Bolton archers' role in historic medieval battle
“NOW, good fellows, do like Englishmen this day!” the Earl of Surrey is supposed to have exclaimed as he rallied his troops for the Battle of Flodden, one of the landmark conflicts of British history whose 500th anniversary is marked on September 9.
And among the estimated 26,000 men facing a Scottish army numbering 50,000 was a contingent of Bolton archers who, some accounts say, played a significant role in the ultimate victory of the English.
Their presence at the battle in helping defeat the invading Scots is marked in the poem “The Ballad of Flodden” which includes the line: “With lusty lads — liver and lights — from Blackburn and Bolton-i’th’Moors”
And Scholes’ History of Bolton records that a long lost stone, inscribed 1701, in the wall of the former Bolton Parish churchyard read: “The bolt shot well I ween from arablast of yew treen green; many nobles prostrate lay at glorious Flodden Field.”
In the churchyard, legend has it, grew a yew tree which was said to have provided the wood for the Bolton archers’ bows.
The Battle of Flodden in 1513 is regarded as the last major medieval battle.
Archers from the Bolton area were recruited by Sir Edward Stanley, who was responsible for commanding his 3,000 strong left wing of the English army and as the battle between the two sides raged Stanley’s archers rained arrows down upon lightly armoured Highlanders.
The Highlanders were decimated and allowed Stanley to finish surrounding the Scottish army and their king, James IV, who was killed in the battle.
“The gallantry of the Lancashire men at the memorable battle of Flodden Field has at all times been a subject of exultation on the part of inhabitants of this county,” wrote Baines in his 1868 “History of Lancashire”.
Archery enthusiast and local longbow expert Jason Stokes said the experience for the Bolton archers must have been terrifying, with many of them having never experienced battle before or having any choice in whether take part. “It was only one step removed from a feudal system and when it came to it if your local lord told you, you had to go,” said Mr Stokes.
English longbowmen were regarded as the best in Europe, with every boy and man legally obliged to train with a bow once a week and football banned at one stage to ensure they were not distracted from practising.
The best archers were widely sought after as mercenaries, but the strength and skill needed to draw 150lb weight on a heavy six-foot bow took its toll.
Skeletons exhumed of archers have revealed that long hours of training resulted in their bodies being misshapen.
The firepower of a body of archers was formidable, with hundreds of men firing their arrows in the air together with a range of up to 300 yards towards the enemy.
“It would have been just like hailstones raining down on them (the enemy) with nowhere to hide,” said Mr Stokes.
“It must have been terrifying.”
The archers were so well trained that they could also accurately shoot individual targets up to 90 yards away.
Mr Stokes described Flodden as the “swansong” for the longbow in British warfare and interest in it died out.
But the weapon is now enjoying a renaissance with enthusiasts attracted to the skill and craftsmanship involved in making and firing a traditional bow.
“There are so many clubs and societies being set up around the country, it’s fantastic,” said Mr Stokes.
The Bolton Longbow Archers was recently formed by traditional archery enthusiast David Varey and for more information about joining contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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