Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Toxophilia

In these days of Title IX when young women can participate in pretty much any sport they choose, it’s easy to forget that just a hundred years ago, anything much more strenuous than a decorous horseback ride in Rotten Row, a gentle game of tennis or maybe—maybe—a few holes of golf was frowned upon by the medical profession and society alike. Girls, move freely and break a sweat? How un-lady-like!

But there have always been a handful of sports to which young women have been given grudging access…and one of them was archery. Here was a sport at which it was unlikely you might become overheated or over-excited. It was a sport you could do while wearing a corset (in fact, wearing a corset might even help!) And it gave you a chance to order adorable new clothes, like the archery suit from 1829 worn by this young lady at the right.

Archery was a reasonably popular sport in 19th century England, due in no small part to the important role it played in English history. In the middle ages, English bowmen were famed (and feared!) in warfare. English longbows could launch an arrow capable of piercing plate armor, which of course did not make French knights very happy. Several kings passed laws requiring all able-bodied men over the age of 17 to own a bow and arrows and establishing mandatory weekly shooting practice. This fell by the wayside once firearms became widespread, but interest in archery never died…and indeed, recreational archery enjoyed a resurgence with the foundation of the Royal Toxophilite Society in 1781. Toxophilia (isn’t that a dreadful sounding word?) means “love of archery”, and several prominent members of the nobility became members of the society, most notably the Prince of Wales (who later became Prince Regent and King George IV). They established a permanent clubhouse and shooting range in 1833 in Regent’s Park in London where practices and in-club competitions were held weekly in season…and, unusually for this time, they held an annual Ladies’ Day invitational competition every July with prizes given by the society. Go girls!

And speaking of competitions, the commenter from last Tuesday who wins a Nineteenteen fan is Addie! Addie, please contact me here so we can arrange to get your fan out to you. And keep commenting, everybody!

10 comments:

Sarah said...

You're right--"toxophilia" sounds like it should have a dreadful meaning.

I had no idea archery was so popular. Thanks for sharing!

Ashley said...

Wow that sounds like fun. Bows and arrows do make great weapons like in Robin Hood.

Toxophilia sounds funny and like a sickness or something

Addie said...

Yay! I'm excited to see what my fan looks like! Thank you for having such a wonderful site with so much information!

Marissa Doyle said...

It's a bizarre word, isn't it? As far as I've been able to discover, it's from Greek.

Sarah said...

Bizarre is a great adjective for the word :D And not that I speak Greek, but it sounds like it could be Greek.

Tricia Tighe said...

Fun post! Toxophilia does sound like you're in love with something toxic.

It's nice to see that archery was socially acceptable for girls. I wonder if girls of lower classes had opportunities for sports.

And what was that line from the Gwyneth Paltrow version of "Emma"? When she's doing archery with Mr. Knightly? I think it was: "Don't kill my dogs." Gotta love it.

Marissa Doyle said...

Tricia, unfortunately working class girls didn't have many recreational opportunities. There's a splendid book called "Lark Rise to Candleford" by a woman named Flora Thompson who grew up in a farming hamlet in Oxfordshire in the 1880s and 1890s--it's a fascinating view of life among farm laborers in that time. I've been meaning to write here about it--maybe the time has come.

Sarah said...

Ooh, yes, please do write about it! It sounds super interesting.

QNPoohBear said...

Congratulations Addie! My fan and 19th c. goodies arrived the other day and I love them. The fan is super cool!

There's a splendid archery scene in the BBC/PBS mini series Daniel Deronda starring Romola Garai and Hugh Dancy.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/media/images/38496000/jpg/_38496919_daniel_archery_300.jpg

Tricia Tighe said...

Marissa, thanks for the reference. I'd love to hear more about it.