Author Topic: Scottish bows?  (Read 12179 times)

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Offline Gimlis Ghost

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Scottish bows?
« on: February 28, 2022, 04:19:01 pm »


The above is a portrait of the Captain General of the Royal Company of Archers, the body guard of their king.

I've read before that the Scots had used composite horn bows to some extent and this bow has a decidedly Asian look to it.
The average Scotsman used Yew bows for hunting, though far different than the English long bow.

Their self bows are usually pictured with deeply recurved tips and a good deal of reflex, though not as much so as the bow pictured here.

Does anyone here know how common composite bows were in Scotland or other parts of the UK in historical times?
The Italians were known to import some horn bows from the East and their own Yew long bows bows had the same general features as the Scots Yew bows.

Composite bows are believed to have been subject to degradation of the natural glues used in construction when used in the moist conditions of most of Western lands.
No doubt methods of protecting such bows were available but few if any examples survived to the modern day.

Offline stuckinthemud

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2022, 05:23:24 pm »
Since the company was not formed until the late 17th century, I would think it unlikely to be a composite, though there's no reason it couldn't be. The English had a long history of using composite weapons from the 11th to 15th century. The very extensive use of crossbows as the primary weapon of the English infantry is well documented, with as many as 1 in 10 members of royal military personnel (standing army and crew of royal water craft) being crossbowmen with a large proportion of these crossbows being composite. I have no doubt that Saracen recurves would have been popular amongst those able to afford such things but I have found absolutely NO evidence for this. By the time of the formation of the Company, however, composite weapons had entirely been replaced by steel springs in crossbows and fire-arms everywhere else.

The captains were very wealthy and powerful members of the gentry/aristocracy and would have used the finest weapons available. I am not sure, and this is entirely my opinion but I can imagine that composite bows would have been unfashionable at this time as an out-dated technology. There's no reason it couldn't be a beautifully made wooden bow and of course, steel bows were not unknown, just a thought.  The pinched tips look more like a steel bow to me, but I am happy to be corrected.

The pedant in me needs to point out that in the Jacobite period, the company was not the King's bodyguard but rather a gentleman company of archers pretending to be a sports club but actually was a militia that could be used if the need arose. The organisation appears to have become defunct for a number of years around the Jacobite rebellion and was not recognised as the bodyguard of the monarch until 1822.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2022, 06:01:08 pm by stuckinthemud »

Offline WhistlingBadger

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2022, 05:56:44 pm »
I've looked into this a bit too.  Most of the pictures I've seen show bows that are taller than the shooter, but with various-sized recurves in them.  I doubt composite bows would be much good in such a wet climate, at least not if they used hide glue and sinew.  I've wondered about backing a bow with flax or dogbane fibers, though, using some sort of waterproof glue. 

This guy has some interesting info, reasonably well-researched.  I want to do a little more research on the "Rotten Bottom Bow."  What a great name...

http://ceathairne.blogspot.com/2012/01/gaelic-archery.html
http://ceathairne.blogspot.com/2013/07/archery-in-scottish-highlands.html
Thomas
Lander, Wyoming
"The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail.
Travel too fast, and you miss all you are traveling for."
~Louis L'Amour

bownarra

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #3 on: March 01, 2022, 01:59:58 am »
It is a yew recurve :) I've made some replicas for various people. To make them 'better' bows don't add the handle reflex.

bownarra

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #4 on: March 01, 2022, 02:02:03 am »
True composites in Scotland make no sense.

Offline WhistlingBadger

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #5 on: March 01, 2022, 01:48:21 pm »
I agree with bownarra--I don't think composites make a lot of sense in a wet climate.  (I'm sure there are some exceptions)  These were probably self-bows of yew or, since imported yew was probably out of the reach of the average Scot, rowan or ash.  Maybe backed with linen or other fibers, but probably not.
Thomas
Lander, Wyoming
"The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail.
Travel too fast, and you miss all you are traveling for."
~Louis L'Amour

Offline stuckinthemud

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #6 on: March 01, 2022, 03:33:35 pm »
Yew recurve makes a lot of sense. The Captains were aristocrats and enormously wealthy, usually with huge Estates spread right across the UK and the rest of the world.  While major landowners would have no difficulty in sourcing yew from their own holdings, I imagine they would simply order a bespoke bow from one of the top makers in the country in much the same way as today's elite would.

As it is common in the Northern UK, I suspect that commoners would have used wytch elm as a timber of choice, but, would settle for whatever they could get.  Yew, rowan, ash, hazel, and others would no doubt all have been used.

This Captain looks to be dressed in Stewart period costume, any idea which one it was?

Offline Gimlis Ghost

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #7 on: March 01, 2022, 04:33:02 pm »
Captain looks to be dressed in Stewart period costume, any idea which one it was?

David, Fourth Earl of Wemyss
Captain-General 1715-1720

Offline stuckinthemud

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #8 on: March 01, 2022, 06:16:16 pm »
Thankyou

Offline Chumash

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2022, 07:15:33 pm »
May be that is a so called "burgundybow"?

This two bows are shown in  a museum of munich and they are dated 1700...
« Last Edit: March 01, 2022, 08:26:43 pm by Chumash »

Offline Gimlis Ghost

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #10 on: March 01, 2022, 11:03:29 pm »
May be that is a so called "burgundybow"?

This two bows are shown in  a museum of munich and they are dated 1700...

It very well might be.
Though the one pictured seems of better craftsmanship, as one would expect of it belonging to a wealthy gentleman.

In reading of French archery I ran across a number of drawings of French bowmen armed with bows very similar to the one pictured in the OP.
They varied in length from hunting size to long bow length and apparently were of a lighter draw weight than the English long bow, intended more for close and medium range accuracy than for long range arrow storms.
« Last Edit: March 01, 2022, 11:20:57 pm by Gimlis Ghost »

bownarra

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2022, 03:02:33 am »
I used to live a few miles from wemyss.....the days of my mis-spent youth haha....

Offline Gimlis Ghost

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2022, 09:29:46 am »
I got to thinking about the vulnerability to moisture of the glues used for Medieval compound bows.
One account of a record long range shot by an English archer using a Turkish bow mentioned that the bow was very old and before shooting with it the owner had spent some time rehydrating the bow and drawing it progressively till certain it wouldn't fail.
This suggests the bow had been stored in a dry environment, perhaps a collection in a building that was well heated in the winter or whenever rain was a problem.
Ordinarily very cold winter air has less moisture than warm air, only when ice and snow melt would moisture laden air be a problem.
In spring and summer torential rains would drive up humidity.

Composite crossbow prods appear to have failed only if exposed to extended rain without an effective case or covering, which was not feasible when going into battle, and even then accounts say that they lost power and range not that they failed completely.
The English Bowmen had effective bow cases to protect their bows and self bows were less affected by moisture as long as bow strings were kept dry. Spare strings have been mentioned as well.

Companies of Arab archers were hired as mercenaries in a number of European conflicts. They apparently knew how to avoid moisture damage to their bows.
Composite horn hunting bows used in northern climes such as parts of Russia are known from archaeological finds.
These were found to be tightly wrapped with thin bark which may have kept out moisture to some extent.
The Esikimo also used powerful composite bows of very different construction , mainly because proper bow woods were not to be found that far north.

Steel bows were mentioned earlier.
Steel isn't very efficient for bows of heavier draw weights, as the diminish returns of heavy draw steel crossbows has proven, but seems to work well for lighter target and hunting bows. The quality of the steel is a factor but various methods of improving the cast, such as grooved or hollowed limbs, are displayed in surviving examples.
The Indian steel bows kept in aresenals were inferior in cast even to self wood bows but could be stored for decades without degradation. Composite and to a lesser extent self bows require good storage conditions and hands on inspection and upkeep to remain trustworthy battle weapons when stored for extended periods.
I have seen an Indian war bow described as being made from whale bone, possibly Baleen as used in corset stays, and steel, but haven't found any information on details of construction.

bownarra

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #13 on: March 03, 2022, 03:37:48 am »
Well different collagen based glues have very different properties depending on what they are made from.
Yellow croaker fish bladder glue resists the ingress of moisture very well indeed. In fact I once saoked a twisted hornbow to get the horn and sinew off to be re-used. That bow had been glued entirely with croaker bladder glue, even underwater in a bath the sinew took over a week to full release. The horn core joint however lasted for over 2 weeks....
On the other end of the spectrum hide glue doesn't like wet/humid climates and excels in very dry arid climates.
I tend to make my hornbows with yellow croaker glue. I've shot for three days in poring rain, no drying period and didn't even notice a difference in the bow.
It is entirely possible/plausable that hornbows (taken in battle?) made it back to the UK and were shot and used once here. The storage wouldn't have to have been anything special for the bow to survive and be useable. My best flight bow has done just over 600 yards and it just sits in my room.
You are correct about cold air/ r.h. levels etc BUT here in the UK we have a very humid climate. In fact because it never gets very cold here (maritime climate) and the humidity levels rise in the autumn, stay high through the winter and into spring. Right now in my workshop it is 80% r.h. and it won't drop below 60% until we get some hot days. Summer is definately the lowest r.h. althought it is rare to have any periods below 50 r.h.
Crossbow or handbow a hornbow when properly coated, with leather , painted with oil based paints will last for many years in this climate. What I was getting at is that for the majority of clansmen a hornbow makes no sense, only somebody very important would've had one. The yew recurve on the other hand is relatively easy to make, shoots very well, materials are easily available (Scotland and northern England are full of yew) and is unaffected by the climate (yew excels in the humid conditions).

Offline Gimlis Ghost

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Re: Scottish bows?
« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2022, 12:54:38 am »
Quote
What I was getting at is that for the majority of clansmen a hornbow makes no sense, only somebody very important would've had one. The yew recurve on the other hand is relatively easy to make, shoots very well, materials are easily available (Scotland and northern England are full of yew) and is unaffected by the climate (yew excels in the humid conditions).

I agree. A few wealthy archery enthusiast may well have paid a pretty penny for an imported bow, quite possibly a war relic from eastern campaigns.

Archers weren't much used by the Irish but I've seen illustrations in old manuscripts showing individual Irish warriors with very deeply recurved short bows, much like a cupid bow. The time frame for these appears to have been during or shortly after the Roman occupation when Roman auxillaries including the Samartians and other Asian cataphracts and archers were present.
Also during pre Roman times the British Isles were visited by Greek Merchant ships, who often carried Scythian mercenary archers for protection from pirates.

Theres a legend of Scythian mercenaries ariving late for a battle in which the entire male population of the kingdown that hired them had been killed. The King of the winning side made a deal with them to replace the dead men and become husbands and fathers to the surviving families. This was believed to be the origin of the right of inheritance being by the female lines of ancient Scots families. Not sure when that changed if ever.

If any of that is true it may have had an influence on the later development of recurved self bows, the art of composite bows being lost but the general shape remembered.
The Long Bow seems to have been adapted from the bows used by first Viking then Norman invaders.