The Hundred Years’ War was fought between England and France over English control of French territories. In two major battles, England won because of their longbowmen. This lesson explains why the longbows were important.
What Is a Longbow?
A longbow is a bow that is about equal to the height of the person using it. Longbows in the Middle Ages were made of different types of wood. A longbow could be made of a single piece of wood and could be made quickly.
The bows were called longbows because of their size and to distinguish them from another popular weapon at the time, the crossbow.Usually a longbow was made out of yew wood. This type of wood must be dried for up to two years. During the drying period, the wood is shaped slowly into its final form of a longbow. Eventually, the process was sped up by using shortcuts (like rewetting the wood for shaping). The bow was constructed from one branch cut in half. The heartwood, or the inner part of the branch, was used on the inside of the bow, facing the archer.
This is because the heartwood has more resistance to compression. The sapwood, or the outer part of the branch, was used on the outside of the bow because it reacts better to tension. Bowstrings were usually made from linen or sometimes hemp.The longbow may have had a range of up to 270 yards, but it was difficult for the archer to be accurate at this distance. Better accuracy could be had if the archer was around 80 yards from the intended target. However, accuracy was less important if archers were shooting at a large number of assailants. Longbow archers would usually have enough arrows to last for around three to six minutes of continuous fire.
They may have increased their speed by taking arrows out of their quiver and sticking them into the ground for quick access.Longbow archers could be more vulnerable than other soldiers because they didn’t have adequate armor and weapons to use for close combat. Archers had to be positioned at a distance or behind some kind of physical obstruction like a body of water. The archers could also be positioned behind lines of infantry. The archers could shoot at attacking groups to help protect the infantrymen in front of them.
Special arrows were made for longbows. The heads of the arrows were created in a way to allow them to penetrate the chainmail and other types of light armor soldiers might wear. Archers could also aim for the horses of mounted soldiers who wore heavier plate armor. Forcing them down from their mounts took away an advantage gained by fighting on horseback.
The Hundred Years’ War
The Hundred Years’ War was a war that occurred between 1337 and 1453 between England and France. At the time, Edward III was king of England and Charles IV was king of France.
When Charles died, he didn’t have any sons or brothers. Edward’s mother, Isabella, was Charles’ sister. Edward thought he should be king of France, but Charles’ cousin Philip claimed the throne for himself. Philip started attacking lands over which England held control in France. England and France fought over these territories until France won back control of all of them but one small territory. This war lasted 116 years and ended in 1453.
The Battle of Crecy occurred in 1346. Edward landed in France and was pursued by the French. The troops stopped to fight a battle in Crecy where they were outnumbered by the French. The French sent out crossbowmen who could fire at about three to five bolts (arrows used for crossbows) per minute.
This was much slower than the longbowmen, who could fire ten to twelve arrows per minute. France’s cavalry proceeded to attack 16 times. However, along with the archers and other soldiers, the English fought them off every time.
In 1415, France and England fought another major battle. Upon landing in France, around 2,000 English soldiers died from dysentery.
Henry V (now king of England) and his troops were again outnumbered and were short on supplies. As they marched towards a French port hoping to return to England for supplies, they were met near Agincourt by the French soldiers. The French stalled to allow England’s supplies to dwindle even more. Henry decided to force them into battle, though he was highly outnumbered. Again, the longbowmen moved in on the French, forcing them to move directly into the main army’s advance.
The archers continued to attack the French until they were defeated.
The Success of the Longbow
The two major battles discussed here are a good example of why the longbow was so important to Middle Age warfare. The longbow could be loaded faster and had a longer range than other bows.
English kings encouraged the use of longbows by holding tournaments. Sports aside from archery may have been banned on Sundays. By encouraging English people to build this skill, the king would have a number of capable archers available for battle at any given time. The longbow required a lot of force in order to be used properly. While this discouraged other countries from having skilled longbowmen, England’s support of archery allowed them to have skilled archers in training at all times.
Eventually, around 1350, England found itself becoming short of yew used to make the bows. Ships trading in English ports were required to provide bows as a part of their payment. In the 16th century, bows became less popular as firearms were developed. At the time, the guns used fired more slowly than an archer but required less training.
The longbow was easy to make and easy to load. The longbow was vital in the victory of the English over the French in the Hundred Years’ War.
The ability of the archers to shoot more arrows per minute than crossbowmen and the long range of the weapon gave the outnumbered English an advantage in the Battles of Crecy and Agincourt. Although the French eventually gained control of nearly all of their territory, the ability of the English to hold control for a longer period of time had a direct correlation with the outcome of these two battles.
After completing this lesson, you should be ready to:
- Describe the longbow as well as how it was made and used
- Define the Hundred Years’ War
- Summarize the two battles in which the longbow aided the English
- Explain how the English encouraged archery and how it eventually declined