John Smythe on archers at Kett’s Rebellion and the Prayer Book Rebellion

The fiercest advocate of the longbow during the period of the Elizabethan bow vs. gun debates was John Smythe, a nobleman and a cantankerous soldier of long experience. Smythe had first served in France during the short reign of Edward VI, and afterwards had fought in the Netherlands (on the side of the Spanish) and against the Turks in eastern Europe. The first book Smythe wrote in defense of the bow, titled Certain Discourses, based much of its authority on the historical triumphs of archery- biblical, classical, medieval, and a few from Smythe’s own time. Those from the 16th century are the only ones really of interest to us.

Let’s take a look at some of the victories of longbowmen over harquebuzers and musketeers Smythe presents, and then see if we can reconcile them with the historical record.

Continue reading

Christine de Pizan, The Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry, 1410

Christine de Pizan, a French noblewoman, is notable not only for her poetry, but for having written this book on the virtues of martial training. The work is largely based on Vegetius’s De Re Militari, but Christine adds in plenty of commentary unique to the military situation of 15th century France.

Most interesting is her section on archery, as the book was coincidentally written just a few years before the disaster at Azincourt.

Vegetius says that as carrying a sling is very light, it is a very useful thing. It sometimes happens that a battle takes place on stony ground, or that it is necessary to defend a mountain. Even in the assault or defense of a fortress a sling can be very useful. It was formerly held in such high esteem that in some of the Greek islands mothers would not give food to their children until they had struck their meat with a slingshot blow. Along with this they taught them how to shoot with a bow or crossbow. Their teachers instructed them to hold the bow on their right side with the left hand, and then the cord was drawn by the right hand with great force and skill, the arrow near the ear, the heart and eye fixed steadily on the mark and attentively aimed. In this art young Englishmen are still instructed from early youth, and for this reason they commonly surpass other archers. They can hit a barge aimed at from a distance of six hundred feet. Vegetius says that this art must be practiced constantly even by skilled masters, for practice is necessary. Cato says in his book of arms that good archers are very useful in battle. Claudius testifies to this when he says that archers and those trained in throwing darts overcame their enemies with relatively few men; so does the valiant fighter Scipio the African.

It is rare to find a contemporary source which gives quantitative information on just how accurate archers were, or were expected to be. It is not clear if Christine had ever seen an English archer first-hand, or was repeating received knowledge. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable that an experienced archer would be able to consistently hit a “barge” from 200 yards. How big was a medieval barge? Certainly bigger than a man, probably smaller than a formed battalia.

This is practice-range accuracy, however. On the actual battlefield we could expect accuracy to drop precipitously. In the age of musketry, the percentage of bullets which could be expected to hit, both on the practice range and on the battlefield, are well documented. There is scarce information for either on arrows.

English Books on Bow vs. Musket Issue

Here is, I hope, an exhaustive list of every published English writer who commented on the bow vs. musket debate up until the start of the English Civil War. Included is a short summary of their position and a link, if available, to a transcription.

 

Barnabe Riche, A Right Exelent and Pleasaunt Dialogue, 1574

“The shotte shall be able to preiudice the Archer, who shal not be able to shoote halfe the grounde towardes him agayne. Farther when the Shotte shal take advantage almost in everi ground to shrowd himselfe, where the Archer must remaine an open mark uppon the plaine or els to occupy his Bow to smal efect…. Archers maye do verye good seruice, althoughe it be not to incounter with shotte.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A10718.0001.001?view=toc

 

Thomas Styward, The Pathwaie to Martiall Discipline, 1582

“These bands of archers being brought to service by the callevers, although that the callevers be counted to be of greater force then they be of, & the archers be not used in the field so much as they have bene, yet having light shafts made to shoot 12, or 14, score, may kepe their place shooting altogither over the heads of the caleevers, to the blemishing and very great anoie of the enemie.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A13122.0001.001?view=toc

 

Roger Williams, Briefe Discourse of Warre, 1590

“Bow men [are] the worst shot used in these days…  I persuade my selfe five hundred musketers are more serviceable than fifteene hundred bow-men.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A15466.0001.001?view=toc

 

John Smythe, Certain Discourses, 1590

“The Long Bowes (which our such men of warre have so much condemned) being in the hands of such soldiers Archers as can well use them, are weapons of singular advantage and effect for battailes and great encounters, both against horsemen and footmen, and chieflie being so evill armed, as all Nations in these our daies both on horsebacke and on foot are, because that the Bowe is a weapon wonderfull readie in all seasons, both of faire & foule weather (which Mosquets and Harquebuzes are not) and doth wound, gall and kill both horses and men, if the arrowes doo light upon anie disarmed parts of them.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A12567.0001.001?view=toc

 

Thomas Digges, An Arithmetical Warlike Treatise Named Stratioticos, 1590

Not to be confused with Digges’s 1579 book, An Arithmetical Militarie Treatise

“If I should place any weapon within the bodie of my battaile but Pikes onely, it should be long bowes, who may in deede when the Pikes are couched, play over their heads upon their enimies faces w’out any danger to their fellowes, which no other shot in truth can wel do, but Bowes only.”

No free transcription available

 

William Garrard, The Arte of Warre, 1591

“The Archer serves to small purpose, but when he is shadowed with some Trench or Bulwarke free from harabuse or musket shot: In that lying a band of Hargabusiers, he doth second them in any invading onset, and then a whole flight of Arrowes, so that they be light and able to flie above twelve score, will mercilously gaule any maine battaile of footmen or Squadron of horsmen…. Unless necessitie constraine, and that harabusiers be wanting, Archers may well be spared.”

 

Gyles Clayton, The Aprooved order of Martiall discipline, 1591

“Wee use not the weapons which hath beene used in olde time, as Cros-bowes, long bows, black Billes, with such other like weapons.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A18959.0001.001?view=toc

 

Matthew Sutcliffe, The Practice, Proceedings, and Lawes of armes, 1593

“Archers in assaults, and defence of townses cannot do like service to mosquetiers, and calivers, for neyther can they hit so right, nor so mortally. In pight fields I thinke them nothing inferiour to them [In fixed fields think bows are not inferior to firearms], for being armed with jackes, as they shoulde bee, when they come to gripes, they drive the shot to his feete, and shooting manie rankes one over an others head twelve arrowes shall fall before one boullet”

No free transcription.

 

Humfrey Barwick, A Breefe Discourse, 1594

“I never sawe any slaine out right with an arrowe, and but with Quarels few, but with Harquebuze and Pistoll shot, I have been at severall times, where 20000. hath beene slaine outright, besides manie wounded and maimed.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A05277.0001.001?view=toc

 

John Smythe, Certen instructions, observations and orders militarie,  1594

This book is much longer than Smythe’s previous work, and he goes into much greater detail of how he would wish his hypothetical archers to be commanded and deployed. Smythe also proposes a plan for equipping mounted crossbowers and archers.

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A12568.0001.001

 

R.S., A Briefe Treatise, To prooue the necessitie and excellence of the vse of archerie, 1596

This small pamphlet is not very interesting as it merely summarizes the arguments of John Smythe, quoting him at length.

Access to the transcription requires a login.

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo2/A11250.0001.001?view=toc

 

Barnabe Riche, A Martial Conference, 1598

Riche revisits the bow vs. gun issue after 24 years. In that time, he has become even less charitable towards the bow. Although Riche goes into as much depth as Smythe and Barwick, unfortunately this work has received no attention, despite being a more enjoyable read due to the many jokes Riche inserts throughout.

“With three or foure hundred musketiers they would displace two thousand Archers, and without any manner of danger to themselves, by reason of their farre shooting.”

Access to the transcription requires a login.

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo2/A10710.0001.001?view=toc

 

Robert Barret, The Theorike and Practike of Moderne Warres, 1598

“They may shoot thicke, but to small performance, except (as I said) upon naked men or horse. But should there be led but eight hundred perfect hargubusiers, or sixe hundred good musketiers against your thousand bowmen, I thinke your bowmen would be forced to forsake their ground… and moreover a vollie of musket or hargubuze goeth with more terrour, fury, and execution, then doth your vollie of arrowes.”

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A04863.0001.001

 

Barnabe Riche, The Fruites  of long Experience, 1604

This is sort of a second part to A Martial Conference, and Riche does not go into as much length on the longbow debate as he did in his previous book, choosing instead to focus on other military matters.

“For our ancient English weapon the Long-bow, I am sure there be manie that would gladlie maintaine the excellency of theat… yet for my part I could wish they were but half so effectual as some ignorant men would willingly persuade.”

 

John Bingham, Tactics of Aelian, 1616

“And surely it may not bee denied, that the force of fireweapons of our time doth farre exceed the height of all old inventions for anoyeng the enemy. And, when I have given them the first place, I will not doubt to give the second to bowes and arrowes being so farre from casting them of, that I would rather follow the wisdome of the Graecians; whoe albeit they esteemed arrowes the best flieng weapons, yet thought it not amisse to hold in use slinges, and dartes.”

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A05855.0001.001

 

William Neade, The Double-Armed Man, 1625

Neade invented a bow which could be fastened onto a pike. That way, the pikemen would have something to do while the musketeers were shooting at each other. Effectively, bowmen could be added to the brigade without reducing the number of pikes or muskets. The concept was embraced by King Charles I.

“Wheresoever the Pike or the Musket are servicable, there will the bow be servicable also. Besides, in raine or moist weather the Bow is usefull: Also with our showers of arrowes we can shoot into any Towne, Castle, Fort or Trench, as likewise to shoot fire-workes.”

Requires login

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/B14921.0001.001

 

Thomas Kellie, Pallas Armata, 1627

“This Bow is verie steadable in warlike service, and although the use thereof is almost quite extinguished by the furious execution which the Musquet appeareth to make, yet I will prove it to surpasse the Musquet in manie respects.”

Requires login

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A68294.0001.001

 

Anon, A New Invention of Shooting Fireshafts in Long-bowes, 1628

The author argues that the practice of armoring pikemen was wasteful, as armor couldn’t stop a musket bullet, and pikes almost never encountered one another in those days. Money saved on corslets could instead be spent on longbows to shoot fireworks, which the author argues would be more useful, as they could support the musketeers by shooting over their heads.

“I seek not to perswade the use of Bowes in steed of Guns, but that by due accouplement of both, ore hands might in lesse roome bee brought to fight at once; a part of chiefest excellence in marshalling of men.”

 

William Neade, Obiections against the vse of the bovv vvith the pike: and the answers thereunto, 1630

I haven’t gotten a look at this one yet. It would be interesting to know what the objections to the double-armed man concept were. Whatever they were, there must have been some validity to them, as the double-armed man saw very little service.

Requires login

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/B14920.0001.001

 

Gervase Markham, The Art of Archerie, 1634

By this time England had completely replaced the smaller harquebuses and calivers with the larger and more powerful muskets. Markham wished that bows be reintroduced to fill the role which harquebuses once had, to wing the muskets as the muskets winged the pikes.

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A06902.0001.001

 

William Barriffe, Military discipline, 1635

“Notwithstan∣ding, if one halfe of them had bowes fastened unto their Pikes (being able and well practised men) they might, whilest the Muskettiers are in firing, be dealing of their doles about: and although their arrowes did not happen to wound mortally, yet the whisteling noyse, the terrour of the sight, and the severall hurts (which could not chuse but be many) would be a great abatement to the stoutest courages.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A04919.0001.001?rgn=main;view=toc

Thomas Churchyard- A Praise of the Bovve, 1583

This poem appears in The Avncient Order, Societie, and Vnitie Laudable, of Prince Arthure, and his Knightly Armory of the Round Table. With a Threefold Assertion frendly in fauour and furtherance of English Archery at this day, translated and editted by R. R., 1583.

A Praise of the Bovve and Commendation of this Booke, written by Thomas Churchyard Gent.
IN forraine land and natiue soyle, where soldiars I haue seen:
And chefly in the martial dais (when youth was fresh & green)
I haue beheld both Bow & shot, the Bow for Archers meet:
The shot for vse of powders force, and lads of liuely spreet.
And iudging by experience great, in place where both were tried:
I found where shot was graunted good, the Bow was not denied.
First ere we found out shot aright, the Bow great battels won:
And long the Bow great glory gate, before we knew the Gun.
As lo this Booke doth mention make, & shewes in verses good:
For murthering shot came in of late, when Bovv in honor stood.
In elders daies when manhode shone, as bright as blasing starre,
And christian hart and noble mind, disdaind this turkish warre.
The Bow was vsed as force of man & strength of arms might draw
To glad the frend and daunt the foe, and hold the world in awe.
But when that strength and courage fail’d, and cunning crept in place
The shot and roring Canon came, stout people to deface.
The Bow not fit for cowards hand, for cowards strength doth faile:
VVhen man drawes arrow to the head, and then doth foe assaile.
with sword and dagger Lion-like, that bends both brow and taile
And grins and gapes with gnashing teeth, to make his enemy quail
The shot lies lurking in a hole, and spies aduantage great:
Then bullet, match, and powders force, do work a wicked feate.
The Archer showes a manly face, in field and euery where:
And when his arrowes all are spent, he dies with courage there.
The shot no sooner all discharg’d, but legs for life must shift:
These bold and venterous nimble boyes, can find no further drift.
But geue the charging horsmen place, the Archers do not so:
For foure and twenty headed shafts, belongs to euery Bow.
And surely shoote the Archers may, at many a thing ye know.
When men in broyles and battailes doubt, how warres and world wil goe.
There is a knight a soldiar great, in court doth white staffe beare:
That knowes what Bowes haue done in field, against both shielde and speare.
Yea many more are yet aliue, that honours Bovv indeed:
And can record what noble actes the Bow hath done at need.
I saw in sundry soyles my selfe, much shot discharg’d in vaine:
Yet graunt we must that through the same are thousands daily slain
But enterlard the shot with Bow, and tel me then your mind:
A gallant course of wars vnknown, in field then shal you finde.
Fiue thousand Bowes that shooteth still, in Battel may do good:
They gall the horse, or kill the man, or draw some desperate blood.
And thick as moates in ayer they flee, which hinder much the sight
And haply makes when horses is hurt, the mounted man alight.
VVel, speak of shot what best you may, the Bovv is braue in field:
And sure in skirmish Archers oft, makes feeble shot to yeelde.
A rare deuise I will set out, to strengthen Man and Bovv,
And when the plaine deuice thereof the world shall see and know.
The Bovv shall come againe in fame, and win his wonted grace:
Looke out of hand for my discourse, til then come Bovv in place,
And take thine Ancient, rowme & vse, as Arthures Knights thee gaue,
Thou art a fearfull fore in field, and yet a pastime braue.
That brings vp youth, and pleasures age, a noble thing in view
An auncient arte, a worthy guise, that scornes all practise new.
An exercise that all men loue, an vse of Armes and strength,
And to this English soyle of ours, wilt bring great fame at length.
So cease I heere, in prayse of Bovv, thinke of me what you please,
A longer matter shall I show, before I crosse the Seaes.
Finis qd. T. Churchyard.

John Bingham- The Tactiks of Aelian, 1616

P24-27

Archers haue alwayes beene of speciall esteeme for the field, and preferred before the other kindes of light-armed. Many nations haue beene commended for theire skill in shooting. Emongest the Graecians the Cretans were (of ancient time) sole archers, as Pausanias witnesseth. Yet was not theire service aequall with the service of the Persians. For Xenophon confesseth, that the Persian bowe overreached the Cretan a great way: and that the Rhodians with theire sling owt-threw the Cretan bow. Of the Carduchans a people, through whose Countrey the Graecians passed at theire returne out of Persia, Xenophon writeth thus: They caried noe other armes, then bowes and slinges. They were excellent archers; and had bowes well nighe three cubits long; arrowes more, then two Cubits. When they shotte, they drewe the string, applieng theire hand some what toward the neither end of the bowe, setting theire left foote foreward. With theire arrowes they pierced both targets, and Curates. The Graecians putting thonges to the middest of theire arrowes sent them back at the enemy in steede of Dartes. The same in effect is reported by Diodorus Siculus. Of the Parthian horsemen, Appian saith: When Crassus commaunded the light-armed to disband, & goe to the charge, they went not farre, but meeting with many arrowes, and being sore galled with them, they retired streight, and hid themselues emongest the armed, and gaue beginning of disorder, and feare, repraesenting to the sight of the rest, the force, and violence of the shotte, that rent all armes, they fell vppon, and made way aswell thorough bodies, that had the best, as the worst furniture defensiue: giving mighty and violent strokes from stiffe and great bowes, and forcing out the arrowe boisterously with the compasse, and bent of the bowe. Plutarch hath the very wordes, that are in Appian. The Indians also were good archers, albeit not much praised by Q. Curtius. Hee saith: theire arrowes were two Cubits long, which they deliver out of theire bowes, with more labour, then effect: for as much as the arrow, whose whole efficacy is in lightnesse, becometh altogether vnwieldy by reason of the weight. And yet hee telleth, that Alexander, at the assault of the principall City of the Mallians, was strooke thorough his Curace into the side beneath the pappes with an In∣dian arrowe: with whome Plutarch and Diod. Siculus accord. Arrian addeth the wound was so deep, that his breath was seene to issue out together with his blood. The Gothes and other people of the north, that invaded the Roman empire, had theire chiefe victories against the Romans by the help of bowes, and arrowes. Vegetius (before alleaged) speaketh it plainely: So our souldiers, saith hee, vnarmed both bodies and heads, encountring with the Gothes, were oftentimes wholy defeated, and slaine, with the multitude of theire arrowes. I may not pretermitte the praise of our nation in this skill. Our owne stories testify, that the great battailes, we gayned against the french, were gayned by the ioint-shooting of our archers principally. And that the English haue heretofore excelled in archery & shooting, is cleere by the testimony even of Strangers. Cicuta (whom I named before) commending the vse of bows, as necessary for the service of the field (& that long after gunnes were invented) praeferreth the English before all other, and setteth him downe, as a patterne for other to follow. And Patritius, disputing of the violence of arrows, doubteth not to affirme, that an English arrowe with a litle waxe put vpon the point of the head, wil passe through any ordinary Corslette or Curace. Howsoever the credit of bowes is lost, at this present, with many great souldiers, yet haue they of auncient time been highly prised. Vegetius saith; how great advantage good archers bring in fight, both Cato in his bookes of military discipline doth shewe evidently, and Claudius, by augmenting the number of archers, and teaching of them the vse of theire bowes, overcame the enemy, whome before hee was not able to matche. Scipio Africanus (the yonger) being to giue battaile to the Numantines, that before had forced a Roman army to passe vnder the yoake, thought hee could not otherwise haue the better, vnlesse hee mingled chosen archers in euery. And Leo the Emperour in his Constitutions military hath this Constitution ongest other: You shall commund all the Roman youth, till they come to fourty yeares of age, whether they haue meane skill in shooting, or not, to cary bowes & quivers of arrowes. For since the art of shooting hath been neglected, many, & great losses haue befallen the Romans. And in another place: you shall enioyne the Commaunders vnder you, in winter to take a view, and to signify to the Turmches (Coronells) how many horse, & what kinde of armes the souldiers, vnder their commaundes, stand in need of, that necessary provision bee made, & the souldiers be furnished in time convenient. But specially you are to haue care of archers; & that they, whoe remaine at home, & haue vacation from warre, hold bowes and arrowes in their howses. For carelessnesse heerin hath brought great dammage to the Roman State. So Leo. This of ould time was the opinion of the Romans concerning archers. Howe wee are fallen out with them in our dayes (the skill of the bowe, being a quality so commendable, and so proper to our nation) I knowe not, vnlesse fire-weapons perhaps haue put them out of countenance. And surely it may not bee denied, that the force of fireweapons of our time doth farre exceed the height of all old inventions for anoyeng the enemy. And, when I haue given them the first place, I will not doubt to giue the second to bowes and arrowes being so farre from casting them of, that I would rather fol∣low the wisdome of the Graecians; whoe albeit they esteemed arrowes the best flieng weapons, yet thought it not amisse to hold in vse slinges, and dartes- Every weapon hath it property; and that which is fitte for one service, is not so fitte for another. The fireweapons haue theire advantages; They haue also theire disadvantages. Theire advantage is, they pierce all defence of armour, and lighting vpon a place of the body, the wound whereof endaungereth life, they bring with them certeine death. Theire disadvantages are, they are not alwayes certeine, sometimes for want of charging, sometimes through over charging, sometimes the bullet rowling out, sometimes for want of good powder, or of dryed powder, sometimes because of an ill dryed matche, not fitte to coale, or not well cocked. Besides they are somewhat long in charging, while the musketier takes downe his musket, vncockes the matche, blowes, proynes, shuttes, casts of the pan, castes about the musket, opens his charges, chargeth, drawes out his sticke, rammes in the powder, drawes out againe, and puts vp his skowring stick, layes the musket on the rest, blowes of the matche, cockes, and tryes it, gardes the pan, and so makes ready. All which actions must necessarily bee observed, if you will not faile of the true vse of a musket. In raine, snowe fogges, or when the enemy hath gayned the winde, they haue small vse. Adde that but one ranke (that is the first) can giue vpon the enemy at once. For the rest behinde, discharging, shall either wound theire owne Companions before, or else shoote at randon, and so nothing endaunger the enemy, the force of a musket being onely availeable at point blanck. Contrary wise the disadvantage of arrowes is in the weaknesse of the stroke; which is not able to enter a Curace, that the foote or horse nowe vse. Yet can noe weather bee founde, where in you may not haue good vse of bowes: raine, snowe, winde, haile, fogges, hinder litle (especially the string of the bowe being not to wette) may rather profit Because in them you can hardly discerne, much lesse avoide, the fall of the arrowe. As for quicknesse in delivery the bowe farre excelleth the musket. A good single archer is able to giue fiue shotte in exchange for one of the musketier; and that with such certainty, that you shall not heare of an archer that misseth the delivery of his arrow, where the musketier, often faileth by reason of the accidents and impediuients before by mee rehearsed. Ioine that a whole squadron of archers, being embattailed, may shoote at once together: which onely the first ranke of musketiers may doe. And make the case there were a hundred musketters, and a hundred bowe-men eche digested into ten files, eche file conteyning ten men, the bowe men shall bee able to shoote at once a hundred arrowes (all theire arrowes) for ten bullets given by the musketiers, namely those ten of the first ranke discharging alone. It must not bee pretermitted, that the bowe and quiver both for marching, & all service, are lighter and of lesse labour to vse, then a musket, which is noe small advantage in armes and fight. To conclude the bowe-men may bee placed behinde the armed foote, and yet in shooting over the Phalange anoy the enemy before ioyning, and all the time of fight, even whilest they are at pushe of pike; where the musketier, there placed, must either idlely look on, or else playeng with his musket, most of all endaunger his owne friendes. Neither is the force of arrowes so weake, as is immagined, noe not in the arming of our dayes. For the pike albeit hee haue his head and body covered, yet are his legges, and feete, his armes, and handes open to woundes: any of which parts being wounded bringes a disability of service. To say nothing of his face, and eyes, before which the showers of arrowes falling like a tempest without intermission, must needes breed a remedilesse terrour, and make him thinke rather of saving himselfe, then offending his enemy. The musketier being also vnarmed is as subiect to the shotte of arrowes, as the archer is to the shotte of the musket; and the arrow touching any vitall parte, as much taketh away life, as doth the musket. Lastly a horse-man for his owne person (I must confesse) is safe enough from the daunger of arrowes by reason of his armour but his horse, being a faire and large mark, and having neither barbe, nor pectorall, nor ought else to hide his head or breast, how can hee escape woundes? Witnesse our fieldes in France, where our Archers alwayes beate the frenche horse, being barbed, and better armed, then our horse are, at this day. And for the bloudy effect of bowes the story of Plutarch is worth the rehersing. He, in the life of Crassus hath thus: The Parthians opposing the Cataphracts against the Roman horse, the other Persians galloping heer and there dispersedly, and troubling the face of the field, broke vp from the bottom, hills of sand, that raised infinite dust, whereby the Romans lost theire sight and voice: and thronging together, & thrusting one another were wounded, and died not a simple, or quicke deathe, but tormented with convulsions and panges of grief, wallowing vp, and downe, in the sande to breake the arrowes in theire woundes, or else endevouring to pluck out the hooked heades, which had pierced vaines and sinewes, renting a freshe themselues, & adding torment to torment: so that many died in this manner, & the rest became vnprofitable. And when Publius Crassus desired them once more to charge the Cataphracts, they shewed theire handes nailed to their targets, and theire feete fastened to the grownde, whereby they were vnable either to fly, or fight. These wonders did the Parthian bowes, which notwithstanding were not to bee compared to our auncient English bowes, either for strength, or farre shooting. And that wee may not seeme to rely vpon antiquity alone. The battaile of Curzolare (commonly called the battaile of Lepanto) fought in our dayes betwixt the Turkes, & Christians by sea may serue for an experience of the service of bowes and arrowes. In which there died of the Christians by the arrowes of the Turkes aboue siue thowsand, albeit they were in galleyes and ships, and had theire blindes pretended to saue from sight, and mark of the Turks, where as the artillery of all sorts of the Christians consumed not so many Turkes: notwithstanding the Christians had the victory. Nowe then for vs to leaue the bowe, being a weapon of so great efficacy, so ready, so familiar, and as it were so domesticall to our nation, to which wee were wont to bee accustomed from our Cradle, because other nations take themselues to the Musket, hath not so much as any shewe of reason. Other nations may well for beare that, they never had. Neither Italian, nor Spaniard, nor Frenche, nor Dutche, had these fiue hundred years, been accounted Archers. It was a skill almost appropriated to our nation. By it, wee gayned the battailes of Cressy, of Poitiers, of Agincourt, in France: of Navarre, in Spaine: By it, wee made our selues famous over Christendome. And to giue it over vpon a conceit onely (for noe experience can say that our bowe was ever beaten out of the field by the musket) will proue an immitation of Aesops dogge, whoe carieng a piece of fleshe in his mouth over a river, and seing the shadowe in the water, snatched at the shadowe, and left the fleshe. I speake not this to a base the service of muskets, which all men must acknowledge to bee great; I onely shewe, there may bee good vse of bowes, if our archers were such, as they were wont: which is not to bee dispaired, and will easily come with exercise.

William Somner- The antiquities of Canterbury, 1640

Somner chose to include the segment from John Bingham’s book Aelian Tactiks where he discusses archery. The segment from John Bingham will get its own separate post. Somner’s comments are interesting in themselves.

P267

Here, as from a fit occasion, let us observe by the way the alteration of the times in point of martiall and military weapons. The Bow, (the long Bow) and the Bow-man, we all know, were those which did the deed, and bare away the Bell in martiall brunts in former times, the Bow then the prime weapon for offensive service, and the chiefest instrument warre knew wherewith to try the mastery; the Gun, and Gun-shot being but of late (though too soone heaven knowes whilst earth rues) invented: and yet so cryed up and magnified, by Martiallists especially, that the Bow the whilest is quite rejected with contempt as uselesse, and doomd and deemd at best as onely fit for men of peace in way of recreation to sport withall. Now being grounded in a good opinion of Archery my selfe, and not unwilling to vindicate the under valuation of it with other men, I desire here to recommend unto my reader a worthy and judicious Elogie one commendation of (Englands ancient glory.)  Archery ; not my owne, nor yet any meere Mercurians, one able to judge only by theoreticall speculation, but a learned disciples both of Mars and Mercury, one equally experienced in both warfares, the armed and gowned; Master Iohn Bingham I meane, in his Notes upon Aelians Tactiks, where he playes the part of a most excellent advocate for discarded  Archery. The Booke is now somewhat deere and scarce, and there∣fore to save their labour and cost (of searching the originall) who can endure to see despised Archery commended according to it worth, I shall present them with a true Copy of that whole passage verbatim, as there it lyes, pag. 24. and so forward.

Barnabe Rich- A right exelent and pleasaunt dialogue, 1574

I was surprised to find that this one was published in 1574. The arguments are extremely similar to those of Roger Williams, whose Discourses were not published until 1590. The argument takes place in the form of a dialogue between Mercury and an English soldier. Since speaker tags have been forgotten in some places I’ve added them in for clarity.

 

 

Soul. But if without presumption I might but demaund this laste question wherein I greatly desire to be satisfied, and this it is, whether the Calyuer, or the long Bowe as we tearme them heare in Englande, be of greatest force I haue harde this question diuers times to be argewed on & some that haue bin supposed to haue had good experience haue preferred the the Caliver to be of greater force in seruice then the bow which I think few wisemen wyll beleeue, and our enemies can witnesse to the contrary that from time to time haue felte our Archers force, and how many noble victoryes haue bin by them achiued, Cronicles are ful, and Histories can well make mencion, and I am of that mind that one thousand good Archers would wronge tow thowsande shot, yea and would driue them out of the feeld and there be a great many of that opinion beside my selfe.

[Mer.] What hath bin don in time paste maketh nothing to the purpose for the time present for the order of the warres is altogether altered, and in an other manner then they haue bin in time past, but now to answer to thy demaund and breifly to satisfye thy desire, thou must first consider to what perfection shot is lately growne unto ouer it hath bin within these few yeares, when paradnenture if there were one that sarued with ah Halfhaake or a Hagbus as they termed them which were peeces to small efect, unlesse it were euen hard at hand, ther is now ten for that one, which serueth with that Caliver or Musquet which, peeces ar of a new inuention and to an other effect. So lyke wise they haue a better composition for the makynge of their powlder and the Souldier is grown by practise to a greater celetrity in the using of his peece then in the paste he hath byn of. Thus the effecte of the one by practise is increased, and the force of the other by nature is deminished, for the strength of men is generally decaied, whereby they are not able to draw so stroung a bow, nor to shoote so stronge a shotte as in the olde tyme men haue bin accustomed.

But to the ende thou mayest the better perceaue wherein the aduantage or disaduantage doth growe. I wyl use this comparison (wherby) I doubt not but thy owne reason shall perswade thee.

Suppose one thousande Archers shoulde be leuyed within two Shiers in Englande let them use no further reagard in the choice then of ordinary they ar accustomted: In the seruice of the Prince, let these Archers be apoynted with such liuery Bowes as the Country generally useth to alow, let these Archers continnewe in the feelde but the space of one weeke, abidynge such fortune of weather, with their Bowes and Arrowes, as in the mene time might happen. I would but demaunde how many of those thowsand men were able at the weeks end to shoote aboue x. score. I dare undertake that if one hundred of those thousande doo shoote aboue ten score, that .ii. hundred of the rest, wyll shoote shorte of .ix. score, and is not this a peece of aduantage thinkest thou? when euery Calyuer that is brought into the feelde wyl carry a shot xviii. score and .xx. score, and euery Musquet .xxiiii, and xxx. score.

Besides this euery Bushe, euery Hedge, euery Ditch, euery Tree, and lamost euery Moalhil is a sufficient safgarde for a shotte, where the Archer is little worse, but on a playne, when the shotte wyll conuay them selues into euery couerte, that the Archer shall not see whereat to shoote, and yet hee himselfe remayne a fayre marke for the other, or els can use no seruice.

Now whether part hath the aduantage, I thinke may well be deemed, and whether weapon is of greatest force, a man mays easlye perceaue, when the shotte shall be able to preiudice the Archer, who shal not be able to shoote halfe the grounde towardes him agayne. Farther when the Shotte shal take aduantage almost in eueri ground to shrowd himselfe, where the Archer must remaine an open mark uppon the plaine or els to occupy his Bow to smal efect.

[Soul.] But let it be that one thowsand Archers and one thowsande shot should meete in the playne feelde where no vantage were to be taken by the ground, & admit they were ioyned in skirmish, within .viii or .ix score where the Archer is able to shutte twice to the others once, wherby the Arrowes comming so thick amonst them, wil so astone them that the contrarye part shall not well know where at to shoote.

Mer. But those that frame this argument hath little practise in the use of the Calyver, and lesse experience in the order of a skyrmishe for if a thowsand Archers were brought into the feelde I trust all woulde not be brought to shootte at one instant for yf they were, some of them would shoote to small auauayle, as he that hath experience can well say.

And yet if there were no other aduantage to be used in skirmishe, but who can shoote fastest he that is a ready shoote I dare say, would be loth that an Archer should shoots aboue .viii times to his .v

And this aduantage in often shootyng is not so great in the one but the difference is much more in the other, considerig their force for where the one doth but gaulde the other doth either mayne or kyll.

But to shew thee what farther aduantage the shot hath of the Archer thou shalt undertstand that where the Archer may shoot both wide short and gone, the other may shoott but wyde onely. But because thou mayst the better perceaye my meanynge thou must consider that when the Archer shooteth any distance of grounde, the Arrowe commeth compasse of a great height, so that when it commeth where it should indanger, which is, with in the compasse of mans height it falleth presently to the ground and hath but as it were one lightyng place and paraduenture may come directly ouer one mans head and fall right at an other mans feet which standeth but .iii, yeardes behind, where if it had falne but one foots shorter, it had indaungered the firste so yf it had gone but one or two foote farther it had hazarded the last.

Thus as I haue saide the Archer, though he shoote right yet he may shoote both ouer and under, where the other can shoote but wide onely, considering that the shot is styll carried away within the compasse of mans height, which aduantage to such as hath reason to decerne it arighte shall perceyue, that one shotte from the Musquet or Calyuer, is of greater possibilytie to indaunger then fiue that shall come from the beste Archer that is brought into the feelde.

Soul. I understande the meanynge verye well, and doo nowe perceaue the Calyuer indeede to be of greatest force, and yet I had a great deale rather beleeue it my selfe, then to undertake to make a great many of others to beleeue it.

But now I perceaue we may hange our Bowes uppon the walles for I can not perceaue how they wyll nowe stande us in any great steede to serue in warres.

Mer. Nay not so neyther, was it any part of my pretence to absolutlye to objecte the Archer nor yet to make hym of so small effect, but that his seruice is to be commended, and not to be forborne, for so it mighte as well be sayde what should Horsemen do in the feelde where the enemye hath picks to defende them against whom they coulde yet neuer preuayle: yet no man doubteth but Horsemen are seruisable for manye causes, although it be not to run against the picks, so likewise Archers maye do verye good seruice, althoughe it be not to inconnter with shotte.

But my wordes tended to this ende that I woulde not haue thee to be ignoraunt in the use of so principall a weapon, but rather woulde wyth it might be practised, considering it asketh tyme, or many haue the ready use of it, for lyke as it is a specyall Weapon to hym that can use it in good order, so it is as defused, untowarde to hym that hath not the practise of it, and shal sooner indaunger hymselfe, or his friends that standes nexte unto hym, then hurte his Enemye. Therefore I woulde wyshe that those which shoulde use this Weapon, to be very expert and wary in the use and orderyng of the same.