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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

"The British Amazons" from Maria Grace

Hello, my fierce, bow-wielding Janeites! Today brings us the second in a series from Maria Grace that takes a closer look at the place of archery, particularly for women, in Regency times. You can find the first part here. And of course, don't forget to check out Maria's answers in this year's Janeite Conversations, and her contributions to this year's giveaways!

The British Amazons

British Amazons? In the Regency? Not possible--or was it?

In 1781 Sir Ashton Lever and Thomas Waring formed the influential Toxophilite Society in London. The organization was dedicated to the sport of archery and to socializing. The society would later gain royal patronage in 1787 with the attention of the Prince Regent (ultimately King George IV), becoming the Royal Toxophilite society, which still exists today.

From the Manchester Art Gallery. Button from the Royal British Bowmen society.
 The success of this society inspired the development of other archery organizations throughout England.  Initially, the societies were male-only clubs.  Some permitted female guests of members to visit to shoot. One thing led to another and soon many had female members. In 1787, the Royal British Bowmen became the first archery society to allow women as full members. Interestingly, the Royal Bowmen had a reputation for being one of the most serious archery clubs of the period. They saw archery was a sport to be mastered, not an excuse to party.

Other societies were a bit less serious and more social. The clubs, like modern leisure organizations, had their own rules, and uniforms, and often used their common interest as an excuse to throw lavish parties and socialize among their peers. (Since club dues, uniforms, and equipment were expensive, the lower orders were effectively barred admission.) “In 1787, ‘several young ladies’ who shot with the Royal British Bowmen were said to have ‘added to their conquests the hearts of young gentlemen of honor and fortune’ and thus the society was responsible for the marriage of ‘not a few happy couples’.” (Johnes, 2004)

(Pride and Prejudice fans may find it interesting to note that in the late 1700’s Hertfordshire had an archery club that did admit women. Derbyshire had a club as well, but it is not clear whether or not it included ladies.)

Real British Amazons

“Female archers in Lewisham even organized a club of their own in 1788, called The British Amazons, the name referring to the mythic female archer-warriors of antiquity, mentioned by Homer in ancient Greece. A news-cutting from 1789 refers to:
The elegant and beauteous assemblage of Ladies Archers established last Summer at Blackheath under the name BRITISH AMAZONS, on Saturday last gave a splendid sup­per and Ball to a Society of Gentlemen who practice the science in the vicinity.
Not much is known about The British Amazons as they have no preserved records or regulations.” The society seems have been connected to The Kentish Bowmen. (Arnstad, 2019) I have to imagine some really fascinating women belonged to this group!

If you want to read more details, on these archery societies, this paper might be interesting.

Find references HERE

Read more about Regency era archery HERE
Discover more about Regency era amusements HERE

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.

Jane Austen, Austen in August, blog event, Jane Austen fan fiction, JAFF, The Book Rat, BookRatMisty
Click here to return to the master list of Austen in August posts!


  1. Although I knew women sometimes would participate in archery during this time, I had no idea that there were archery clubs and that sometimes women were admitted. I am especially happy to hear that Hertfordshire had one. I can certainly see Elizabeth belonging to such a club.

    1. I had the same reaction when I found that in one of the scholarly papers I was reading. Derbyshire had one too!

  2. Ha! This is great. I love learning new Regency tidbits like this. I was never good at archery, but I love that the ladies were able to participate.

    1. I have to admit this was one of my very favorite pieces of research ever.

  3. How fascinating, I love the button. The archery scene with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier is one of my all times favorites among original scenes in P&P adaptations. It was so funny, Darcy teaching Lizzy the basics and she showing herself to be a real Amazon.

  4. I do't love that adaptation, but I do love that scene for just that reason. It's kind of funny that that particular scene might be the only historically accurate one in the whole movie. LOL

  5. I love Archery. Nice to know that it was one sport /club women were allowed to join in.

    1. It is, isn't it. The sad thing is that when became serious athletes in competitive archery, then the push back against women participating started.


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