Archaeological evidence in Britain can trace the use of the longbow as far back as 3000 BC and its use was widespread throughout Europe. The longbow may not have had a continuous life of use and development from then until now. It seems unlikely that the Celts and Romans didn't now of its existence and used it on a small scale. Viking restrictions regulated the number of bows and arrows to be provided for peasants. In the year 633, Offrid, the son of Edwin, King of Northumbria, was killed by an arrow in battle with the Welsh and the Mercians. It's not certain the arrow was from a Welsh longbow but this is an early account of the use of the longbow by the Welsh archers in military action (see illustration<). The story promotes the belief which credits the Welsh with inventing and introducing the longbow into the British Isles. The acknowledged expert on the longbow, Robert Hardy, has written:"If the Welsh did not have bows yet, it cannot have been long before they adopted the weapon from the raiding Danes, but it is more than likely that, however they first came by it, the Welsh, among all the tribes in the British Isles, either retained the use of the bow from much earlier times, or invented it for themselves long before there could have been any chance for them to have learned of its use from the Scandinavians."
Until the 17th century there was no regular permanent army in Britain. Archers were part of temporary armies during battles throughout the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. Post battle armies were disbanded and archers returned to their homes and communities. When required again an archer was conscripted or recruited by the feudal gentry.
The death of Offrid in 633 by an arrow from a (Welsh?) longbow precedes its widespread use hundreds of years later by the armies of the English and Norman rulers. There is reliable evidence of its military use by the Welsh in an ambush of invading Saxon horsemen in the Welsh mountains by Welsh longbow archers in 1054. The archers shot so accurately and strongly that the Saxons fled before they could throw their spears. At the siege of Abergavenny in 1182, Welsh archers, using longbows, pierced an oak door four inches thick with their arrows and William de Braose was hit by a Welsh arrow. This arrow went through his chainmail, into his thigh, through the saddle and penetrated the horse he was riding. King Edward 1 recognised that the Welsh archers excelled in the use of the longbow and this was developed by the use of this superb weapon by the Welsh during the military campaigns of the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. South East Wales was where the best longbowmen were found but others were recruited from as far away as Pembroke.
The surname Fletcher was used as early as the 13th century. In 1203 there were Fletchers living in Staffordshire, England. Ralph le Flescher and Nicholas le Fletcher resided in Lincolnshire in 1273. The Worshipful Company of Fletchers in London was first recorded in 1386. The Guild of the Bowyers and Fletchers, London was recognised as a City Company in 1363. In 1370, however, the Fletchers and Bowstring Makers broke away to form separate companies and demarcation disputes over supervision arose between them until 1429, when a city ordinance defined their respective spheres. The Worshipful Company of Fletchers in London was formally recognised as a company in 1386. There is some evidence that the legendary Welsh longbow archers relied on the skills and expertise of fletchers. Could it be possible, as history may suggest, that ancestors of modern day Fletchers acted as an essential auxiliary workforce to the Medieval longbow archers? If so, does this explain the settlement of Fletcher ancestors in areas of longbow archer communities in Britain and the battle locations at which they were stationed?
(A sketch from 1280 of a Welsh archer fighting for Edward 1)
The Origin of the Longbow, Arrow and the Fletchers P. 1/4
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