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Postby LadyT » Thu Sep 18, 2008 4:22 pm

Great answers, and ALL point me in a better direction... Thank You.
When it comes to casting, I'm attaching a link to the powers that be, about this forum!! Incidentally location is the New Forest at this point.

The orignial writer has stated Side Saddle for our Lady... Only today, I find the side saddle wasnt around in England til the 1799. Wish others would get their facts right!! Here's a link, which states the info on the side saddle, I've discovered.
http://users.tinyworld.co.uk/sidesaddle ... ddles.html
Hardly likely in Robin Hoods era, then?!! So Ladies would of ridden astride in a long dress, I take it? (At least the long dress can hide the real saddle!- that'll save wardrobe, they'll only need leather stirup straps!!)

Thank You Annie for your PM, what company are you with? Is there a telephone contact I can use?
So far, I'm considering the Hun Bow, or the Mongol Bow for the Lady.
One of the few western commanders who had success against the horse archers was Alexander the Great who inflicted a defeat against the Scythians in 329BC at the Battle of Jaxartes (Syr Darya). I figure, therefore - it is possible to have obtained a shorter bow in the said time period? I'm working on research and common sense here, so If I'm well out, please say so!

Again, MANY THANKS to all who have responded. Its amazinly interesting and I'm learning a lot too! I bow to all the experts amongst you...(all of you) this has been THE most helpful of forums and you all know where I'm coming from when I wrote English, unlike some of the mis-guided researchers I work with who have facts muddled from worldwide!

Note: I was told to watch Robin Hood for authentical facts.... I guess you guys & gals must watch this type of television series with tongues in cheek! It makes me wonder how much research is usually done for these things. I've been on the job for eight months, and find so many people from all walks of life, who have researched their specialist era. I appauld you all.
Best wishes & Sincere thanks.



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Postby Chris, yclept John Barber » Fri Sep 19, 2008 8:29 am

If I were you, I wouldn’t try using a battle of 329BC to justify anything in a script set in approximately 1200AD – a lot can change in fifteen hundred years!

But there is no problem with Hun/Mongol/Saracen short- or horse-bows (all pretty much the same thing as far as I know) turning up in England in the Robin Hood period. They would be a familiar sight to lots of veteran Crusaders. So you can use a much closer time-period to justify the presence of the bow.

The main problem the Saracen bows as used against the Crusaders had was the lack of penetrating power. That’s why they didn’t catch on, unlike so much other Arabic knowledge brought back by Crusaders (such as the advances in medicine). The Saracens’ tactic, as I understand it, was to ride in fast, loose a few shafts quickly at the marching ‘Franks’, wheel and bug out before the crossbowmen with the Crusaders could come into action. (This was before the development of the longbow for warfare, which would have changed things considerably!) Because their normal opponents were other Saracens, dressed and armed for desert heat, that would normally be a good tactic, but against ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ in the heavy Northern European-style armour and solid padding, it was nothing more than an annoyance. The Crusaders’ chronicles make reference to the Saracens’ arrows standing out of their gambesons like hedgehog quills.

So the Saracen-style recurved laminated shortbow would be available to an archery enthusiast in Robin Hood-era England. It might have been brought over by the same merchants who dealt in the spices Crusaders had learned to love, if The Husband isn’t an ex-Crusader himself and the bow a souvenir. For hunting, where the prey doesn’t wear heavy armour, the shorter, lighter bow would have definite advantages in close undergrowth.

In the recent BBC Robin Hood series, he does have such a Saracen bow. The criticism levelled at it wasn’t so much that the bow wouldn’t have been available in 1199 in England, but that Robin Hood, in all the legends, used the longbow, the classic weapon of the English yeoman. (Virtually everything about that series was wrong and awful from the point of view of most re-enactors, but we won’t go into that here!)

I still think you’d have the same difficulty shooting from horseback when hunting. The Saracen tactic was to ride parallel to the line of the enemy so that they could shoot off to the left side of the horse. You need to draw the bow with the back and shoulder muscles to get the strength of pull required, so that the arrow is shot parallel to the line of the shoulders. But when hunting the prey available in medieval England (deer, wild pigs), the quarry would be ahead of your horse – every time you stopped and turned your mount to take a shot, you would lose a lot of ground on the chase if you missed.

Modern writers may miss that kind of detail as they have seen footage in Westerns of the Plains tribes hunting with bows from horseback – essentially, they ride at a buffalo herd and overtake the back markers, allowing them to ride parallel to the prey and shoot at their sides, just like Saracens and Crusaders. English prey like deer are more likely to be found in woods and other heavy cover, and even when found out on open moorland they can probably outrun a horse laden down with a rider, so that hunting technique wouldn’t work.


Of course he has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives - it's 1183 and we're barbarians.

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Postby Hinny Annie » Mon Sep 22, 2008 3:02 pm

Chris, yclept John Barber wrote:But shooting from horseback wasn't common in medieval England, as far as I know. I don't know why - probably just the simple bl**dy-mindedness of horses, who are bound to move at the wrong moment.


Its because the longbow would get tangled in the horses legs.


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Postby Phil the Grips » Mon Sep 22, 2008 3:29 pm

Really? Maybe not hunting but it had military applications.

We do it as part of our C16th demos ( http://www.theborderers.info/thebow.html ) and you can see Mike Loades doing it here with an original C15th image of such at the start
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcpHB-flwJQ


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Postby JC Milwr » Mon Sep 22, 2008 7:43 pm

"The main problem the Saracen bows as used against the Crusaders had was the lack of penetrating power. "
Not, as far as I am aware, the main problem. Penetrating power is more to do with the weight and speed of the bow, which recurves have in abundance, and the shape of the arrow tip, which isn't relevant.

The main problem with Saracen bows, as far as I am aware, is the British climate. The laminated bows are glued, and designed in a dry climate. Keeping glued bows in damp conditions (eg a British winter/summer) for any length of time will cause the glue to rot or dampen, and the bow fall apart under stress! If you look, all the laminated bows come from dry countries. Even Mongolia is very dry.

This is why arrow fletchings are whipped. They were glued too, but the glue wasn't proof against English damp.


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Postby Colin Middleton » Mon Sep 22, 2008 9:11 pm

Sorry for comming late to this party.

I'm guessing that we're talking 12th to 14th Century for 'Robin Hood', also known as the High Medieval period.

Velvet wasn't invented until the 14th C, though wode blue was a common colour before that.

I'll back up most of what Chris has said here. I'd be wary of a recurve bow in England. When there's good longbows around, why would you bother with one?

On the riding point, would you use bows on horseback when hunting? My impression is that the archers would be on foot, while the gentry/nobles would be using lances from horseback. Though, hawking, riding and shooting would have been popular pastimes for the gentry & nobility.

All the best for the filming


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Postby Chris, yclept John Barber » Tue Sep 23, 2008 2:17 pm

Not being an archery expert, I'm working on fragments which stuck in my mind from researching just about enough to narrate our archery demos.

I don't think that the gluing in laminated bows would be a problem even in the damp English climate. Till the introduction of steel crossbow prods in the C14th, they were made of laminated woods. Although the particular glues used by Saracen bowyers might be vulnerable to the damp, they would be capable of repair by crossbowyers (if there is such a word).

On Hinny Annie's point, I can't see how the bow would entangle the horse's legs. It is shot at arm's-length, so would be well clear of the legs at the moment of release, and when it's held down to reload it would lie at mid-thigh. The Japanese longbow archers have no such problems with eight- or nine-foot bows (which are also shot at right angles to the direction of travel).

I also had a conversation at Blore on the subject with our group's primary archery expert (he posts here as Nemeton John), who told me that in the New Forest at the period the primary method of hunting was to erect a wide funnel of netting to cordon beasts into a clearing, also surrounded by netting, which acted as a corral for the game. Beaters would drive the beasts into the trap, and the nobility would be set up with their bows and crossbows around the corral. I had heard about the British using that as a hunting technique in C19th India, but didn't know it went that far back.

He also reminded me that the New Forest contains large areas of scrub and meadowland, as well as woods - the reason it was designated a Forest (a legal device reserving the right to hunt to the King and his authorised nobles) was precisely because it had a good selection of terrains for different kinds of prey.


Of course he has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives - it's 1183 and we're barbarians.

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Postby Merlon. » Tue Sep 23, 2008 2:30 pm

Chris, yclept John Barber wrote: The Japanese longbow archers have no such problems with eight- or nine-foot bows (which are also shot at right angles to the direction of travel).


The grip on those bows is not central but two thirds of the way down the bow, which suggests they found entanglement to be an issue



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Postby Phil the Grips » Tue Sep 23, 2008 3:04 pm

Chris, yclept John Barber wrote:I also had a conversation at Blore on the subject with our group's primary archery expert (he posts here as Nemeton John), who told me that in the New Forest at the period the primary method of hunting was to erect a wide funnel of netting to cordon beasts into a clearing, also surrounded by netting, which acted as a corral for the game. Beaters would drive the beasts into the trap, and the nobility would be set up with their bows and crossbows around the corral. I had heard about the British using that as a hunting technique in C19th India, but didn't know it went that far back
That's a C16th method of driving game to a fixed point when hunting large game became more recreational and pageant based(replacing tournaments etc).

Netting was done in the C15th in the UK but it was primarily done in the way we do ferreting today- ie focussing on one burrow at a time for small game- and occasionally boar.

The best book, in terms of equipment use and readability, is Blackmore's "Hunting Weapons" when it comes to this sort of thing.


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Postby narvek » Tue Sep 23, 2008 4:00 pm

Merlon. wrote:
Chris, yclept John Barber wrote: The Japanese longbow archers have no such problems with eight- or nine-foot bows (which are also shot at right angles to the direction of travel).


The grip on those bows is not central but two thirds of the way down the bow, which suggests they found entanglement to be an issue


Only if you shoot it while standing. If you shoot from horseback, you hold it in a centre :wink:

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or rather you hold the bow nealy at the centre, but you pull a string from different place.
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Postby Hinny Annie » Tue Sep 23, 2008 7:53 pm

Phil the Grips wrote:Really? Maybe not hunting but it had military applications.

We do it as part of our C16th demos ( http://www.theborderers.info/thebow.html ) and you can see Mike Loades doing it here with an original C15th image of such at the start
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcpHB-flwJQ


Phil thats brilliant will try and come and see you next season. When we started with Horsebows I did loads of research on them, but as we are in the middle of moving house I cant find any of it now, flaming typical of me. :roll:


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Postby Merlon. » Wed Sep 24, 2008 8:12 am

narvek wrote:
Merlon. wrote:
Chris, yclept John Barber wrote: The Japanese longbow archers have no such problems with eight- or nine-foot bows (which are also shot at right angles to the direction of travel).


The grip on those bows is not central but two thirds of the way down the bow, which suggests they found entanglement to be an issue


Only if you shoot it while standing. If you shoot from horseback, you hold it in a centre :wink:
or rather you hold the bow nealy at the centre, but you pull a string from different place.


Your pictures are of two different styles of bow. The first picture is of a Yumi where the grip is two thirds down the bow whether on foot or horseback. The other two pictures are of Daikyu which is the equivalent of the European Longbow.
My comments related to the Yumi which is the bow used during the Gempei wars, appropraite to the time frame of the original query. Rather than the Daikyu which is more the Age of War in the 16th Century



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Postby Simon_Diment » Wed Sep 24, 2008 12:39 pm

And they're still holding it asymetrically :roll:


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Postby Colin Middleton » Wed Sep 24, 2008 1:31 pm

And in either case, the bottom tip of the bow is around the waist so it' won't be in the horse's way.


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Postby Flesh&Blood » Thu Sep 25, 2008 12:59 pm

Harking back to composite recurve bows, the construction being made out of 5 separate main pieces was most definately a problem with our climate, damp most certainly affected the bows, a composite crossbow prod has none of the problems associated with a composite recurve, as the recurve has 2 separate limbs (horn with sinew to created compression), two siyahs (sp) (the bits of wood on the ends of the limbs that hold the nocks) and the handle, all of these individual parts are glued and bound together. Examples of these bows from hundreds of years ago are still available to view in their original condition in middle eastern palace armouries. They have draw weights of between 70 odd pounds up to 120 odd pounds. The problems of getting arrow penetration at longer ranges is down to the projectile rather than the power of the bow, middle eastern arrows are considerably lighter than english 'steeles', they are often found to be tapered if their construction was made entirely of wood, or be composite in construction again, utilising a reed shaft with a woodern insert at either end to allow nocking and tipping, some earlier era arrows were not tipped at all, but left as fire hardened wood. These arrows were capable of outstripping an english longbow on distance bay a very large margin, shooting on average over 450 yards, up to a creadible 650 yards, they were known not to be massivly dangerous at this range, but were a great deal of nuisance, as they 'will' stick into unprotected flesh, be it man flesh or horse flesh, the reason for this is that it makes forming up of ranks, and holding of formations difficult, having the desired effect of disjointing a massed advance. Phill is 100% correct in the way he describes the horse archers, and the way they approached an enemy formation.
We did have mounted archers in medieval england, Hobilars (sp), but they were, as far as I have been able to find out, just archers who had the benefit of a horse for transport, and they would dismount to shoot, I believe they were also armed with a spear (not a lance as some people will insist) when outriding for the main body of men, or skirmishing.
Hawks and Falconry, I remember dimly that there was a set rule for the type of bird to the status of the person, example being that a peasant or lower status person would never be allowed say a Perregrin, lanner or Seka falcon, on pains of something nasty, I may be wrong on this though?



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Re: Archer status

Postby teddybear » Sat Jan 23, 2010 11:59 pm

a good way to work things like that out i have found, is read up on all the parts of there lifes as you can for the eara.
every nows about the must pratice on sundays etc, but if you get hold of books of battles like creccy i have a few, there are bits in it like pay with out digging out the book i think they got 4p when a man at arms got 2p but dont quote me on it as ive not read the book in a bit,
all so they would have started tranning around the 7 to 9 year old age the law sed that they must have a bow to the wight that they can shoot and arrows (my words but thats what the law ment)
as time whent on the archer had a much better place in there area with respeted, drawing of well to do men holding and arrow or a bollerk knife.
you see from the welsh wars throw the scots wars up to creccy the warbow was in develerpment and so was the tatcits as well. when you hit the asincore time we new what a grate weapong it was in the right hands and in the right type of ground.
ow you many not now that you could be called up form 18 to 60
a very good book to start on is
the grate warbow by matthew srickland and robert hardy
even has the welsh short bow in it the for runner of the longbow, and if you like number of men from an area etc of creccy i think the books for (sorry agian its in my shevels and i read them in shevels be for the show dates so its in my noggern) pm me and i will look up the book name, i found how many, archers or man at arms and kinghts for my area pembrokeshire in it
sorry for the spelling i have very bad dexsla
ps if any 1 wonts to start a pm chat about the bow pls feel free i love to lurn about it and shaire ideas its the only way to fill in the gaps



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Re: Archer status

Postby Brother Ranulf » Mon Jan 25, 2010 1:38 pm

I'm another latecomer to this party and just read through all the above.

For "Robin Hood period", or roughly 1200, there is something of a paradox regarding archers as there is throughout the entire 12th century.

The Assize of Arms edict issued by Henry II in 1181 formalised earlier arrangements "for the defence of the realm" and spelled out the armour and weapons to be held by every knight and freeman in the country (except for Jews, who were excluded). The weapons detailed are exclusively spears; swords are not mentioned for knights but can be assumed since swords were their exclusive right. Otherwise, your average free landholder (who was later termed a yeoman), burgess, butcher, farrier, cobbler, blacksmith, merchant, fishmonger or goldsmith was expected to have an iron cap, gambeson and spear, with a coat of mail for those with a higher income. Absolutely no other weapons could be held.

There is no mention of archers or crossbowmen anywhere in the Assize of 1181 - yet we know for certain that England was crawling with such men, so who on earth were they? If you look at the surviving manuscript illustrations of archers from the late 12th century, practically all of them are noblemen out hunting and not one can be shown to be a military archer. Yet at the Battle of the Standard in 1138, large numbers of Anglo-Norman archers made mincemeat of the first waves of attacking unarmoured Scots.

At that battle, town militias (mainly freemen with spears) from Ripon, Beverley and York were present so it is possible that the archers included non-free peasants from those towns. It is also possible that the archers were among the retinues of the knights present on the field (although no mention is made in contemporary accounts of how such retinues were composed). It is just possible, though fairly unlikely in the circumstances, that some of King Stephen's unruly and disliked Flemish mercenaries were present as archers. All we know is that a large number of men with bows stood in the Anglo-Norman front ranks - who they were and what status they held remains a mystery.

Mercenary troops or "routiers" were a common addition to Anglo-Norman armies in the late 12th century. They included Flemings, Bretons, Welshmen, Brabanters ("Bragmanni" in contemporary accounts) and others. Many of these were crossbowmen, others presumably archers and spearmen. They were not generally noted for their loyalty or discipline.

The "English yeoman archer" may possibly have existed in 1200, but if he did there is scant evidence for him, as there is for bowyers and fletchers at that time. Lack of evidence is inconvenient since it results in wild speculation, but it doesn't prove that the English archer and his longbow didn't exist - just that we can't prove they existed.

The problem with the Robin Hood tales is that they are backdated; they are told in a much later period than the one they are set in, so anachronistic elements are included (such as friars, who did not exist in England in 1200). The idea of yeoman archers may be similarly out of place.
Last edited by Brother Ranulf on Mon Jan 25, 2010 10:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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Re: Archer status

Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Mon Jan 25, 2010 3:32 pm

I assumed that the Robin Hood stories were essentially 14th/15th century set in what those living then regarded as "the good old days" and that they have as much to do with the historical struggles between the anglo-saxons and the normans as the King Arthur stories are a true picture of the struggles between romano-british and saxons. (Which is why I fail to get as upset about the inaccuracies involved in the various films and TV shows.)


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Re: Archer status

Postby Brother Ranulf » Mon Jan 25, 2010 3:46 pm

That's a reasonable idea Marcus, except that the struggles between Saxon and Norman had pretty much ended by 1100 - the Victorians dreamed up the "Ivanhoe" situation where the struggle continued well into the 12th century. How people in the 1400s viewed that part of history is not clear to me, if they even considered it . . . .


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Re: Archer status

Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Tue Jan 26, 2010 9:11 pm

I'm reasonably sure there is at least one Robin Hood story in which the lissing King of england is an Edward, but I don't know if it was 1 or 2.


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