Monday, 23 September 2013

Digging deeper: The Personal Carriage of Arrows from Hastings to the Mary Rose

It's time to dig deep in the archives again and this week we will be looking at 'The Personal Carriage of Arrows from Hastings to the Mary Rose', the most popular article published in Arms & Armour.

The article is written by Jonathan Waller and John Waller and focuses on the often overlooked aspect of archery in the Middle Ages - how one transports one's arrows. It details the variety of manners in which this was done over the centuries - quivers, girdles, and cases all feature - and uses the specific (and fascinating) example of arrows used in King Henry VIII's campaign in France and the sinking of the Mary Rose in 1545.

The authors explain that "Certainly by the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, English arrows were fitted with smaller heads on lighter shafts. But how did Henry VIII’s principal archers carry their lighter sheaf arrows? We are very fortunate to have many illustrations of Tudor archers in the Cowdray Engravings. These engravings were copies of the original paintings in Cowdray House at Midhurst in Sussex. This was the home of Sir Anthony Browne, Master of Horse to Henry VIII. In this capacity he accompanied the King on his expedition of France in 1544. Sir Anthony commissioned five large paintings which accurately portrayed the king’s campaign in France and the events in the Solent in 1545 including the sinking of the Mary Rose. In 1785, these paintings were copied, at the behest of the Society of Antiquities of London, as engravings. These were published in 1788. This was very fortunate as Cowdray House was largely destroyed by fire in 1793 and the paintings with it. This left the engravings as the only detailed pictorial source of reference of Henry’s campaign and the sinking of his flagship the Mary Rose."

They go on to conclude that "When the principal archers, each with his bow in its case and a sheaf of arrows in their soft quiver, were about to embark they would cover the fletchings with its soft leather cover and close the top with its drawstring. Then tying their girdles around the middle of their quivers with a constrictor knot, to hold the arrows more firmly, they would wrap the remaining ends of the girdle around the soft body of the quiver and loosely tie the ends together. This would ensure the protection of their arrows by the collective strength created. It would also make it easier for them to carry both their bow and arrows on board and stow them in any space the archers were given for their berths on the ship. If and when they were called to action it would be a matter of seconds to release the girdle from around their quivers, uncover the arrows, sling the girdles over their shoulders, string their bows and they were ready for action. Associated with some spacers found on the Mary Rose, were traces of woven material, pieces of soft leather and what are described as strips of leather, some of which were tied around of the remaining arrows in spacers.

These are probably the remains of some Cowdray quivers and similar in construction to the ‘lost quiver’ examined by Grose. If the quivers were full and still tied at both ends, which we shall never know, this could perhaps mean that some of the archers on board the Mary Rose, never readied their arrows for combat. Records tell us that at no time before her sinking during the battle, was the Mary Rose at a fighting distance close enough to the French ships, during the battle, which would have allowed for advantageous deployment of her archers. We shall never know how many archers were standing to, bows in hand, arrows in their quivers at the ready, when the ship went down. What we do know is that some archers left their arrows in their quivers unused when the Mary Rose sank to the bottom of the Solent on that fateful day in 1545. Now, after 500 years, however, perhaps we have gone some way in shedding some light on the connection between Mr Grose’s ‘Ancient Quiver’ and the remains of the quivers on the Mary Rose, and helped explain the practicalities of the ways in which arrows could be carried and drawn."

>> Read the full article for free

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