Medieval Longbow – Death from Afar

Perhaps no weapon was more feared by individuals on the field of battle than the medieval longbow. This weapon was generally between four to six feet in length and could hurl arrows with uncanny accuracy and speed.

The medieval longbow enabled armies to impart a great deal of damage on enemy warriors from afar. A well- trained line of medieval longbow wielders could deal a devastating blow without ever having stand face-to-face with their opponents.

This history of the medieval longbow is one of evolution. The weapon was first recorded in use on the British Isles by the Welsh in 633. This recording of the medieval longbow in use occurred when Offrid, the son of the king of Northumbria, was slain by an arrow from a medieval longbow. Although the Welsh have the first recorded use in Offrid’s slaying, the weapon is traditionally credited to the English.

The roots of the medieval longbow are thought to go back even farther than 633. Surviving examples from the Neolithic period were found in Somerset and date back to the period before Christ.

The medieval longbow was a favorite of armies for its speed and accuracy. The weapon when placed in skilled hands could be quite deadly, allowing a single man to wreak havoc on many. The medieval longbow, in fact, has been likened to a modern machine gun for its ability to kill en masse when used by a skilled archer.

While medieval longbows from different periods and locations vary slightly in their main materials, the standard examples are pretty uniform. To create a medieval longbow, yew wood was seasoned for one to two years and then worked into shape. The entire process to create a proper medieval longbow could take years. The bow stave was shaped into a “D” from a half cross section of a tree or branch. For the inner side of the medieval longbow rounded heartwood and sapwood with a flat back was used. The medieval longbow’s strings generally were made from hemp, flax or even silk and were attached to the wood with “nocks,” which fit onto the end of the bow.

The medieval longbow though effective was not the most practical of weapons. The draw weights of a medieval longbow could and often did exceed 143 pounds, inasmuch, the wielder had to be adept to be effective. Although the medieval longbow took a long time to construct and perhaps even longer to train an archer to any precision, their ability to inflict damage made them an important part of medieval warfare. To effective use a line of medieval longbow archers, military tactics generally called for the protection of these well-trained warriors. A typical formation would put the longbowmen on the side with light infantry in the center, heavy infantry in the center middle, cavalry on the flanks or center and traditional archers in the center back. This would allow an alternation of flights of arrows with charges, putting the skill of the medieval longbow archers to best use.

When combined with other volleys, or even on their own, the medieval longbow on the field of battle could create a huge psychological impact on an opposing army. Just imagine the sky overhead clouding with the flight of hundreds of deadly fast arrows!