During the reign of Henry VIII, when the practice of archery had begun to decline, contests were held on Finsbury Fields in London, in which wrestling and archery featured. In 1521, it was proclaimed that for the first time archery should take pride of place as the first of these events, and that contests for distance shooting should be held annually, at which ‘Standard’, ‘Bearing’ and ‘Flight’ arrows would be shot. The principal award went to the archer whose ‘Standard’ arrow made the most ground. This was either a crown of gold to the value of 20 shillings, or 20 shillings in money. In later times the contest came to be known as the ‘Pound’ arrow.
What was the ‘Standard Arrow’ ?
This is believed to have been the name given to the ‘run of the mill’ sheaf, or war arrow. These would have been, by inference, of equal weight and length, in contrast to the ‘Bearing’ arrow which is thought to have been a shaft selected for its good shooting qualities and quite possibly personalised in length.
It was no doubt considered important for an archer to be able to take a ‘sheaf’ arrow, such as he might be provided with in battle, and make as much distance with it as he could. There are varying views on the length of the old ‘Standard’ Arrow, but using as a guide the arrows recovered from the Mary- Rose, a shaft length of 31½” (between base of nock and shoulder of head) is specified for the modern replica.
With what were the ‘Standard’ arrows armed ?
It is believed that – latterly at least – the heads known as London Museum Type 8 (bodkin) were in common use on “Sheaf” or “Standard” Arrows. However, it is altogether possible that others had been, or indeed were, habitually in use, Type 15 or 16 broad-heads and Type 9 or 10 bodkin points are therefore all acceptable on ‘Standard’ Arrows, providing always that the weight criteria is met.
What was the profile of the ‘Standard’ arrow and of what material was it made ?
We have little evidence for profile, but the balance of probability is that it was either a ‘parallel’ or a ‘bob-tailed’ shaft. Roger Ascham mentions Ash, which he favours as a battle-shaft, and Aspen (Poplar) which he does not. Arrows of both woods were recovered from the Mary-Rose, and many other woods have been used for arrow steles in past times. The use of a dense and thus a stiff wood is recommended as suitable to stand in the heavy bow with which the ‘Standard’ Arrow should truly be shot.