Longbow Archers


A new generation of longbow men

There is now a small number of longbow men that is not only able to pull longbows of up to 180 lbs draw weight, but also accurately loose half inch diameter arrows that are of military arrow specification. The individuals concerned use equipment, which for all practical purposes is identical to much that was found on the Mary Rose.

The results achieved with these longbows is very relevant to a further and renewed analysis of the events at Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt. In some cases the men concerned have been shooting since the age of seven, were brought up in a farming environment and have continued heavy physical activity into adulthood. These men have in some cases undergone tests that confirm their physique has all the characteristics of the longbow men of old. Among the younger generation, there is also a sixteen year old who already draws a 120 pound bow. Though numerically small the archery world should adapt its structures to welcome them.

The deadly bow-shot and speed characteristics of the war arrow
Heavy bow (or so-called war-bow) archers are able to confirm the bowshot as a feasible and deadly distance. With the use of flight or bearing arrows the enemy could have been “galled” at up to 330 to 350 yards. Others doubt however that galling heads would have been used, as their particular shape and weight of would not have lent itself for distance shooting. The speed configuration over the full trajectory is also an interesting point. The war arrow with its heavy point has a particular flight characteristic that is different from the “knitting needles” in use today. The war arrow in its curvature back towards the ground will accelerate and might have achieved speeds that come quite close to their original release speed from the bow. There is some doubt about this and such flight characteristics await analysis and precise measurement.

Rapid shot, or not . . .

A hail of arrows, versus volleys of arrows

As to the hail of arrows, heavy bow archers confirm that releasing twelve arrows in one minute is possible, but that such a rate of shot is not possible for subsequent periods. Practical experience points to a rate of shot of about 5 to 6 arrows per minute as being feasible over a period up to 10 minutes.

This would appear to underscore Dr Anne Curry’s thesis that arrows were not loosed in a rapidly shot storm, but in quickly succeeding volleys from different groups of archers. A simple calculation backs this up.

According to records, some one and a half million arrows were carried. Five thousand longbow men loosing at a rate of twelve per minute would theoretically get through supplies in 25 minutes. Supply constraints in battle conditions would have more than halved that figure, leaving the longbow men out of supplies and with aching arms after some ten minutes; not a likely scenario.

The longbow; make it long, make it strong . . . up to a point
Longer is better only if such length achieves a higher draw-weight. Higher draw-weight shoots a heavier arrow further, but clearly the law of diminishing returns applies here (see below). Seven-foot bows were found on the Mary Rose and today's heavy bow archers regularly use such size bows. However, those drawing 160 to 180 pounds are a minority. The Research director of the Mary Rose Trust and tests done at Imperial College indicated that the majority of bows found come in below these heavyweights.

Longer limbs mean that the full draw weight of the bow is less progressively arrived at. The bow is therefore not only “sweeter” to draw, but much less likely to break even when drawn up to 32 inches. Nevertheless, there is a limit to useful length; a very long bow loses its cast. The war bow would have bent evenly through the grip of the hand, but it would not have had a handgrip. As yew is classified as a softwood, the tips of the bow would have had horn nocks for the string and for protection of the wood from the string; finds from the Mary Rose confirm this.

Physical characteristics, drawing and release stance of the new longbow men. More investigative work is needed
The physical characteristics of this new generation of longbow men calls for extensive medical investigation, computer modelling and testing. Some work has already been done on this, but more is needed if we are to fully understand how it was possible for men to draw such substantial weights. The drawing and release stance of these men is different from those of the recreational longbow man or woman. Muscles and tendons in the back are used more.

Bone and tendon strength
Drawing a heavy war bow is at least as much about bone and tendon strength as it is about muscular strength (see below).

Longbow men who have shot from a very young age and have remained in a physically demanding environment have an asymmetric skeletal and muscular development. However, diet would have played a substantial role in this.

Bone densities too differ across the shoulder blades and back, as well as from the bow arm to the drawing arm.The same was found among those lost at sea in the Mary Rose. Further investigation is needed if we are fully to understand the rationale for the technique used.

Body-stance and movement, hand eye coordination, the changing grip on the bow as it bends; all merit diligent analysis with the best technical means currently available.

And finally; although one can learn the technique of drawing heavy bows AND build-up muscle power; bone and tendon strength are not so quickly built. Unless that bone and tendon strength is inherent, drawing heavy bows is almost certain to come at a price.

So what do you think
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