Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Longbow

If I was forced to fight in a war during the Middle Ages, I’d immediately choose to be an archer. You’re not fighting at close range, and you’re one of the last regiments to be attacked.

The longbow is at least four feet in length and normally extends the full height of its shooter. Its appearance in history is first seen by the Germans and Scandinavians in 500 A.D. Yet the weapon would not become famous until the technology was adopted by the English.

Traditionally the bows were made of yew, a conifer type tree that grows in central Europe. Ironically, England’s military did not find their own land’s variety of yew appropriate and had the majority of the material imported from Italy and Spain. The youngling trees were cut in winter when no sap was running where they were subsequently left to age. It would be worked upon gradually during the three to four year aging process until completed.

Mass produced versions of the bow were about 70 inches (178 cm) long with pull strength of 75-100 pounds (34-45 Kg). The arrows ranged between 27 to 36 inches long and could kill unarmored infantry up to one hundred yards away. Beyond that, the arrows could wound opponents as much as 250 yards away.

Did you know?- During the Battle of Agincourt, what became a significant English victory in the Hundred Years War, there were so many archers that it’s estimated 1,000 arrows were in the air every second! While conducting research, I found a quote from someone who saw the battle saying that there were so many arrows that afterwards the white feathers on their ends made it appear as if snow had blanketed the battlefield.

If you wanted to wield this weapon, you had to train until it became an extension of yourself. The training adopted by the English was the most rigorous. All sports were banned on Sundays and men between 12 and 65 were expected to practice their archery for several hours a day. An experienced archer could fire 12 arrows a minute.

The longbow remained the most powerful weapon in Europe from 1300 to 1588. France, having witnessed the destructive power of the longbow first hand, was quick to train their armies to wield the weapon. But surprisingly, a long line of kings declined its use on the battlefield claiming it was too much power for the meek to wield.

Did you know?- Amateur bowyers today can craft a longbow in about ten to twenty hours.

Besides the obvious difference in size, the longbow’s main distinction is its skinnier limbs and rounded cross-section. This results in an unequal distribution of stress through the bow and is believed to be the reasoning behind its recognizable length.

Modern longbows are generally wooden composites constructed from multiple types of woods glued and pressed together. Hickory is used on the front of the bow which stretches better, while the inside is lined with yew which better undergoes compression. You can find an old guide RIGHT HERE explaining how to form a longbow from a piece of lemonwood, another popular choice.

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