Medieval archers at the 'Butts'.
Archers formed an important force in every army during the Middle Ages and sovereigns endeavoured to make training in the use of the bow obligatory on the whole population. In the thirteenth century every person 'not having a greater interest in land than 100d.' was required to have in his possession a bow and arrow, with other arms offensive and defensive, and 'all such as had no possessions but could afford to purchase arms' were required to have a bow with sharp arrows if they dwelt without, and one with blunt arrows if resident within the royal forests.
The whole of the English population was involved in Medieval Warfare and the archer with his bow and arrow grew in importance. During the reign of Henry III the Assize of Arms of 1252 decreed that all "citizens, burgesses, free tenants, villeins and others from 15 to 60 years of age" should be armed. The poorest were expected to have a halberd and a knife, and a bow if they owned land worth more than 2. The Plantagenet King Edward III took this further and decreed the Archery Law in 1363 which commanded the obligatory practice of archery on Sundays and holidays! The Archery Law "forbade, on pain of death, all sport that took up time better spent on war training especially archery practise". Henry I later proclaimed that an archer would be absolved of murder, if he killed a man during archery practise!
Parents were to provide every boy from seven to seventeen years of age with a bow and two arrows, and after seventeen he was to provide himself with a bow and four arrows; and butts for the practice of archery were to be erected in every town. Lastly, in order to prevent other pastimes such as football from interfering with archery practice, a penalty of 40s. a day was imposed on every person who shall for his gain, lucre, or living keep any common house, alley, or place of bowling, coiting, clough, eagles, half-bowls, tennis, dicing tables, or carding, or any other game prohibited by any statute heretofore made or any unlawful new game.
Towards the close of the fifteenth century archery had fallen somewhat into decay in spite of enactments of this character, but its practice was revived by Henry VIII, himself a skilful bowman, and an Act was passed soon after his accession, extending the qualification with respect to the use of crossbows to 300 marks, and requiring all his subjects under sixty years of age 'who were not lame, diseased, or maimed, or having any other lawful impediment,' the clergy, judges, &c., excepted, to 'use shooting on the long bow' under penalty on default of 12d. per month.
The places where they practiced archery was called 'butts' and place names still exist where the butts were located Eccleshall, Gaol Butts and Cross Butts.