Merida the Archer, in Disney's film Brave (2012)
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"🎶 Sound, sound the music, sound it,
Let hills and dales rebound it,
Let hills and dales rebound it
In praise of Archery.
Used as a Game it pleases,
The mind to joy it raises,
And throws off all diseases
Of lazy luxury."
~ The Marcher's Arch, Allan Ramsay (1682-1731)
The use of bow and arrows, was probably developed in Africa by the later Middle Stone Age (approx. 70,000 years ago and has been a part of warfare and hunting from the classical period until the late medieval period when it was increasingly made obsolete by the increased use of firearms. During the 17th and 18th centuries in Scotland, a muster or military rendezvous, called a "wapinschaw" (a weapon-showing) was held at least twice a year. By using the old laws of wapinschaw, the Jacobites formed a plan to institutionalise a military corps, under a pretext of sports and recreation, that could be assembled by an authority as occasion offered. This plan made use of an existing society for encouraging and exercising archery which had already been formed in 1676, as a private archery club through which skills were kept sharp and competitions held with special prizes. Over the centuries and future conflicts including the Jacobite risings , this society transformed into The Royal Company of Archers, a ceremonial unit that serves as the Sovereign's bodyguard in Scotland, a role it has performed since 1822! 🏹
The Archery Jig
A person who participates in archery is typically called an archer or a bowman, and a person who is fond of or an expert at archery is sometimes called a toxophilite.
Archery was such an important skill for warfare that in England and Wales, the government tried to enforce practice with the longbow until the end of the 16th century.
A late 18th century revival in recreational archery, however, resulted in the creation of hundreds of elite societies, with both men and women competing in the sport.
After the Napoleonic Wars, the sport became increasingly popular among all classes, and it was framed as a nostalgic reimagining of the preindustrial rural Britain. Particularly influential was Sir Walter Scott's 1819 novel, Ivanhoe that depicted the heroic character Lockseley (a Robin Hood character) winning an archery tournament.
From the National Army Museum website:
The Royal Company of Archers were raised in 1676 as a private archery club. The following year the Scottish Privy Council in Edinburgh granted the fledgling organisation the right to style itself the Royal Company of Archers.
In 1704 the company petitioned Queen Anne for a royal charter, which enabled them to assemble under the old dispensation of wapinschaw (or ‘weapon-showing’) without interference from the civil magistrates.
In effect, this charter gave the hundred men of the Royal Company of Archers the status of a paramilitary force. This was not a problem while Anne, the last representative of the Stuart royal family, remained on the British throne, as the Royal Company was loyal to the Scottish House of Stuart.
But in 1714 when the Hanoverian dynasty succeeded to the crown and the claims of the exiled Roman Catholic branch of the Stuart family were disregarded, the loyalty of the Royal Company of Archers to the Government could not be taken for granted.
It did not help that about this time the Royal Company adopted tartan attire, which was popularly interpreted as showing pro-Stuart, or Jacobite, sympathies!
For more on the interesting history of the Royal Company of Archers, click the painting showing the uniform c. 1790, from James Balfour Paul’s ‘History of the Royal Company of Archers’ (1875).