The Archers and the Two Fingered Salute
This is the modern sport of archery. English longbowmen were famed across Europe in the later medieval period because of their accuracy and devastating fire power, just ask the French. So, with it being in my blood, I had a go and with my first every arrow I hit the bull. I was pleased with my achievement, then I went to see what the real archers were up to. Their targets didn’t have balloons on them and they weren’t ten feet away. They were more like a hundred and then some more. I didn’t know you could actually fire an arrow that far with any kind of accuracy until I saw this lot hit the target.
I had assumed that the military tactic would be to pepper an advancing army with lots of arrows fired in the air rather than to hit specific targets, but these guys could manage it. Perhaps Robin Hood movies aren’t so wide of the mark after all.
If you look at the ground in these pictures, I don’t think you’ll see a single arrow off target. The archers were so far away that, standing side on, I couldn’t get them and their targets in the same shot. I was hoping for a nice panoramic view, but the distances were too great.
I was told by an enthusiast, that English bowmen developed huge shoulders because of the force necessary to pull the bows back. They slashed their uniforms open to accommodate their muscles and archeologists have shown that their skeletons developed deformities due to the tremendous strain.
Incidentally, I was recently trying to explain to some foreigners what the English two fingered salute is all about and they asked ‘Why two fingers?’ I couldn’t really come up with a good reason for it except by using the story that the French would cut the fingers off captured longbowmen to stop them from being able to use their weapons. The gesture comes from the practice of uncaptured archers taunting the French to say ‘we’ve still got our fingers and we can shoot you.’ Anyone know if this is true? I’ve seen it used as a V for Victory during the WWII years so I don’t know if this story can be correct.
The BBC has more on obscene gestures here. It says the archer story is ‘apocryphal.’