Victorian ladies were always looking for healthy ways to exercise that were also considered acceptable for women. One of those ways, which came to prominence during the nineteenth century, was archery.
Archery had distinct advantages over swimming, for example, since the latter required that women wear cumbersome bathing costumes and have access to water deep enough to swim in, which not everyone did. Women did walk a great deal, and the more fearless rode, hunted, and drove their own phaetons, but those activities didn’t allow a woman to show off her grace and poise (not to mention her fetching figure) in quite the same way as bending a bow did.
But archery didn’t start out as a fine exercise for women. After pistols and rifles were perfected and armies no longer used archers in warfare, interest in the sport waned, at least in Europe. Along came a couple of older fellows who found that a regular practice of shooting arrows at targets helped them with their various health issues, and the Toxophilite Society was born (a toxophilite is a student or lover of archery).
At first, it consisted of a large group of male archers, with a Lady Patroness who didn’t do any shooting herself. After the initial enthusiasm for archery wore off, membership numbers began to suffer. Then they asked a Mrs. Crespigny to become their Lady Patroness. She had a gift for entertaining and began throwing archery fêtes that were soon attended not only by the male members but by female archers.
The unique way the matches for female archers were held ensured that the shooters got plenty of exercise. Two targets would be set up facing each other fifty yards apart. The ladies would all shoot at one, walk to that target, pull out their arrows, and turn around to shoot at the other.
Eventually, archery became quite a fashionable pastime for young ladies. Several images—and later, photos—of female archers in competition exist. So the next time you see a Jane Austen adaptation with women shooting arrows at targets, rest assured that it’s not an anachronism. Archery was all the rage with women in Victorian England.
About the Author
Sabrina Jeffries is the New York Times best-selling author of more than fifty novels and works of short fiction (some written under the pseudonyms Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas). Time not invested in writing is spent traveling with her husband and adult autistic son or indulging in one of her passions: jigsaw puzzles, chocolate, and music. With more than nine million books in print in more than 21 languages, the North Carolina author never regrets tossing aside a budding career in academics for the sheer joy of writing fiction. Readers can find her at SabrinaJeffries.com and on the social platforms below.
New York Times best-selling author Sabrina Jeffries features an irresistible family in a series to savor, as the grown children of a thrice-married dowager duchess piece together the stories of their fathers—while pursuing passions of their own.
Lady Gwyn Drake has long protected her family’s reputation by hiding an imprudent affair from her youth. But when her former suitor appears at Armitage Hall, manhandling the heiress and threatening to go public with her secrets, it’s Gwyn who needs protecting. Her twin brother, Thorn, hires Joshua Wolfe, the estate’s gamekeeper, to keep her safe in London during her debut. As a war hero, Joshua feels obligated to fulfill the assignment he has accepted. But as a man, it’s torment to be so very close to the beauty he’s fought to ignore.
With handsome Joshua monitoring her every move, Gwyn would prefer to forget both the past and the parade of money-seeking bachelors at her coming out. But Joshua is unmoved by her attempts at flirtation, and the threat of blackmail still hangs over her. With danger closing in, Gwyn must decide which is the greater risk: deflecting a scoundrel’s attempts to sabotage her—or revealing her whole heart to the rugged bodyguard she can’t resist.