(1346), 1 Poitiers (1356), and, most famously,
Agincourt (1415) because of their archers.
Agincourt took on legendary status in English history. It was
the focal point of Shakespeare’s HENRY V. 2 The myth of the common man with his common longbow (like Robin Hood) winning
at Agincourt is a precursor for the common man’s right to bear
Ultimately, there was so much archery practice going on that it
changed homicide law. For the early medieval period, a person’s
intent in killing someone did not matter. The killer owed the
victim’s family the wergild (man price), regardless of whether the
death was an accident or murder.
Archery accidents were among the most common causes of unintentional slaying in Medieval England. 3 It would have been
unseemly for the king to encourage archery and then hold men
responsible for the arrow deflecting off a tree and killing someone. 4 Thus, by the 13th century, the King’s courts started to recognize that not all homicides were the same and that the killer’s
intent mattered (mens rea).
In many ways, the kings’ support of archery reflected the attitude
toward bearing arms in general. Each able-bodied man was
expected to arm himself for the common defense in militia serv-
ice or to be a source of recruits for military service. 5 The kings
wanted men they could mold into an army, not the old feudal levy
or Anglo-Saxon fyrd. 6 Thus, bearing arms was as much a tax as a
But a modern analogy to the Second Amendment’s “right to bear
arms” would be a strain. Today the government does not require
every able-bodied person to keep and maintain an effective military weapon such as an M16 rifle. 7 In fact, the government makes
it illegal, 8 and even the NRA does not object. 9
What caused the change in government attitude to arms and citizens?
ARIZONA ATTORNEY FEBRUARY 2015 34 www.azbar.org/AZAttorney
2. The Battle of Agincourt on Friday October 25, 1415 (Saint
Crispin’s Day), complete with archers. This was Henry V’s great
victory. Shakespeare’s play HENRY V always had propaganda value. Written in 1599 during Queen Elizabeth
Tudor’s reign, its hero is her ancestor King Henry
(a Lancaster and Tudor ancestor). Laurence
Olivier’s 1944 version was a rouser for Britons
fighting World War II. Kenneth Branagh’s 1989
version showed a darker Henry V.
Henry’s St. Crispin’s Day speech includes a
line that provides the title for Stephen Ambrose’s
book BAND OF BROTHERS (1992) and the 10-part
HBO mini-series (2001) of the same name:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.
4. Henry I (1100–1135) passed a law that absolved an
archer of homicide if he accidentally killed someone
while practicing. This was the first official sign of the
king’s encouraging archery. HEATH at 20–21.
5. By the Tudor period, government expected all men
to meet in the churchyard after the Sunday service to
practice archery and drill. COLIN RHYS LOVELL, ENGLISH
CONSTITUTIONAL AND LEGAL HISTORY 271 (1962).
6. See HARDY at 44.
3. Thomas A. Green, The Jury and the
English Law of Homicide, 1200-1600, 74
MICH. L. REV. 414, 446 (1976). This gave
us the origins of degrees of homicide such
as first- and second-degree murder and
voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
Of course, some archery “accidents” were
not accidents at all. King William II,
“Rufus” (for his red complexion), was
William the Conqueror’s second son. He
died “by accident” from a stray arrow
while hunting in the Forest. His younger
brother, Henry, conveniently became King.
The M1 Garand was Clint
Eastwood’s rifle in GRAN
TORINO ( Warner Bros. 2008).
9. But there is still the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP)
promoting firearm safety training and rifle practice for all
qualified citizens. Congress created the CMP in 1903 to provide civilians the chance to practice marksmanship so they
would be ready to later serve in the military (the same purpose of the English kings with archery). From 1916 until 1996
the Army administered the CMP. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 ( 36 U.S.C. § 40701–33)
created the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice & Firearms Safety, Inc. (CPRPFS) to take over the CMP. See
CMP website, http://www.odcmp.com/ (last visited Jan. 12, 2015).
Death of King William II (Rufus).
HENRY V (Eagle-Lion
1. The Battle of Crécy with English longbowmen driving away
The Springfield M1903, formally the United States
Rifle, Caliber . 30, Model 1903, was an American
magazine-fed, bolt-action rifle used primarily during
the first half of the 20th century.
The M1 Garand (formally the United States Rifle,
Caliber . 30, M1) in 1936 replaced the M1903 and
was the first semi-automatic rifle generally issued to
the infantry of any nation (the military still used the
M1903 as a sniper rifle). This was the main rifle of
World War II and Korea.
In 1957 the M14 in turn replaced the M1.
AR- 15 with accessories.
8. See generally
FEDERAL AND STATE
7. The M16 rifle versions including the pictured
M16/A1/A2/A3/A4 has been the U.S. military’s
primary rifle since 1964. It followed the M14.