Arrow Bags

Quivers as we know them today are not found in medieval illustrations of archers at war. Usually when archers are shown carrying arrows, they have them tucked under their belts. Sometimes, however, an illustration shows something we call an arrow bag.

An arrow bag would be designed to carry a sheaf of 24 arrows. The ones we use are based on a functional arrangement drawn from practical experience, medieval illustrations, and Mary Rose recoveries. The illustrations tell us that the bag is a tube of cloth, probably linen canvas or some other tough bleached or natural cloth, perhaps lined with cloth of a contrasting color (though apparent linings in illustrations may simply be artistic license at play). The bags were closed by means of a drawstring at each end, allowing either end to be opened. Thus when the archer inserts the arrows (point first) or removes them (also point first), the arrows are always moving forward, reducing wear on the fletchings.

The Mary Rose arrow bags include leather spacers to separate arrows and help preserve the fletchings. The Mary Rose reconstructions show the spacer set at the head end of the shaftment area, but this would offer little protection for the fletchings when the nock-end drawstring is drawn tight. One descriptive reconstruction of such a Mary Rose style bag refers to the stitching holes visible at the edge of the leather disk. All these marks are on the lower edge of the disk, and they speculate that one end of a cloth tube was sewn to the leather and the other ended in a drawstring. Arrows were supposedly removed by pulling them downwards through the leather and out of the sleeve. This would seem to put unwarranted stress on the fletching. As these spacers are found with archers’ bodies and not in the arrow chests where bulk arrows were carried, we suggest that the spacers were part of cloth “quivers” that worked much like a modern golf bag, with arrows inserted through spacers point first into the bag and drawn out again in reverse. Such “quivers” may not even have had a section to cover the fletching.

An old antiquary’s drawing (reproduced in Barlett and Embleton’s English Longbowman 1330-1515) illustrates an arrow bag once preserved in Canterbury. It shows the spacer, set about mid shaft. Interestingly, it also shows “hay” (more likely straw) stuffed in the bag around the heads of the arrows. This lends credibility to the drawing, as we have discovered that something is necessary to keep the arrow heads from piercing the cloth and opening a way for the arrows to escape. The upper portion of the bag as drawn, however, looks like nothing we’ve seen yet in period illustrations. Indeed, one period illustration suggests a shape under the cloth at the upper end of a bag that tapers down to half or less the diameter of the upper end. Placing the spacer on the nocks of the arrows and tying a thong near the arrow heads to group them closer together (or using a small leather bag to contain and cover them) yields a silhouette that comes close to that illustration. Because this scheme matches the illustration and uses known components, it is the one that we are currently using for our arrow bags. We are starting to experiment with stuffing the head end with straw.

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