Robert Hardy, the great longbow expert

By Rob Morgan

I met Robert Hardy, who died August 3, twice in the 1980s, at a Mary Rose conference, and later at the old Royal Armouries. I remember, he claimed when speaking to the audience on the second occasion, that he fell in love with the longbow when he played Henry V in a BBC TV series! He used that rare quote from Shakespeare’s Richard III, ‘Fight, bold Yeomen! Draw archers, draw your arrows to the head!’ I jotted it down (it’s from Act 5 scene 3 if you want to look).

I’d already bought a copy of his very sound, authoritative book Longbow,’ in the second-hand bookshop for a quarter of the cover price and wished I’d brought it to ask him to sign. He might not have done that, because he seemed a bluff character, and snappy if he didn’t fancy the question being posed to him.

Acting as a Lancastrian king aside, he’ll be long remembered for his all embracing social and military history of the magnificent weapon, what they call  a real sweep of bow history, and it is rather a magnificent volume. Yet I prefer the second, more medieval- focused of his archery books. ‘The Great Warbow’ by Hardy and Matthew Strickland was published in 2005, and really is a great publication, especially if read alongside Jim Bradbury’s ‘The Medieval Archer.’ Hardy was involved in a good deal of ‘hands-on’ longbow research over the decades, cropping up a number of books and in serious academic articles, and was skilled enough to become a consultant and then a trustee on the Mary Rose trust. No mean feat for an actor.

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