Object Title

Longbow

The longbow was used in hunting and in medieval warfare. During the Hundred Years' War it was used to devastating effect by the English army.

Development

The longbow was used all over Europe, but was the favoured weapon of the English and Welsh infantry. They were usually around 1.8 m (6 ft) long.

European longbows have an extensive history. 2 m (6 ½ ft)-long bows found in Denmark have been dated to the 3rd – 4th century. These simple bows (known as 'self bows') are clearly part of the longbow family. In addition, a 2 m (6 ½ ft)-long Viking bow from the 10th century, found in Hedeby, is almost identical to those 16th-century longbows found on Henry VIII's sunken warship The Mary Rose.

The longbow relied on the intrinsic properties of the woods they were made from, which together formed a powerful natural spring. They were often made of yew, although other woods such as elm, ash, and laburnum were sometimes used. Strings were made of hemp or flax.

Military arrows used with the longbow were usually stored and issued in 'sheaves' of 24. They were made from a variety of woods: aspen and poplar being the most common. They were fletched with goose feathers (and occasionally peacock or swan).

Wide variety of arrowheads were in use during the later Middle Ages. The long, thin-pointed bodkin head was intended purely for military use against lightly or non-armoured foe. Arrows with broadheads could be used against horses, but were particularly used for the hunt.

Use and effect

In the hands of a trained archer, longbows could be shot with great accuracy and very rapidly. Training began in childhood, and continued through the working life of the archer.

Archery helped the English to victory at the Battles of Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356). After these victories, Edward III of England passed laws that required all men between the ages of 15 and 60 to own and practise with the bow.

However, longbows are most famous for their use at the Battle of Agincourt, where according to accounts the French had to fight through a storm of arrows that were loosed at a fearsome rate by the English archers.

Good quality armour (for horses and for soldiers) was quite effective in protecting its wearer from arrow strikes. French men-at-arms could confidently walk in to the path of the English archers, as they were well armoured. Only a small percentage of shots would probably have penetrated the armour, and then only at its thinnest parts, such as the sides of a helmet. However, the sheer volume of arrows that the English shot (often described as a 'cloud' or 'storm' of arrows) ensured their effectiveness.

It is believed the longbow had a range of about 229 metres (250 yards) and perhaps more. An archer could loose four times more arrows than the crossbow. Often used at the start of a battle, the archers would shoot arrows in volleys, which could have had a debilitating effect on the advancing enemy.

Statistics

Length about 1. 8 m (6ft)

Associations

People Archers

Author

Bob Woosnam-Savage