Female archers?

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Female archers?

Postby Tod » Tue Jul 14, 2009 11:12 am

Did women ever go onto any battlefield as archers? I don't mean defending a castle or town etc.



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Postby Brother Ranulf » Tue Jul 14, 2009 11:33 am

Speaking from the point of view of the Church in England (Canon Law and all that), the idea of either sex acting outside their appointed roles would be anathema.

When Eleanor of Aquitaine dressed herself and 300 female attendants in armour and rode astride like a man into Constantinople she scandalised the whole of Christendom and the monk who chronicled the event was almost lost for words. Being a queen she could get away with such outrageous behaviour - a lesser female mortal would have been summoned to the nearest Bishop's Court and put to Ordeal before she knew what was happening.

Much as many re-enactors of today would like to find a basis for all the shield-maidens and cross-dressers seen in modern TV series, Hollywood films and some public displays, they are forgetting the huge importance of religion, the all-embracing power of the Church and medieval views on the role of women in society.

I think it's really another case of applying modern ideas of sexual equality to a period when such things would have been alien, if not downright heretical. One of the most significant charges against Jeanne d'Arc was that she dressed as a man! Anyone got a match . . . .?
:shock:


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Postby Tod » Tue Jul 14, 2009 12:09 pm

I meant women dressed as women.



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Postby Brother Ranulf » Tue Jul 14, 2009 12:31 pm

I'm not sure that it matters - women dressed as women while performing a man's role is still unacceptable - in some ways it could be seen as even worse, behaving outside the gender role while emphasising femininity. If we start the fire now, we can use the embers for a barbecue later . . . :wink:


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Postby Colin Middleton » Tue Jul 14, 2009 12:50 pm

I'm with Ranulf on this one. I've seen pictures of women on the battlefield carrying water for troops and helping loot the dead, but that's it (appart from one picture which was showing Amazons).

I suppose, if you think about it, that's what made the original Amazons so unusual, not that they're big or strong, just that they're acting like men! They're so odd that they're lumped in with the other odities on the edges of the world like men with heads in their chests or one giant leg.


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Tue Jul 14, 2009 1:06 pm

Or anyone else from Norfolk for that matter.


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Postby Fox » Tue Jul 14, 2009 2:01 pm

I'm broadly in agreement with everyone else here; there is no good evidence for measurable numbers of woman taking to the battlefield in any combatant role, with the notable exception of gunnery which could involve whole families including children.

We can provinance water carriers, both male and female (for example, on Paolo Uccello's Battle of San Romano).

There are plenty of notable exceptions for woman in combat, including, but not limited to, seiges.
There were certainly several nobal woman of the period who armoured-up to be general to their troops.
It's harder to be sure of lower class woman, because much less is written about the lower classes generally; I believe there is a letter describing a female mercenary leader. Hussite woman were recorded as fighting in their rather special circumstances.
And it would also be completely suprising if some women did not disguise themselves as men and fight in armies. It's a practice that appears to be rife through history, and it would shocking if there was a random gap at this period.

However, these women are definitely not the rule.

BUT [and slightly at a tangent]
I would strongly disagree with Brother Ranulf's assumption about the social attitude to the idea of woman dressed as men or performing male roles.
Certainly, even as late as Shakespeare and William Wycherley cross dressing is still the subject of satire and comedy.
But's it unfathomable that Joan of Arc could have lead the French army (even if only as a figurehead) if the idea was so shocking and repugnant; I think we can add the cross-dressing charge to one of the many quite feeble excuses used to execute her.
I think we have to make a clear distinction between the law and establishment on one hand and social convention and genuine practice on the other.
In the eyes of the law medieval woman had almost no rights at all, but in practice this was not the way they were treated on the whole, and social position rather than gender was much more likely to be function of freedom.
In addition, compare Chaucer to more formal writings of the time and you'll see a huge variation. Taking as a social barometer the account of one monk about Eleanor of Aquitaine is a little like asking Mary Whitehouse what she thought of last night's tele.
There is no adequate modern analogue for the way medieval woman were treated and it makes it hard for us to get our head round; I suspect we find 14thC surfdom equally tricky.



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Postby gregory23b » Tue Jul 14, 2009 4:08 pm

You could easily argue that the idea of satire aimed at cross dressing as being confirmation of the idea of separate gender roles. The idea of the woman wearing the hose and deposing men or showing up weak husbands is a medieval one at least and features in miserichords and woodcuts.

The idea that a woman could take on a man's identity being laughable, not acceptable. Derision is not a sideways way of saying it was really ok.

As for women not having any rights in the middle ages, that is mythical, women had rights enshrined in law, their rights may have been different from men's, but rights and redress they indeed had. Women did not live a life of subjugation and misery any more than the men did.

As for Joan of Arc, her premise was her being chosen by God, her gender was not an issue other than her being at first the most harmless of creatures, ie a girl who would somehow bring the English to their knees, again a totally exceptional situation serving a greater purpose. There was no sudden change in women's rights in France after her victories as she was not an example of incipient medieval female suffrage. Those touched by God were by definition out of the ordinary, even if from ordinary roots as Joan was.


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Postby Brother Ranulf » Tue Jul 14, 2009 4:40 pm

I have myself been involved in presenting some of the short "morality tales" written by Marie de France for the court of Henry II: in all of them the husband (played by me) is an imbecile and he is easily outwitted and duped by his philandering wife. Talk about type casting . . . :oops: The point is that these were intended as hilarious entertainment, based on an impossible role reversal. For once the woman rules the roost and the man is downtrodden and powerless.

Getting back to the original post (I enjoy all these tangents, though!) - there is also the question of upper body strength and the alleged power of English war bows. How many females had shoulders and arms like Geoff Capes? - answers on a postcard :wink:


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Postby Tod » Tue Jul 14, 2009 4:47 pm

There are two reasons I ask.
Firstly my girlfriends off spring has just been given a bow and in a few years may ask if she can come on the field as an archer. Based on the above yes (if the group allows it) but dressed as a boy.

Secondly I wondered how accurate some of them women were that I've seen at events and why they didn't dress as men - becasue a lot do and from a distance you can't tell.



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Postby gregory23b » Tue Jul 14, 2009 5:13 pm

"Secondly I wondered how accurate some of them women were that I've seen at events and why they didn't dress as men - becasue a lot do and from a distance you can't tell."

Hahah!

Many of those women simply cannot be bothered to get a double set of kit, so get away with their women's kit rather than cross dressing. There are other reasons, but I can't remember them.

Those women that put the effort into cross dressing do themselves a great service, not to mention the period we reenact. But it is 'only a hobby' some might say, so why bother making them cross dress. 8)


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Postby EnglishArcher » Tue Jul 14, 2009 8:32 pm

Putting aside any social or religious issues, there is the practical issue: women are not physically strong enough to shoot military bows.

If we take the evidence of the bows found on the Mary Rose, and assume that, as a mature technology at that point, there was little difference between the MR bows and the bows of the WOTR, then the average draw-weight of the bows is around 150lb.

This massive draw-weight is required to launch a heavy arrow, capable of doing significant damage at long distance.

No woman I have ever met has been capable of drawing such a bow; in fact, few modern men can do it.

As an aside: Many people argue the MR bows were no more than 80 - 100lb draw. I cannot accept that figure. Replica bows made by master bowyer Steve Stratton, made to MR bow dimensions, and of very similar density yew, have been measured as drawing 150 - 180lb; independently, Dr Kooi in the Netherlands has produced a computer model that also predicts the MR bow weights in the 150 - 170lb range. To date, all the counterpoint arguments have been based on speculation and facsimile bows made of different woods


The idea of women archers is based on 1) modern equality ideas and 2) modern re-enactment, where archery is very much a 'second-class' activity (compared to wearing nice shiny armour) and used as an excuse to allow the too young, too old, women and the infirm onto the field to 'have a play'. This has no basis in history.

However, there is some evidence of women using crossbows to defend besieged castles; since the crossbow requires no strength to shoot, and can be spanned using mechanical devices.


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Tue Jul 14, 2009 8:47 pm

I agree on all of the above and also add that while there are examples in history of women disguising themselves as men, sometimes for quite long periods, when they are discovered they have envirably been given the boot (and sometimes been killed on the spot.)


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Postby Fox » Tue Jul 14, 2009 11:10 pm

gregory23b wrote:You could easily argue that the idea of satire aimed at cross dressing as being confirmation of the idea of separate gender roles.

That is what I was saying.

I was starting by acknowledging that even as late as the late as the 17thC there is still strong differential between the gender roles, and I mentioned Wycherley in particular because the way those themes are dealt with in the Plain Dealer.
However, I was saying, don't mistake that for something else; partly those themes work because everyone knows a husband and wife for whom those roles are subverted, just as in Brother Ranulf's play.

Brother Ranulf wrote:The point is that these were intended as hilarious entertainment, based on an impossible role reversal.

Not impossible. Most comedy has to be representative, if exaggerated, to be funny. The premise works, and continues to work now, because everyone knows a hen pecked husband.

gregory23b wrote:As for women not having any rights in the middle ages, that is mythical, women had rights enshrined in law, their rights may have been different from men's, but rights and redress they indeed had. Women did not live a life of subjugation and misery any more than the men did.

Rather excellently what I was intending to say, but failed to express.

The distinction I was trying to make is that while a wife was legally subordinate to her husband, in practice that is not usually the case.
To quote Chaucer: any wife who knows what's what can make her husband think black is white , with her own maid in witness as support.

A smart wife, for instance, could let her husband hang alone for a crime they both commited simply by saying he'd ordered her to do it; how's those rights for you.

gregory23b wrote:As for Joan of Arc, blah, etc.

That argument doesn't even have internal consitency.
Basically you suggested the equivelent of gay bishop being socially accetable in 1900, even though homosexuality was outlawed.



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Postby Fox » Tue Jul 14, 2009 11:21 pm

EnglishArcher wrote: Many people argue the MR bows were no more than 80 - 100lb draw. I cannot accept that figure. Replica bows made by master bowyer Steve Stratton, made to MR bow dimensions, and of very similar density yew, have been measured as drawing 150 - 180lb

I'd been given similar arguments about the true bow weights on the Mary Rose, but they've lost credance with me now I've seen Steve's work.

The further argument was that larger bows do not significantly increase the range, but even if that were true, they do shoot bigger, more heavily spined arrows and that seems to me reason enough to make and use them.

EnglishArcher wrote:If we take the evidence of the bows found on the Mary Rose, and assume that, as a mature technology at that point, there was little difference between the MR bows and the bows of the WOTR, then the average draw-weight of the bows is around 150lb.

Do you have any evidence to suggest that the Mary Rose bows were either typical for their period, or to take the further step to suggest they were typical for nearly a century earlier?



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Postby gregory23b » Wed Jul 15, 2009 9:09 am

"That argument doesn't even have internal consitency.
Basically you suggested the equivelent of gay bishop being socially accetable in 1900, even though homosexuality was outlawed."

My point was that Joan of Arc was elevated by her special relationship with God, it took her from being a humble farm girl to being a leaderene. Not that she was socially acceptable at all, just that it was overlooked or irrelevant due to a more pressing and I would argue convenient need to have a mystical figurehead, far from being accepted in the wider frame of reference. Mind a cynic could argue that it took a humble French farm girl to get the French to win a few battles....tum te tum ;-)


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As for bows, a 50lb or 40lb draw is lethal enough to hunt game, well within the range for women or youths.

Draw weights did not, as far as we know exist, merely a requirement to shoot arrow a over distance b).

There is also a very credible image of a woman hunting game in a forest, she is not Diana the Huntress, but a woman.


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Postby John Waller » Wed Jul 15, 2009 10:12 am

It will continue until groups and organisers have the balls to say no. You would not expect to see an ECW pike'man' in a skirt nor a redcoat or a tommy. Why is it acceptable for a medieval archer?


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Postby Fox » Wed Jul 15, 2009 10:14 am

G23b, I don't see anything in what your saying to support the absolutism of Brother Ranulf's position.

Joan was unusual, unique even; I'm trying to use her as an exemplar of anything.

But her cross dressing for war, like that of several queens, is unlikley to have been repulsive; unsettling to conservatives perhaps, but it was inspiring to the masses.



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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:20 pm

Joan told her trial that she dressed as a man because that's what her voices told her to do. Her followers accepted this as did the clergy during her retrial. When her voices told her it was okay to wear a dress, such as during the coranation and while waiting to be allowed to go to Orleans she did just that.
There are certainly examples and instances of women leading soldiers into battle, my favourite being Bianca Viscontii, Duchess of Milan, but they are all nobles acting out this role because their husbands are elsewhere.
What makes Joan unique is her background as a lower middle class woman given authority and the fact that unlike Eleanor or Isabella of spain she actually does fight (albeit as a standard bearer rather than in dealing out handstrokes with a sword) and is not a mere figurehead.


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Postby Colin Middleton » Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:29 pm

John Waller wrote:It will continue until groups and organisers have the balls to say no. You would not expect to see an ECW pike'man' in a skirt nor a redcoat or a tommy. Why is it acceptable for a medieval archer?


I don't know. My wife spit's teeth about it every time she sees a fighter in a 'dress'. But we don't put too much force on these things and never have...

I'm curious why Medieval has this problem, but not other eras?

As for the 50lb hunting bow, we know that women hunted, but that's different to taking to the battlefield.


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Postby Brother Ranulf » Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:34 pm

I agree - the male nobility were simply programmed to chase animals or shoot/spear/trap/kill them by any means for the table. Although there is only slight evidence for their ladies doing the same, we should expect it to be the case.

Women archers at Hastings/Poitiers/Stirling Bridge/Shrewsbury/The Standard? I await the evidence.


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Postby Fox » Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:47 pm

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:Joan told her trial that she dressed as a man because that's what her voices told her to do. Her followers accepted this as did the clergy during her retrial. When her voices told her it was okay to wear a dress, such as during the coranation and while waiting to be allowed to go to Orleans she did just that.
There are certainly examples and instances of women leading soldiers into battle, my favourite being Bianca Viscontii, Duchess of Milan, but they are all nobles acting out this role because their husbands are elsewhere.
What makes Joan unique is her background as a lower middle class woman given authority and the fact that unlike Eleanor or Isabella of spain she actually does fight (albeit as a standard bearer rather than in dealing out handstrokes with a sword) and is not a mere figurehead.


I don't think any of that is in contention, is it?



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Postby Fox » Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:48 pm

Brother Ranulf wrote:Women archers at Hastings/Poitiers/Stirling Bridge/Shrewsbury/The Standard? I await the evidence.


Again, I don't think anyone here is contesting that. 'tis wrong.



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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Wed Jul 15, 2009 4:06 pm

I know, i just wanted to rant as well. :cry:


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Postby gregory23b » Wed Jul 15, 2009 9:15 pm

I am not supporting BR's absolutism, but pointing out an exception that we know about where expedience over-rode societal norms. She often gets trotted out as a woman warrior.


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Postby GuyDeDinan » Wed Jul 15, 2009 9:24 pm

Maybe the evidence searchers are looking at the wrong campaigns? Just a random thought, but the Hastings/Poitiers etc. examples trotted out are more formalistic campaigns. Later period examples that are often trotted out - English Civil War, etc. are through necessity, siege, defending the husband's house artillery, etc, perhaps give a clue as to where to look - where formal order has broken down, but where there is semi-irregular combat. I'm thinking of such points as the Jacquerie, the campaigns of Sir John Hawkswood, Italy/Condottieri, Breton civil war, etc. A random potshot in the dark there.


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Postby Fox » Wed Jul 15, 2009 10:24 pm

GuyDeDinan wrote:the campaigns of Sir John Hawkswood, Italy/Condottieri,


Well, Paolo Uccello is contemporary with those events, both in time and in geography. His three panel masterpiece, the Battle of San Romano has all sorts of details, including some interesting fashion, water carriers (as I mentioned above) and fleeing troops.

It does not, to my knowledge, support the notion of female combatants of any sort.



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Postby Dave Brown » Thu Jul 16, 2009 12:49 pm

would it be fair to say that if an army was marching towards you hell bent on killing you and there were bows and arrows lying around you would'nt pick one up and shoot it.
The bows in the early battles would have ranged from 60lb drow to 100lb.
plenty of arrows lying about to.just a thought.

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Postby Hobbitstomper » Thu Jul 16, 2009 1:20 pm

Running away could be a better idea than fighting. That way you are seen as less of a threat and are less likely to be targeted yourself.

I don’t think that physically weak or small people would fit in with the idea of centrally organised archery. They might have to use lighter arrows to get the range or shorter ones because of a different draw length. Neither of these things would fit in very well with the idea of thousands of arrows provided by the king.



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Postby Theotherone » Thu Jul 16, 2009 1:26 pm

Fox wrote:
GuyDeDinan wrote:the campaigns of Sir John Hawkswood, Italy/Condottieri,


Well, Paolo Uccello is contemporary with those events, both in time and in geography. His three panel masterpiece, the Battle of San Romano has all sorts of details, including some interesting fashion, water carriers (as I mentioned above) and fleeing troops.

It does not, to my knowledge, support the notion of female combatants of any sort.


Isn't there a mention somewhere of someone being warned to check that the number of mercenaries they were employing wasn't being bulked up by cross dressed women? (implying they wouldn't get the fighters they were paying for, not that the women would fight)

Secondary source I'm afraid

"When Florence signed a contract with John Hawkwood and Conrad Landau in 1389 her commissioners were cautioned 'not to be deceived by those two foxes', and to control carefully that all the men they were promised were actually present, and that they were in the proper condition, by which was meant 'three men and three horses per lance, and not women' " (Hawkwood - Frances Stoner Saunders)


Because there would have to be three of them.


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