You’ll recall the battle of Hastings, where the Normans took England, in last month’s archery in history. The Norman invasion in 1066 set the stage for centuries of warfare between England and France. The Normans saddled England with French influence and control, and quite naturally, the Saxons rebelled. Gradually though, they were absorbed into a new, English culture. During this period, the English climate was warm and dry enough for the growing of wine grapes, something the Romans wrote about in the first century. A warmer, dryer climate produced Yew trees which were well-suited for the production of staves for bows. File this fact away!
William replaced most of the Saxon nobles with his own followers, and faced rebellion in 1067-68. While he successfully suppressed the rebellion, his followers considered their lands in France to be of equal importance to their new English holdings. Here is where the story gets difficult to follow. Let’s just say William married, and had several heirs, all of whom are referred to as the Norman Kings of England. The fighting between England and France began in earnest when William’s youngest son Henry managed to take the crown while Robert, the heir, was on crusade, and the number two son was killed-by an arrow. Robert tried to retake the crown, but Henry defeated and captured him in France. Henry’s daughter Matilda married Geoffrey of Anjou, and their son Henry II, married Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was the mother of Richard I (Richard the Lion-hearted). This sets the stage for the constant battles between the English and the French because the Kings of England in the Plantagenet line now had clear title to a huge part of France. Richard’s holdings are referred to as the Angevin Empire, stretching from the Pyrenees to Scotland! Richard is the first of the Plantagenet Kings.
These holdings were apt to rebel at the drop of a hat. Richard made a foolish decision to go on crusade, and left his kingdom in the capable hands of his brother, John. That’s Prince John, of Robin Hood fame. Richard is kidnapped and imprisoned by duke Leopold of Austria, and John raises taxes, supposedly to ransom Richard, but as we all know, really didn’t want to give the crown back to his brother. Eventually, Richard defeats his adversaries and returns to England, to be crowned King once again. But... His rebellious subjects in Chalus, in central France, decided he was too busy to interfere with their rebellion. They were wrong. So Richard once again puts on his armor, and heads to the battlefield. During the siege of the castle of Chalus-Chabrol, the king was seen striding up and down the battle line, urging his men on and, since it was warm, was not in his armor. He used an iron frying pan as a shield to fend off arrows (his men loved that!). One lucky crossbow bolt found it’s mark and struck the king in the arm. It’s said that the surgeon who tried to remove the arrow, which had a barb, was so unskilled that infection ensued. The King died on 6 April, 1199. Before he died, he asked to meet the person who had struck him, and a young crossbowman was brought before him, named Pierre Basile (there are several other names mentioned here). He commanded that the young man be set free, and gave him 100 gold marks as a reward! As soon as the King died however, a mercenary captain named Mercadier ordered the boy siezed, and flayed alive. Flaying is more commonly referred to as skinning: as in “skinned alive”, which was what happened to the young lad. So much for the King’s command!
Remember I mentioned the English then had a warmer, dryer climate than what followed? This ended in about 50 years, and during this brief time, English archers were the most feared in the western world. While Richard was King, and our hero Robin Hood was battling the evil Prince John, a young man named Temujin, born around 1162, was working to unite his people, who were a clan society, and mold them into a fighting force to be feared. You know Temujin by another name; Genghis Khan-the Great Khan!
Next time; the bows of the Golden Horde-the Mongols.