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Timothy Sydney Robert Hardy CBE DLitt, Master 1988-1990

Robert Hardy was born on 29 October 1925 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, and educated at Rugby School and Magdalen College, Oxford. His studies were interrupted by a spell in the RAF on National Service where he trained as a pilot. He returned to Oxford and joined the Oxford University Dramatic Society where a fellow student was Richard Burton.

In 1953 he joined the Old Vic which remained his professional home for the next few years. He made a name for himself in numerous Shakespearean roles. After a while he joined the Bristol Old Vic and transferred with two of its productions to the West End. He has been seen on stages and screens large and small, in countless countries and by millions of people. His credits are too numerous to list here, but mention Siegfried Farnon or Winston Churchill and his work is called immediately to mind.

He is less well known as a conservationist. For some years a trustee of the World Wild Life Fund, he was arguing for restraint and balance of an expanding urban society upon the countryside and wild life long before this was fashionable.

Apart from acting, his passions were archery and horses on which he made a number of television documentaries. His authoritative book 'Longbow - A Social and Military History', published in 1976 is rarely out of print. He was a Trustee of the Royal Armouries and a Trustee of the Mary Rose Trust, to which he acted as consultant almost from the beginning. This allowed him a unique chance to study at first hand the weapon that is the subject of his book. Indeed it was the first edition of 'Longbow' which brought his specialist knowledge to the notice of Dr Margaret Rule, the Archaeological Director of the Mary Rose Trust, when the first longbow was recovered from the wreck of Henry VIII's warship.

Robert Hardy's contribution to modern scholarship of the longbow was ground-breaking and it was entirely appropriate that he became a liveryman of the Bowyers' Company (makers of the medieval longbows) and its Master in 1988-1990. The book that he co-authored with Richard Strickland, 'The Great Warbow: From Hastings To The Mary Rose', is an exciting and deeply researched account of the bow and arrow as a weapon of war. Those of us on the Agincourt 600 Committee enjoyed his early contributions to our planning. One of his most emphatic preferences concerned the English pronunciation of the word Agincourt: the final 't' was fully sounded, but Azincourt, the village in France, was pronounced in the French manner with a silent 't'. We followed this throughout our planning of the commemoration.

One of his last performances in public was at the service to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt at Westminster Abbey on 29 October 2015. This date was the anniversary of the day the news of the victory reached London in 1415. He read the Prologue for Act IV of 'Henry V'. It also turned out to be the day of his 90th birthday!

On the day of the service I picked him up from his hotel, The Churchill of course, early in the morning so that he could rehearse in the Abbey. My two granddaughters accompanied me as they were taking part in the service. Robert was delightful with the young girls and made them feel very important. At the Abbey I was anxious that he had a copy of the text he was to read so I offered him one had brought along with me. "Do not worry, dear boy," he said, "I have a spare copy in this pocket, another in this pocket and a third in my overcoat."

Immediately he started to speak there was a great susurration around the Abbey at the sound of his distinctive voice. He will be greatly missed.

Robert Hardy was brought up on the borders of England and Wales, an area which down the centuries saw the use of the bow in guerrilla warfare, and its evolution into a weapon of massive power during the hundred years war and tragically, also the Wars of the Roses.

He was born on 29 October 1925, and died on 3 August 2017, aged 91. He leaves a son and two daughters. He was awarded a CBE in 1981, and an honorary Doctorate of Letters by Reading University in 1990. He was a member of the Royal Toxophilite Society and the British Long-Bow Society. His obituary appeared in The Times and The Daily Telegraph on 4 August 2017; an additional short piece was published in The Times 'Lives Remembered' section on 12 August.

Dr Sinclair Rogers
August 2017

Top photo: Robert Hardy on the day of his installation as Master of the Bowyers' Company in July 1988. Below: Robert Hardy in Westminster Abbey, 29 October 2015, on his 90th birthday, reading from 'Henry V' at the service of commemoration for the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Robert Hardy at the 'Mary Rose' Museum at a preview of its re-opening in July 2016, enjoying a glass of wine with current Bowyers' Master Tony Kench.

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