Book Review: ET Fox – Military Archery in the Seventeenth Century


This book combines three of the better known 17th century archery texts under one cover, along with a short essay by Fox introducing each text and setting the military and social context. The first standard text is William Neade’s Double Armed Man (1625), the second the anonymous A New Invention of Shooting Fire-Shafts in Long-bowes (1628) and Markham’s The Arte of Archerie (1634).

This is one of those print on demand books that you order on-line and three weeks later it arrives in your letterbox. Apart from the lack of an imprint page, you’d never know it wasn’t a normal mass produced edition. The quality of the print and binding is high and it looks like a good trade paperback that will last repeated reading. The author gets bonus points for using Peasants at Archery by David Teniers the Younger (1645) on the cover.

Detail about the content on Lulu’s page is a little light, I presume this is from the author rather than a third party but has resulted in a lower opinion of the work than may have otherwise been the case. Part of my motivation for buying this book (apart from reading Fox’s essay) was the opportunity to get clean copies of the seventeenth century versions of these three works. The ones I have already have really severe print through, to the point where Fireshafts is almost completely unreadable. I’ve never seen a real version of Markham, only modernised editions and thought it would be great to get one. I had a crazy idea that if they were suitable, I’d split out the essay and be able to do a 17th century binding around the facsimile works and then to be able to use them at reenactment events. Disappointingly, the texts have been reset in what looks like Times New Roman  with all the ligatures and long esses removed and punctuation somewhat modernised. Much hangs on what you understand the phrase “Three tracts … are reprinted here”.

The editing leaves something to be desired as errors have been introduced in resetting the texts that weren’t present in the originals. There is no bibliography or tables of references or abbreviations and many illustrations are left unattributed. Abbreviations and contractions in footnotes (CCSPD, for example) are never explained or expanded. To be honest, while there’s good information in the footnotes on the 17th C texts, they are intrusive on the page and I’d rather see them as end notes. It would also provide a better separation between the texts, although the current layout is exactly what I would be doing binding them in a single cover as chapbooks.

The introductory essay is well written and well researched. In fact, I had to check I wasn’t in the bibliography because the section on Neade’s work used all the same references and illustrations as my own 2003 article. I think it’s just a case of us both using the standard references and a limited pool of information being available. The author brings up a point in Fireshafts that I had missed (possibly a problem with legibility from the print-through) and neatly links it with Neade’s work – if pikemen have an offensive weapon, they have less need of defensive armour and can instead spend the money on Neade’s engine and a longbow. Fox correctly spots Markham’s plagiarism of Ascham and explores the motivation, but puts too much emphasis on Markham’s military experience as a reason. I think it was just a way for Markham to get more titles under his belt. At one point his publisher had banned him from producing more works on particular topics than he already had written. Markham did have some military experience in the Low Countries, but his subjects range from animal husbandry, to domestic economics, theology and poetry. I suspect most of the former works are really plagiarised versions  of earlier works were the original is now unknown or has been lost.

Separate short sections cover the shambolic Ile de Ré Expedition of 1627 (the last time archers were mustered as regular troops in an English army) and five pages cover the English Civil Wars, ending with the use of archery at Colchester in 1648.

Notably, the use of archery by the Commonwealth army in Ireland in the middle of the century is entirely neglected, as is the ceremonial role taken by archers through the Restoration period.

The Texts

Inclusion of Neade’s manual fits the remit of the title brilliantly. As a military theoretician and innovator, Neade advocated the reintroduction of the bow into the ranks and proposed a technical solution to the the problem of pikemen being mostly passive targets for artillery. We know the solution was used in a military context. There’s a missed opportunity here, I would have also included the 1636 Objections Against the vse of the Bow with the Pike as it addresses some of the more obvious criticisms of Neade’s earlier work.

A New Invention of Shooting Fire-Shafts in Long-bowes also introduces new technology to maintain the relevance of military archery, and again found use during the civil wars and in Ireland. Unlike Neade’s engine, we still have extant fireshafts from the seventeenth century that more or less exactly match the construction method described in this work.

Markham’s work really doesn’t fit the theme. Despite his introductory epistle and a new first chapter, The Art of Archerie is about the individual non-military archer. If anything, Markham’s The Art of Archerie is symptomatic of the decline of military archery and the rise of archery as a sport. Sir John Smythe’s Certain Discourses Military of 1590 may have been a better choice to present the response of an experienced military commander to parliament’s early attempts to withdraw archery from the ranks of the Trained Bands, but misses the author’s chosen period by 10 years. It did remain in print until well into the 17th century, and the same claim could be made about Markham’s source material, having it’s origins in Ascham’s 1545 work. Similarly, William Wood‘s The Bow-man’s Glory or Archery Revived of 1691 or his A Brief Relation of the Several Appearances of Archers Since His Majesties Restoration (c. 1682) may have been a good way of wrapping up the century in the words of an archer, rather than presenting a 9-year snapshot and implying that it was representative of the whole 100 years.

The book represents good value for the price, but could have been much more.

Product Details

ISBN: 9781326441357
Published: 6 October 2015
Pages: 132
Binding: Perfect-bound Paperback
Dimensions: 15.24cm wide x 22.86cm tall

Military Archery in the Seventeenth Century is available from Lulu.


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