Nursery Rhymes


Medieval life and Times

Definition of a Butts
The Butts was an area used for archery training during the Medieval timesby Archers, especially using the longbow weapon. The word Butts is derived from the Anglo French word 'bouter' meaning to expel. It is now virtually obsolete but still lives on in English place names such as Newington Butts in South London.

Medieval Archer

Background History to the Medieval Butts
The areas designated for archery training during the Medieval times were called the Medieval Butts. The following description of the Medieval Butts provides basic facts and information:

  • Skill in using the Medieval longbow had to be acquired over many years
  • The first Medieval Archery Law was passed in 1252 when all Englishmen between the age of 15 to 60 years of age were ordered, by Law, to equip themselves with a bow and arrows
  • The second archery Law of 1363 made it obligatory for Englishmen to practise their skills with the longbow every Sunday!
  • The Archery Law led many accidents when people were hit by 'loose' arrows
  • Special places were assigned for the archery training which were called the Butts
  • The Medieval Butts were usually located on the outskirts of villages or towns on common land

Description of the Medieval Butts
A description of the Medieval Butts is as follows:

  • They were situated on a flat area of land, up to 200m long
  • The Medieval Butts were usually located on the outskirts of villages or towns on common land
  • A range was designated where archers could practise shooting their arrows
  • The targets were originally made of a number of circular, turf-covered target mounds with flat tops
  • The mounds then provided a level platform for the targets
  • The mounds ranged between 2m to 8m across and 1m to 3m in height

Training at the Medieval Butts
The training required by Archers at the Medieval Butts is detailed as follows:

  • The training included much practised commands and motions which could be carried out automatically in battle

    • "Ready your bows!"
    • "Nock!"
    • "Mark!"
    • "Draw!"
    • "Loose!"

  • The cries of " Nock! Mark! Draw!" would have resounded across the Medieval battlefields
  • The draw weight of a longbow was up to 120 pounds
  • The attachment points for the string were protected by horn ‘nocks’
  • A trained archer was expected to shoot 12 to 15 arrows per minute
  • He was expected to hit a target at a minimum of 200 yards with an ordinary bow
  • The range of a longbow was about 400 yards
  • The longbow could pierce armor at ranges of more than 250 yards

Medieval Butts - The Archery Target
The standard archery target developed into five colored rings, each divided in two bands. Each band of the target haD the same width:

  • The central two bands (bulls eye, 10 points) and the ring valued at 9 points were yellow
  • The next two bands from the center out were red
  • The next bands were blue
  • The next bands were white
  • The outer bands were black

The Importance of Training at the Medieval Butts

  • The medieval knight had no protection against the arrows of the longbow - this enabled an ordinary soldier to kill a noble knight
  • Up to the advent of the longbow a knight was deemed to be worth the equivalent of ten ordinary soldiers
  • The power of the longbow was so great that at the Battle of Crecy during the Hundred Years War, in 1346, the French army was decimated. It is estimated that nearly 2000 French knights and soldiers were killed by the longbow arrows. The English lost just fifty men!
  • It can be understood why Archery Laws were passed and why training at the Medieval Butts was so important during English Medieval life

The English Archery Laws
The first English Archery Law was passed in 1252. In 1252 the 'Assize of Arms' ensured that all Englishmen were ordered, by law, that every man between the age of 15 to 60 years old should equip themselves with a bow and arrows. The Plantagenet King Edward III took this further and decreed the Archery Law in 1363 which commanded the obligatory practice of archery on Sundays and holidays! The Archery Law "forbade, on pain of death, all sport that took up time better spent on war training especially archery practise". King Henry I later proclaimed that an archer would be absolved of murder, if he killed a man during archery practise. In 1542 another Act established that the minimum target distance for anyone over the age of 24 years was 220 yards.

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