Image 01

Archive

There's something about a lady with a long bow...

Monday May 7, 2012

Baron Pierre De Courbertin, father of the modern Olympics, did not like the idea of women competing at sports in public. He suggested that their inclusion as competitors at the Olympics would be ‘impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect’   The ‘unaesthetic’ had a particular resonance in the Baron’s world. Vigorous exercise involves getting hot and sweaty – blatant reminders of our physical, fleshly selves;  and ‘ladies’ preserved their status by appearing to be above such things, in public at least.

 

At the second Olympiad, in Paris in 1900, the Exhibition organisers who hosted the games overruled Baron de Coubertin and allowed women to compete in lawn tennis and golf.  At the first London Olympics of 1908, there were 44 registered female Olympic contestants – 39 of them British; and 24 of those 39 were archers.

In medieval times archery was the principal defence of Englishmen against their enemies.   King Edward III instructed his sheriffs to ensure that the men of the shires exercised themselves with bow and arrow instead of wasting their time playing football. As gunpowder came into its own, the art of archery faded from view. 

Then, at the end of the 18th century, in 1781, a museum curator called  Mr Waring founded theToxophilite Society.   The Prince of Wales became a Toxophilite and the Society was later able to add "Royal" to its name, The smart set rediscovered archery along with the romance of Robin Hood and Maid Marion, and the idea of flirtation over the longbow took off.   Archery particularly appealed to ladies – for you could do it dressed in your best outfit without breaking a sweat.

 Lady Archers 1829 style

As a young ladies’ guide published in 1829 put it:   ‘The attitude of an accomplished female archer…at the moment of bending the bow, is particularly graceful. All the actions and positions tend… to impart a general elegance to the deportment.    Journalists in 1908 were still making the same point - “Archery stands alone among the field sports in that the majority of its votaries are ladies, for whom it is an exercise peculiarly suitable, and, it may be added, remarkably becoming.

 

 As a Sporting Encyclopedia of 1897 points out, archery, as a pastime, has the drawback of being ‘difficult and not easily mastered without regular practice and knowledge.’ 

 Dr Lucy Worsley

I had a taste of this myself when I met Dr Lucy Worsley at the Aquarius Archery Ground in East Finchley. It was my personal introduction to the long bow. I didn’t display Lucy Worsley’s aptitude. She hit the target. I only shot the grass   (I don’t perform well in front of cameras…At least that’s my excuse.)    I was struck by how beautifully the bows were made. I can see the attraction and elegance of the sport – especially under a sunny sky with good friends.

 

 

 

 At the London Olympics of 1908 there were two archery events for men and one for women. Only French and British contestants competed in the men’s events. The women’s contest was a purely British affair. I love the picture of the lady archers advancing across the stadium, correctly dressed but distinctly determined.

 

 

The Ladies’ Double National Ground contest began at 10am on Friday, July 17th, 1908. The weather was not good. The Archer’s Register reported that ‘for the time of year it was bitterly cold, the wind being very strong and trying, as it eddied round the huge arena with its towering array of seats.’   The lady archers of Britain were not to be put off.   They kept their brimmed hats straight and their arrows on target.

The Gentleman’s Double York Round was won by one William Dod, a direct descendant of Sir Anthony Dod of Edge, commander of the British archers at Agincourt. William’s sister, Lottie, competed in the women’s archery competition. Lottie Dod was a great favourite with the spectators, having had a previous sporting career as the youngest winner of the Wimbledon tennis ladies’ championship at the age of 15. Lottie Dod led the ladies on the first day of competition, but the following day, Miss Sybil Fenton “Queenie” Newall, at the age of 53 and 8 months, took the lead and beat `’little Lottie’ Dod to the gold medal.  “Queenie” still holds the record as the oldest woman ever to have won an Olympic gold medal.

 

Today female archers no longer have to wear ‘proper’ clothes to be taken seriously at their sport.   Their bows are made of fibres glass and have sights like guns.   They are athletes - but I can still see a certain elegance about a lady with a longbow

 


Add Your Comments

(not published)

Reader Comments

2 comments

Toxophilite Society

Very well encapsulated. Please amend however. It was the Toxophilite Society which was formed in 1781; it was not until some time later that it was afforded the privilege of being able to call itself 'Royal'

From: vee soar, Wednesday July 30, 2014

Membership of the Society of Archer Antiquaries

The Society of Archer Antiquaries, of which I am Honorary Secretary would welcome Dr Worsley to its ranks.

From: Hugh D H Soar, Friday May 2, 2014