Monday, March 16, 2015

Waxed Arrows and Glued Arrows.

L’Art d’archerie divides arrows into two types, waxed and glued. The arrows from the Mary Rose seem to be examples of the first type. At the shaftment, where the fletchings would be attached, archaeologists have identified traces of wax, tallow, copper, and the imprints of thread wound in a spiral around the shaft that they believe to be silk. The copper was probably in the form of verdigris.

The Westminster Abbey arrow, from sometime after 1420, also shows the traces of spiral wound thread. In both cases the thread has almost entirely perished, but enough survives to identify the color as dark red.

Wax, red silk and "verdegresse" were mentioned for the making and repair of arrows for the king of Scotland in 1456.

Speaking of waxed arrows, L’Art d’archerie says: "The harder the silk is on the wax, the better the arrow will fly and the stiffer it will be." (Plus est dure la soye sur la cyre et plus est le trait errant et plus dure.) Submerging the thread in a coating of wax would both help lock it in place and protect it from wear as it shot down the bow.

L’Art d’archerie identifies a different approach, the glued arrow. Animal glue can provide an acceptable bond without thread. Surviving arrows made by Turks and Romans seem to have relied entirely on glue, and at some point before modern adhesives the English longbow tradition came to do so as well. Hugh Soar reports that an English fletcher was still being taught to fletch with hoof glue in the early 20th c.

Some fairly detailed medieval paintings show no sign of spiral bindings:









Above: Portrait of Antoine, 'Grand Bâtard' of Burgundy,  c. 1460 Rogier van der Weyden, Portrait of a Man with an Arrow c. 1470 Hans Memling, Portrait of a Youth Holding an Arrow, c. 1500-10 Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio,

While the Mary Rose arrows were almost certainly waxed, and the Westminster Abbey arrow probably was,  L’Art d’archerie tells us: "There are two sorts of glued arrows, sheaf (tacle) and flight. The sheaf arrows are usually thick, with high swan feathers, cut large, in the same shape as those of flight arrows, and have round iron heads. They are the regular arrows which the English use for butt and target shooting (au chapperons i.e. clout shooting), for they find them, as they are, truer than any waxed arrow.

We find further evidence that the even the English didn't always use the waterproof Mary Rose style waxed arrow with spiral thread winding in this report from Ireland by Sir William Skeffington in 1535.

"...there did fall suche a rayne as hath not been seene in thes parties; so that the fotemen wadid by the way to the middels in waters, which was pite to see,....the sayd fotemen that coulde not have defended themselfes with ther bowes, for ther stringes wer so weate, and moost of the fethers of ther arrowes fallen of."

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Seven Samurai: an Anarcho-Capitalist Parable.

Anarcho-Capitalism is the belief that it is practical to replace government coercion with voluntary private agreements.

This idea has several failure modes. The most obvious is portrayed in Kurosawa's great Seven Samurai.  If you haven't seen it, I beg you to do so a soon as possible. It is a great piece of cinema.

If you have, you will recall that during the 16th century, a time of civil war, a Japanese village discovers that they are on the do list of about 40 marauding bandits, who decide to postpone looting until the harvest is in. After consultation with the local matriarch and crone, the villagers agree that their best course of action is to hire a small group of samurai for protection. Hungry samurai, since the village can only afford to pay room and board.

Fortunately, the villagers delegated to hire security encounter Kambei Shimada, an aging, altruistic samurai played by the great Takashi Shimura. He concludes that the village defense requires no less than seven samurai, more than the delegates were authorized to hire, and eventually assembles a team, many of whom follow him for reasons beyond the meagre room and board offered by the village.

After Kambei arrives at the village, he begins planning a defensive perimeter that will leave several farms undefended because they are indefensible. The outlying farmers attempt to opt out of the defense agreement and defect. They are quickly coerced back into the ranks by the samurai. Because the protection agency that the village voluntarily hired can coerce, and it will coerce if that's the only way to win, and it was. And these are the good guys.

Italian history is full of condotieri who concluded 'Nice city-state you've got there. I'll take it.'


Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Die Zauberflöte (2003)

This is very much a filmed record of a stage production, so we don't experience the cinematic freedom of the Queen of the Night singing while riding atop a tank by moonlight or smoking beneath the No Smoking sign during intermission as we do in the Branagh and Bergman films.

But it is an excellent stage performance, with sets that draw the link between Sarastro's temple and the Enlightenment. And Diana Damrau was a wonderful Queen of the Night, her naturally sweet face made frightening by artful makeup and a Eddie Munster widow's peak. Her voice and acting in the role were splendid. When she winds up one of the queen's Teutonic rants I start worrying that she's about to invade Czechoslovakia.

The mallard decorations on Papageno's sweater were a nice touch, as was his duck hat.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Reproduction Crossbow Bolts


These were made by Robert MacPherson. The heads were ground from 3 Rivers Archery Short Bodkin Points. The point before grinding is on the left below, and after grinding at top with the point upwards to show the reshaped diamond section. The shafts are ash.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Arbalest

Of all the bowmen quite the best
Are those that span the arbalest
Strong and brave, upright and moral
And not in haste to pick a quarrel

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How Islamic is ISIL?

Suppose there was a group doing a remake of the Albigensian Crusade, justified by medieval Catholic doctrine, seizing territory, murdering civilians and burning people they considered heretics. Would it be useful for Netanyahu and Modi to describe them as Christian terrrorists?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why History Should Be Studied More

Clark had an interesting blog post at Popehat that make some good points about tribalism in politics, but it argues from a pretty defective understanding of history.
For at least a thousand years there have been two factions in The West. The magnetic poles drift slowly, and no one compass points with perfect precision, but there is no denying the reality of the poles. 
One pole tends (and note that word "tends") to be Protestant, centralized, "scientific", pushing for "the greater good", and "Blue" (as we say in the American language). 
The other pole other tends (second disclaimer, same as the first) to be Catholic, decentralized, "traditional", tolerant of inequality, and "Red" (again, in Americanese).
Now, it is true that political conflicts in the Anglosphere in the past thousand years have been between rival coalitions, and there is good reason for the coalition leaders to make whatever compromises are needed in their alliances to reach rough parity with the other side or better, but the idea that the bipolar coalitions can be meaningfully described as "Red" or "Blue" before the recent past is absurd.

A thousand years ago, one of the culture war coalitions was about immigration, speaking Norse, and practicing paganism. In 1640, one was composed of opponents to absolute monarchy, (not to centralization as such, the issue was who ran the central government) and those opposed to more tolerance for Catholics, maypoles, or theater. In the antebellum United States, one coalition was in favor of slavery, lower tariffs, slavery, state's rights, slavery, slavery and slavery. The New Deal coalition for "the greater good" had strong support from Catholics and Southern Democrats. In the civil rights era, white Southern Democrats allied with conservative Republicans.

I can and do deny that there has been some meaningful polar division in Western politics for the past thousand years that can usefully defined for the entire period, and probably not the last 50 years either.

It's not just that the political poles drift. It's that the entire political compass wanders over the map, as some political bones of contention slip out of the Overton Window entirely, and others are warmly embraced by both sides.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Before Ascham: Early Works on Archery

Livre du roy Modus et de la royne Racioa mid 14th century book on hunting, contains a brief section on archery. The advice is specific to hunting: the author advises "his bow should be very weak and gentle, so that he may hold it drawn a reasonable space".

Le livre de la chasse was written by Gaston Phoebus, count of Foix, between 1387 and 1388. It discusses archery briefly, closely following Modus.  George Agar Hansard offered a translation in his The book of archery.


"The sportsman's bow should be of yew, and measure twenty palms (five feet) from one notch to the other, and, when braced, have a hand's breadth between string and wood. The string must ever be of silk. The bow should be weak, because an archer over-bowed cannot take aim freely and with address; besides, such a bow may be held half-drawn a long time without fatigue, whilst the hunter stands in wait for the deer.

"The wood of a well-formed arrow measures eight handsful in length from the end of the nock to the barbs of the head, which will be exactly four fingers broad, from the point of one barb to the point of the other. It must be duly proportioned in every part, well filed and sharpened, and five fingers in length. 
"When a deer is discovered approaching the archers, as soon as they hear the hounds are slipped, they ought to set their arrows on their bows, bringing the two arms into such a position as to be prepared to shoot. For, should the animal espy the men in motion whilst nocking their shafts, he will assuredly escape in another direction. Thus, a keen sportsman is ever cautiously on the alert, ready to let his arrow fly without the slightest motion, except that of drawing with the arms." 
He then goes on to describe the different modes of shooting at game in every possible position, somewhat after the fashion of the text; and gives a remarkable reason why an archer should point his shaft in a rather slanting direction when the aim is at the stag's broadside, in preference to straight forwards. He says,-- "There is peril to him who shoots directly at the side, independently of great uncertainty of killing when the arrow does prove fatal, it sometimes passes through and through the beast, and may thus wound a companion on the opposite side. Such an accident I did myself see once happen to Messire Godfrey de Harcourt, who was pierced through one of his arms."
L’Art d’archerie was printed around 1515. In 1901 Henri Gallice published the text of a manuscript of the work in his possession that he believed dated somewhat earlier, to the end of the 15th century. Henry Walrond published an English translation in 1903.

Walrond''s translation contains several errors. What Walrond translates as "target shooting" is some variant of "au chapperon" in the original French, and shot at ranges of 300 or even 400 paces (about 240 or 330 yards). It is better translated as clout shooting in English. "Arrows are likewise made hollow, like balista arrows" should be "Arrows are likewise made hollow, like crossbow bolts".

He explains waxed arrows, trait cyre in the original, as where the feathers are "fastened with waxed silk". This probably an oversimplification.

Our best candidates for waxed arrows are the many arrows recovered from the Mary Rose, sunk in 1545. At the shaftment, where the fletchings would be attached, archaeologists have identified traces of wax, tallow, copper, and the imprints of thread that they believe to be silk.

I think that that a plausible reconstruction is that the fletchings were first tacked down with hot wax and then secured more permanently with thread wound first about the trimmed spine of the feather, spiral wound for the rest of the untrimmed fletching, and then wound about the trimmed spine at the rear of of the fletching.

A final application of hot wax and tallow to the shaftment would have further secured the thread and ensured that the thread was not disturbed as it slid down the bow. Copper acetate would have discouraged vermin from eating the tallow.

Walrond translates tacles in the original as sheaf arrows, but it seems more likely that he is simply using takel, a Middle English word for arrows as well as archery equipment more generally.

L’Art d’archerie gives us insight into European archery at least a generation before Ascham, and it shows how the author thought three different sorts of sports archery, butts, clout and flight, had different optimal gear, which were in turn distinguished from what was best for war. And the earlier texts show that optimal hunting gear differed from all of these.

Interestingly, the author of L’Art d’archerie claims the the English found glued fletchings truer than waxed. Perhaps eagerness to base all reconstructions of longbow arrows entirely on the Mary Rose is misplaced.

Friday, February 06, 2015

An Archery Peerage

The London Archers continued to hold their yearly contests in. the month of September, in spite of the fact that henceforth there would be no use for the longbow in warfare. They formed a very fine corps, had they been of any use; meantime, the City has always loved a show, and a very fine show the Archers provided. Their captain was called the Duke of Shoreditch; the captains of the different Companies were called the Marquesses of Clerkenwell, Islington, Hoxton, and the Earl of Pancras, etc.; in the year 1583 they assembled at Merchant Taylors Hall to the number of 3000 all sumptuously apparelled, “nine hundred and forty-two having chains of gold about their necks.” They were escorted by whifflers and bowmen to the number of 4000, besides pages and footmen; and so marching through Broad Street, where the Duke of Shoreditch lived, they proceeded by Moorfields and Finsbury to Smithfield, where, after performing their evolutions, they shot at the target for glory.

Besant, Walter. 1904. London in the time of the Tudors. London: A. & C. Black p. 355

Here is a fuller account of the 1583 event from a contemporary. Besant has erred in describing the escorts as bowmen rather than bill-men.

I read this as the Elizabethan equivalent of a 21st century Superbowl halftime show. Behold the gaudy expensive excess, which we can well afford. The fact that we can afford it is part of the point. Are you not entertained?