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Missing the mark about archery

28 July 2010


From Mrs Sarah Doyle

Sir, — I was very pleased to read that the ancient law summoning all (male) parishioners to archery practice on a Sunday had been invoked in Collingbourne (News, 11 June). The last paragraph is in­accurate, however. Rather than ensuring that no archer was too good, the law actually ensured that they were all brilliant archers.

To shoot on a battlefield (which I have done in a re-enactment context), you need to be able to bring down the opposition at a variety of distances; hence the need to loose at a target of unknown distance. You wouldn’t want archers who were excellent at shooting at targets set at 150 yards, but were incapable of shooting at a greater (or shorter) distance.

You also want to try to keep the enemy as far away from you as possible, which is why you have the law stating that “no man over the age of 24 was allowed to shoot at any mark under the range of 11-score yards.” England and Wales were well known for their excellent archers, which is why we still have the two-fingered insult, as those were the fingers that were chopped off by the French if they caught an archer. To stick those fingers up meant that you were still capable of loosing an arrow.

Remember that boys would be learning to use a bow from the age of about seven or eight. If they practised every Sunday by the time they were 24, they would be outstanding archers.

12 Meynell Rise, Ashbourne
Derbyshire DE6 1RU

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