Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Medieval Arrow Question Reply to topic
This is a standard topic Go to page 1, 2  Next 
Author Message
Allen Foster





Joined: 17 Feb 2008
Reading list: 4 books

Posts: 247

PostPosted: Thu 19 Feb, 2009 5:02 am    Post subject: Medieval Arrow Question         Reply with quote

Let me start by stating some assumptions I have about arrow selection even in medieval days and then ask my question.

My assumptions:

Yeomen of English legend were much more sophisticated in their understanding of archery than modern historians give them credit for:

1) They understood the need to spine the arrows for their bow. They might go through a thousand or more shafts to find 48 that were correctly spined for their bow.

2) They understood the need to select their arrows for accuracy. This is a process were arrows are numbered and shot at a target. Over several times of doing this, you discover that arrows 1,4 & 9 shoot in the same spot every time. The goal in Medieval times would be to identify roughly 48 arrows that shot the same way as 1,4 & 9 so that the archer was consistently accurate.

My Question:

Wouldn't the medieval archer have boldly personalized his arrow set after painstakingly going through the process of selecting each arrow that went with him on a campaign? If so then why hasn't the historical reenactment community done the same? Maybe they have. I'm not a reenactor so maybe that's why I haven't seen too many examples of it. Whenever I've seen an example of Medieval arrows, it's always a natural wood shaft with white or black fletching and tied off with white or black silk string.

Keep in mind my questions are only valid if my assumptions are valid.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts and expertise.

Allen

"Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face."
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Glennan Carnie




Location: UK
Joined: 23 Aug 2006

Posts: 289

PostPosted: Thu 19 Feb, 2009 5:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

1) Medieval bows were, in general, of much higher draw-weight than the later, sporting, longbow. The ability to shoot a strong bow was much favoured by the medieval man (just look at the comparison between shooting a heavy bow and sexual prowess in medieval literature!). On a heavy bow (100lb upwards) spine is much less important than on a lighter bow (as we say: "stiff enough is good enough!"). Weight and geometrical consistency are more important for consistent shooting.

2) Don't mistake consistency for accuracy. I can quite easily put a dozen arrows in exactly the wrong place!

3) It's almost certain each archer would have their own 'best' set of arrows for competitions, etc. These would be marked and personalised accordingly.

4) For battle an archer was required to array himself with two sheaves (48) of arrows. Whether he took his 'best' arrows was probably a personal choice. I would, for competitions and practice on compaign - remember, you're often trying to prove yourself against the best the country has to offer; and everyone wants to see who's The Best!

5) However, each archer didn't just shoot his 48 arrows, then go home. The King provided hundreds of thousands of 'Livery' arrows, all made to a standard (now lost) specification (The same is true with livery bows). As a military archer a man needed to be able to meet the required standards of range and accuracy using the standard livery bow and standard livery arrow. It is highly unlikely livery arrows were decorated but there is some evidence that they may have been marked (perhaps per sheaf) by the makers.

6) The re-enactment community is woefully mis-representative of the medieval archer. Typically (in the UK) battlefield archery is the preserve of children, women, the elderly and the infirm. Anachronisms like the use of Victorian target bows or American flat bows are rife; and very few re-enactors are willing (or able) to put in the effort to learn to draw a medieval weight bow. It therefore doesn't surprise me that you don't see accurate representations of arrows on the field.
View user's profile Send private message
Allen Foster





Joined: 17 Feb 2008
Reading list: 4 books

Posts: 247

PostPosted: Thu 19 Feb, 2009 6:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

All these are excellent answers to my questions. I apparently didn't state all my assumptions especially when I assumed that the arrows of this period needed to be spined. What you said makes logical sense to me.

I myself am using a "D" shaped 70# Ash long bow because the cost of a proper yew bow is cost prohibitive. I am also unsure as to who as a bowyer has it right when it comes to proper places and times to harvest the yew staves; selection of the staves and aging of the staves before they are tillered. Without that confidence I am hesitant to shell out the big money for a proper bow.

"Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face."
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Sean Flynt
myArmoury Team


myArmoury Team

Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Joined: 21 Aug 2003
Likes: 10 pages
Reading list: 13 books

Spotlight topics: 7
Posts: 5,934

PostPosted: Thu 19 Feb, 2009 6:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

IIRC, the longbow reconstructions commissioned by the Mary Rose Trust were of yew from the northwestern U.S.--Oregon, maybe. Something about growing seasons....

In any case, that's in The Great Warbow, an essential reference.

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Leo Todeschini
Industry Professional



Location: Oxford, UK
Joined: 12 Nov 2006

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 1,609

PostPosted: Thu 19 Feb, 2009 7:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Allen Foster wrote
2) They understood the need to select their arrows for accuracy. This is a process were arrows are numbered and shot at a target. Over several times of doing this, you discover that arrows 1,4 & 9 shoot in the same spot every time. The goal in Medieval times would be to identify roughly 48 arrows that shot the same way as 1,4 & 9 so that the archer was consistently accurate.


I suspect that if an archer went through this process, to this level, his bow would have died (or himself) and he would have to start again. And woebetide anyone who broke your arrow........I suspect some selection went on but not much more than 'that looks and feels OK' 'It shoots OK' 'these few seem to shoot better'

Oh damn I hit a stone in the butt and broke the head off, Bob tripped over one whilst roving and I lost two more in some scrub. Little janey broke one while playing with it and Lizzie left the sheaf too close to the fire and the rest are now warped. Oh well better buy a couple more.........................

In my opinion something so disposable cannot have the intrinsic value in it that this premise surmises.

Tod

www.todsworkshop.com
www.todcutler.com
www.instagram.com/todsworkshop
www.facebook.com/TodTodeschini
www.youtube.com/todsworkshop
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Allen Foster





Joined: 17 Feb 2008
Reading list: 4 books

Posts: 247

PostPosted: Thu 19 Feb, 2009 7:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I read somewhere (not sure sorry) where ships coming to port in England were required to bring yew staves as a tax in order to trade in britain. I went further to say that of a thousand yew staves maybe one was suitable for a war bow.

My reasoning would be that if they went through that much trouble to select the bow stave, they might have been picky about their arrows too.

As for wearing bows out, they were encouraged by English law to practice with the bow. I think the English crown was more interested in having their archers proficient.

"Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face."
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Sean Flynt
myArmoury Team


myArmoury Team

Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Joined: 21 Aug 2003
Likes: 10 pages
Reading list: 13 books

Spotlight topics: 7
Posts: 5,934

PostPosted: Thu 19 Feb, 2009 7:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The tax-in-staves appears to be true. At least, it's mentioned in TGW, and that's professional quality research. Something else mentioned there and elsewhere is that ash was considered the best wood for arrows, but at least one 16th c. (?) writer lamented that care was not then taken with wood selection, and that poplar was most common.

My instinct is that if you're making tens of thousands of these things, you take what you can get and shoot what you're given, within reason (no twigs fletched with pigeon). I would further guess that when shooting into a mass of people at a range of 200-something yards your projectile is going to go pretty high and be subject to wind (or snow or rain) more than at closer ranges/flatter trajectories. In the former context, "accuracy" might be defined as getting the arrow somewhere in the mass of people. It's not one individual archer at work but dozens or hundreds, so if you're essentially carpet-bombing an area you wouldn't need the kind of accuracy required for individual competition. It's rifle vs. artillery, isn't it?

On the side of the selectivity argument is the fact that when the crown demanded feathers for fletching it specified not only the kind of feathers but also made sure the feathers were selected from the same wing of the same bird, which has implications for the arrow's stability. One would expect at least that level of concern for the shaft, but the aforementioned author suggests that any straight piece of hardwood was commonly accepted, if not considered ideal.

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Allen Foster





Joined: 17 Feb 2008
Reading list: 4 books

Posts: 247

PostPosted: Thu 19 Feb, 2009 8:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would argue that they needed to know how to shoot both long distance and up close. The artillery analogy is a very good one. I think it was called clout shooting. Accurracy was more important at closer range as you said. Much that I have read about the English archers during the hundred years war had them pitted against mounted knights in a mass charge. Some accounts had the archers burying long sharpened pikes into the ground to defend against these charges. I read that they would also dig pits and position themselves in rough terrain for the same reason. Obviously if the knights got too close to the archers, the bows at some point became useless and the archers would have had to use secondary weapons.

In all of the talk that I've seen on this forum about whether or not an arrow was able to penetrate plate, I've always thought it missed the point because the archers were in fact shooting for the horses instead in order to dismount and neutralize the mounted calvary threat. Just my speculation though.

"Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face."
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Gary Teuscher





Joined: 19 Nov 2008

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 704

PostPosted: Thu 19 Feb, 2009 9:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I've always thought it missed the point because the archers were in fact shooting for the horses instead in order to dismount and neutralize the mounted calvary threat.


Actually, this was one of the arguments brought about very often by those who felt longbows were ineffective against plate.

As a response to the "If longbows were not effective at piercing plate, why were they effective against French Knights in the 100 years war?", it was often brought up that longbows would be effective to the full extent of their range at disrupting cavalry charges.
View user's profile Send private message
Glennan Carnie




Location: UK
Joined: 23 Aug 2006

Posts: 289

PostPosted: Thu 19 Feb, 2009 10:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allen Foster wrote:
I read somewhere (not sure sorry) where ships coming to port in England were required to bring yew staves as a tax in order to trade in britain. I went further to say that of a thousand yew staves maybe one was suitable for a war bow.

My reasoning would be that if they went through that much trouble to select the bow stave, they might have been picky about their arrows too.

As for wearing bows out, they were encouraged by English law to practice with the bow. I think the English crown was more interested in having their archers proficient.


The English were importing hundreds of thousands of bow staves every year. If only one in a thousand were viable they would have to destroy millions of trees every year to satisfy the demand. The economics of this just don't work out. Remember, it's the merchants who have to pay this tax. If you're a wine merchant, supplying 24 staves for every ton of wine you export to England (and a typical ship would hold twenty or more tons) is a HUGE cost, if it costs you 24,000 staves from your local yew supplier.

The coppicing of yew (from the high-altitude regions) must have been a serious subsidiary business in Europe to supply the English demand.

As for bows wearing out: don't believe the tosh peddled about bows only having 200 good arrows in them, or strings only lasting a dozen shots. A good bow will have years of use, and many thousands of arrows.

It also doesn't take long to assess the characteristics of an arrow. I have my good arrows and my not-so-good arrows. All made to the same spec but subtle differences in manufacture can make a big difference in performance. I save my good arrows for when I need them; they rarely get shot during normal practice. The same is true of bows. Many archers have their 'performance' bow - a bow with particularly good shooting characteristics - which they save for special. never assume the medieval archer only had one bow!

An archer would be expected to be accurate at all ranges. A clout is only two feet across and ranged at 180 yards. An archer is expected to hit that (whether he can or not is another point!)

I think the 'discussions' about armour penetration and combat effectiveness of bows is best left to other threads (because it makes my head hurt and my soul weep)
View user's profile Send private message
Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
Joined: 07 Jun 2006
Reading list: 5 books

Posts: 2,098

PostPosted: Thu 19 Feb, 2009 11:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Some men dealt only in transport of bowstaves. One gent comes into Southampton with thousands a go. Coupled with the dozens of others coming in yearly with between 100-1500 this adds up fast. There does seem to be local woods used as well so not everything is imported. You get men from Wales and the Midlands that seem to provide their own raw materials, though I think the quality likely is less. It is something I hope to study in the future to see if it is a common practice or is only at need so to speak.

In regards to arrows. Indentured archers often have a great deal of specialized arrows of various types coming in with them. I often wonder if these men did not have a large range of arrows for a wide range of uses on the field, perhaps indicating levied men were used more as bulk archers. There are four very common ones, mark arrows, flight arrows, bolthead arrows and broadheads.

Just because a bow will loose draw over the first years does not mean it will continue to do so. Some archers I have spoken to indicate they have a place where they settle so to speak after some time. Your bow might not have the same kick it did in the past but still most of the kick left.

RPM
View user's profile Send private message
Steven H




Location: Boston
Joined: 10 May 2006

Posts: 545

PostPosted: Fri 20 Feb, 2009 6:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
There are four very common ones, mark arrows, flight arrows, bolthead arrows and broadheads.


Do you know more about what the mark, flight and bolthead arrows looked like or for what they were used?

As for selecting a few arrows of hundreds - doing so drives up the cost of arrows enormously. If you're only going to sell one of every hundred arrows that you bring to market then you have to charge 100 times as much per arrow to make your money. Perhaps a handfulf of the fletcher's customers are that picky but if most are that picky then he can't run a business.

Just my thoughts on the economics.

Cheers,
Steven

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Glennan Carnie




Location: UK
Joined: 23 Aug 2006

Posts: 289

PostPosted: Fri 20 Feb, 2009 6:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
There are four very common ones, mark arrows, flight arrows, bolthead arrows and broadheads.


Speculatively:

Mark: target arrows (as in: shooting at the mark). Possibly with a 'semi-blunt' head as seen in the Luttrell Psalter


Flight: Arrows designed for distance; typically lighter and stiffer with virtually no fletching

Bolthead: Bodkins(?)

Broadhead: Bladed arrowhead for hunting; NOT a military arrow (too expensive, too ineffective)
View user's profile Send private message
Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
Joined: 07 Jun 2006
Reading list: 5 books

Posts: 2,098

PostPosted: Fri 20 Feb, 2009 7:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steve,

Not anything for sure on most of them but it is something I have been thinking about since I found more and more of them. I tend to think Glennan is right about the bolt heads and flights as I see no other real choices. I am not sure regarding mark and broadheads though. The thing is the context is almost always that these groups are heading to active war zones and almost instantly active employment in war once they land. Not sure if they'd had much time for non-military activity such as hunting and mark shooting. It still could be though. That said Mark arrows could simply mean arrows which are used for a mark or target in the field.. something of a arrow designed for special aim. Broadheads also would have limited use unless against lightly armoured men and horses but still perhaps have some application. In the end if they were going to France during a lack of hostile action I'd think them more likely for peace. The context makes it somewhat confusing as men were limited often by what they could bring as the king was paying their transport to France and the more junk people brought the more he had to pay so this seems to indicate less peaceful uses.

In the end I really do not know but there is where I think I am going with them, at least for the moment.

RPM
View user's profile Send private message
Glennan Carnie




Location: UK
Joined: 23 Aug 2006

Posts: 289

PostPosted: Fri 20 Feb, 2009 8:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The problem with broadheads is they are so complicated and time consuming to make - something like an order of magnitude longer than a bodkin . That makes them very expensive.

The other thing is you don't seem to find many of them on battlefields.

Possibly the term broadhead included the cruciform cross-section arrowheads like the Towton arrowhead and Oxford arrowhead. These seem to be plentiful on battlefields.

I'm happy to accept Mark arrows as 'bearing' arrows - for harassing the enemy at extreme range and 'finding your mark'

Bolthead may also indicate 'having a head like a [crossbow] bolt' - which may suggest a lozenge head, for armour piercing. The lozenge head seems to be fairly typical for crossbow heads in the 15thC
View user's profile Send private message
Gary Teuscher





Joined: 19 Nov 2008

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 704

PostPosted: Fri 20 Feb, 2009 10:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Broadhead: Bladed arrowhead for hunting; NOT a military arrow (too expensive, too ineffective)


I've seen some testing with narrow broadheads, and while these are often "backyard" tests the abilities of different types of arrowheads should at least be relatively constant. The narrow broadheads seem to function rather well, better than chisel type bodkins against mail, though the narrow bodkin seems to function best against mail.

These tests though have had all heads of the same hardness.

One thing that I am curious about - why is it that found broadheads would show that they were hardened? I would not think that one would go through the trouble of hardening arrows for hunting only.

Another question - does the idea that surface hardening will oxidize off over time make any sense? If so, why have broadheads and chisel type bodkins been found in a hardened condition but not the needle nose type? (maybe hardening a needle nose makes it to brittle considering the geometry of the head?).

I guess the other thing that is important is the time period. The chisel type bodkins would undoubtedly be the best type to have any chance of penetrating plate, IMO the other would deform more upon impact or shatter more often. But in the mail age, I would think both the needle nose bodkin and narrow broadhead would have had their pluses in penetrating mail.

One of the tests showed both the needle nose and the narrow broadhead to be more effective against mail (and more effective against quilt) than the chisel type bodkin. Once again though, this was with all arrowheads being hardended to the same extent.
View user's profile Send private message
Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
Joined: 07 Jun 2006
Reading list: 5 books

Posts: 2,098

PostPosted: Fri 20 Feb, 2009 12:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Glennan,

I am sure broadheads could be something like that. In the end the issue here is that broadheads include all sorts and sizes of broad arrowheads so I could not say one over the other. In the context I find them mostly in retinues they most often were intended for military action I assume. I am wary of the archaeological argument as few battlefields are fully known and almost none have been fully examined. I figure the distribution of arrowheads is not going to be equal over the entire field as the battle progressed so they may just be missing entire sections including countless objects.

Mark arrows might be something like that as well. I was just thinking of one of the many ways mark was used in period and one that was for a specific target sounded like it would fit.

This is an interesting article. I found it recently online as well! A great number he has are listed as unknown function but still interesting read.

http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/arch-...92_205.pdf

Gary,

I would not say that there was no need for the hunting arrows to be hardened. This will make them sharp and a lasting sharp. Since you expected to get the arrows back every time for the most part with hunting I bet having it of good material and hard would be important.

In the end this is one of the issues with medieval texts. Bolt heads may be a bodkin type of more of a short bodkin or quarrel head. With the little description I have given is about it. I keep just keep looking, someday I will come across the answer.... maybe.

RPM
View user's profile Send private message
J Gerg




Location: Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Joined: 17 Feb 2009

Posts: 6

PostPosted: Fri 20 Feb, 2009 12:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It is my understanding that if I were to pick out my "best" arrows, im not too sure i would shoot them at enemy soldiers unless its all i have. Even a normal compound bow of today when shot at a deer in most cases you cant get your arrow back... because it breaks. I can see the same thing happening with the medieval english longbow seeing as it is almost 40 to 50 pounds more draw. I would save my "best" for compatitions or something like that.

Oh is it true that archers understood that if they stuck their arrows in the dirt prior to firing it would cause a better chance for disease? Do you think they did that because of that, because its just as easy to pick an arrow from a quiver.

Hahaha actually for the "sexual prowess" this is before medieval times but think of Odysseus's Bow and how only the one who could pull it back and shoot it through the loops would win his wifes "heart".

Venienti occurrite morbo.
View user's profile Send private message
Gary Teuscher





Joined: 19 Nov 2008

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 704

PostPosted: Fri 20 Feb, 2009 1:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall - How about the oxidation issue - would this be any reasonable type of explanation why needle nosed bodkins have not been found in a hardenede form?
View user's profile Send private message
Allen Foster





Joined: 17 Feb 2008
Reading list: 4 books

Posts: 247

PostPosted: Fri 20 Feb, 2009 1:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J Gerg wrote:
It is my understanding that if I were to pick out my "best" arrows, im not too sure i would shoot them at enemy soldiers unless its all i have. ".


If there were a thundering wall of mounted knights (lances lowered) bearing down on me riding heavy war horses, my best arrows would start disappearing as they closed in. Accuracy would be a good thing. I really wouldn't worry too much about finding them until the field of battle was cleared. Heck, I'd go through a thousand arrows to replace the lost ones in return for my head.

"Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face."
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Medieval Arrow Question
Page 1 of 2 Reply to topic
Go to page 1, 2  Next All times are GMT - 8 Hours

View previous topic :: View next topic
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum






All contents © Copyright 2003-2020 myArmoury.com — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Basic Low-bandwidth Version of the forum