Bowmen of Cheshire

As the year closes, I'm getting things done to the blog that I've meant to for some time and moving some of the writings about local themes that feature on our old website over on to this one.  The idea was to have a range of simple articles that would answer some of the regular questions we get asked when we are at events, or by email.  So, here's the first one which looks at the renowned Cheshire Archers.

The bowmen of Cheshire are often renowned as the best, and most notorious, archers of medieval England. The powerful longbow had become the most important weapon in the many wars of the 14th and 15th centuries. The men of Cheshire had developed their skills further than many other Englishmen, perhaps because of the closeness to Wales and the frequent conflicts requiring Cheshiremen to keep well practiced with shooting their bows.

The Cheshire archers were paid more than bowmen from elsewhere and had been recruited as the royal bodyguard by 1334. They could be recognised by their green and white livery which was issued to them by the chamberlain of Chester castle. They were taken into France by Edward III, and later the Black Prince, and played important roles in the English victories at the battles of Crecy in 1346 and Poitiers in 1356.

The earliest extant military leave pass was issued in 1355 to William Jauderel, (Jodrell), one of the Cheshire Archers. Translated it reads, Know all that we, the Prince of Wales, have given leave, on the date of this letter, to William Jauderel, one of our archers, to go to England.

Some of the Cheshire archers were richly rewarded for their skills and were even granted pardons for crimes they had committed, including murder. This led to their notoriety across the rest of England. The troubled King Richard II kept the Cheshiremen as his bodyguard and they guarded his bedchamber all night and on one occasion surrounded the new Westminster Hall during a trial of the king's enemies until the "right" result was reached.

King Richard II intended to leave from Chester for Ireland in 1399 to quell uprisings there. Eighty of the best archers were recruited from the Northwich area and mustered outside the Watergate in Chester to accompany him. However Henry Bolingbroke's return from exile caused Richard to abandon this plan and face Bolingbroke's challenge for the throne.

Richard II was eventually deposed, imprisoned and starved to death, but the Cheshiremen remained loyal and joined the rebellion of 1403 against the new king, Henry IV. The resulting battle at Shrewsbury saw Cheshire archers on both sides.

The battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 was the first occasion where English archers had fought each other. In the 1470s Jean de Waurin wrote of this battle, "the archers drew so fast and thick…that the sun lost its brightness so thick were the arrows".

Some Cheshire archers later fought with Henry V in France in 1415 and 1417, but they no longer enjoyed the same importance as in the previous century. The Cheshire archers formed part of the Lancastrian forces at Blore Heath in 1459, the first battle of the Wars of the Roses, but this time they were on the losing side and Cheshiremen formed the majority of the dead. A tale is told in Cheshire that there was once a song celebrating the archers, but that it was never sung again after the losses at Blore Heath.