As the Battle of Towton anniversary will be upon us next month, I have been contemplating the way in which mounted archers were deployed. That there were mounted archers is not in question. The issue is whether mounted archers always dismounted to fight or did they sometimes shoot from the saddle?
For anyone that has pulled on a hundred pound longbow, it seems almost impossible to contemplate how you would do this in the saddle, as a proper archer puts all of his body into the movement. For anyone that has ridden a spirited horse and tried to control it with spurs or by the knees, you can also appreciate the dilemma. For the equestrians among us, a medieval saddle would be more akin to a Western saddle, where you would sit long in the stirrups so that you would almost certainly have to rely on your spurs rather than deft movements from the knee, as the saddle would have been of such a thickness as to prevent this.
Yet, I believe there were mounted archers that did shoot from the saddle at Towton. These would have been very effective as a light cavalry, skirmishing force and would break the almost impenetrable defensive columns of billmen, allowing lancers to get amongst them and cause havoc? Was this tactic used by John Clifford’s “Flower of Craven”, an elite light cavalry unit, at the Battl of Ferrybridge on the previous day?
I certainly think this merits some speculation. Tristram Bolling, one of the characters in my book, actually says in his will: “I bequeath in honour of my mortuary my best horse wt. sadyll & brydll, jake, salet, bowe and harnes, sword and bockler, as I went to the warr”.
He is the son of a gentleman but takes care to mention the bow, giving it equal precedence to his horse and harnes (armour). He carries a sword but no poleaxe, the preferred weapon of the gentry. We know the Bollings were in the service of John Clifford and Tristram mentions the war, as opposed to just Towton, where his father was attainted, so it points to the potential of him fighting, and surviving the battle at Ferrybridge. In Andrew Boardman’s book about Towton, he reasons that the opposing Yorkist mounted archers were the reason that John Clifford was taken, uncharacteristically, by surprise.
I have fired a bow before now, and I have ridden lots of horses with a variety of saddles, so I would love to try the two out together to experience the complexity of this feat.
The YouTube footage below, gives a great insight into this dexterity.
Archive for February, 2010
I’ve had quite a few mails now from people, sympathising about my dilemma as to whether to put my little French homestead on the market. You can see how chocolate box beautiful La Chaumiere and La P’tit Maison are from the photograph. I have been wallowing in sympathy for myself and casting ‘er indoors spiteful looks, not that that makes much impression on her – she is a lot better at being stubborn than I am.
A close friend urged me to go and look at his sister’s farm in Halifax which she is soon to put on the market, as the family have got their Australian emigration papers through. He said it would suit me down to the ground. To be honest, I didn’t really fancy going. A toss up between rural France and Halifax? No contest. I have this mental picture of Halifax. The moors are desolate and bleak – I can picture consumptive Brontë’s ebbing their life away with a last hacking cough there. The scowling townships mind me of Rugby League on a wet, grisling afternoon, Webster’s Pennine Bitter and shops displaying wool, knitting patterns and dead flies in the window.
The journey to the farm did not put me in a better mood – desperately gripping my steering wheel as I dodged lorries and white van man on the M62. Then, descending and ascending through gritty townships, turning my pick-up truck through corners at impossible angles and then spewing out at a derelict mill at the bottom of the road that led to the farmstead. These were England’s dark satanic mills alright, ghosts of the long-dead workers glowering out at me through jagged broken windows with hostile intent. I could imagine the looms clattering away and the mill-hands trudging to work with shawls clasped around their shoulders, trying to hide their pinched hunger. Then, twisting up a long dirt track to what I thought would be Cold Comfort farm on a dripping, soggy, godforsaken hill.
You know when you get the feeling of having passed through a barrier? You sort of lose concentration for a minute or two, then open your eyes, blink and your surroundings look completely different.
I found myself in a beautiful valley – steep pastures with mixed woodland at the top and and an aura of graceful beauty. The grim moors were nowhere to be seen. And the house, a Grade II Georgian listed building, looked like it had been put there when Noah landed his ark. It had been very tastefully restored and even ‘er indoors would be impressed if she were to have a look around. She could even indulge herself with her predilection for bleach! Perhaps I should explain…she is banned from using bleach at La Chaumiere as the fosse septique works on organic principles. Putting bleach down the lavatory and plug holes upsets the balance of nature. Notwithstanding this, when I return from toiling in the cabbage patch, I find her with a guilty look on her face and a smell of bleach so strong that it peels your eyebrows off. I digress, I know, but these things are important to her and she would have no problem with her cleansing and scouring habits here.
Back to the house, plenty of room for my “clutter”. By that ‘er indoors refers to my period furniture, books and DVD collection and there is somewhere where I can sit peacefully and write.
It’s the outside that clinches it for me. Acres and acres of fields to keep livestock in and grow fruit and vegetables and a fair sized outbuilding and a massive barn. The pasture is sweet and there’s even a trickle of a stream that runs through.
The catch is the price, of course. It is way beyond what I had planned to spend. If I bought it, it would mean I would have to dig very deep into my meagre pension funds and continue working until I’m ninety four.
It’s got me thinking though and I’m taking ‘er indoors to see it tomorrow.
Where is it? I’m not telling you. I saw it first.
I have recently had a mail from someone asking me where I got the idea for the Pole Star from, when the young Shepherd Lord asks Tom Lawkland where his father is.
The thought process went something like this.
Henry Clifford (The Shepherd Lord) actually studied astronomy with the Prior of Bolton Abbey when he was restored to his lands. This was part of the education process to recompense what he had missed out on whilst exiled to the wild fells. The motivation for him studying the stars was the fact that he often looked at these orbs at night when he was tending his flock on the hillside. I guess there wasn’t much else to do and he must have marvelled at what he saw and wondered about their creation. With no light pollution to obscure his view, he would have a very clear image of the constellations.
So, when I was pondering on how he would have been told of his father’s death, I thought how would you break the news to a seven year old child? The star gazing must have stuck in my mind and I thought that was probably a good way of explaining what happens to us when we leave this earth, rather than the brutal reality of John Clifford’s grisly death.
The person I tasked with explaining this was the big gruff shepherd, Tom Lawkland. I liked the idea of the contrast of this big rough fellow acting tenderly and sagely when he was posed a really difficult question by young Henry. Children are prone to ask the most awkward of questions and, in my mind’s eye, I could just picture Tom scratching his head and thinking how do I get out of this one then, before getting down on bended knee to young Henry’s level, smiling reassuringly at him and pointing to the star where all the bravest people go. I thought it would be comforting for the young boy to know that his father’s final resting place was still visible.
The Polaris or North star was the obvious choice for me as it is one of the most easily recognisable.
If you can identify the star group called The Plough, you can find Polaris by following the two right-hand stars of the group as shown on the diagram above. It is normally the brightest star in the sky and shepherds and sailors used it to get their bearings.
This device worked really well when we came to shoot the trailer and led to the iconic eyes in the sky theme when the focus turns heavenwards.
Next time you are out in the country (you don’t really get a good view in cities because of all the artificial lighting) have a look for the Pole star, the Milky Way and all the other constellations and just think how marvellous this must have seemed to a young shepherd boy.