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THE FRATERNITY OF PRINCE ARTHUR'S KNIGHTS 1502

 

A Fraternity of citizen longbows that shoots at the Marks and at Field.

A Fraternity that dine together in peace regained and friendship shared.

That raises funds for Children in memory of a young Prince whose early death inspires it.


The Fraternity of Prince Arthur’s Knights was a group of citizen longbowmen that started out as the Fraternity of Prince Arthur, who practised in the fields and woods near Mile-End and on Mile-End Green as early as the turn of the 15th Century.

They were named after King Henry VIII’s elder brother, the young Prince Arthur who died after a long illness in 1502 at the age of 15. 

King Henry VIII came to see the Fraternity shoot
As Prince of Wales and later as King, Henry VIII visited the Fraternity of Prince Arthur and watched them shoot on a number of occasions. He was so pleased by their skill as longbowmen and with the feasts they arranged after major shoots, that he took them under his direct patronage and confirmed by Charter their “famous Order of Knights of Prince Arthur’s Round Table, or Society”. ”Let them be called”, said he, “The ancient Order, Societie, and Unitie laudable, of Prince Arthure’s Knightes and his Knightly Armory of the Round Table”.

The full name of the Fraternity is therefore; 
The Unitie Laudable and Fraternitie of Prince Arthur’s Knights 1502
From then on whenever the King saw “a good archer indeed”, he would ordain him a Knight of the same Order. Some of the archers were invited to shoot before the King at Windsor, where one of them was given the courtesy title of  “Duke of Shorditch”, where he resided. Other members of the Fraternity of Prince Arthur’s Knights were given similar courtesy titles such as the “Marquis of Clerkenwell”, Islington, Shacklewell and other areas where the archers lived. 

The King quite exceptionally granted the Fraternity of Prince Arthur’s Knights the right to shoot at “all fowls and game” within their Charter. In those days all game belonged to the Sovereign and therefore such a license was a great honour. Indeed many of their feasts had a “buck of the season” as their main course. The banquets of the Prince Arthur’s Knights were by all accounts legendary affairs and represent a golden age of citizen archery. 

Shakespeare shot and feasted with the Fraternity of Prince Arthur's Knights
The poet and playwright Shakespeare shot and feasted with the Fraternity of Prince Arthur’s Knights on a number of occasions. In his play Falstaff reference is made to these events when Shakespeare recounts one of Falstaff’s visits to old Justice Shallow, when the latter told of the wildness of his youth when he was a student at the Inns of Court.

“I remember at Mile-end Green, when I lay at Clement’s-Inn, - I was then Sir Dragonet in Arthur’s show”.

It was not the recollection of his part of a fool in a play, but of merry company among the Prince Arthur’s Knights. 

Three ancient Companies of Archers; rivals, but on good terms with one another
The Fraternity was one of three known groups of archers that shot in the fields around London, before these were progressively enclosed and given over to the development of the rapidly expanding metropolis.

It is satisfactory to find that these three contemporary and in some respects rival groups of archers, were on exceedingly good terms with one another. They regularly joined one another’s shoots and a tradition arose whereby invited companies would bring quantities of meat and other foods to be eaten at the host’s end of tournament banquet. Of the other two companies only the Fraternity of Saint George still exists in its original form.

The Fraternity Shoots at the Marks and at Field
The Fraternity keeps closely to its origins and traditions. In honour of its Charter to shoot game, the Prince Arthur’s Knights shoot “at Field”, as well as (like the other two groups of archers) at the Marks. Both types of shoot include shots taken at speed as well as flight shooting. Only longbows are permitted and there is no weight limit on these. No other types of bow are used.

Shoots typically start with a morning of shooting at the Marks. The afternoon is then spent shooting “at Field”. It is important to note however, that the Fraternity’s tradition of shooting “at Field” is very different from that of present day field shoots. The company’s shoots “at Field” maintain a shooting line whereby all longbows shoot together at a spot or a two-dimensional animal target over considerable distances. No shot is taken at less than 30 bowlengths (60 paces). No peggs are used, nor do individual longbows shoot in sequence. Its tradition of field shooting can best be described as one of a “big game” approach (it should be noted that the shooting of game with the bow is now unlawful in England and Wales). 

Scoring the arrows at the Marks
The method of scoring at the Marks is similar to that of the Finsbury Archers of old and of the Fraternity of Saint George. Arrows that fall within a half a bow-length of the Mark score a 9, arrows in then next three-quarters of a bow-length score a 7, arrows in the next full bow-length score a 5. The distances are measured by a tape in the colours of the Coat of Arms of Prince Arthur; from the Mark outwards in Golden yellow, English red and French blue (it is from these colours that the target colours and scores were later adopted by King George IV).

Scoring the arrows at Field

Scoring at Field is a straightforward 12 for a hit anywhere on the spot or two-dimensional animal representation. On longer shots the lighter bows are taken forward and junior bows are taken forward further still. All shall have an equal chance to score as no separate prizes are given for men, women or juniors. The scores at the Marks and at Field are added together at the end of the day to decide the winner. By tradition the separate scores of the Marks and the Field parts of the shoot are never disclosed. At dinner the winner is served by the Captain. 

Membership

The Fraternity of Prince Arthur’s Knights was reconvened on the 492nd anniversary of the death of the young Prince. It has a small core membership. It arranges its shoots and dinners to non-members by invitation only. Regular invitees are in due time sounded out for membership before they are elected by black ball ballot. Members and invitees are expected to dine after the tournament. As in days of old, all participants bring copious quantities of food so that, “a day of toil with the bow is feted by an evening with glass and dish”.

shakespeare

Shakespeare shot and feasted with the Fraternity of Prince Arthur's Knights
The poet and playwright Shakespeare shot and feasted with the Fraternity of Prince Arthur’s Knights on a number of occasions. In his play Falstaff reference is made to these events when Shakespeare recounts one of Falstaff’s visits to old Justice Shallow, when the latter told of the wildness of his youth when he was a student at the Inns of Court.

“I remember at Mile-end Green, when I lay at Clement’s-Inn, - I was then Sir Dragonet in Arthur’s show”.

It was not the recollection of his part of a fool in a play, but of merry company among the Prince Arthur’s Knights.