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The Archers

The Royal Company of Archers, which acts as the Sovereign’s ‘Body Guard in Scotland’ has been highly visible during recent televised State occasions in the United Kingdom.

The Royal Company’s most regular duty had been to be in attendance at Her Majesty The Queen’s annual garden parties held at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. They’ll now perform this same role for His Majesty The King.

In fact ‘The Archers’, as they’re often referred to began as a private archery club in 1676. It obtained a charter under the Great Seal of Scotland, establishing it as a corporation by Letters Patent from Queen Anne in 1713.

The Archers now comprise 530 people, all wearing uniforms that have remained unchanged since 1863! Most of those striking uniforms are made here at 10 Savile Row by the in-house team of specialist bespoke cutters and tailors. As an entirely voluntary unit Members of The Royal Company of Archers must provide their own uniforms, with many of the uniforms being family heirlooms, leading to extreme anxiety about moth damage and expanding (sometimes shrinking) waistlines! So we also alter a number of existing uniforms to help reduce wastage and of course, to be as cost conscious as possible on behalf of our valued customers.

So what does the historic uniform consist of?

Bonnets & Eagle Feathers

Well, the headdress worn by The Archers is a stiffened bonnet of green with a crimson Torrie (a bobble on a bonnet) and black mohair headband.

The bonnet badge is of crossed arrows on a green and white cockade (rosette or knot of ribbons worn on a hat as a badge of office) and worn with a single Golden Eagle’s feather, each of which has been taken from the right wing of the bird. The cockade has been worn since 1713.

Mohair & Velvet

The tunic is green laced with black mohair braid with crimson velvet lights. Twisted crimson cord epaulettes adorn the tunic shoulders.

The trousers are green and are tightly cut, like most military overalls. A double black line of mohair braid with a crimson velvet light runs down the outside of the leg.

This image was shot by photographer Hugo Rittson Thomas for an exhibition in 2015 entitled The Queen’s People. The exhibition showed photographs of Members of the Royal Household and support staff in their traditional uniforms.

Inspired by formal 17th century portrait painting, in which a black background would emphasise the craftsmanship and colour of ceremonial dress, the photographs use a unique, contemporary mirroring device to show each individual from all four sides (front, back and both profiles).

The leather-backed bow-case is green and bound with black mohair braid trimmed with crimson velvet. On the centre of the bow-case, which is aligned with the centre of the chest, is a badge of crossed arrows with the Company’s motto of 1676, ‘In Peace and War.’

The bow-case is worn across the left shoulder descending to below the right hip and is secured there by a brass Star of The Thistle (the old bonnet badge prior to 1863). The bow-case is held in place by a black patent-leather belt with an ornate brass buckle on which is displayed the Royal Crest of Scotland. From this belt hang, on the left-hand side and to the front, a red and black woollen tassel which was originally used for cleaning arrows. The short brass Roman-style sword in its black frog and scabbard is suspended from the left hip.

When ordered, a ‘pair’ arrows (which strangely has three arrows rather than two) is worn tucked under the belt under the right arm with the points foremost and downwards. Black George boots are worn.

Archery, specifically longbow shooting, remains at the core of The Royal Company’s activities. Archers shoot in the grounds of Holyrood and in the indoor butts at Archers’ Hall, the imposing Georgian clubhouse on Buccleuch Street, Edinburgh’s equivalent of a London livery hall. This also happens to be where we hold our regular scheduled Trunk Shows for The Archers and also members of the public, providing a rarefied opportunity to see inside a truly historic and impressive building. Outside of Scotland The Archers shoot in the Royal Household reception ground behind Kensington Palace in London.

Archery competitions are held around Scotland and there’s a triennial match against the Woodmen of Arden, the society of English toxophilites founded in 1758 — the longbow equivalent of the Calcutta Cup. Each Archer fires two arrows carrying his colours at a ‘clout’, a straw-filled target at 180 yards. Arrows are sometimes loosed off simultaneously so that a competition resembles a medieval battle.

Great Scot

Echoing all great British institutions, The Royal Company’s origins as The Sovereign’s Body Guard for Scotland are stranger than fiction, no accident as they owe much to the kaleidoscopic imagination of the great novelist Sir Walter Scott.

In August 1822, the recently crowned George IV made his visit to Scotland, the first by a British monarch since Charles II’s brief and ultimately abortive restoration in Scotland in 1651. Scott, who had met the King when he was still Prince Regent several years before, was the organiser for the visit and took the opportunity to become impresario of a series of splendid pageants, one of which coincided with the King’s 60th birthday.

He indulged his theatrical imagination to the full. Many aspects of Scottish culture today can be traced back to that momentous month. Tartan became the national dress of Scotland in a way it never had been before. Edinburgh’s global reputation as a festival city, with its lively Arts festivals and Royal Military Tattoo, probably owes something to the benchmark set by Scott that August.

It is not known whether Scott, who was himself an Archer, influenced the decision but the Council of The Royal Company petitioned the King to be accepted as his personal bodyguard for the visit. The offer was accepted and The Royal Company of Archers paraded and has guarded the monarch during official engagements in Scotland ever since.

As we make and also alter the uniforms for The Royal Company of Archers, we travel regularly to Edinburgh to take measurements and subsequently to fit the bespoke uniforms we make in our workshop on Savile Row in central London.

Details can be found on our Trunk Show page, which is updated with travel details once those trips are confirmed. Trunk Shows are also announced in our once a month email newsletter. To sign-up, simply enter your details below.

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