Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Queer Form of Tyranny

Dear Readers,

Pardon this abrupt break from my usual topics of discussion, but I fear current events have reached a point over a certain topic where silence cannot - and should not - be maintained any longer.  As anyone who reads the news knows, the debate over homosexuality has screamed back into the forefront over the recent firing (or, as the mainstream media politically puts it "indefinite suspension") of Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family that serves as the subject matter of the A&E reality show Duck Dynasty.  The reason for his removal is due to a few brief comments he made in a GQ Magazine interview in which he expressed elements of his born-again Christian Faith.  In one of these comments, he included homosexuals amongst a list of other sinners who will not enter the Kingdom of God.  He went on to make some personal musings on how it is even possible for men to be attracted to other men over women.  All-in-all, his comments were remarkably harmless.  Here it is in full:

"Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers -- they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right ... It seems like, to me, a vagina -- as a man -- would be more desirable than a man's anus," Robertson says in the January issue of the men's magazine. "That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical."

Although the language is a bit crude (coming from an individual not known for his skill with words), he says nothing in the above that is out of line with what Christianity has upheld and continues to do so in the two millennia of its existence.

As was to expected, the repercussions were swift and severe.  Furious condemnation descended upon Mr. Robertson and he has now become the target-of-choice for every pro-homosexual organization in existence.  GLAAD spokesmen have appeared on almost every major news network practically frothing in outrage over the man's expression of his personal beliefs and unanimously demand that he be stricken from the annals of A&E and the media at large.  His own employers have been only too happy (or intimidated) to oblige.  The volume of the offended has virtually become shrill ... perhaps too much so.  In response to the vicious reactions of the homosexual crowd, many have surprisingly rallied in support of Mr. Robertson.  Many see in the demands for his silencing poorly disguised social tyranny.  Gov. Bobby Jindal of Mr. Robertson's home state of Louisiana perhaps expressed it the best:

"The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with. I don’t agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV. In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive. But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views. In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended."

Even amongst the homosexual movement, there was at least one who shifted uncomfortably amidst the firestorm of outrage and censure and cautiously mused whether the controversy said "more about our bigotry than about Phil's."  And he has a very - very valid point, one that almost everyone involved seems to conveniently overlook.

Since it burst onto the societal scene about 10-15 years ago, the militant homosexual movements have assumed the favored societal position of disenfranchised victims.  This enabled them to silence all opposition and literally bully their way to the top levels of social and cultural favor - all by playing the "discriminated victim" card.  However, something they cannot ever really prove is exactly how they are "victims" - or even when.  At no time in US history were homosexuals enslaved, publicly segregated, or trafficked (a major reason why the Black movements have, at best, a cold regard for the homosexual movement).  The only "discrimination" they ever received was usually from religious institutions that promulgated doctrines (under the protection of religious freedom) stating that homosexual acts were unnatural and inherently sinful.  The only semblance of public discrimination was in regards to marriage - an institution that has been regarded as involving only men and women for literally as long as human societies have existed.  Other than that ... where is this great "persecution" that entitles them to claim the coveted "victim status" they so proudly wield over us "breeders?"

In fact, if one looks to contemporary evidence, one might run the risk of finding the opposite is in effect.  Stories of homosexual-instigated persecutions are becoming more and more commonplace since the gay crowd has achieved the rank of favored pets of the social elites.  Everytime any public figure even hints at disagreement or criticism with them, the screaming hordes of the homosexual vanguard demand his/her head on a plate to be served by a subservient and cringing media - a media that only too willingly complies.  Gays are routinely granted special media coverage and their demands for incessant social attention and cultural acceptance are always given top priority - even when blatantly false.  The mantra of victimhood and persecution is beginning to sound a lot less like a plea for acceptance and way more like the jackbooted anthem of a raw hunger for power.  Perhaps, that's what the movement was all about from the outset.

To find proof that the homosexual movement was about nothing more than mass tyrannical control over society, one need not look far.  Since their movement began, homosexuals have employed radical and militant means of acquiring societal attention.  Marches, demonstrations, vandalism, vile rhetoric against opponents - all have been repeatedly employed by a group of people that were never really persecuted to begin with and claim to be solely concerned with "tolerance."  More pervasive is the total control exercised through their greatest ally: the mass media.  Movies, tv shows, celebrities, music, and literature have virtually been mandated to portray homosexuality as positive or, at the very least, as something completely natural.  As covered before, anyone who dares break from this routine is savaged and ejected from the elitist circle of "beautiful people."  Even vocabulary isn't safe from them as they routinely bully people over not only what they can and can't say, but also what words they can and can't use.  In short, the homosexual lobby has achieved the Orwellian powers of "Thought Police" and can dictate what people think, what they say, and how they say it.  And all under the clever guise of "disenfranchised victims."

"Why is this almost paranoid control needed?" one might ask.  Why does this movement seem to thrive on the very sort of tyranny that they accused all others of displaying against them?  Frankly, I believe the homosexual author of the cautiously worded Time Magazine piece may have inadvertently hit upon the reason:

"Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them? Why do we dismiss, rather than engage them? One of the biggest pop culture icons of today just took center stage to “educate” us about sexuality. I see this as an opportunity to further the discussion, to challenge his limited understanding of human desire, to engage with him and his rather sizeable audience—most of whom, by the way, probably share his views—and to rise above the endless sea of tweet-hate to help move our LGBT conversations to where they need to go."


The reply to his query - why is forced silence their only response - is frankly because that's they only real response that movement has.  The homosexual movement has so epically failed to find a rational and logical basis for their "lifestyle" that their (few) attempts have bordered on the ludicrous.  The "gay gene" remains as elusive as ever - despite the fact that modern genetic research has split the human genome to such an extent that the genes for everything from autism to red hair are well-known to us now.  The display of certain (extremely rare) instances of "homosexual" animal behavior have either been badly misunderstood (and morally repulsive if applied to human behavior) or outright frauds.  Even the "born gay" argument flies in the face of every principle of modern biological and evolutionary science.  If people truly are, in rare cases, born with homosexual tendencies - they would, scientifically, be aberrant mutations and (like most natural aberrations) be swiftly and mercilessly removed from the gene pool by natural selection.  Mother Nature tends to be a cruel mistress when it comes to eradicating individuals that can't seem to figure out how reproduction works.

Culturally and morally, their argument is just as indefensible.  Trying to claim that homosexual marriage is a normal phenomenon is laughably uninformed - there has been more historical and cultural precedence for incestuous marriages, underage marriages, and polygamous marriages than there ever has been for same-sex marriage ... and those are all still terribly illegal which brings up an interesting moral conundrum.  If "being gay" ie. the sexual preference for one's own gender is a "perfectly normal part of one's identity," then, can the same be said about all the others?  If sexual preference is part of someone's nature, then are pedophiles "born that way?"  NAMBLA has been using that very same argument since the 1970s - why do they continue to be discriminated against?  How about incest?  Incest doesn't even have the pesky issue of consent to necessarily deal with - if two consenting adults are in love, why can't their brother/sister, father/daughter, or mother/son union be accepted and embraced under the warm fuzzy blanket of tolerance?  Bestiality, necrophilia, polygamy ... why did these not "make the cut?"  These questions are only met with vicious outrage and silence from the gay community.  I have yet to hear a coherent rational answer - just more screams for censorship.  Which brings me to my final point - the only real hope the gay movement has is to kick in the doors of any critics and bully/shame/intimidate them into silence.  Like a cheap party trick, they play a slight-of-hand routine of self-victimization, pity-mongering, and social tyranny that causes everyone, friend and foe alike, to glaze over in intimated awe and fail to comprehend the mere farce that it truly is.  However, like all cheap magic tricks repeated too often, this too will soon blunder and reveal itself.  When - not if - but when the homosexual movement collapses in on its own vacuous irrationality, people will gaze upon in ashamed wonder and ask how they could have been so easily duped by something so hopelessly empty.

Perhaps the first cracks are already beginning to appear.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Archer's Tale - Part 6: The Legacy of the Crooked Stick



As the bow and cloth-arrow gradually gave way to the noise and smoke-filled fury of gunpowder, so did the close-knit Medieval societies that had produced the hardened archers of old pass away to allow the modern world to replace it.  Warfare now belonged to uniformed professionals fighting under the flags of nation-states in which aristocratic warrior classes were gradually becoming nothing more than an antiquated relic.  After the French Revolution, it disappeared entirely.  However, to say that the men of the bow left no further influence on the land that had triumphed so gloriously with it would be criminally incorrect.

England never forgot the weapon that had once made it feared across Europe, and the influence of the archer can be seen throughout English history long after the last cloth-arrow had been loosed in anger.  It has already been covered earlier that England's national flag, the Cross of St. George, was first used as the badge worn by all archers serving in France since the reign of Richard II.  Even after the warbow was replaced by the musket, archery became the sport of choice amongst both common and wealthy classes - and remains a highly popular sporting event to this day.  Presently, England is full of Archery Societies and Clubs who compete locally and internationally and, although the longbows used now are vastly inferior to those that wrought such destruction at Crécy and Azincourt, the official terms and language still in use are those that would have been used by the rough-hewn volunteers that practiced for adventures in France on their village greens in "Merri Englande."  The Queen herself still maintains a Royal Company of Archers that (ceremonially) continues to serve as her Majesty's personal guard ... in Scotland.  One supposes that the poor Scots will never cease to be reminded of the weapon that ended - with such fierce finality - any ambitions of being their southern neighbor's equal!


The Queen's Royal Company of Archers mustered for parade in Edinburgh.
In a much deeper sense, the spirit of those desperate adventurers who found comforting familiarity in the crooked stick also left an indelible stamp upon the English identity.  For many ages after they had exited the battlefield, the archer came to embody the stubborn indomitability of the common Englishman when confronted by overwhelming odds.  Every time the English people faced crisis, memories and tales of the archers always resurfaced.  When the prospect of possible invasion loomed during the darkest days of the Napoleonic Wars, Englishmen began to train with their bows again - and no longer for sport.  Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington and future victor at Waterloo, longed for the return of a weapon that would strike terror into French hearts and actually petitioned Parliament to look into the possibility of raising a company of warbows for his Peninsular Campaigns.  Taking him very seriously, an official investigation was conducted for almost two years, finally concluding, sadly, that "none were left alive who possessed the skill."  Had there still been, one wonders how differently the fate of Napoleon's Revolutionary empire would have been had he faced Englishmen wielding France's ancient nemesis - a weapon that (by its 14th Century standards) still would have outperformed the muskets of the day in terms of effective range and rate of fire.  This memory carried on even into the mud and horror of the Great War - as the British Expeditionary Force fought its first major engagement against the German Empire at the Battle of Mons in 1914AD, rumored sightings of ghostly archers bearing the Cross of St. George firing spectral cloth-arrows into the advancing Germans circulated throughout the trenches and in newspapers back home.  Although one could easily dismiss such tales as pure fantasy, it would be an injustice to deny that the spirit of that stodgy "band of brothers" who had held their ground against overwhelming odds was still present within the young men that faced the terrors of modern mechanized warfare for King and Country.


The "Ghost Archers" of Mons, 1914AD.
Despite ushering its world - and existence - off the stage, Modernity has not been all bad for the warbow.  Due to an incredible increase in scholarly interest over the bow and the men who used it, fascinating archaeological discoveries have been made in recent times that give us a vastly clearer look into the world of the English archer.  One of the greatest breakthroughs came with the 1971 excavation of the remarkably well-preserved wreck of the Mary Rose - the pride of the Royal Navy during the reign of Henry VIII.  In 1545AD, the Mary Rose - a heavy carrack class warship - engaged French galleys in the Solent Channel in Southeast England.  As she turned to face the French fleet, she listed too far to one side, allowing water to pour in through the open gun ports.  Within minutes, the Mary Rose capsized, trapping and drowning around 90% of her crew, to include a large contingent of archers.  There she lay for over 300 years, until amateur divers in the 19th Century began salvaging for historical relics.  None of these efforts yielded much due to the technological limitations of the times and the Mary Rose remained largely undisturbed.  However, with the advent of modern salvage technology, it became possible to fully excavate the wreck.  As divers surveyed the ship, it was discovered that the vast majority of it lay under packed layers of silt that had preserved it almost to a miraculous degree.  Once the Mary Rose was lifted and archaeologists sifted through the largely intact wreck, a veritable treasure trove of artifacts were found, to include some of the best preserved yew bow staves and arrowheads ever found from a period when they were still used in battle.  To say that warbow enthusiasts were thrilled would be an understatement and a furious amount of research was poured into these finds.  From the Mary Rose bows, researchers were able to determine how these weapons were crafted, the materials they were made of, the power of their draws, and other key technical elements of these now-extinct weapons.  Today, the Mary Rose and her artifacts, to include the warbows, are housed in their own museum in Portsmouth.


The now-preserved bowstaves from the Mary Rose
Although the discovery of the yew bowstaves in the Mary Rose had been a Godsend to warbow scholars, there were still some key questions that had yet to be answered - mainly, who were the men that wielded these incredibly powerful weapons and what were they like?  Researchers were amazed at the size and draw power in the bowstaves they pulled from the silt in the Solent and deduced that it must have taken immense upper body strength reinforced with life-long training regimens to have wielded such weapons effectively.  With only a few vague references to firing techniques from writers of the time to go from, what the men of the bow would have looked like was still mostly a guess.  However, another key breakthrough came when, in 1991, an English construction crew stumbled upon human remains in what appeared to be a mass grave.  The location was just outside a small town called Towton.  Having unwittingly uncovered a mass grave from the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil, archaeologists and historians descended on the site en masse.  The remains were remarkably well-preserved and the complete skeletons of 43 individuals were identified in the 6m x 2m pit.  As the remains were meticulously researched, it was noted that all were male, the ages varied from teenaged to around 55, and all had died from violent wounds - mostly in the head and face.  Forensics experts called in to analyze the remains also noted that some of the individuals had the same sort of peculiar bone development in the shoulder and back region - denoting an overdevelopment of the back and shoulder muscles of those individuals from a particular sort of constant use and stress.  Warbow experts immediately recognized the sort of activity that would have given an individual that sort of development - a lifetimes-worth of training and combat with the 110-120lbs draw weight of the English warbow.  At last, the archer had been found and now we could see what he would have looked like.  Today, the Towton Mass Grave Project continues to research artifacts found within the battleground site and has made substantial contributions to the study of Medieval warfare in the period of the Wars of the Roses.


Excavating the Towton Mass Grave.
Armed with this new and intimate knowledge of the warbow and its archers, numerous individuals have taken up recreating them for the sake of posterity.  Numerous warbow reenactors and craftsmen can be found today, mostly in England, displaying not only the deadly power of the once-feared weapon, but also the lives and mannerisms of the archers who helped make their nation's story.  One that I know personally is The Free Company of Aquitaine, founded in 2011 and headed by warbow enthusiast Nick Birmingham of Southampton and London.  At the risk of sounding like an endorsement, Nick and his fellow reenactors have done superb work bringing to life the world of the English archer and display some beautiful handcrafted specimens of authentic warbows reconstructed in the style of the period.  Currently, Nick is producing a video series in which he will craft a yew warbow in the fashion that they would have in the Medieval period.

As I finish this series, the immense importance of historical identities upon the nations they helped create impresses itself upon me.  Yes, while the archer has come and gone from the hectic clashes of the battlefield, his character survived in his descendants through the centuries to help them and their country survive the various crises that the passage of time would bring.  That is the real legacy of the men of the bow, who picked up their meager belongings to set forth and make Europe tremble with their "crooked sticks" and "grey goose-wings."  It is a story well-worth retelling, for - as author Bernard Cornwall rightly put it - the longbow's story is, in large part, England's story.  Were you to somehow tell the archer this, I imagine his only response would be to crack a wry grin before laying down amongst the red poppies and closing his eyes for some badly needed rest.





Sources Referenced:

Robert Hardy, Longbow - A Social and Military History, Haynes Publishing, 2012.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Archer's Tale - Part 5: Brother Against Brother and the Sunset of the Bow



As the blood washed out of the small field of Azincourt in Ponthieu and as great swathes of northern France fell into the hands of the victors of that field, England found itself facing an unexpected crisis.  Henry V, the great warrior king whose ambition, skill, and leadership had been the driving force directing his countrymen, both noble and common, towards the goal of a unified Anglo-French Crown, suddenly succumbed to illness contracted while on campaign in Normandy in 1422AD at the age of 35.  Behind him, he left his infant son - another Henry, born of Princess Catherine de Valois of France - to carry on the monumental task of uniting two Realms that had been in a constant state of war for almost a century.

Of course, the infant King of England and France was merely a king in name only - the actual command of Henry's kingdom was distributed to a collection of English nobles who assumed responsibility for the Regency.  John, Duke of Bedford and Henry V's brother, commanded all English forces in France.  His other brother (and veteran of Agincourt) Humphrey, assumed the regency of England and was granted the title Protector and Defender of the Realm by Parliament.  As often happened in many regencies, the influences of various (and often competing) nobles and aristocrats grew exponentially, setting the stage for future power struggles that risked getting out of control.  Just mere months after the great Henry's death, there were nobles in England already poised to take advantage of this situation.

The war effort in France also began to shift unfavorably for the English.  Even while he was alive, Henry's strategy had deviated significantly from that of his ancestors.  The Edwards had focused primarily on strategies of maneuver - capitalizing on the mobility of English armies by conducting in-depth raids (chevauchées) deep into French territory and only fighting pitched battles when they knew the conditions favored them, shaping the conflict and constantly forcing the French to react to them.  This freed the lighter and expeditionary English armies from having to defend large fronts of territory.  Not so with Henry, who set out to actually invest English forces over vast regions in northern and central France.  Now English armies, accustomed to and equipped for the rapid tempo of maneuver tactics, started to find themselves being fixed in place defending strongholds and cities from ever-increasing French resistance.  However, the military prowess of England's archers was still in effect.  At the Battle of Verneuil in 1424AD, English forces under the Duke of Bedford won a bloody victory over a combined Franco-Scottish army, cementing English rule over Normandy and the English Regency in Paris.  However, it was to be the last major English victory in the Hundred Years War.

France in 1428AD.  English lands in red, French in blue, and Burgundian in purple.
France never completely submitted to the terms of Troyes and Charles the Mad was succeeded by his son and Dauphin, Charles VII.  Later to be known as the "Victorious" and "Well-served,"  Charles possessed none of his father's mental instability and displayed a natural talent for strategy and scheming.  However, after Verneuil, his prospects looked dim.  France was virtually bankrupt, the remaining French nobility continued to fight more with themselves rather than with the English, and English momentum was still strong enough to dissuade any real support amongst the French people for a concentrated attempt at reconquest.  That is, until a literal God-send appeared in 1428AD.  Arising from total obscurity from a small village in Lorraine, a charismatic young woman named Jeanne D'Arc - purportedly directed by mystical visions - would serve as the rallying force for French resistance so badly needed.  Charles capitalized on the enigmatic Jeanne, who handily won her credibility the next year by leading a French army to the relief of the ancient city of Orleans and inflicting a major loss upon the English besiegers.  Soon after, Charles was crowned King of France in Rheims, nullifying the humiliating terms of Troyes in one fell swoop.  Jeanne (Joan to her English foes), continued to campaign for her King and proved to be a nightmare for Englishmen in France.  While never actually in command of the French armies (all tactical command was handled by a tight collection of French nobles and professional soldiers), Jeanne was indispensable as the figurehead of French resistance, riding into battle and victory at Patay in 1429AD - often described by historians as "Agincourt in reverse."  By the time she was finally captured by English Burgundian allies and, after a long and politically charged trial that still haunts Catholic canon law scholars to this day, executed in 1431AD, the fall of English France had been irreversibly set in motion.

Jeanne capturing the English redoubt at Orleans.  Jeanne's story would prove so problematic to the Catholic Church that her cause for canonization would not be realized until 1920.
On the other side of the Channel, Henry VI (having come of age in 1437AD), found himself ill-equipped to carry on his father's legacy.  Shy, pious, and martially uninclined, he shied away from any role of leadership in the war and in his rule in general, leaving much of it to be assumed by his beautiful and ambitious wife, Margaret of Anjou and her circle of noble supporters.  With English military fortunes in France continuing to suffer defeats, the rifts between the two main rival factions of the English nobility, the Royal House of Lancaster and the House of York, began to dangerously widen.  As this occurred, preservation of the English hold on France started to become more of an afterthought.  The situation was even deteriorating for the common archer and soldier in the field, as Robert Hardy writes:

"The carefree days of pillage and living off the land were long past.  Now, musters began to be taken by the month, and payment in cash was monthly.  The port authorities on both sides of the Channel were given powers to arrest deserters ... and the penalties in either case varied from simple return of the offenders to their units, to imprisonment and forfeiture of wages ... What used to be a question of either a private contract or compulsory levy ... was now a public duty, the evasion of which constituted a crime against the king and the country.  The organization of war had moved into the modern context."

Furthermore, tactics were changing - and not in the favor of the English.  The warbow was no longer an exclusively English weapon, with Burgundian, Scottish, and even French archers developing comparable skills with comparable weapons made from Italian yew.  The French began to attack the thinly stretched English garrisons' logistical support - forcing the isolated strongholds to surrender.  On the battlefield, the French finally seemed to have learned to never attack an English army while in the defense and would strike them while on the move or in the vulnerable moment before the archers could be deployed behind stakes.  Also, the French began to utilize a weapon that would eventually render the warbow extinct - gunpowder.  At Formigny in 1450AD, victory was snatched from English hands when the French deployed two culverins against the formations of archers.  The cannon fire broke up the thin English line and forced the archers to charge ahead to seize the two guns.  Waiting for them was the French cavalry, who rode them down and destroyed the English army.  Piece by piece, English France was chipped away until all that remained of the ancient Angevin inheritance was Gascony in the southwest.  In 1453AD at Castillion, the last English army in France was cut to pieces while advancing on a French fortified position reinforced with artillery.  The English commander, John Talbot Duke of Shrewsbury, the last competent military leader left in France, had his horse shot out from underneath him and was found dead upon the field.  The city of Bordeaux fell shortly after and all that remained of the great English victories of the Hundred Years War was the small Channel port of Calais.

The English Crown would hold Calais until losing it in a surprise French attack in 1558AD.  Mary I mourned the loss of Calais until her death and was quoted as saying, "When I am dead and opened, you shall find 'Philip (of Spain - her husband)' and 'Calais' lying in my heart."
As news of defeat after defeat reached England, the effete rule of Henry VI continued to rapidly erode.  Rival nobles despised him and his domineering wife who, with her circle of favorites, politically persecuted their rivals.  The commoners, along with a Parliament fed up with his disastrous foreign policy, resented his weak leadership.  Compounding all this, rumors of mental instability eerily similar to his mad French grandfather began to leak out.  England was now ripe for civil war.  The war that would arise from this hotbed of instability would later be remembered as perhaps the bloodiest conflict on English soil, and in no small thanks to the employment of the warbow seen throughout it.

The first blood of the conflict later known as the War of the Roses (due to the heraldic symbols of the two rival factions - the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster) would be drawn at the First Battle of St Albans in 1454AD.  Although minor in military scope, it was a massive political victory for the Yorkist cause led by Richard Duke of York, whose forces routed the Lancastrians and captured Henry VI.  Lancastrian resistance rallied under Margaret of Anjou (ever the more capable leader in her marriage) and for the next decade, war raged across England between the two irreconcilable factions.  Fueling this war were thousands of archers and men-at-arms recently back from France who now either faced joining a side or unemployment.  Gone, however, were the days of fighting noble battles against French cavalry - now, it was a fight to the death for political power in which prisoners were seldom (if ever) taken.  The battles of the War of the Roses would be marked by the appalling casualties suffered on either side - far beyond what was normal for a Medieval battle.  Brutality was the norm and mercy was almost never shown by the victors - as displayed in the aftermath of the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471AD when Lancastrian nobles claiming sanctuary in the nearby abbey were unceremoniously drug out and summarily executed on the spot.

Yorkist archers at Towton, 1461AD.
  The bloodiest day came when the young and charismatic Edward of York took up his house's cause from his father and he met the Lancastrians at the village of Towton on a freezing Palm Sunday in 1461AD.  Both sides deployed thousands of archers, but the Yorkist archers had the wind in their favor, which carried their cloth-arrows farther and blew snow into the eyes of their opponents.  The Battle of Towton would end in a crushing Yorkist victory - leaving behind 28,000 Englishmen slain on the field, the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil to the present day.  Despite Edward's coronation as Edward IV, the war would drag on for almost another two decades until finally coming to a dramatic close at the famed Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485AD.  The Yorkist king, Richard III, far from being the pathetic villain unfairly crafted generations later by Shakespeare, was in reality a brave and competent leader who died fighting while leading what some historians call the "last charge of the Plantagenets" against the Welsh-born leader of the Lancastrian cause, Henry Tudor.

Richard III striking down Henry Tudor's standard bearer in his last charge as king at Bosworth Field, 1485AD.
With the coronation of Henry VII and the establishment of the Tudor Dynasty, the long horrific saga of England's bloodiest civil war came to a close.  With the passing of the Plantagenets also, incidentally, came the passing of the warbow that had won for its people some of its greatest victories.  Many factors could be seen as the cause for the gradual disappearance of the warbow from English battlefields.  In the chaos of the War of the Roses, the old English military system that had fostered the men of the bow was virtually erased, destroying the comprehensive training traditions that were essential for the creation of archers.  The Tudors certainly tried to resurrect them.  In its waning years, the warbow found an unlikely admirer in the problematic Henry VIII, who tried to nurse the culture of the bow back to life and deployed archers in his wars in both Scotland and France.  Perhaps the last huzzah, as it were, for the warbow took place in the very land where it had tasted it's first success - in 1513AD, English forces under Thomas Howard Earl of Surrey virtually annihilated an invading Scottish army at the Battle of Flodden through the combined use of artillery and archers.  Scotland's king, James IV, was slain along with a vast number of high ranking Scottish nobles.  Many consider Flodden to be the last battle of the Medieval period, and perhaps it is fitting that the warbow was a major participant.  After Flodden, warfare began to change irrevocably.  The warbow found itself steadily giving way to another ranged weapon, one that made up for its slower rate of fire and shorter range by being vastly easier to train with, equip, and deploy - the gunpowder firearm.  Tactics both on the Continent and in England shifted in favor of the "pike-and-shot" tradition created by a blending of Swiss-German style pike infantry supported by musketeers.  Medieval-style heavy cavalry practically became nothing more than a ceremonial relic since both pike tercios and musket balls could decimate armored horsemen.

Pike "tercios" colliding in Hans Holbein's 16th Century engraving "Bad War."
However, in some places in England, the ghost of the warbow lingered on.  In the reign of Elizabeth I, the warbow could still be found.  Their continued efficacy was even still attested to in reports to the Pope after the disastrous defeat of the Spanish Armada.  But their numbers were rapidly dwindling, as was their support within England.  In 1590AD, Robert Barret composed a tongue-in-cheek debate in his work Modern Wars.  In it, two speakers, a Gentleman and a Captain address the debate over warbow vs. musket that must have been raging within English society at the time.

"Gentleman: 'Why do you not like of our old archery of England?'
Captain: 'I do not altogether disallow them ...'
Gentleman: 'Will not a thousand bows handled by good bowmen, do as good service, as a thousand hargubuze or muskets, especially among horsemen?'
Captain: 'No, were there such bowmen as were in the old time, yet could there be no comparison.'"

How far England had come from the days when English archers had struck fear and awe in the hearts of their foes all across Christendom.  The last mention we hear of warbows in England come from an entry from 26 April 1644AD in an Ordinance Department issue book listing, among other items, 12,000 arrows and 1,000 bowstrings.  The bowstaves themselves seem to have already vanished.  As for its last recorded use on a battlefield, from the late 17th century come reports of Scottish clans using them against eachother in their clan-battles ... one supposes it took far longer for the warbow to be forgotten in Scotland!

Although it took an impressive amount of time, the warbow at long last ceded the field of battle to its louder, more dramatic successor.  Gunpowder and the firearm had arrived to trouble the unhappy world and, to this day, sadly have yet to depart from it.  Yet despite the passage of time rendering the bow useless in warfare, the nation whose identity it had played such a vital role in crafting would continue to remember and even revere it.  Perhaps there, in its enduring remembrance, lies the true legacy of the English warbow and the men who carried it.  I will cover this legacy in my next and final piece.




Sources Referenced:
Robert Hardy, Longbow - A Social and Military History, Haynes Publishing, 2012.
David Nicolle, The Fall of English France 1449-1453, Osprey Publishing, 2012.
Hugh D. H. Soar, The Crooked Stick, Westholme Publishing, 2009.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Upcoming Posts

Dear Readers,

My sincerest apologies for the lack of posts - my attentions of late have been drawn towards both work and family affairs.  Please do not despair, however, for I fully intend to get back into my normal rhythm.  As an assurance of my commitment, please take a look at some upcoming entries.

The Archer's Tale Part 5: Brother Against Brother and the Sunset of the Bow
The Archer's Tale Part 6: The Legacy of the Crooked Stick
Projected future series on the Crusades

As I said, stay tuned for these and more.  Thanks.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Archer's Tale - Part 4: Band of Brothers


"Owre Kynge went forth to Normandy
With grace and myght of chyvalry
Ther God for hym wrought mervelusly;
Wherefore Englonde may call and cry
Deo gratias!
Deo gratias Anglia redde pro victoria!"
-First stanza of the "Agincourt Carol," 15th Century

After the Treaty of Brétigny ended the first phase of the Hundred Years War, the great powers of England and France slipped back into the slow routine of their internal affairs, punctuated now and again by minor proxy fighting with eachother and the occasional chevauchée.  The archers who had been responsible for England's successes knew of no such lull however and found an abundance of employment and adventure throughout Christendom and beyond, as detailed in the previous post of this series.  As far as the war at large, though, things stayed quiet until about 1413AD - when a chain of fortuitous events would produce a battle that would win the English archer a permanent place in the annals of history.

Upon the death of the great warrior-king, Edward III, England faced a troublesome situation in regards to the throne.  Edward's mighty son and heir, the Black Prince - who embodied all the best of his father's martial prowess and leadership - had died of dysentery the year prior.  He left behind a ten year old son, Richard, who was crowned King upon the death of his grandfather.  It would be an understatement to say that Richard II was not like his father and grandfather.  Once he had achieved the age to rule in his own right, Richard displayed none of the militarist tendencies of his forebears and was remarkably pacifist in his rule.  Some in our own times might acclaim such non-aggressive tendencies, but in the 14th Century - when warfare and mortality in general were such intimately familiar events - such actions hardly did anything tho endear one to the people he ruled.  Richard's fate was sealed when he inexplicably banished Henry Bolingbroke, the eldest son and heir to Edward III's younger son and Richard's uncle, John of Gaunt.  Henry won favor with certain key noble families and returned to England as a rival claimant to the throne.  Nobles and commoners alike supported the young energetic Henry and soon, the hapless Richard was deposed and would die years later in prison.  Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV, establishing the House of Lancaster and setting the stage for a future succession crisis that would cause some of the bloodiest struggles in English history.  At the time of his ascension, Henry had a young son - another Henry - who was destined to lead his country into perhaps its most defining battle.  In 1403, this young Prince Harry would earn his battlefield credibility by leading his father's right flank against the forces of the rebel Welsh prince Owain Glyndŵr and his Marcher Lord ally, Henry "Hotspur" Percy, at the Battle of Shrewsbury.

Late 15th Century woodcut depicting the defeat of the Percys at Shrewsbury - note the longbows on either side.
The Battle of Shrewsbury was an important event for more reasons than being the venue by which a young Henry V won his spurs.  The rebellion began when a native Welsh lord and heir to the old royal houses of Powys and Deheubarth, Owain Glyndŵr, rallied armies in the last bid for Welsh independence from the English Crown.  Unexpectedly for Henry IV, certain key English lords dissatisfied with their prospects after the deposition of Richard II, joined the Welsh rebel - making the situation far more dangerous for Henry's delicate claim to the throne than that posed by mere Welsh rebels.  Another key aspect of Shrewsbury was that it marked the first time when warbow faced warbow on the field - providing a grim foreshadowing of the horrific battles that would define the War of the Roses several generations later.  During the rebellion, many archers of Welsh descent defected to support their countryman, whereas thousands of English archers were called up to defend Henry's royal cause.  Shrewsbury became the stage for the largest battle of the conflict, and it proved as deadly as one might imagine.  Thousands on both sides were slain by the arrowstorm and a young Henry V nearly died after suffering a Welsh cloth-arrow to the face.  Although he was saved by the skill of his surgeons, he bore the scar for the remainder of his life.  When the dust settled on Shrewsbury field, Hotspur Percy lay slain (another victim of the cloth-arrows) and Owain Glyndŵr fled back to Wales and vanished into the mountains of Snowdonia, never to be seen again by mortal eyes.  Henry Bolingbroke spent the last years of his reign finally solidifying his royal claim, passing on a firmly held throne to his battle-hardened son in 1413AD.

Only extant portrait of Henry V from life.  Most likely taken from the side not scarred by his wound from Shrewsbury.
During this time, France was experiencing internal struggles of its own.  The English situation had stagnated and the lands held under the Treaty of Brétigny were only loosely held and defended by a motley mix of Gascons, Normans, Bretons, and professional soldiers under contract from England.  On the throne in Paris sat Charles VI - known to history as Charles "the Mad" - who, as his nickname suggests, suffered from debilitating mental instability.  A challenger to his throne arose in the person of Duke John "the Fearless" of Burgundy, who, in 1407AD, allied himself to England in return for military assistance in his rebellion.  Several companies of archers and men-at-arms flocked into Burgundy, seeking the same sort of opportunities their forefathers had.  As such, tensions mounted rapidly between the two thrones once again and negotiations became ever more heated between the aggressive Henry and his French counterparts.  In 1414AD, England and her young king received word that French royal forces and taken the Burgundian city of Soissons and inflicted a dreadful massacre of its inhabitants.  Among the victims were 300 English archers who were singled out by the French and horrifically tortured to death as a token of the low regard the French aristocracy possessed for these low-born warriors.  This proved to be the final straw for Henry.

In a show of furious energy, Henry resurrected his great-grandfather's claim to the throne of France and resolved this time to actually follow through on it.  In the early months of 1415AD, Henry raised an army of about 12,000 and landed in Normandy in August.  His first target was the key port-city of Harfleur.  However, Harfleur resisted far longer than expected and Henry's army was slowly whittled down by combat, disease, and desertion.  When Harfleur finally fell in late September, Henry was left with only about 8,000 of his original force.  Knowing this was far too few with which to successfully seize the throne of France, he took his council's advice to return to England to refit.  However, in a surprise decision, the ambitious king resolved to march his small force nearly 134 miles across French royal territory from Harfleur to English-held Calais.  This tactic was more symbolic than strategic - by brazenly marching across French lands in such fashion, Henry hoped to demonstrate his right to the French and the rest of Christendom.  However, as men continued to succumb to illness in one of the coldest and wettest Autumns on record, such a move was a risky gamble, one that many of Henry's closest advisers privately doubted.  But, the young King was, if nothing else, a proven leader and his army began the long march to Calais.

The French nobility, nominally led by the Royal heir, the Dauphin, leapt at the opportunity to finally crush this insolent pretender and his band of commoners.  This was not just seen in the context of immediate strategic needs - the French saw this as a chance to finally avenge the horrific defeats inflicted on their fathers and grandfathers and to demolish the reputation of the upstart English peasant-soldiers that had played such a prominent role in their country's humiliation.  In a matter of weeks, an enormous royal army was assembled to pursue Henry and intercept him before he could reach Calais.  However, the French were hampered by one major internal flaw.  Due to King Charles' insanity, leadership of the army was delegated to a collection of aristocrats headed (in name only) by Duke Charles d'Albret.  Many of these nobles had long-standing rivalries with one another and d'Albret found that exercising effective command and control over his force of nearly 25,000 to 36,000 (scholars are in disagreement to this day about the exact size of the French army that faced Henry) was next to impossible.  Due to this, the French advanced towards Henry at a painfully slow rate, failing to prevent him from crossing the Somme River as was intended.



Although the English were able to stay one step ahead of their French pursuers  Henry knew that he would have to turn and face d'Albret.  The attrition from disease and the elements had only gotten worse - the English army now numbered around 6,000 - and, if the French were to catch them on the move, there would be a distinct possibility he and his small force would be wiped out.  On October 24th, taking a move from his great-grandfather's playbook, Henry stopped his army atop the higher end of a long narrow field bordered on either side by thick woods near the small hamlet of Azincourt.  The French arrived that same day and camped on the opposite end, fully confident they had trapped the young king right where they wanted him.  The French nobles and men-at-arms spent the night drinking and gambling, no doubt betting on who would have better success the next day, whereas in Henry's camp, the English men-at-arms and archers maintained a quiet - if restless - vigil.

The Azincourt battlefield as it appears today, taken looking Northwest towards what would have been the French end of the field.
When the French awoke on an undoubtedly chilly morning of October 25th (the feast day of King Henry's personal patrons, Ss. Crispan and Crispian), they saw the English already drawn up for battle on the far side.  The field on which they faced eachother was especially chosen by Henry for several reasons.  The woods on either side became narrower as one went closer to the French-held side, forming a tight bottleneck a few hundred yards from the French position.  Also, the field had been plowed just a few days before and, with the past several weeks of wet weather, what had been a field in some places was now a quagmire of knee-deep mud.  Henry intended to use all this to his advantage - as he would need every one he could get to even the odds against his enemies that vastly outnumbered him.  As in so many battles before, the French army was again primarily composed of heavy armored cavalry, supported by unknown numbers of peasant levies and mercenary footmen.  The English this time were entirely on foot, even the handful of nobles that formed the King's retinue, and archers formed the majority by far.  Henry deployed his men in the classic English formation - infantry in the center with archers on the wings, this time placing large sharpened stakes in front of them to protect against cavalry charges.  As the morning cold was subsiding, King Henry stepped out in front of his tired, hungry army and delivered a speech.  To this day, no one knows what was really said, but whatever it was, his words must have been effective enough to steel his men for the desperate fight that faced them.   For several hours, the French and English sat on either end, facing each other, neither one making the first move.  The French undoubtedly remembered their former defeats at the hands of English armies in the defense and refused to move against Henry's position.  If battle were to be joined, the English would have to make the first move.

In perhaps one his most recklessly bold moves, Henry ordered his army to advance towards the French just to where his archers could reach them at their maximum range (about 300 yards).  The archers picked up their stakes and the entire English line moved forward.  Whether d'Albret was unaware of this or failed to organize his own forces in time, the French never moved during what could have been their one golden opportunity to annihilate the exposed and defenseless English.  Henry halted his line at the appointed distance and the archers replanted their stakes.  At the command of Sir Thomas Erpingham, the noble in command of all archers, the first volley was launched at the still immobile French lines.  A sudden clatter of steel impacting steel rippled across the front ranks of the French and cries of struck men and horses could be heard amidst shouts and curses.  This proved too much for the impetuous French nobles, many of whom had grown weary of waiting.  The first lines of cavalry spurred on towards the English, each noble and knight trying to outstrip the other and keeping no formation whatsoever as they thundered towards their foes and into the arrowstorm that awaited them.

The English archers were now back in the position that suited them best.  Firing at will at a rate of 12-15 arrows per minute, they plastered the charging French with intersecting crossfire.  While at farther distances, the plate armor worn by many of the knights and nobles would have deflected many of the arrows, their horses were not so lucky.  Many knights were thrown from their mounts or had them slain beneath them and those that survived slogged through the muddy morass on foot.  Once within 20-30 yards of the English lines, they provided ideal targets for the archers, whose bodkin tipped cloth-arrows could pierce even the finest Milanese plate armor at that range.  The few riders that were able to ride the whole way up to the lines were confronted by the bristling hedge of stakes, forcing them to stop and expose themselves even more.  The first wave of French collapsed entirely and many of the highest ranking nobles of France lay dying in the mud.

The French charge collapses.
d'Albret, still not totally aware of what was happening in the field below, ordered the rest of his forces to advance.  This time, thousands of footmen and dismounted knights poured into the narrow muddy field, crushing in on one another to the point where many could not move at all.  Along with taking casualties from the continuing arrow fire, many French footmen were trampled to death by their own men - chroniclers speak of knights falling and being pushed into the deep mud where they drowned in their own armor.  However, due to sheer numbers and the gradual exhaustion of English arrow ammunition, successive French waves were able to reach English lines.  On Henry's side, his dismounted infantry braced for the French that made their way to them.  Every English leader present personally fought with distinction in the furious melee that commenced - King Henry himself had a portion of his crowned helm hacked off as he covered his stricken younger brother, the Duke of Gloucester, by standing over him.  As archers ran out of ammunition, they too fell in on the attacking French from the flanks and did fairly well in close quarters combat - no doubt due to their light armor and quickness against the heavy and slow French knights bogged down in the mud.

Things truly became desperate for Henry and his army when word reached him of a French attack on his baggage train in the rear.  Thinking that a portion of the French army had circumvented his position and was now closing in from behind, the King issued a grim order - to execute all but the highest ranking French prisoners and prevent them from taking up arms again.  Many of the English knights and nobles refused the order as unchivalrous, but the common archers had no such qualms and descended upon the helpless prisoners.  As troublesome as Henry's decision might appear to the modern mind, one must realize the circumstances that forced this decision.  Until a battle was concluded, prisoners on a Medieval battlefield could still very much become combatants again if the opportunity arose.  With the massive amounts of prisoners present at that stage in the battle, Henry and his men could have faced annihilation had they risen up and taken arms again.  A Medieval commander's first and foremost concern was for the preservation of his own men.  It turned out that the attack had merely been a raid conducted by some locals from nearby Azincourt and would have posed no real threat to Henry, but in the confusion and desperate melee of the moment, there is no way Henry could have known that.  Even many of the French chroniclers from the time did not condemn Henry for his decision - it was a desperate call brought on by desperate circumstances.

At this point, the situation for the French was lost.  With nearly all their leaders killed or captured (to include d'Albret), the remaining French forces yielded the field.  What had begun as a confident march to victory had turned into yet another devastating defeat.  On the English side, the exhausted Henry ordered an end to the fighting and proclaimed that the Te Deum be sung in gratitude for a victory he believed could have only been miraculous.  When the sun set that night, it did so over an estimated 10,000 French slain.  Among the English, only about 112 casualties were recorded, to include the King's young cousin, Edward Duke of York.  Henry continued his march to Calais and returned to jubilant celebrations in England.  It seemed that the victorious days of Edward III and the Black Prince had returned and the realm rallied behind their young charismatic King Harry.  Veterans of Agincourt (as it was pronounced in English) became overnight national heroes and the English archer was finally enshrined as one of the everlasting symbols of the English nation.

Flags bearing the Cross of St. George, England's national symbol, in modern times -  first worn by English archers in France since the time of Richard II.
In 1416AD, Henry returned to France with larger armies and continued his campaigns of conquest.  Organized French resistance was all but gone and Henry shifted English strategy from one of raiding and chevauchées to one of actual seizure and garrisoning of territory.  In 1420AD, the remaining French leadership, pressured by the additional internal threat of the pro-English Duke John of Burgundy, sued for peace.  Henry negotiated the Treaty of Troyes with the feeble King Charles and secured the title of heir to the throne of France along with the hand of Charles' daughter, Catherine de Valois, in marriage.  At long last, the English and French thrones were united.  Sadly, Henry V never saw himself on the throne as he suddenly died a mere two years later, contracting that ubiquitous scourge of Englishmen in France, dysentery, while on campaign.  He left behind an infant son, Henry VI, who would live to be the only English monarch to ever actually hold the title of King of France.  The reign of Henry VI, however, would be a sad one for his nation - one that would see her greatest warriors diminished abroad and turn on one another at home.  Despite this, though, the legacy of Agincourt would continue on long after the warbow that had secured its victory became a relic of the past.  This is in many ways due to the stirring portrayal of the battle and the men who won it by the one writer most responsible for the English identity as it is known today, William Shakespeare.  Although the Bard wrote his play, Henry V, many generations after the last Agincourt veterans had died, it is without question that he accurately captured the esprit de corps that was undoubtedly shared by all the men present there, from the King himself down to the lowliest archer.  That sense of brotherhood in the face of overwhelming adversity would continue to inspire generations of men in the English-speaking world long after the warbow had disappeared from the battlefield, as I will elaborate on further in this series.

Cross erected on the Azincourt battlefield in memory of the slain on both sides.


Sources referenced:

Robert Hardy, Longbow - A Social and Military History, Haynes Publishing, 2012.
Paul Knight, Henry V and the Conquest of France 1416-1453, Osprey Publishing, 1998.
Richard Wadge, Arrowstorm - The World of the Archer in the Hundred Years War, The History Press, 1997.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Archer's Tale - Part 3: The Men of the Bow



After their humiliating defeat at Poitiers coupled with the loss of their sovereign as an English prisoner, France sued for peace by means of the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360AD.  In the treaty, France ceded to the English Crown all its ancestral Angevin possessions along with substantial gains in Maine and Ponthieu, a foothold in the now-English client state of Brittany, and the port city of Calais along with its surrounding lands.  In return, Edward III curiously dropped his claim to the throne of France and promised a truce with the House of Valois.  In just 23 years, England had burst onto the scene of Continental politics as a first-rate power and the military exploits of Edward’s armies were now the talk of Christendom.  This is in no small way due to the archers that bore the Cross of St. George.  But, who were these men?  Military history often focuses much of its attention to weapons and tactics at the expense of investigating the human warriors who employed them.  Fortunately, a plethora of sources contemporary to the men who carried their warbows onto the fields of France, Spain, Italy, and the British Isles still exist today and have given valuable insight to scholars in our times as to who these intrepid adventurers were.

France post 1360AD - English lands shown in red and pink and English allies and dependencies shown in white and yellow.
Due to the military reforms enacted by Edward I and his successors, English armies deviated from the old Continental systems of feudal obligation and conscripted levies and adopted what might today be called a more volunteer “citizen army” concept.  This concept was not that strange to England, however, as it had roots in the ancient Anglo-Saxon Fyrd system that predated the Norman Conquest.  Starting with Longshanks, the Crown issued Assizes of Arms that, more or less, divided all men of military age (15 through 60 years old) into their respective social classes based on their total property value.  Then, accompanying Statutes would mandate what sort of weaponry and equipment should be maintained by men in those brackets.  Take this example from the Statute of Winchester (1284AD):

“Every man between fifteen years and sixty years shall be assessed and sworn to armour according to the quantity of their lands and goods ; that is to wit from £15 land or 40 marks* goods a hauberk, sword, knife, and a horse: £10 land or 20 marks goods a hauberk, sword, and a knife … and he that have less than 20 marks in goods shall have swords, knives, and other less weapons: and all others that may shall have bows and arrows out of the Forest and in the forest bows and boults. And that view of armour shall be made every year two times.”
(*A “mark” in Medieval England equaled 13 shillings and 4 pence – roughly two thirds of a Pound sterling)

However, in the late 13th Century, actual service was still seen as compulsory when the Crown went to war.  What changed dramatically under Edward III was that Englishmen were no longer compelled to serve out of obligation, but were offered the reward of financial compensation.  Edward’s Assizes established a contractual system in which bands of volunteers (both men-at-arms and archers) agreed to serve for wages – something that could be sweetened with the prospect of additional bonuses in the form of enemy loot.  As to exactly how these men were recruited, there were two systems.  The first was the Commissions of Array.  This was the older system that had been enacted by Edward I in which knights and minor nobles were assigned a particular county or shire within the Realm and, when the King called for troops, these commissioners selected the most fit men from their respective county to meet that county’s particular quota.  Although this system was used initially at the start of the Hundred Years War, it was fraught with numerous problems due to logistical inefficiency, desertion, and corruption on the part of certain commissioners (See Shakespeare’s character “Falstaff” from Henry IV Part 1).  Gradually, a more efficient and lucrative system took the Commission’s place – the Indenture system.  Under this, the Crown would grant Nobles and professional men-at-arms the authority to issue “indentures” in the King’s name to any volunteers.  These volunteers would then form a “retinue” under the figure who hired them and would be under his operational command for the duration of the campaign.  However, these indentures always had an end date and stipulated in exhaustive detail the terms of service.  The Indenture system also allowed the formation of highly skilled retinues of specialists – the archers from Cheshire, Lancashire, and southern Wales gained such an elite reputation that they were allowed to negotiate indentures with and serve directly under the Crown itself.

For the average archer, the financial compensation (both offered and potential) more than served as an attractive incentive for service with the King abroad.  Archers, along with the rest of the army, were paid at contracted daily rates agreed to in the terms of their service.  At the time of Edward III and his son, the Black Prince, mounted archers (“mounted” here refers to their mode of transport, not how they deployed onto the battlefield) were paid at the rate of 6 pence a day – foot archers received 3 pence.  Be aware that, in 14th Century England, 1 penny could buy a gallon of ale.  By the time of Henry V, professional archers were being indentured for 9 pence a day (although, that may have been due to minor inflation).  This was a vast improvement over what would be earned yearly as a farming landowner or a simple craftsman.  The prospects of loot would only enhance the attraction to service.  English kings and lords who led armies into France made it clear that all spoils of war would belong to those that captured it – some English nobles even refused any booty for themselves as an act of loyalty to the Crown.  For the common soldiers and archers, the spoils of a victory could be immense.  John Jodrell, an archer in the elite Cheshire retinue that served at Poitiers, sold a French silver salt cellar he seized to the Black Prince for £8 – a bonus of a year’s worth of pay!  After the fall of Caen to Edward III in 1346AD, Froissart records entire barges being loaded with furs, jewels, gold, silver, and wine.  With the possibility of such prospects, it is easy to see how English commoners – trained in the use of the warbow from childhood – would volunteer in droves when the King called for men.

Looting on campaign, 14th Century.
One must also take into account the culture and society from whence these warriors were drawn.  Far from being the idealized heroes of Agincourt mythos that remains in the English-speaking world to this day, the men of the bow were a rather refreshingly simple, if rough, bunch.  Of all Medieval Europe, England had for the longest time possessed a cultural admiration for the “common freeman” that went all the way back to its shadowy Anlgo-Saxon period of huscarls, fyrdmen, and theigns.  With the establishment of official checks on royal power under Magna Carta and the formation of the legislative body of Parliament, such traditions simply became entrenched.  Commoners in England commanded far greater respect than their contemporaries on the Continent, and any English king or noble who forgot this fact did so at his own peril!  The men who wielded the bow usually came from diverse backgrounds, but all of them were accustomed to the hard living required of every human in the Medieval period.  At best, they were rough-hewn farm boys and city ruffians – at worst, they were professional brigands and outlaws attracted to service by the prospect of a Royal pardon.  All of them sought wealth, adventure, and maybe even a ticket to climb higher in society … as many did.  It was not uncommon for an archer in the 14th and 15th Centuries to gain enough wealth or prestige to return home in far better social standing than when he left.  A few even won the favor of the aristocracy and were granted arms of nobility.

The prospects of the archer didn’t end with service to his own country, either.  After the Treaty of Brétigny and the uneasy truce that followed, many archers and men-at-arms faced lack of employment as their indentures were finished.  Having grown accustomed to war and the rewards that came to those that survived, many veterans simply never returned home and instead formed “Free Companies” that roamed throughout Christendom offering their considerable skills to the highest bidder.  Perhaps the most famous stomping grounds for these soldiers-of-fortune were the fabulously wealthy and forever-fighting merchant city-states of Italy.  These English mercenaries became both a scourge and a boon for the city-states of Tuscany and Lombardy, depending on which side had hired them.  Their efficacy on the field was unquestioned and English Free Companies soon became some of the most highly priced mercenaries in Italy.  The men themselves often grew phenomenally wealthy and some even influenced Italian affairs on a grand scale.  Perhaps the most famous example of these adventurers is the notorious John Hawkwood (Giovanni Acuto to the Tuscans).  Originally the younger son of a common landowner in Essex, Hawkwood answered the King’s call to fight in France – possibly serving in both the Crécy and Poitiers campaigns.  While in France, he fostered close relationships with other professional English warriors who, together with Hawkwood, would form the “White Company” after the end of hostilities in France.  Gradually, Hawkwood would gain sole command of the White Company and became the most famous (and dreaded) mercenary leader in Tuscany.  Called “Il Volpe” (The Fox) by friend and foe alike due to his cunning use of maneuver in his tactics, Hawkwood served in the employ of numerous Italian city-states to include Milan, Pisa, Florence, Naples, and even the Papal States.  Over the course of his long life, he amassed unbelievable wealth and power, becoming a powerful Tuscan lord in his own right and rubbing shoulders with other famous men and women of his day like Chaucer, Petrach, St. Catherine of Siena, and Froissart.  However, he never forgot the key to his success – at the battle of Castagnaro in 1387AD, Hawkwood deployed his English archers in a manner reminiscent of the Black Prince’s own tactics at Poitiers and won a smashing victory for his Paduan employers.  He died an honorary citizen of Florence and was buried with full honors in the great basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore (commonly known as Il Doumo in Florence) where his tomb can be seen to this day.  Not bad for the landless son of a humble farmer from Essex.

"Monsignore, God grant you peace," said the monks.
"And may God take away your alms," Hawkwood responded immediately.
"Lord! Why do you speak to us this way?" asked the frightened monks.
"Indeed, because you spoke thus to me," replied John ... "How can you think you spoke well," said Hawkwood, "when you approach me and say that God should let me die of hunger?  Don't you know that I live from War and peace would destroy me?  As I live by war, you live by alms."
Conversation attributed to Hawkwood by 14th C. writer Franco Sacchetti in his work Il Trecentonovelle
However, such stories of riches and adventure should not be allowed to obscure the hardships suffered by the average archer on campaign.  As in all military endeavors throughout human history, the possibility of death lay behind ever hill and hedgerow.  Other than the obvious deaths from combat and improperly tended wounds, there were a myriad other dangers that faced archers every day.  Disease often ran rampant on campaigns – Henry V lost over a third of his original force in 1415AD to dysentery.  Poor food and dirty water often compounded the effects of disease.  The elements could also take their toll if commanders failed to time their campaigns properly, as befell John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, when his chevauchée was caught deep in enemy territory during a fierce winter in 1373AD.  However, contrary to modern misconception, the average Medieval commoner was fairly naturally resilient and most had an average life expectancy of 60-70 years.  Although medical knowledge was certainly not what it is now, there was still basic understandings of what things caused disease and how to avoid them.  Surgeons that often accompanied armies were fairly skilled at mending all but the worst of combat wounds and even used substances that served as natural antiseptics.  A young Henry V, then Prince of Wales and commanding his father’s flank at Shrewsbury in 1403AD, was saved by surgeons who removed a Welsh arrow from his face and treated the wound with honey – a natural antimicrobial agent.

All in all, the English archer became somewhat of a rockstar on the Continent.  Their fame (or villainy … depending on whose side you were on) extended throughout Christendom to places as exotic as Rhodes - in service to the Knights Hospitaller against the Turks, Castile (the Black Prince won a famous victory with his archers at Nájera in 1367AD while supporting King Pedro against his French-backed pretender Enrique II), and Prussia fighting pagan Lithuanians during the Northern Crusades.  This fame later became an integral part of the national pride of England – a pride that carried on to the present day.  In my opinion, I think lifelong warbow expert and red-blooded Englishman Robert Hardy put it best, however:

“Of the archer himself we shall learn much more, from a detail here or a clue there, as we go on. Broadly speaking, he was drawn from the villages and fields, a man of small property, sometimes none, sometimes an outlaw or a poacher pardoned for service; a man of no great estimation in the world, but a man of country skills and strength, rough living and hard working, accustomed to things of wood and finding pleasing familiarity in the wooden bow ... With two quivers at his back, he shouldered his bow in its canvas bowcase and marched his way to much estimation in Britain, and after 1346 to find great esteem and to inspire great dread throughout Europe.
It had been hard to train him to his best; it proved impossible to keep him to it; but at his best there was no man in the world to beat him, no matter the odds against him; and his breed lasted long beyond the warbow; he used the musket and the rifle; he endured in 1915 the same - and worse - than his forefathers suffered in 1415. There has been a fashion lately to deride, not his kind, but his service to his nation as an exploitation by his rulers of his servitude and simplicity. Neither he nor his nation has ever taken kindly to servitude ... He will never entirely perish because, for all the sloth and cantankerous emulation that lie side-by-side in his nature, he shares with the best of mankind: courage, clear sight, and honesty."







Sources referenced:
William Caferro, John Hawkwood – An English Mercenary in 14th Century Italy, John Hopkins University Press, 2006.
Jean Froissart, Chroniques, 1388AD
Robert Hardy, Longbow – A Social and Military History, Haynes Publishing, 2012.
Peter Hoskins, In The Steps of the Black Prince, Boydell Press, 2013.
David Nicolle, The Great Chevauchée – John of Gaunt’s Raid on France 1373, Osprey Publishing, 2011.
Richard Wadge, Arrowstorm – The World of the Archer in the Hundred Years War, The History Press, 2007.