Military and War Weapons the Longbow

About the military and war weapon the longbow, history and origins, first major use against Scotland and William Wallace, the archer and archery today.



Description. The longbow is a bow 6 ft. to 6 ft. 7 in. long; it is supposed to be at least as tall as its user. Constructed of yew or some other strong but flexible wood, the longbow employs a heavy hemp and linen bowstring and shoots a 25-30-in. wooden arrow (depending on the archer's stature) with a metal tip and three goose feathers at the opposite end to stabilize flight.

The archer stands erect, holding the bow with the arm outstretched and drawing back the bowstring with the other arm to the cheek, while aiming down the shaft of the arrow. The great stretch of the longbow allows it to fire arrows with tremendous velocity for a long range.

Origin. With the discovery of vast quantities of Neolithic arrowheads, we now know that the bow and arrow have been used throughout the world since the Stone Age. However, the bow lost its importance during the Middle Ages, when arrows failed to pierce the armor of mounted knights, who easily massacred archers. Contrary to popular belief, the crossbow--a bow mounted on a gun stock, with the bowstring drawn by a mechanical device--was invented before the longbow. Described by Pope Innocent II as "hateful to God and unfit for Christians," the crossbow was used extensively in Europe in the 12th century to kill armored knights, one of whom was King Richard the Lion-Hearted of England, who was wounded by a crossbow bolt and died of gangrene. When knights encased themselves in steel, the crossbow became much less deadly, but in Britain a new weapon emerged which made armored knights obsolete in warfare.

Although called the "English" longbow, this simple yet revolutionary weapon was developed in Wales by peasant villagers for hunting purposes late in the 12th century. Its use spread throughout England, where a skilled peasant yeoman could fire six arrows per minute, hitting a target 200 yd. away with complete accuracy. Able to penetrate a 4-in. oak plank or steel armor, the longbow had greater force and range than the crossbow. According to one ballad, the semilegendary Robin Hood demonstrated in an archery contest the superiority of the longbow by shooting five arrows into the bull's-eye before his opponent could ready his crossbow for firing. The longbow soon became the basic weapon of English armies, and a royal edict ordered all yeoman farmers to obtain and learn to use them. Unfortunately, this edict also caused a sharp increase in banditry and poaching.

First Notable Use. In 1297 the Scots, led by Sir William Wallace, rebelled against English rule. King Edward I raised an army of English knights and Welsh longbowmen and marched into Scotland to subdue the insurgents. On July 22, 1298, the Scottish and English armies met near Falkirk Woods, where Wallace arranged his Scottish knights and spearmen in a strong defensive position along a ridge. The English knights charged but, after suffering heavy casualties, were forced to retreat. Next, the Welsh longbowmen advanced and showered murderous volleys into the Scottish ranks. The longbow arrows plowed through shields and armor, decimating the Scottish forces. After the longbowmen had created huge gaps in the Scottish lines, the English knights charged once more and routed the enemy. In 1305 Sir William was captured and given the standard punishment for treason--drawing and quartering. Pieces of his dismembered corpse were sent to Scottish towns as a warning, but instead they were preserved as patriotic relics.

Weapon Today. After the Battle of Falkirk, the longbow was used in the Hundred Years' War, resulting in the annihilation of French knighthood, especially at the Battle of Crecy. Not until 1595 was the longbow replaced by the musket as the standard weapon of the British infantry. Presently, though it has lost all military value, the longbow survives as a sporting and hunting weapon.

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