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The Personal Carriage of Arrows from Hastings to the Mary Rose
By Jonathan Waller and John Waller
Arms & Armour, Volume 7, Number 2 (2010)
Introduction: Although there has been much study and discussion about archery in the Middle Ages, it has been mainly focused on the capabilities of the bows and the arrows that were shot from them. Almost no study has been carried out on the methods employed by the archers to carry their arrows. Without the ability to carry a number of arrows, whether for hunting or in combat, an archer would be unable to function efficiently.
What were the different methods the archer used to allow him to carry more arrows? How they were carried was dependent on different factors, how many arrows were needed, were they for hunting, war, recreation or practice, the type of arrowheads on the arrows and the mobility required by the archer.
To begin to answer these questions we need to look at the evidence from the period under study. Unfortunately, very little physical evidence remains and what does survive is fragmentary and generally poses more questions than it answers. The written sources offer very few references, those that do mention quivers, cases, girdles for sheaf arrows and arrow bags. However, these objects, although listed, are not often described and so do little to further our understanding of their form or function, or of the materials used and the methods of their construction.
Fortunately, there are numerous images from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries which show clearly the different methods archers used to carry arrows. These are: in the bow hand, thrust under the belt, tied in bundles at the waist and in quivers. By combining the evidence available and with practical reconstruction we have gone some way in answering these questions. If one was to ask the man in the street how arrows are carried, one could be sure that his answer would be ‘in a quiver’ not ‘under his belt or in a knot on his belt’ and certainly not ‘in his bow hand’. Let us examine the different methods illustrated or mentioned in the sources.