Nursery Rhymes

The Butts

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Background of the Butts
The areas designated for archery training during the Medieval period of the Middle Ages were called the butts. The following description of the Butts provides basic facts and information:

  • Skill in using the Medieval longbow had to be acquired over many years

  • The first Medieval Archery Law was passed in 1252 when all Englishmen between the age of 15 to 60 years old were ordered, by Law, to equip themselves with a bow and arrows
  • The second archery Law of 1363 made it obligatory for Englishmen to practise their skills with the longbow every Sunday!
  • The Archery Law led many accidents when people were hit by 'loose' arrows
  • Special places were assigned for the archery training
  • These places were called the Butts
  • The Butts were usually located on the margins of villages or towns on common land
  • Definition: The word Butt is derived from the Anglo French word 'bouter' meaning to expel. It is now virtually obsolete but still lives on in English place names such as Newington Butts in South London

Description of the Butts
A description of the butts is as follows:

  • They were situated on a flat area of land, up to 200m long
  • The Butts were usually located on the margins of villages or towns on common land
  • A range was designated where archers could practise shooting their arrows
  • The targets were originally made of a number of circular, turf-covered target mounds with flat tops
  • The mounds then provided a level platform for the targets
  • The mounds ranged between 2m to 8m across and 1m to 3m in height

Training at the Butts
Skill in the use of Medieval weapons and understanding the strategy of Medieval Warfare was necessary and a played a vital part in Medieval life. The training required by Archers at the Butts :

  • Training method - The training method practised in the use of the Butts was  
  • The draw weight was up to 120 pounds
  • The bow was drawn 'to the ear'
  • The attachment points for the string were protected by horn ‘nocks’
  • The training included much practised commands and motions which could be carried out automatically in battle

    • "Ready your bows!"
    • "Nock!"
    • "Mark!"
    • "Draw!"
    • "Loose!"

  • The cries of " Nock! Mark! Draw!" would have resounded across the battlefields of the Middle Ages
  • A trained archer was expected to shoot 12 to 15 arrows per minute
  • He was expected to hit a target at a minimum of 200 yards with an ordinary bow
  • The range of a longbow was about 400 yards
  • The longbow could pierce armour at ranges of more than 250 yards
  • The standard archery target developed into five colored rings, each divided in two bands. each band of the target has the same width

    • The central two bands (bullseye, 10 points) and the ring valued at 9 points were yellow
    • The next two bands from the center out were red
    • The were blue
    • The next were white
    • The outer bands were black

The Importance of Training at the Butts

  • The medieval knight had no protection against the arrows of the longbow - this enabled an ordinary soldier to kill a noble knight
  • Up to the advent of the longbow a knight was deemed to be worth the equivalent of ten ordinary soldiers
  • The power of the longbow was so great that at the Battle of Crecy, in 1346, the French army was decimated. It is estimated that nearly 2000 French knights and soldiers were killed by the longbow arrows. The English lost just 50 men!
  • It can be understood why Archery Laws were passed and why training at the Butts was so important during English Medieval life in the Middle Ages!

The Archery Laws
The first English Archery Law was passed in 1252. In 1252 the 'Assize of Arms' ensured that all Englishmen were ordered, by law, that every man between the age of 15 to 60 years old should equip themselves with a bow and arrows.

The Plantagenet King Edward III took this further and decreed the Archery Law in 1363 which commanded the obligatory practice of archery on Sundays and holidays! The Archery Law "forbade, on pain of death, all sport that took up time better spent on war training especially archery practise".

King Henry I later proclaimed that an archer would be absolved of murder, if he killed a man during archery practise!

In 1542 another Act established that the minimum target distance for anyone over the age of 24 years was 220 yards.

Middle Ages Weapons
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