Longbows – Part 2

Read Part 1 here

Longbows, and bows in general when used in battle, were not just a weapon shot from safe heights or long distances. As one of the most expensive artillery weapons, bows and archers played a large role in the outcome of battles.

An archer was more vulnerable than many foot soldiers. Due to the motions and work connected with drawing back a bow, archers had to wear non-restrictive clothing…meaning not much armor. But, as it was also necessary for archers to be affiliated to various groups, they did quite often wear certain colors. The commonest form of archer’s clothing was the courtepy; a short coat or tunic, or perhaps a hooded cloak of sorts which extended just below the shoulders. They also, at times wore stout padded coats, with a mail collar and plate leg-harnesses along with a simple helmet of iron or boiled leather.

While it was possible for a longbow to be shot from the back of a horse, the level of skill required took years to attain. For the most parts, the bowmen who rode horses used them only as a means of quick transportation.

When it battle, bowmen standing on their own without defenses were very vulnerable to any sort of charge by the enemy. Archers needed to be posted in prepared, defended positions. Or, at other times, they were shielded by men at arms or were interspersed among the foot soldiers.

In pitched battle, long range flights of arrows were likely to be carefully controlled due to the cost of arrows, with the majority of arrows shot at ranges of 50 yards and closing. Though cool in the movies, it’s highly unlikely there were numbers of arcing volleys toward the enemy lines with all archers shooting in unison.

The advantage of ground, especially high ground, played a great part in how well a force of archers could operate. And, as the battle lines clashed, the archer’s job wasn’t over. As the enemy troops closed in on their defenses or army, archers – who were sometimes interspersed with the men-at-arms – shot though the confusion at enemy targets only five or ten yards away.

But not all fighting was done on the battle field. Bows were used in siege warfare too. Incendiary arrows could set fire to buildings inside city or castle, while regular showers of arrows could put everyone inside in danger, not the less because soldiers inside the walls might fail to wear armor due to their perceived security. Archers could also keep the walls clear as their own men tried to mount with ladders, but such work required a keen eye and skilled shooting to hit friends.

The besieged could also use bows against those mounting their walls through various means including arrow-loops in the walls. Shots from within the wall required the archer to place himself in a vulnerable position in relation to the vertical slits (sometime with horizontal openings crossing them), but those shooting from below also had to advance to try to hit the openings. Due to potential structural weaknesses, an arrow loop was buttressed with splayed sides ranging from six to ten feet deep, forcing archers inside to shoot a considerable distance from the actual opening. But, though harder, the further back an archer on the inside shot, the wider angle of shot he could achieve.

Bows lasted the longest in naval warfare, being used into the mid and even late 1500s. From an effort to catch the enemy ship on fire, to hanging in the rigging and shooting down on the enemy deck – or shooting from the deck to topple enemy snipers, bowmen were quicker and more accurate than early guns.

Though expensive, archers were also deadly and well worth their cost in battle. Due to the many combinations and elements of war, it’s difficult to put an exact scale of importance to a longbow in battle. As but one piece in the larger realm of war, archery was neither for the weak nor the cowards. With less armor than most soldiers, but still near if not among the front lines, archers had to be able to draw their bows back again and again and again. But in both large and small scale fighting, they often helped to set the stage and were instrumental, if not crucial, to the final outcome.

(Most information from The Longbow by Mike Loades)

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One Comment

  1. Great informational article, Hope. Really useful stuff. Thanks for taking the time to organize (and abbreviate 😛 ) all this lovely info. 😀

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