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.