Toxophilus: the schole, or partitions of shooting contayned in ij. Books | A report and discourse …of the affaires and state of Germany and the Emporour Charles his court

Born in Kirby Wiske, Yorkshire, in 1515 or 1516, Roger Ascham began his training in Latin at a young age in a local grammar school, and while in his youth, was placed by his father into the household of Humphrey Wingfield, a lawyer and royal commissioner. Later knighted and a future Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Humphrey saw to the education of Ascham, who was well versed in Latin in Greek when he departed for St. John’s College, Cambridge, at the age of fifteen.

Ascham took with him to Cambridge a love for learning and a love for archery, taught to him by avid bowman Sir Humphrey. His academic pursuits at Cambridge were highly successful. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1534 and was elected a fellow of St. John’s College. A master’s degree followed in 1537. Ascham remained at Cambridge as an accomplished reader and excellent lecturer until 1548, when, interested in attaining a position the court, he acted on an opportunity to tutor Princess Elizabeth.

Ascham had come to the attention of King Henry VIII with the publication of Toxophilus in 1545. He dedicated the book to Henry, who, enjoying it, granted Ascham a £10-per-year pension. Ascham’s treatise on the art of archery, widely recognized as a masterpiece, served to deflect his colleagues’ criticisms that archery interfered with his scholarship. Ascham also recognized the importance of providing readers a model of well-crafted English prose, and he hoped that the book might further his ambitions for a position in the court.

Toxophilus is set as a dialogue between Toxophilus and his fellow scholar, Philologus. Toxophilus aims to convince his companion that “shooting” is a “most excellent pastime” requiring skill and mental discipline. The sport is fit for all kinds of men, an honest pastime, and wholesome exercise for the body. In the first part of the book, the two discuss the history of archery based on many classical sources, Englishmen’s decisive use of the long bow, and archery’s many attributes that make it more fitting than other pastimes. Ascham has very damning things to say, in particular, about cards, dice, and other forms of gaming (perhaps because wagering on shooting was not uncommon at the time). In the second part of the book Toxophilus instructs Philologus how to shoot the long bow, providing details about both equipment and requisite skills. 

This second edition of Toxophilus is bound with a copy of Ascham’s (unfinished) report on the court of Charles V, based on his travels in Germany in the early 1550s.

Chrzanowski 1571a *

STC 838 and STC 830

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675