Through the “Petit Journal” published by the Values and Traditions Commission of the FFTA, we dive back into the history of archery and its traditions. For this new issue, focus on “The Abat l’oiseau from the 18th century to the present day”.
Along with the Provincial Bouquet, the bird kill is one of the traditions that has gone down the centuries since the Middle Ages, being passed down from generation to generation of archers up to the present day. It is an annual tournament within each company during which the archers challenge each other to designate the best (or the luckiest) of them, called Roy, by shooting a wooden bird, also called Papegay1 in the northern regions.
Based on the reading of three texts of Statutes and Regulations2 on the one hand and in the light of the uses currently in force (fruits of the evolution of society), we propose a comparative study of bird shooting since the 17th century.
The date : Initially fixed on May 1 or the first Sunday of May, after decision of the general assembly of Officers and Knights of the last Sunday of April (17th century), it is recommended during March, April or May, after decision of the day and the duration by the assembly of the Company in January and indicated by poster (19th century), then preferably before May 1, during March or April (20th century). This recommendation currently prevails in order to allow the Roy to participate in the Roy de France shooting (practice created in 1951).
The day of shooting: In the 18th century, Officers and Knights, wearing their swords at their side and the Medal of Saint Sebastian in their buttonholes, had to assemble in the room at the precise time indicated, then accompany the flag to the place of firing. , punishable by fine. All had to have paid their arrears to the company beforehand. Together, Officers and Knights had decided on the price (amount of money) they were going to offer to the King, called the Joyau du Roy.
In the 19th and 20th century, it is the same except that there is no longer any mention of the sword or the medal, substituted by a uniform and the insignia of the ranks. We also note the appearance of a drum to accompany the flag. The expression “Joyau du Roy” disappears, only the price remains. Shooting can begin as soon as three knights are present.
Currently these rules are still applied. Thus, we can read in the Charter of the Chivalry of Arc of France3 : « No one can take part in this shooting if he has retained a debt towards his Company or a grievance towards his comrades. The Officers, Knights and Archers must meet on the day and at the agreed time in the garden of the bow, with drum (if possible) and flag”.
Moreover, it is customary to start the day with a warm welcome around a coffee, hot chocolate or mulled wine, accompanied by brioches that the Roy of the previous year will have taken care to offer. There follows a salute to the buttes (when possible) accompanied by a moment of silence with the flag lowered, shared by all the participants (archers and accompanying persons). Archers wear their company uniform and Officers their sash(es).
The shot : Originally, was practiced exclusively with the pole but in the 19th century, it is specified that if it was not possible to shoot with the pole, one drew in the mounds.
It is the same currently, either shooting is done from a pole, from 18 to 30 m high, or horizontally if the security perimeter cannot be guaranteed, at 50 m, in a bow game when the company has one.
The young archers only shoot at 30 m during a parallel tournament or organized on another day, to designate the Kinglet who can also participate in the shooting of the Kinglet of France (since 2000). n some Companies, there is the shooting of the Little Prince for the youngest.
The bird: 18th century, it was “of wood and of the form in use in each company”, placed on two wooden legs without the use of iron or brass. In the 19th century, its size is specified, it must have been about an inch, without relief of the wings or the legs. It was placed in front of the black of the card, stuck by the tail on a rod, without iron or brass. In the 20th century, the description remains identical except for its volume which was one inch by two.
These dimensions are still current: “The bird is stuck in the center of the Beursault cards. The size of the part facing the shooter must not exceed one inch by two inches or 26 mm wide and 52 mm high. It must be made of relatively soft wood glued to a board allowing easy knockdown in the event of a direct impact.
1 – The word papegay is probably derived from the Spanish papagayo (parrot) since Flanders and Artois were Spanish possessions in the 16th and 17th centuries and where guilds of arquebusiers used to shoot the kill bird on May 1, as attested in La relation de la campagne de Flandre de 1649 by Jean-Antoine VINCART, p. 365: “(…) susçedió que la gulda de los arcabuçeros, llamada de San Christoval, en la villa de Brusselas, tirando al papagayo el primer día de mayo (…)”, in https://www.persee.fr/doc /bcrh_0770-6707_1894_num_63_4_2171 , consulted on March 9, 2022. Moreover, in Flemish, parrot is called papagaai.
2 – Monsignor Henry-Charles Arnauld de POMPONNE, Statutes and general regulations for all the Companies of the Noble Game of Arc and Brotherhoods of Saint Sebastian in the Kingdom of France, 1733. Version André V. GILLET, Knight of the Arc and Knight of the Order of Saint Sebastian, 1986 (from the text by Moreau-Nélaton 1912), p. 5-7. Statutes and regulations of the Chivalry of the Arc, Family of Paris, ED. E. Leconte, Crépy-en-Valois, 1889, p. 19-20. General regulations of the Knights of the Arc and Archers of France, 1934-1960, FFTA, November 20, 1960, p. 27-28
3 – Charter of the Chivalry of Arc of France, Ed. October 20, 2019.