Thursday, 9 January 2014

Bows and arrows

Yesterday afternoon my car was in the garage for the annual road-worthiness check, the MOT as it's known.  The garage I use is in Patcham, the part we call "the old village", and I took the opportunity to stroll around while the car was being given the once-over.  As I wandered through the churchyard - that's All Saints' church in the picture - I pondered about the fact that most ancient churchyards have at least one yew tree in them.  I had a vague idea why this might be but I have since checked it out.

Although nobody knows for sure, there are several theories but the most popularly held seems to be that the yew tree heartwood is the best for making the English long bow and the practice of archery was at one time strongly linked to churches.  It was in the year 1363 that King Edward III decreed the Archery Law, which commanded the obligatory practice of archery on Sundays and holidays, for 2 hours supervised by the local clergy The Archery Law "forbade, on pain of death, all sport that took up time better spent on war training, especially archery practice".  King Henry I later proclaimed that an archer would be absolved of murder if he killed a man during archery practice and in 1542 another act established that the minimum target distance for anyone over the age of 24 years was 220 yards.

I have read that in York it is perfectly legal to shoot a Scotsman with a bow and arrow - except on Sunday!

And while we're on the subject of archery-related trivia, there is a story - probably apocryphal but fun all the same - about the origin of the two-fingered V sign salute.  The story goes that back in the 14th and 15th centuries, when England was at war with France on an almost continual basis, English archers were supreme as the French had not adopted the long bow.  If an English archer was captured by the French, they would cut off the middle and index fingers of his right hand so that he could no longer hold an arrow as he drew the bow.  The English archers adopted the tactic of taunting their French opponents by waving those two fingers in the air.  Personally, I think it more likely that the French would just kill their prisoners - unless they were wealthy men who could be held for ransom.  All the same, it is an amusing little tale.

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