Seventeenth Century Archery

Some Notes on the Regulations of two Seventeenth Century Archery Societies.
By Hugh D. Soar
Longbow & Historical Adviser to ‘The Glade’ Magazine
and the British Longbow Society

Copyright: Hugh D Soar

The following article may not be reproduced in anyway shape or form without the expressed
and prior written permission of the Author.
Mr H D Soar, 29 Batley Court, OLDLAND, South Gloucestershire BS30 8YZ

Amongst many enigmas which rise to the surface when the archery pot is stirred are the intriguing and significant similarities between the Shooting Regulations of the Society of Archers at Scorton in Yorkshire (formed 1673) and the Society of Finsbury archers in London, dating from the early 1650’s and perhaps before.

The circumstance is interesting in that the Scorton Rules were set down some thirteen years earlier than those of the arguably senior, and more important Finsbury Society.

Before we analyse however, just what are these similarities? The Annex to this Paper reproduces the Regulations of both Societies; comparison very quickly reveals much identical phrasing and sentence construction. A common origin seems evident – but, why?

No evidence survives to tell how the Scorton Rules were formed (1), and were it not for the apparent Finsbury connection no reason exists to suggest other than local preparation by a number of literate and knowledgeable gentlemen.

There is provenance for the Finsbury Rules, since they were “gifted” by Sir William Wood, Marshal to the Society, after agreement by the members, although common sense suggests that earlier Regulations existed and were observed by members in the years preceding 1687 (2).

If however the Society of Archers at Scorton called upon the Finsbury Society for Regulatory advice in 1673 then the Rules from which they composed their own preceded those presented by William Wood in 1687.

Thus, from the Regulations of the Society of Archers at Scorton, circa 1673, we may perhaps glean something of those to which the Finsbury Archers shot, a decade and more prior to 1687 and which might, moreover have been the original Regulations of that Society. So, having drawn attention to similarities which suggest common origin, we should now look to differences and their significance, since in these may lie clues to these original Items revised by Wood.

Dissimilarities can be categorised as of substance and of degree. Of the former we note that shooting arrangements in the 1687 “version” require “the same person who begins shall continue to shoot till the target be ended, or lose his interest.” There is no such requirement in the 1673 Rules and the suggestion is that Wood added this to prevent the practice of substitution from creeping in.

The 1687 Rules allow that “The Captain, with the consent of the major part of the Company, upon the drawing on of the evening shall have liberty to approach somewhat nearer upon a removal to hasten down the shooting of the Game before night”. The Scorton Regulations are uncompromising in this respect however, “Their said approach to the targets be never nearer than sixty yards, at which distance they must stand to shoot them out, if not won before”. Wood’s Rule suggests a compromise based upon what had perhaps been a familiar circumstance.

Two other variations of substance occur. The 1673 Rules require two targets to be set up; those of 1687 one target only, although the shooting distance of eight-score yards was common to both. Thus, the Scorton – and perhaps the earlier Finsbury Rules required two-way shooting, whilst subsequent to 1687 at least, Finsbury shooting was conducted one-way only.

It is arguably easier to shoot one-way than two, but we will not labour that point. A major difference lies in the target face however. Four concentric rings in 1673, five in 1687. Apart from a “gilded, or yellow” inner-most circle for the Captain’s Prize, colours were undefined in 1673 the others were merely to be “aptly distinguished by colours”. The Finsbury Rules however were manifestly more exact. Whilst the centre circle and its neighbour were to be either red, or gilded (either combination apparently being acceptable) the three outer circles were to be White, Black and White (3).

The 1687 Regulations prepared by William Wood are altogether more precise in their degree, this is exemplified by comparison between the paragraphs respecting swearing and cursing. Where the Scorton Rules refer loosely to cursing in the “hearing of any of the Company, and the same be proved”. Wood’s Regulation requires the “testimony of two or more witnesses”. Compare also the more precise wording of the arrangements made for Shooting out of turn (Item VI Scorton, and 8th Item, Finsbury).

Minor differences in points of procedure concern Dining at table – an important feature of the Day – and the Target Fee. In the case of the Dinner, whilst both Societies require a forfeit from those Members either neglecting, or refusing to dine with the Captain, the Scorton fined but one shilling (five new pence) and withdrew the privilege of shooting in the Round immediately following the meal, the Finsbury Society fines two shillings and sixpence and withdrew shooting privileges in the next two Rounds following.

If, as may seem, the 1687 Rules were an Amendment of an earlier version, then again penalties had been strengthened to oblige compliance. In the case of the Target fee, the Scorton Society required the sum of five shillings to be paid, as convenient prior to the Meeting, to allow purchase of ‘plate’ (spoons), and Stewards are specifically mentioned. The Finsbury Society however accepted payment on the Day, implying the existence of a fund to enable purchase of their plate. We know this latter Society to have had Stewards appointed and an annual fee, if charged, would have been administered by these Officers.

Why should the Scorton Society have drawn upon the Finsbury Society’s Rules in the first place? Indeed, were the “Finsbury Rules” unique to that Society? The Honourable Artillery Company had inherited oversight of Archery Societies generally as a legacy of their origin in the Guild of Saint George (1537) (4) and it was natural for there to be affinity between it and a group of archers meeting for recreational purposes in Finsbury Fields. (5)

It would have been in keeping with the 1537 Statute if Rules had been produced to guide approved Societies in their shooting practice and in this sense the H.A.C. might be seen as a Regulating, although perhaps no longer a Governing Body as the Guild of Saint George undoubtedly was during at least part of the preceding century. It would therefore be natural for the Scorton Society to seek guidance either directly from them, or from the Finsbury Society and this is a possible explanation of co-incidence in Regulation.

A near, if not exact parallel is Thomas Waring’s “Summary of Laws” for the guidance of those forming an Archery Society, circa 1814 (6). As an aside, a study of the Rules of the Darlington Archers (1758) shows significant similarity to those of the Scorton Society and there is known to have been much contact between them. (7)

There is another, more speculative possibility however and this concerns the arrow itself. Of the several accounts advanced for its origin, the one most favoured by Ben Hird, the Society’s unofficial historian (8) was the so-called ‘Scorton Story’ (9). John Wastell, whose name is closely linked with the arrow, was at Cambridge in 1653-54 and archery was commonly practised in the colleges at that time (10).

It would surely be in keeping with academic custom if Regulations were in being to govern such Tournaments or Meetings as might be held and it would not have been out of keeping, or a strain upon credibility if these were based upon those of the Finsbury Archers. A copy of these Rules might thus have accompanied the Arrow to Scorton.

The enigma must remain!

Copyright: Hugh D Soar


1) Neither A, nor A.E. Hargrove give clue in their respective “Anecdotes of Archery”. Ben Hird’s “History of the Antient Scorton Silver Arrow” contains a number of anecdotes, including the Scorton Story, which Hird thought the most likely.

2) The Society shot between 1652 and 1666, when the Great Fire of London intervened and from 1668 until 1757. It is inconceivable that between 1652 and 1687 there should have been no written Regulatory arrangements, although there is a strong possibility that these were re-written in 1668 since many Records were destroyed in the Fire.

3) The Prince Regent is credited with stabilising the colours of Targets, and with the exception of certain Clubs and Societies, there was a general conformity with the precedence of Gold, Red, Inner White, Black and Outer White. Variations continued however in respect of the “Spoon”, or “Petticoat”.

4) “And also that none-other than the Fraternity or Guild aforesaid shall within any part of our Realm or Dominion keep any other Brotherhood or Guild, unless it be by licence of the aforesaid Masters and Rulers of the said Fraternity or Guild”. Extract from the Patent of King Henry VIII pertaining to archery. H. VIII 29. (1538).

5) Although the earliest mention of a Society of Finsbury Archers was made (vide RAIKES) in 1652, there is reference to a Company of Archers there as early as 1636. The Account of Kielway Guidott, “Steward of the Company of Archers” dated 25th February 1636 was submitted to the H.A.C. “by reason of the death of his partner, Thomas Naylor”. He received from the last Stewards 7s 8d, and by contributions from the Gentlemen of the Company 38s 6d, and had expended 12s of which he gives a more particular account. (RAIKES “History of the Honourable Artillery Company” 1878 Vol: 1.)

6) WARING draws particular attention to item VII of the Scorton Rules, dubbing it. “A very good law, for as swearing is unbecoming the character of a Gentlemen everything should be excluded that is derogatory to good behaviour”. Item VII is paralleled of course by Item IX of the Finsbury Regulations.

7) Whilst there is obvious affinity between the Darlington and the Scorton Rules, similarities of phrasing, etc., indicating a common origin, there is much in the Darlington Society’s Regulations that is different, an indication both of original thought and the progress of target archery generally in the intervening fifty years.

“DARLINGTON ARCHERS Item III. That two targets be provided by the Captain, with five circles, aptly distinguished with colours; the innermost or middle circle, Gold for the Captain’s Prize; the second, Red for the Lieutenant’s Prize, the third, Blue, the fourth Black, and the fifth White.

“Item VII. That the targets be set in some open or plain field each distant from the other one hundred yards, and three Rounds of arrows be shot (with what sort of arrows they please, not exceeding two in number) at that distance, after which, the targets to be removed in ten yards, and there shoot another three Rounds, and so removed in, from hand to hand, till all the prizes be won, provided the targets be not moved nearer than sixty yards.

“Item XIII. That whoever shoots out of his turn, shall lose his shot for that Round or, if any be absent from the Stand, to shoot in his course, the next person in turn shall shoot on, and have such Prize as he then wins, but such absentee may, on his coming to the Stand, have liberty to shoot during that Round, either at his coming, or at the end of such Round provided he comes before the next Round.

“Item XVI. That any of the Archers during the time of shooting do curse, or swear any profane oath, or oaths in the hearing of the Company, and the same be proved before the Captain and his Lieutenant he, or they, shall immediately forfeit and pay sixpence into the hands of the Captain for every oath and if not paid on demand, such person’s name shall be struck out in the Rules and Orders of the said Company, and he no longer be deemed a member of the said Society.

“Item XVII. That no member of the Company, who does not dine with the Captain at the public Ordinary appointed for the Day be permitted to shoot (for the Said Medal and other Prizes) unless he first pays to the Captain one shilling and sixpence extraordinary for the use of the public fund.”

8) ‘The Antient Scorton Silver Arrow’, Journal of the Society of Archer Antiquaries, 1972, Chapter 6 Pp 50 – 51.

9) John Wastell was disinherited by his family for eloping with, and marrying a housemaid. Henry Calverley, a family friend, asked for the arrow, to be used as a trophy, and was given it on the solemn promise not to reveal its origin. As an aside, the Report by the Assay Master, Birmingham Assay Office, in November 1966 states, inter alia, “It is possible that the whole of the existing arrow was made at one time from two different pieces of silver during the Seventeenth century. For example, it could date from 1670. The History of the H.A.C. (RAIKES p. 154) mentions the gift of two silver arrows to the Society of Finsbury Archers in 1670; one having been lost. It was replaced, in 1672.

10) Private correspondence between the author and the Senior Bursar of St. John’s College, Cambridge and the keeper of Archives, University Library, Cambridge. The Statutes of St. John’s College (1530 & 1545) approved archery explicitly as a recreation; relevant in the context of both Roger Ascham and another but less likely explanation of the presence of the arrow, vide, The Field, August 11th, 1877.

Annex: A Comparison of the Rules of Shooting and the Regulations of Two Seventeenth Century Archery Societies.

Notes: The Rules of the Society of Archers at Scorton, being the earlier are shown in order. To assist comparison, those of the Society in Finsbury Archers are shown in their supposed relationship to the former. Thus, Scorton ITEM 1= Finsbury ITEM 1 and in sequence, ITEM 2 = ITEM 2 + 4 (but see also ITEM 10). ITEM 3 = ITEM 3: ITEM 4 = ITEM 5: ITEM 5 = ITEM 7 + 10: ITEM 6 = ITEM 6 + 8: ITEM 7 = ITEM 9: ITEM 8 = ITEM 11. Dissimilarities thus [ ].

The Society of Archers at Scorton.
Set down 14th May 1673.

IMPRIMIS. That every person intending to shoot at this, or other yearly game, for the future, shall deposit and pay into the hands of the Captain and Lieutenant of the Archers, or of some others deputed and appointed by them, Stewards to the Company of Archers for the year the sum of five shillings, or what other sum shall from time to time be concluded and agreed upon by the major part of the Archers; the same to be done some convenient time the general day of the Meeting to shoot at the said targets whereof notice to be publicly given to that end, and that plate and such other prizes, as are here after mentioned may be had and provided in due time.

ITEM 2. Upon the day appointed for the said exercise, all persons concerned shall repair to the place for the said purpose (to be appointed by the Captain of the Archers for the present year), which place shall always be within six miles of Eriholme-on-Tees in the County of York (unless otherwise resolved and agreed upon by the greatest number of the “Society of Archers” present at the shooting of the said targets) by eight of the clock in the morning; when and where a note in writing shall be taken of those intending to shoot (the Captain and Lieutenant excepted) and lots, or figures of their numbers shall be drawn by some indifferent person; according to which figures they are to observe their several courses and orders in shooting for that time and if any come after the lots are drawn , they shall take their places and shoot after the last figure and according to their coming.

ITEM 3. [Two targets] shall be then and there ready provided by the Captain and Lieutenant [who hereby are, and shall be exempted and freed from depositing any sum or sums of money, so long as either of them shall continue in their respective office] [with four circles] aptly distinguished with colours, whereof the inner-most circle being gilded, or yellow, shall be for the Captain’s prize and the next to that shall be for the Lieutenant’s prize; and the third and fourth, or outermost circumferences, shall be for such spoons or other prizes of a greater and lesser value, according to the monies deposited, as they shall be ordered and proportioned by the Captain and Lieutenant and three of the Company of Archers than and there present.

ITEM 4. [The said targets shall be set] in some open and plain field [upon two straw basts or mats] breast high from the ground, each being distant from the other at least eight score yards, at which distance three Rounds shall be shot by all the Company with what manner of shaft (not exceeding two shafts) every one pleaseth. The Captain and Lieutenant beginning first and then the rest two and two, in order according to their several lots and numbers, till the first Round be shot out at the first stand; after which they shall remove in ten yards and there shoot others three Rounds in manner aforesaid; then remove in ten yards more and shoot three Rounds there; and so forward from stand to stand, or one removal to another till all the prizes be gotten or shot down, [provided that their said approach to the targets be never nearer than sixty yards at which distance they must stand to shoot them out, if not won before].

ITEM 5. Such person, as in his due order and place, shall first pierce of break the Captain’s prize, or any part thereof with his arrow; that is to say, so as his arrow, or any part thereof shall be within the circle, dividing between red and gold [shall have the silver arrow from the rest and shall be esteemed and adjudged Captain of Archers and shall have and enjoy all privileges due and belonging to that office during the year ensuing and further shall have twenty shillings of such monies as shall be deposited by the Company of Archers, at their next Annual Meeting, for the shooting at the targets; when he shall and must bring in the said silver arrow to be shot for] in manner and form aforesaid. The same to be done and performed yearly about Whitsuntide, to and by all the successive Captains. Also he that in like manner pierceth the Lieutenant’s prize, or circle shall have such prize or plate as shall be allotted and appointed by the Captain and Lieutenant for that time. Likewise, he that first pierceth either of the other circumferences shall have one spoon (or such other prize as shall be appointed for the same circle as aforesaid for every arrow wherewith he shall pierce or break them, in case all the prizes belonging to them be not gotten before. Also he that pierceth any of the inner circles, in manner aforesaid, whereout the prize or prizes were won before, shall have one of their best prizes remaining in the circle next to that which he shall so hit, [provided that the spoons and such other prizes, as shall be designed for the said two outermost circles, shall be of two several rates and values and the better of them shall be allotted for the circle and circumference next to the Lieutenant’s].

ITEM 6. If any of the Company shall presume to shoot at the target, out of his due turn of standing, he shall lose his shot for that Round: or having shot before, in the next Round following. And if any be absent from the stand, to shoot in his turn, according to his figure, then the next figure there present shall shoot on, that no time be lost and shall have such prize as he shall then win. Nevertheless

ITEM 7. For as much as the exercise of archery is lawful, laudable, healthful and innocent and to the end that God’s holy name be not dishonoured by any of the Society, it is agreed and hereby declared, that if any one of them shall that day curse or swear, in the hearing of the Company, and the same be proved before the Captain and Lieutenant, he shall forthwith pay down one shilling and so proportionately for every oath; to be distributed by the Captain, to the use of the poor of that place, or township where they shoot. And in the case of refusal, or neglect to pay the same, then such party to be excluded from shooting any more until payment is made aforesaid.

ITEM 8. And lastly, all the Company of Archers shall on the day of shooting at the targets aforesaid, dine with the Captain and Lieutenant, at some ordinary appointed for them, near the place of shooting; and if any of them shall refuse or neglect to do so, or not dining with them shall pay one shilling to the Captain or Lieutenant for his ordinary; then the party so offending shall lose and forfeit the privilege of shooting in the Round next following after dinner

The Society of Archers at Finsbury Fields.
Set down by Wm. Wood, 1687.

IMPRIMIS. That every person intending to shoot at this present game, or other yearly game for the future, shall, about eight of the clock in the morning before the exercise is to begin, repair to the place appointed and shall there, in the first place deposit into the hands of the Captain or some other by him appointed, to receive the sum of ten shillings; and that no person shall shoot above two arrows at each round, [and that the same person who begins shall continue to shoot till the target is ended, or lose his interest].

ITEM 2. That so soon as every person intending to shoot at the game shall have deposited their several and respective sums or stakes, a list of their several names shall be taken in writing and severally rolled up together and promiscuously shuffled together, and by someone appointed for that purpose, shall severally be drawn or taken out of a hat, or other obscure place, to wit, one lot or figure for each person, as his name shall be called on by the list aforesaid; and as each lot is drawn it shall be opened and notice taken thereof, and the same number with that lot or figure shall be set to his name taken upon the list aforesaid, for whom it was drawn.

ITEM 3. That after drawing of the said figures or lots, the game, or prizes shall be proportioned, and set out in proportion to the money deposited by the Captain, Lieutenant and Company; [and there shall be a target] ready fitted and prepared [with five several circumferences], visibly and aptly distinguished by colours, the middle circumference whereof, or centre, being [red or gilded] shall be the Captain’s prize and one particular piece of plate shall be appointed for that prize, of the chiefest worth and value. The second circumference, by what other colour so ever distinguished, shall be the Lieutenant’s prize; for which prize another particular piece of a lower value, in proportion to the money, shall be designed. The third circumference [being usually known and distinguished from the other prize by the name of the inner white] shall have eight, ten, or twelve, or other number of spoons of equal value, about eleven or ten shillings price in proportion to the money deposited, designed and appointed for that prize. The fourth circle or circumference [being black] shall have a like number of spoons of equal value than the former by eighteen pence, or two shillings in each spoon, and the fifth circle [being white and usually called by the name of outer white] shall have the like number of spoons appointed for part of the like lower value, as the former was to the spoons appointed for the inner white.

ITEM 4. That if any person shall come after the drawing of the lots aforesaid, and yet shall have a desire to shoot at the game, he shall shoot next after the last figure and so others after him, [as they shall afterwards come and tender their money or stakes equal with the other company, which money shall be laid out in spoons, and appointed for some of the aforesaid prizes].

ITEM 5. [That a butt shall be set up] in an open and plain field [and the target fixed thereon] breast high, and the first standing shall be eight score yards distant from the target, where three Rounds be shot by all the Company, and then it shall be lawful for the Captain to remove and he shall so remove ten yards nearer unto the target, and there shoot three Rounds more, and then again remove ten yards nearer and shoot three Rounds there, and so forward from stand to stand, or removal to removal until the game be all gotten and shot down. [Provided that the Captain, with the drawing on of the evening, shall have liberty to approach somewhat nearer upon a removal to hasten to down the shooting of the game before night].

ITEM 6. That the Captain, and Lieutenant and Company shall shoot at the Target in due order with what manner of shaft one pleaseth, and the Captain and the Lieutenant shall first shoot (to wit) the Captain his first arrow, and then the Lieutenant his first arrow: then the Captain hi second arrow, and so fall off; and after them the first and second figure shall come to the place of standing and shoot in the order, and so to the end of the whole Round, [before any arrows be drawn out of the butt or target]. Provided that, if any person be absent from the place of standing to take his turn in shooting according to the figure, it shall be lawful for the next figure there present to shoot on to supply his place, that there be no loss of time, and yet liberty is reserved for such figure so absent to shoot in the same Round, as soon as he shall come to the place of standing, or after the ending of that Round, and have liberty to claim his prize as gotten in his due order and turn, provided that he come before the beginning of the next Round; or else he shall have lost his shot for that Round; or else he shall have lost his shot for that Round; wherein he was absent.

ITEM 7. That such person as in his due order and from the place of standing first strikes or pierceth the Captain’s prize, so that he breaks or depresseth with his arrow any part of the circumference within any part of the circumference within the compass drawn thereabouts shall have that prize; and so likewise he that in like manner strikes the Lieutenant’s prize shall have that prize; and so likewise he that first striketh any other of the three prizes, shall have one spoon for every arrow wherewith he striketh them, or either of them, in case all the spoons appointed for those prizes are not gotten before; and that in case any person strikes any of the inner prizes after they are gotten by some other person or persons, yet he shall have the best prize without that which he so strikes that remains ungotten.

ITEM 8. That in case any of the Company shall presume to shoot at the target out of his due turn and order, or from any place than from the place of standing, shall lose his shot for that Round in case he have not shot already therein; and in case he had made his shot in that Round before, then he shall lose his shot in the next Round of shooting.

ITEM 9. For as much as the exercise of archery is lawful, healthful and innocent, and to the end that God’s holy name may not be dishonoured by any of the Company during the exercise, it is agreed that in case anyone of the Company shall, [during the time of dinner or vacancy of shooting] r whilst they are in the fields actually shooting, swear or curse, or other ways profane God’s holy name and that it shall be so made to appear before the Captain [and three or four of the Company], upon the testimony of two or more witnesses, such person, or persons so swearing or cursing as aforesaid, shall pay one shilling for each offence to be distributed by the Captain and the Company to the use of poor, and if such person, or persons shall refuse to pay one shilling for such an offence to be distributed as aforesaid, he or they shall lose his, or their shoot in the next following such offence committed and proof made thereof as aforesaid.

ITEM 10. That such person, or persons as get the Captain’s or Lieutenant’s prize shall, on Thursday in Whitsun week then next following, or on some convenient day by them to be appointed near about that time, prepare to set up another game or target to be shot at in a manner as aforesaid, and shall give timely notice thereof to the archers using and frequenting Finsbury Fields, and other fields adjacent for the exercise aforesaid.

ITEM 11. That all the Company of Archers shall on the day of shooting at the game dine with the Captain at an ordinary appointed for them; and that in case any of the Company shall refuse or neglect to dine with the Captain, or not dining, refuse to pay two shillings and sixpence for his ordinary, that then and in such case he or they so refusing or neglecting as aforesaid, shall lose and forfeit the benefit and privilege of shooting in the next two following Rounds after Dinner.

Copyright: Hugh D Soar

The Antient Silver Arrow