Open

Many of our places are still open. Find a place to visit near you.

See all stories
23 Apr 2018

The Royal Company of Archers

Written by Rachael Bowen and Christophe Brogliolo
House of the Binns, home of the Dalyell family
House of the Binns, home of the Dalyell family
From its beginnings as an archery club, the Royal Company of Archers grew to become a symbol of patriotic duty to the Crown.
The longbows of John Wilkie of Foulden, Sir James Bruce Wilkie Dalyell and Gordon Loch
The longbows of John Wilkie of Foulden, Sir James Bruce Wilkie Dalyell and Gordon Loch

There are three longbows on display at House of the Binns in West Lothian. These belonged to John Wilkie of Foulden (1806–84), Sir James Bruce Wilkie Dalyell, 9th Baronet (1867–1935) and Gordon Loch (1887–1953). These three members of the Dalyell family were admitted to the Royal Company of Archers in 1822, 1906 and 1933 respectively. All three attended royal parades in Scotland, from George IV through to George VI.

The Royal Company of Archers was founded in 1676. It was originally established as a private members’ club called the Edinburgh Archers. In 1704 it was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Anne, which allowed them to form a paramilitary force under the historic dispensation of wapinschaw or ‘weapon-showing’.

From c1714, with the accession of the Hanoverian dynasty, the Company was suspected by the government as being anti-Union and pro-Jacobite because an all-tartan uniform was adopted. The fact that the 5th Earl of Wemyss, a Jacobite sympathiser, was Captain-General of the Company during the ’45 did nothing to calm government fears.

  However, by the time of George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822, the Company formed the official bodyguard of the Sovereign while in Scotland. Today, the Royal Company of Archers acts as the Queen’s Bodyguard for Scotland, carrying out ceremonial duties at the annual garden party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and attending outside St Giles’ Cathedral during the installation of Knights of the Thistle, as well as continuing as an archery club. The Company has paraded for Queen Elizabeth II on more occasions than any other monarch since George IV, and has been involved in a number of major state events such as the Coronation, Silver Jubilee and the opening of the Scottish Parliament

John Wilkie of Foulden (1806–84) in archer’s uniform, attributed to Denis Deighton, c1822
John Wilkie of Foulden (1806–84) in archer’s uniform, attributed to Denis Deighton, c1822

The watercolour of John Wilkie of Foulden shows the uniform of the Royal Company of Archers in the early 19th century. It is a very distinctive ensemble: blue tartan with elements of medieval and Elizabethan designs, large sleeves, white gauntlets and a plumed hat. It has been suggested that this new uniform may have been designed by Sir Walter Scott as part of his patriotic orchestrations of George IV’s visit. The uniform has experienced a number of redesigns; however, the main elements of badge, bonnet and bow remain. The present uniform is just as distinctive, comprising a dark green tunic with black facings, dark green trousers with a crimson and black stripe, and a bonnet with the Company’s badge and eagle feathers. 

One of the badges of the Royal Company of Archers worn on a sash
One of the badges of the Royal Company of Archers worn on a sash, late 19th century

Reproduced here with kind permission of Kathleen Dalyell

Detail of the badge
Detail of the badge

Reproduced here with kind permission of Kathleen Dalyell

A brass hilt short sword, with a brass-mounted black leather scabbard, worn as part of the uniform, late 19th century
A brass hilt short sword, with a brass-mounted black leather scabbard, worn as part of the uniform

Next time you visit The Meadows in Edinburgh, keep an eye out for the Company. They still practise their shooting skills here in preparation for a number of annual competitions, including the Prize of the Goose. Traditionally a live goose was enclosed in turf with only its head exposed. The first archer to pierce its eye could claim both the goose and the title of Captain of the Goose for the season. Today, the Company uses a small glass globe placed in the centre of a target, for which the goose population of the Meadows will undoubtedly be grateful.

 

Project Reveal is an Trust-wide collections digitisation project. It will result in an updated database with high-quality images and unique object numbers for every item in the Trust material culture collections. Six regionally based project teams, supported by experienced project managers, will work across all our properties with collections to complete the inventory in 18 months from July 2017 until December 2018.

Explore House of the Binns

Visit now