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Investigate the historical role of Soldiers

Archer Portrayal

The Canterbury Pilgrim Archer

"...And he was clad in cote and hood of grene,

A sheef of pecok-arwes brighte and kene

Under his belt he bar ful thriftily;

His arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe,

And in his hand he bar a mighty bowe.

A not-heed hadde he, with a broun visage,

Of wode-craft wel coude he al the usage.

Upon his arm he bar a gay bracer,

And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler,

And on that sother syde a gay daggere,

Herneised wel, and sharp as point of spere.

A Cristofre on his brest of silver shene,

An horn he bar, the bawdrik was of grene,

A forster was he, soothly, as I gesse . "

Geoffrey Chaucer, c.1386

The Common Archer

For such a fellow, you also need a warbow; a linen or hemp bow string; a bow bag of woolen cloth; 3 arrows; a cloth arrow bag (filled out with dummy arrows if you don't have the 24 real ones it takes to fill the sheaf); and a side arm (with scabbard if appropriate) such as a sword, long dagger or an axe.

The Well-Arrayed Archer

To portray such a man, you need more stuff, specifically: a helmet of leather or iron, possibly with an aventail; a body defense of quilted cloth or of mail; a full sheaf of real arrows (24) in your arrow bag; 2 spare bowstrings; a sword with scabbard; a buckler; a dagger or heavy knife; a bracer; and a houce (a loose sleeveless overgarment for bad weather).

If you wish to portray a simple archer, you do not need to have armor, but you do need the basics of a commons portrayal. Naturally this places you fairly low on the military totem pole. Experienced soldiers would have acquired some pieces of armor, if only a leather cap. If you want your portrayal to be that of a retainer or indentured soldier, you'll need a metal helmet and a gambeson. Common and low or not, you can still wear Sir Geoffrey's livery colors. It's the least you can do to look like a soldier.

Obviously you must have the basic tools of an archer: a warbow and arrows.The bow need not be of yew. Elm, hazel, ash, or walnut will do. The minimum required arrow load for our reenactors is actually 3 real arrows and a dummy arrow bag of 24 shafts, though we would prefer you had the full 24 real arrows.

English archers could and did fight hand-to-hand. Therefore an archer must carry some sort of weapon. A sword or an axe is most likely, but a long dagger will serve for those not so well off. Since sword and buckler fighting was common among the English, a sword and a buckler is the preferred hand-to-hand weaponry for a soldier of La Belle Compagnie and expected of those portraying liveried retainers. We also think it likely that a soldier armed with a sword or axe would have a dagger as well.

The necessity of additional equipment depends on your portrayal. An archer of the better sort or a man experienced in war will provide himself with armor. Most common would be a leather or iron/steel helmet. Next most likely would be a defense for his body of quilted linen canvas or leather or perhaps mail. In manuscript pictures and statuary some men can be seen with poleyns for their knees and a few with full leg harness, although we think only the best-heeled mounted archers or archer captains would be so equipped. A few archers are depicted wearing metal gauntlets. An experienced archer might also have a shooting glove and/or a bracer. For the record, Sir Geoffrey's retainers are expected to have a helmet and body armor and a sword and a buckler.

For a chevauchée, the English recruited mounted archers almost exclusively. These mounted archers rode about while on campaign but they fought in battles on foot. They were armed and equipped as other archers, although possibly better, as their pay was better. They may also have worn heavier stuff, i.e. more armor, as they didn't have to walk all their stuff around. We don't actually expect our reenactors to have the horse, but spurs and implements of horse care improve the portrayal.