The Royal Company of Archers dates back many Centuries to King James I. Its history can be traced back to 1676 when it was founded as the Edinburgh Archers, a private members club . The Company was granted its Charter by Queen Anne in 1704. When King George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822, the company put in a claim to act as the official body guard for the Sovereign while in Scotland. The King who was himself a keen archer good-humouredly acceded to the request. Its role is this respect remains unofficial and is entirely ceremonial. Members of the company figured in the rotation of guards at the lying in State of the Queen Mother at Westminster Hall in 2002.
In 1785 and 1786 an exchange took places that conferred the freedom of their respective companies between the Royal Toxophilites of London and the Royal Company. Similar courtesies were exchanged in 1787 with the Woodmen of Arden.
Members of the company practise on the meadows (Hope Park) and each year compete for a number of prizes including the “Edinburgh Arrow”. The Royal Company of Archers still shoots at traditional Clout and does so with ceremony and spectacle. At present the usual outdoor range at which the Royal Company practice is 180 yards with one prize shot for at 200 yards. The clout is a circular mat of 30 inch diameter elevated to 45° in order to make it more visible. A Marker is to indicate to the archers exactly where their arrows have landed in relation to the clout. This is accomplished through a system of semaphore using a baton and a white napkin. The position of the Marker is not without danger and he is therefore provided with a “Mantle” for shelter near the Marker’s station. Should and arrow be lost sight of than the Marker can seek refuge behind the Mantle.
One of the Royal Archers traditions is known as “goose shooting” or “shooting the goose eye”, which is done before Christmas. A living goose was enclosed in a turf butt with only its head exposed to view. The goose was shot at from a distance of 100 yards. The first Archer to pierce its eye could claim the goose. On account of its cruelty the tradition was modified. In 1864 the item of ' half a crown for a goose ' disappeared from the treasurer's accounts. The competition is still kept up, but the prize is now a medal, and the goose's head is represented by a small glass globe of about an inch in diameter placed in the centre of the butt-mark, which is a circular piece of cardboard four inches across.
The Royal Company has its base at Archers Hall, located on the west side of Buccleuch Street in Edinburgh. The Hall was built in 1777 by Alexander Laing and was extended in 1900 by A.F. Balfour Paul. Inside are a number of memorabilia including colours presented by various Sovereigns over the years and paintings of notable members include one of James Fifth Earl of Wemyss, Captain General of the company during 1743-1756. The company has a magnificent collection of prices including the Musselburgh arrow, the Edinburgh arrow, Silver Archers Bowl (s), Silver Bugles, a Saint Andrews Cross and rows of Gold medals. The company has a collection of longbows some of which date back to 1650.
The Royal Company of Archers is a closed company, which is currently about 500 strong. It takes new members by invitation only. Current members comprise senior military officers, politicians and members of the nobility; all with close Scottish connections.