Bracers and Gloves

Bracers

Roger Ascham tells us that a bracer serves to save the archer’s arm from the “stripe of the string” and his doublet from wear. It also keeps the string “gliding sharply and quickly” across the shooter’s arm, thereby making a “sharper shot.” Even so, Ascham believes it best “to give the bow so much bent, that the string need never touch a man’s arm, and so a man need no bracer.”

Where they are shown wearing bracers, the archers of our period wear what many modern archers consider a very small one. One can imagine that professional archers would have a very good idea of the exact point where the string might contact their arm. One can also imagine that soldiers might find it a matter of ego to “need” the least possible amount of this sort of protection, with the result that the smallest practical bracer was worn.

Ascham argues against having any sort of decoration on the bracer, such as “nails” (presumably metal mounts), buckles, or even aiglettes on the laces. Any sharp or raised surface is a problem. Nails can cut the string, and buckles and aiglettes can “raze his bow, a thing both evil for the sight, and perilous for the fretting.” Yet the lead archer in the Luttrell Psalter picture of an archery practice wears a studded bracer.

An example surviving in a private collection and illustrated in Egan and Pritchard’s Dress Accessories, c. 1150 – c. 1450, provides a suitable design for a bracer. This example is made of one piece of leather and fitted with copper alloy mounts: a buckle, a strapkeeper, eyelet reinforcements, and a strap end. A cheaper version might have lead alloy fittings and/or be made from assembled leather (i.e. the straps sewn or riveted to the main body).

A second surviving example excavated in York consists of a stout piece of leather pierced to take separate straps that are prevented from coming through the holes by the simple expedient of cutting the ends of the straps into wider “shoulders” that butt up against the edges of the slit. This example had an iron buckle (probably once tinned) that, appears to have been re-used from another item, possibly a shoe (stitching holes on the leather strap to which it is attached have no correspondence to any other part of the piece).

A speculative, extremely cheap bracer might be a leather piece with a thong passing through holes at the edges of the guard and simply tied on.

 

Shooting Gloves

A shooting glove is intended to save an archer’s fingers from being hurt by the pressure and friction of the string. Ascham calls for the leather on the forefinger and the ring finger to be thicker than that on the middle finger, as they take the most weight. The forefinger should be thicker yet as it is most involved in “sure loosing.” He recommends lining the glove with a soft and thick fabric. Warning that the string does not roll well off a new glove, he suggests cutting the fingers short and trimming them with an ointment, “that the string may glide well away.” He also says that a “shooting glove hath a purse, which shall serve to put fine linen cloth and wax in, two necessary things for a shooter.”

No surviving examples of gloves for the Hundred Years War are known to us. The nearest representation in time comes from a 15th century Flemish tapestry called the “Black Tapestry of Zamora.” The glove depicted there offers the most likely model from which to pattern a reproduction glove. We do not know how common shooting gloves were among military archers of our period. Ascham says that some men use a glove or “other such thing” on their bow hand to ease chafing.

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