The English Long Bow – Peter Lawton —  6th October 2014.

Peter cer­tainly knew his facts and presen­ted them in a very col­our­ful and enter­tain­ing way. Peter has been for the past thirty years, and still is a medi­eval rein actor.  He came dressed in the clothes of an archer of the 15th cen­tury which set the scene.

The long bow of the period was about 6 feet long, made of ash or elm or yew and had a draw strength of approx­im­ately 120 lbs, that is, it required a force of about 120 lbs to pull the string back to its full extent, prior to releas­ing the arrow. The modern long bow is made of lam­in­ated wood of dif­fer­ent spe­cies. The bow was shaped by a bow maker using a tool called a draw, very sim­ilar to a spoke shave and then fin­ished with a ‘float’ which had 3 blades but used in a sim­ilar manner.  The wood for the bow was cut from a seg­ment taken from a branch or a trunk to make a stave and seasoned for at least 12 months until its mois­ture con­tent was about 8%. It was then fash­ioned so that its cross sec­tion was a ‘D’. The ends of the bow were capped with horn knocks which had a groove in to take the string.

English yew was too sappy because it grew too quickly and wood was impor­ted from Spain and Italy and then from Venice. The bow was basic­ally a dis­pos­able tool or weapon on the bat­tle­field and to give one an idea of the scale of man­u­fac­tur­ing, in 1481, 20,000 bow staves were impor­ted, and in 1464, 8,000 bow staves were impor­ted in one ship­ment.

The bow was a fear­some weapon and in the hands of well-trained arch­ers they could shoot to good effect over 300 yards and an archer would be able to fire 15 to 18 arrows a minute, where as a cross­bow could only manage about 4 bolts a minute. In a battle the arch­ers would be well hidden and pro­tec­ted by ditches and stakes. They would fire vol­leys of arrows which would rain down on the enemy, decim­at­ing them.

In early battles the ratio of arch­ers to infantry was only about 1:1 but when proper tac­tics were intro­duced the ratio went up to about 10:1. In the battle of Agincourt about 5,000 arch­ers defeated 30,000 to 40,000 French troops.

From about 1380 it was decreed that all men had to prac­tice arch­ery every Sunday and every hol­i­day to develop their strength and accur­acy. They were paid well and they were covered by an inden­ture system and should they get killed in battle, the money they earned was paid to their widow.

In the 14th cen­tury, during the ‘100years war’, which lasted from 1337 to 1453 arch­ers on horse­back, known as Chevauchée were intro­duced. After the fall of Calais in 1347 Edward III used them to launch raids into the French coun­tryside with great effect.

Archers were classed as high rank­ing people and very often came from fam­il­ies of noble­men. The eldest son would become a knight and the younger sons would become arch­ers.

The logist­ics of keep­ing the arch­ers sup­plied with bows and arrows was a for­mid­able task and bow­yers would have to travel with the armies to make the bows. The arrows were made from aspen wood and tipped with steel or horn. The back of the arrow was fitted with a horn plug which had a groove in it to take the string and the flights were made from goose feath­ers. Manufacturing the arrows was a much bigger task, bear­ing in mind the rate at which arrows could be fired, and very often, during a battle arrows would be pulled out of dead men and fired back at the enemy. An early form of recyc­ling.

Peter’s talk was fol­lowed by a volley of ques­tions which he answered well. We look for­ward to another talk from Peter.