Revolutionary Weapons: The Longbow

Updated: Aug 12, 2019

The longbow, so called for it’s size measuring around the height of a man at 6ft, started to gain notoriety in the middle ages. Evidence has suggested use in earlier periods with finds including areas of Scandinavia however it was the Welsh and English that found substantial tactical use in the weapon.

Its effectiveness came from the powerful amount of force that could be generated by an effective archer. This bow could meet ranges of 300-400 meters with a much higher rate of fire compared to the crossbow that was heavily used by the French which had a need to pre-load. The “draw weights” of this bow made it incredibly hard to master requiring great skill and tremendous back strength. Various Monarchs of the time would pass laws requiring “every man in the same country, if he able-bodied, make use, in his games, of bows and arrows” turning the peasant population in to an effective military resource. Bodies studied from this time have shown distortion in the skeletal structure of the back and arms which has probably originated from the constant refinement of this practice.

The longbows most famous use was at the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years War on the 25th October 1415. Henry V and his force of around 6,000- 9,000 stood off against a vastly numerically superior French force of 12,000-20,000 whilst withdrawing to the English held Calais. Some accounts have the use Longbowmen accounting for 80% of the English army and this weapon devastated the enemy force. Pointed stakes were deployed to protect the archers from cavalry charge and along with the surrounding wooded terrain French manoeuvres were kept in check. The further the French advanced the more they were in range of the longbow where their large numbers counted for nothing and actually decreased their mobility further. Almost 6,000 Frenchmen lost their lives with English deaths numbering just over 400 despite the odds being so heavily weighed against them.

This dominant weapon changed the way in which ranged weapons could impact the battlefield. Infamous to the French and illustrious in the eyes of the English this weapon would only come to be replaced by a much deadlier instrument of war in the 16th century, the firearm.

The last time a longbow was used to kill was in 1940 by “Mad Jack" Churchill, a British soldier who used it in World War 2.