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The Cheshire Archers: The King's Secret Weapon

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The King's Secret Weapon

The Cheshire archers were a body of elite soldiers noted for their skills with the longbow that fought in many engagements in Britain and France in the Middle Ages. Battles at which there were sizeable numbers of Cheshire archers include Agincourt and Crecy. Richard II employed a bodyguard of these yeoman archers who came from the Macclesfield Hundred and the forest districts of Cheshire.

The English first encountered the long bow in the hands of the Welsh archers during the reign of Edward I and his war with the Welsh in 1277. The king soon adopted its use and passed a law that every man and boy including the nobility should learn to use it and practice in areas called butts.
The son of Edward III was also called Edward, Earl of Chester. He is often referred to as the Black Prince but this title was not used during his lifetime. The Prince took a personal interest in the recruitment of archers from the Hundred of Macclesfield and Cheshire. He also introduced mounted archers and gave sealed indentures to members of the nobility to recruit their own followers. They each had to raise a specific number and were responsible for them reaching their destination. If any deserted they lost their property and land to the King and their captain also lost his land.

The export of bows and arrows was forbidden and the archers were not allowed to leave England without a royal licence.

In 1336 three hundred men accompanied John Legh and John Ardern amongst other leaders to Gascony.

In 1356 four hundred men accompanied Hamo Massey, Robert Legh, Robert Hyde and John Danyers to Scotland.

In 1400, during the reign of the new King Henry IV, several more hundred men accompanied Richard and Thomas Vernon, William Brereton and Adam Bostock, John and Thomas Massey.

Being away at war was not without its drawbacks. Many estates were pillaged, wives raped and their land was often hard to reclaim. Many soldiers and leaders stayed on the continent to fight for Italian dukes and became mercenaries.
Many who returned to England bought land in another county, others married widows or bought wardships to obtain lands. In 1400 John Carrington and Robert Ardern fled to Paris and shared their spoils of war to avoid King Henry IV. Robert later died crossing the Alps. Many who committed crimes or deserted were pardoned provided they volunteered to fight in France or Scotland. Prince Edward died in 1376 and his father, King Edward III, died a year later. The heir to the throne was Prince Edward's son Richard II, aged 10. As Richard grew older he proved an unpopular king, like King John, and had many enemies. He surrounded himself with a personal bodyguard of three hundred archers divided into seven squadrons or watches. Three of these seven squadrons were under the leadership of John Legh, Adam Bostock and Ralph Davenport. During the last two years of his reign oppressions, raping, flogging and killing by his retinue went unpunished. Eventually Richard was captured and held in Pontefract Castle by his cousin Henry Bollingbroke. Richard died in 1399. Many Cheshire families fought on the side of Richard and their leaders were beheaded as an example to other families. Sir Peter Legh of Lyme, Sir Richard Vernon of Shipbrook and Sir Richard Venables of Kinderton had their heads placed on poles above the gates of Chester Castle.

From the 12th century these main families have been important in the development of society in Stockport and Cheshire.

Sources: War and Society in Medieval Cheshire by P. Morgan Cheshire under the Earls by B.M. Husain The Origins of Cheshire by N. J. Higham

The Archers of Medieval England and Wales

For about 200 years between 1330 and 1530 the Archers of England and Wales ranked among the best fighting men in Europe. The question is, how did this come about?

by Richard Wadge

Three factors came together in the early fourteenth century:


The Norman French kings of England recognised the value the Anglo Saxon tradition of the Fyrd to raise an army from all classes their subjects. So they passed a series Statutes, culminating in the Statute of Winchester in 1285 which required English men to keep arms in their homes, be able to use them, and to bring to ‘Views of Arms’ to demonstrate that they were prepared to do their duty. The statute included all men by requiring that “all others that may (meaning all those who did not have sufficient property to have to use more expensive weapons) shall have bows and arrows”


There was a tradition of heavy bow archery in among the Welsh and probably in the North of England as a legacy of the Vikings. Also archery with substantial bows seem to have been practiced in some parts of the country, such as the Weald of Kent since In 1266 “300 of the best archers from the Weald” were arrayed for coastal defence duties, and in the royal forests such as Macclesfield in Cheshire which in 1277 provided Edward I with a bodyguard of 100 archers.

Military Practice

In the early fourteenth century military leaders in England realised that England would never be able to raise sufficient heavy armoured knights to become a powerful European army, and so developed what is often called the English tactical system: dismounted knights and men at arms form the core of the battle line with larger numbers of heavy bow archers forming a skirmish line in front of them, between the ‘battles’ making up the line and on the wings.

These sites all have some information


During the Medieval wars it is highly likely that Knutsford provided archers to the nationally renowned 'Cheshire Bowmen'.

Just after the battle of Agincourt a survey of the Bucklow Hundred taken in 1417 AD showed that almost a quarter of Cheshire bowmen came from this area making up 107 out of the 439 recorded.


Richard II's Archers of the Crown James L. Gillespie The Journal of British Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Spring, 1979), pp. 14-29 This article consists of 16 page(s).


It appears that the retainers within the royal household continued to wear the badge of the crown. It is even possible that the king's bodyguard of Cheshire archers, so closely identified with the white hart, actually wore the crown albeit their commanders would have sported the stag. After he had described Richard's capture by Bolingbroke in 1399, the Dieulacres chronicler remarked: "Then indeed were the royal insignia both of the stag and of the crown placed under wraps."[18] If the Cheshire bodyguard did, in fact, wear the crown, their obedience to captains donning the white hart served as a symbolic reminder of the king's identification of his personal security with the authority of the Crown.


by Mark Olly


After Domesday all Cheshire belonged to the Norman Overlord Hugh Lupus (Hugh 'The Wolf') who continued to allow Erchebrand use of the land but under the watchful eye of the Norman William Fitznigel. By about 1290 AD it had passed to the Norman Overlord William De Tabley (under King Edward I) who in turn, granted Nether Knutsford to his vassal Sir Richard Massey of Tatton.

Knutsford over the moor

Richard applied for a market charter in 1292 AD which upset his Overlord William, who only reached agreement over it in 1294 AD, dividing manorial rights and profits at 38 burgesses to himself and 19 to Richard. This division continued right up to 1590 AD when the lands of Knutsford passed entirely into the ownership of the Lords of Tatton.

During the Medieval wars it is highly likely that Knutsford provided archers to the nationally renowned 'Cheshire Bowmen'.

Just after the battle of Agincourt a survey of the Bucklow Hundred taken in 1417 AD showed that almost a quarter of Cheshire bowmen came from this area making up 107 out of the 439 recorded.

"The key symbol in this alchemical regeneration was the badge of the white hart worn by the Cheshire bowmen who intimidated the Revenge Parliament of 1397." "The sense that an occult power was being attributed to the white hart badge is indicated in a petition complaining about royal retinues: ‘The boldness inspired by their badges makes them unafraid to do those these things and more besides."

Battle of Flodden

"The Scots advance down the hill was resisted by a hail of arrows, an incident celebrated in later English ballads. Hall says the armoured front line was mostly unaffected, confirmed by the ballads which note some few Scots were wounded in the scalp and, wrote Hall, James IV sustained a significant arrow wound.[45] Many of the archers were recruited from Lancashire and Cheshire. Sir Richard Assheton raised one such company from Middleton, near Manchester. He rebuilt his parish church St. Leonard's, Middleton, which contains the unique "Flodden Window." It depicts and names the archers and their priest in stained glass. The window has been called as the oldest known war memorial in the UK. The success of the Cheshire yeomanry, under the command of Richard Cholmeley, led to his later appointment as Lieutenant of the Tower of London.[46]"