The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
home - about - books - articles - prints faq - news - contact - search
Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter VII: Military Archery in the Middle Ages
Chapter VII
Military Archery in the Middle Ages
Part 2 of 2
92. Battle of Shrewsbury.
92. Battle of Shrewsbury.
(From Cotton MS. Julius E IV art. 6. 'Life of the Earl of Warwick,' by John Rous)

Brilliant as were the services rendered by the archers in the French wars, it would be incorrect to suppose that the results in all cases were solely due to this branch of the troops. At Créçy they did certainly cause the overthrow of the cavalry opposed to them, and so entirely upset the French plan of attack; whilst the mounted archers, by their flank attack on the Duke of Normandy's troops, contributed in no small degree to the result of the battle. But without the more heavily armed troops the archers could hardly have effected so decisive a success. At Nogent it was the heavy infantry that successfully withstood the French charges which the archers had failed to arrest.

At Auray, as we have seen; the archers, after unsucccssfully attempting to stop the French, changed their role, and fought with the axe like their more heavily armed comrades.

At Navarrete, at Pontvallain, and at Chizé, the archers, though very useful, cannot be said to have been the real cause of the success of the English. With the improvement of the French tactics and the presence of more practiced soldiers, as effected by the addition of men from the 'Grandes Compagnies,' the superiority of the English archers over their foes waned, till the appearance of a real general like Henry V. again made them superior to the French, in spite of numbers and equipment.

All through the fourteenth century the English archer is the most prominent figure--whether on sea or on land, in the field or in siege, attacking or defending. The flights of their arrows are likened to a snowstorm; and Flemings, Genoese, and Spaniards, as well as the French, learnt the terrible effect of the English arrows, which pierced armour, and spared neither horse nor man. Besides the foot archer, the mounted archer formed the very beau idéal of light cavalry, and performed the duties of the modern dragoon or mounted infantrynman. Certain counties were specially famous for the supply of bowmen--Cornwall and Cheshire in particular; and it was from the last-named that Richard II. drew his Archers of the Guard. The counties of Robin Hood and Adam Bell, and, indeed, most of the northern parts of England, were the homes of many of these soldiers. As late as 1544 we find an order for mounted archers to be supplied from Durham and Yorks for the Scotch war.

At Agincourt the archers were posted between thick woods with the stakes, which they had been ordered to prepare, placed in front of them. Before the fight began the king told the archers that the French intended to cut off three fingers of the right hand of any archers they might take, so as to prevent them ever again using the bow. The battle commenced with the advance of the archers, as the French would not attack. The English arrows, as on other occasions, caused death and confusion among the heavily-armed French, who were further impeded by the state of the ground. When the French dismounted men advanced in three columns, they were enveloped by the English archers, and these latter, when their arrows were exhausted, rushed in with leaden mallets and completed the discomfiture of their foes. The English archers are their hose to their jackets, and thus at their ease were able to move with great rapidity.

The stakes which the archers planted in front of them at Agincourt to break the charge of the French cavalry were six feet in length. In the next reign the Earl of Shrewsbury issued an order that the stake should be eleven feet long; and by another order every two yeomen were to make them a good pavise of boards or of paper in the best manner they can devise, that one may hold it whilst the other doth shoot.

Villani says that the archer could discharge six arrows for each one of the crossbowman's bolts, and many writers have adopted the same proportion for the relative speed of the two weapons; but if we consider the time actually occupied by each soldier in making ready his weapon for discharge, we shall find the difference much greater. For this inquiry we may take two specimens now in the Tower collection of cranequins or crossbow winders. These, numbered respectively 11/17 and 11/18 are metal arrangements of cogwheels and ratchet-bar, much on the principle of a lifting-jack. They differ from each other in the number of cogs on the wheels but have each of them a handle 9 inches long. Taking the power and time exerted by the hand of the crossbowman in turning his handle as equal to that exerted by the archer for equal distances, it will be found that, in order to draw back the claw holding the crossbow cord--6 in--that being the ordinary distance from the cord at rest, to the nut, the crossbowman's hand will have to travel a distance of 184 1/2 feet or 123 3/4 feet, according to the cranequin used. The archer will have to draw his hand back about 2 1/2 feet. Consequently, the archer can pull his bow 110 or 49 times while the crossbowman is stretching his cord.

When it is considered that the long-bow spontaneously returns to the position of rest, while with the crossbow the cord has to be adjusted on the nut, the cranequin unshipped, and the ratchet run out again before the next discharge, it will he seen that each 'loose' of the long-bow will take much less than one-sixth of the time occupied in discharging a bolt from the crossbow. Where the system of pulleys was in use the tackle had to be overhauled to prepare the claw for seizing the cord. To this may be added that the cranequin and the windlass arrangement, when not in actual work, had to be attached to the girdle and detached for use Even allowing for greater power being required to bend the long-bow than to wind up the cranequin, the proportion of the times taken contrast very strongly.

The English archer had also from early youth been trained to his weapon, and long habit made him more familiar with it than the most careful training could have effected for the higher paid crossbowman. Then the bow could be quickly dismounted and the cord protected from damp, while the crossbowman could not unstring his weapon. The bolt of the crossbow was, of course, a more powerful weapon than the arrow, and probably less likely to glance off the surface of plate armour; so far as accuracy was concerned, it was also probably easier to shoot straight with the crossbow than the lighter arrow. But any advantages the foreign crossbowman had were more than counteracted by the superior rapidity of discharge, and the very startling effect (which many authorities bear witness to) that arrows had on horses.

93. Capture of two great carracks.
93. Capture of two great carracks.
(From Cotton MS. Julius E IV art. 6. 'Life of the Earl of Warwick,' by John Rous)

The pay of the archer varied at different times, but steadily improved; for in 1281 the foot-archer received but 2d. day, while the crossbowman got 4d. In 1346 the archer got 3d., and in 1421 we find the mounted archer receiving 6d. In Henry VIII.'s time the foot-soldier' whether archer or pikeman, received 6d. per diem while the mounted archer got 8d., and the demilance or ordinary cavalryman's pay was 9d. At this period the bowyers, stringers' and fletchers in the army received 6d., and the master bowyer, &c., received the same pay as the surgeon--namely', 12d. In the beginning of the next reign we find Lord Cobham complaining to the Protector

94. Mounted archers.
94. Mounted archers.
(From 'Departure of Henry VIII. from Calais, 1544.'
From 'Monumenta Vetusta Pictures at Cowdray)

Somerset that the increased pay--namely, 8d.--for the hagbutters ' will be a great hindrance and decay to the archery of the nation'' other soldiers receiving only 6d. per diem.

In 1369 R. de Beckyngham bequeaths 'arcum depictum cum sagittis,' Richard II. ordered all his servants never to travel without bows; and in the Harl. MS. 1319 we see the king accompanied by some mounted archers. In 1443 R. Esyngwold leaves by will one 'arcum rotundum' and one 'flatte bowe.' In 1471 J. Pickering's will mentions 'arcum in quo usus fui sagittare pelletes.' This was probably a long-bow, as we find such in the list of royal effects made on the death of Henry VIII. The Indian gulail is the modern representative of this class of bow. In 1567 R. Vaudrey mentions 'a view bowe' in his wil, perhaps one which had to be produced at musters, unless it was a misspelling of yew. 'A Peaced bow' occurs in N. Burnope's will, 1569; bequests of bows and arrows are, indeed, common in the wills of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and as late as 1584.

These bequests often include quivers. They are generally of leather; but John Smallwood, in 1578, leaves 'a sheife of arrows with barbed heads and an arrow case of strawe with lock and key. John Billingham, in 1577, leaves a ''longe bowe, one quiver' one arrow bagge, and a sheaf of arrows. 'Prickshafts' occur in wills of 1506 and 1524; and in a list of the effects of a York tradesman of 1479 are 'shoyting shaftes,

In a survey of Sheriff Hutton castle, 1526, ' 6 coffins of bows and arrows' are mentioned, and among the effects of the Earl of Essex at his house in London, in 1601, are 'manie longe bowes and sheaves of arrows.'

Bows and arrows, as might be expecte,' also occur frequently in the terms of tenure of lands, and many such instances will be found in 'Blount's Tenures.'


Waterhall, Bucks.--A man and horse without a saddle, a bow without a string, an arrow without a head.
Aston Cantlou, Warwick, 22 Ed. III. A bow without a string and one bassinet.
Drakelow, co. Derby.--Unam pharetram de Tutesbit, arcum sine corda, et xii sagittas flectatas et unum Buzonem.
Brineston, co. Cest.--Bow without cord, & an unfeathered arrow.
Lanton, 20 Ed. III.--A barbed arrow when the king came to hunt in Corndon Chase.
Auri & Hole, 9 Ed. I., Devon.-- Duas sagittas barbatas.
La Barr, 9 Ed. I., Devon.--Unum Salmonem et duas sagittas barbatas
Drascombe, 9 Ed. I., Devon.--Unum arcum et tres sagittas barbatas.
Loston, 9 Ed. I., Devon.-- Duas sagittas et et unum panem avenæ
Bryanston, Dorset, 8 Ed. I.--Arcum sine corda & unum Buzonem sine pennis.
Upton, Glouc. 15 Ed. I.-- Ducenta capita sagittarum.
Bradeley, Lincoln, 9 Ed. I.--Viginti flectas.
East Smithfield, 22 Ed. I.--Unum hominem cum arcu et sagittis pro xl diebus.
Wrotting, 14 Ed., Suffolk.--Unum hominem peditum cum uno arcu et iv sagittis.
Chicester, 2 Ric. II.--Unum fucillum plenum fili crudi ad falsam cordam pro balista regis faciendam,.
Over Colwich, 36 H. III.--12 barbed arrows.
Sciredum & Siplegh, Devon. --2 arrows.
Brodgate Park, co. Leicester, 21 H. III.--Forestarii non portabunt in bosco sagittas barbatas sin pilettas.
Land in Hampshire, 100 barbed arrows annually. Hen. III.
Chettington, Salop.--One bow, 3 arrows, & 1 pale,

The Irish national weapons were the axe and the dart, but they also used the bow occasionally. 'The practice of archery was enforced on the Irish within the Pale by an Act of Parliament passed in the 5th Edward IV It was provided that butts should be erected, and that everyone between the ages of sixteen and sixty should shoot on all holy days fro from March 1 to the cod of July.[6] In 1527 Gonzalo Fernandez informs Charles V. that the arms of the Earl of Desmond's men were small bows and swords. Representations of Irish bows arc rare, but they are to be seen in a drawing of a fresco on the walls of the Abbey of Knockmoy, and engraved at p. 317 of Sir W. Wilde's Catalogue of the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy. The bow is smaller than the English one, and smaller also than that shown in Albert Dürer's drawing Of Irish warriors, now at Berlin, a reproduction of which faces p. 142. At Greenwich, among Henry VIII.'s other weapons, is mentioned a case of Irish arrows.

95. Martyrdom of St. Sebastian.
95. Martyrdom of St. Sebastian.
Fresco at Panicale by Perugino.
From the drawing by Signor Marianecci, published by the Arundel Society.
Copyright © 1998 - 2017 | Disclaimer | Privacy Policy