Yeomen Archers

Across most of medieval Europe, farmers were serfs. In England, though, some farmers - called yeomen - actually owned small pieces of land. While still peasants, yeomen were free by the standards of their time. In return for their freedom, the law required them to train from youth with the longbow and other weapons. The government encouraged archery with contests, tournaments, and laws. It sometimes went so far as to ban cockfighting, dice, football, and other distractions in order to encourage archery practice!

The finest longbows were made of a single piece of yew, carved with both core and edge wood to give a natural composite effect. Yeomen armed with such weapons were credited with hitting massed troops at nearly 400 yards. The usual length of a shot against an individual target would have been markedly shorter.

The legend of Robin Hood owes much to the real accomplishments of English longbowmen. Robin Hood was reputed to be the greatest archer in a company of seasoned archers. His most famous feat of skill was splitting a rival's arrow in an archery tournament. (Even GURPS is colored by his exploits: its rules let archers make individual shots at distances that would have challenged massed bowmen shooting at an entire army!)

Robin Hood was also a master of another celebrated English weapon: the quarterstaff. He used his staff to spar with and defeat his eventual companion, Little John - a giant of a man. Like the longbow, the staff was inexpensive and available while swords were costly and spears were inconvenient for daily use. The iron-shod staff was as much a walking aid as a weapon, and the English masters praised its value in self-defense against all foes.

Robin Hood's legend curiously parallels that of Japanese hero Yoshitsune. Both were rebels against authority, skilled archers, and leaders of men, and both had a huge, polearm-using companion. In a mythical campaign, they could be rivals - or allies against an even greater foe.

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