The Longbow – Medieval Weapons #1

The longbow, a devastatingly powerful long range weapon, was highly popular with English armies in the Middle Ages, although it was the Welsh who designed such a practical and deadly device. English Kings brought it into common use following defeated attacks on Wales.

Requiring less technique and in depth training than a sword, it was ideal for the common man or soldier; moreover, as archers rarely engaged in hand to hand combat, less armour was needed to protect each man – which was ideal, as custom crafted armour was expensive and difficult to produce.

A well trained archer could hope to loose an arrow every 3-5 seconds. These arrows were more than two feet long, and often required 100lb of force to pull back on the string. They somewhat made chainmail suits obselete, as a spike driven at speed could easily break the intertwined mesh of mail.

Arrows would frequently jam into shields and could reach a high terminal velocity on an arced descent. Methods like shooting high into the air above enemy knights and cavalry inflicted excellent results, as falling arrows were great at piercing plate armour and scaring horses. Close range, powerful shooting yielded similar results; many times entire punctures were suffered by armoured cavalry.

The longbow was a fine work of craftsman ship. Made of yew, it was flexible yet strong and provided resistance to tension due to its outer composition of sapwood and inner composition of orange hard wood. Waxed or resined, this D-shaped tree trunk cross-section was highly effective for withstanding powerful stretching forces.

“Archers were commanded to nock an arrow to the hemp string, draw and loose. With tens of archers firing towards a confined target, they were able to inflict terror, physiological fear and heavy physical damage to the enemy”

Unarmoured cavalry was susceptible to horse shooting, whereby the longbowmen would directly target the Knight’s mount at either its head, neck or legs were it was most vulnerable. It was rare for an arrow to penetrate the leg of a horse, but if it did, it would surely put the stallion out of action.

A Knight banished to the battleground floor would be victim to trampling by his own side’s cavalry, targeting by enemy archers and stabbing by infantry. Weighed down by heavy armour, it would be difficult to raise himself onto his feet before being torn into pieces by the oppressor. This is why the longbow was such a deadly weapon to mounted warriors.

Also, “swallowtail” arrows were invented, specially designed for bringing down animals.

The longbow was crucial to English campaigning/wars in France during the Middle Ages. An example of absolute devastation due to archery can be seen in the Battle of Agincourt; as the horses became stuck in the mud, the longbowmen targeted them and caused high levels of casualties to mount.

They were so important, in fact, that Edward III banned all other sports and made it a law that all able men should practise archery on Sundays. Although it caused outrage, there was a need for good marksmen.

The longbow was used excessively throughout the Middle Ages by the English, because it enabled a commoner to bring down a heavily trained Knight.

I hope you enjoyed this post! I’m beginning this series on Medieval Weapons and hope to continue it over the next few weeks/months. Have something to contribute? Leave it below, in the comments!

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