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.|
|The "Ghost Archers" of Mons, 1914AD.|
|The now-preserved bowstaves from the Mary Rose|
|Excavating the Towton Mass Grave.|
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.
Robert Hardy, Longbow - A Social and Military History, Haynes Publishing, 2012.