Archery Practice 

Practising for medieval warfare in Dadlington

This article first appeared in The Stoker 
When we have a winter that produces a number of snowy days, the young folk of Dadlington set off for the slopes that adjoin Hall Farm to enjoy a few hours of sledging. This one time quarry has seen many sights but back in mediaeval times, long before any stone was dug, the land had a very different purpose. It was where the local populace would practice their archery skills.

The longbow originated in Wales and after the English had been on the receiving end of a good archer, it was incorporated into their armoury too. An archer could fire an arrow over half a mile at a rate of up to 12 arrows a minute. In 1252, a proclamation by the king, called an Assize of Arms, required every able bodied man between the ages of 15 and 60 to become proficient in the use of the bow and this was followed in 1388 by a law requiring all servants and labourers to practice at the archery butts every Sunday and on holidays. As medieval kings became a little wary of equipping the common folk with lethal weapons that could be used against them, the practice arrows had their metal arrowheads removed. Still, with half the village’s population engaged in mass arrow firing every week, accidents did happen. An earlier Assize of Arms had exonerated anyone who accidentally killed anyone else during shooting practice and a verdict of death by misadventure would be recorded for anyone who was unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In 1542, the rules for practice were laid down by Parliament. Men aged 24 and over were expected to be able to hit the target or butt at a range of 220 yards, over 200 metres. Other ‘unlawful games’ such as football that might distract the villager from his practice were banned. Merchants bringing goods into the country were required to provide four bows for every ton they imported and ten for every butt of wine. Bows over six foot long were exempt from customs duties in 1503.

Because of these requirements, the English archers became a much feared fighting force in medieval Europe. Their finest hours were during the key battles of The Hundred Years War with France. They are widely acknowledged as the reason the English were triumphant at the battles of Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt. The design of the arrowheads changed with developments to the protective mail that soldiers wore with a thin metal spike known as a bodkin becoming widely used by the time of the Battle of Bosworth. The dominance of the bowman held back the development of hand held guns in England, but when these did emerge, the days of the archer were numbered. An Act of Parliament of 1662 proscribed swords, pistols, muskets and pikes as suitable weapons with the longbow condemned to history.

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