About Rye Longbowmen

It all began in 1989 and Rye was celebrating the 700 th anniversary of gaining its town charter from Edward 1.  There were battle re-enactments, jousting, street markets jugglers and minstrels and all the colour, but hopefully not the smells, of medieval England.  A local character and lover of all things medieval, Willy Maybury, had organised an archery tournament. Bowmen came from near and far to “bend their bows” and demonstrate their skills.

These skills had been honed during the cross channel skirmishes that we now call The 100 Years War.  Rye was then a major port and centre of shipbuilding,  using timber from the heavily wooded Wealds of Kent and Sussex.  These managed woodlands were also a source of wood for longbows.

In 1377 Rye was attacked by the French who overcame the town wall defences and generally burned, raped and pillaged their way round the town, before leaving with the bells from the church.  This final insult was revenged the following year when men of Rye and Winchelsea raided the French town of Peter’s Haven in Normandy, and recovered much of the stolen booty and recaptured the bells.  There were eventually re-hung in St Mary’s in Rye.

Edward 111  carried on the tradition of cross channel raids during his reign and called for no less that 20,000 archers from southern England to meet at Winchelsea for another go at the pesky French.  Men from Rye wore a distinctive red livery with the cross of St George at their breasts.  The bowmen were in action again in 1461 when they joined the forces of the Earl of Warwick at Calais who, though technically in revolt against the King, was Captain of the town.

In thankfully happier times, the demonstration of expertise by Willy Maybury’s men in their authentic costumes caught the attention of a half a dozen locals.  One evening’s practise in the company of Willy was enough, they were hooked and the Order of Rye Longbowmen was formed.  The rest, as they say, is history.