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A. Spanjer




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PostPosted: Mon 13 Sep, 2010 10:12 am    Post subject: Scottish Bows         Reply with quote

I was wondering if anyone could point me towards historical or reproduction examples of Scottish Highland bows? Any information, even without a specific example would also be helpful. I'm looking for all time periods.

I know that the bow was used in the highlands into the 17th century, but I can't seem to find any real information on them.

Na sir 's na seachain an cath.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Mon 13 Sep, 2010 12:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well as far as I know highlanders used the same yew longbows as the English which you can buy pretty much anywhere. There is however some pictural evidence of short recurved bows being used and these you would probably have to have custom made
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A. Spanjer




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PostPosted: Mon 13 Sep, 2010 1:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the reply.

I must say, the longbow doesn't seem like it would be all that practical in the Highlands compared to shorter bows. Recurve bows make more sense, but are unfortunately far out of the range of what I could make myself, or even buy relatively inexpensively. That said, I'd still like to learn what I can about whatever bows may have been used in the Highlands.

Is there any evidence that they used bows similar to the Welsh short bow? Also, could you post the recurve bow pictorial evidence?


Again, thank you for your help.

Na sir 's na seachain an cath.
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Mon 13 Sep, 2010 2:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A. Spanjer wrote:


I must say, the longbow doesn't seem like it would be all that practical in the Highlands compared to shorter bows. Recurve bows make more sense,

And why would that be?

As Stephen has already responded, yew was available in Scotland, in the Highlands and the Lowlands, so there is reason to believe that Scottish bows were made similarly to those in England and elsewhere. The myth that Scots had inferior bows probably comes from the way they used them in battle. They did not do a good job of deploying archers and also did not rely as heavily on archers as the English. In later days the Scots, who at times had superior artillery, failed to use it to best effect, the Battle of Flodden being an example. So, it was not a matter of having poor cannons, just using poor tactics.

I don't know of anyone making a bow which they bill as being a Highland bow. I think that any good longbow could be thought of as the equivalent of one made and used in Scotland.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Gabriele Becattini





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PostPosted: Mon 13 Sep, 2010 2:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I’m interested in the same subject and i have searched extensively for pictorial and written source, i have found quite a lot of description of the use of bow in scottish context especially fron the XVIth and XVIIth century. The bow was used continously in th highland and in the isles till the end of the XVIIth century, the last record of it’s use in battle was at the battle of Mulroy in 1688. I have found the following written description that testify the popularity of bow as hunting and war weapons in the scottish highland:
- L’Histoire de la guerre d’Ecosse (1556) written by Jean de Beague,a french officer serving with the scottish army at the siege of Haddington, described the highlanders armed with “large bows”
- Sir Richard Bingham during tha irish war of the late elizabethan period inform us that the scottish “redshanks” in Ireland were armed with “bows and large swords”
- Another description of the scottish mercenaries fighting for Hugh O’Donnell in 1594, by Lughaidh O’Clery confirm that the bow was one of the favoured weapons used by the scots
- In two recorded “wapinshaw” in Moray (1596) and Atholl (1639), as well in a description of a public riot in 1618, many highlanders are described using bows
- John Taylor (1618), Richard James (beginning of the 1600s) and rev. James Brome visiting the Highland and the isles in 1669 and 1700, tell us that the bow was the common weapon of the highlanders in conjunction with broadsword, target, and dirk, rev.Brome describe also the arrows used by the scots of the kind used for hunting, with broad heads.

At the battle of Flodden, Pinkie and Auldearn the highland contingent provided the missile troops, armed with bows.

Pictorial source are more rare: A french illustration ot the mid sixteenth century depict an highland scots with a recurve bow, the same kind of bow can be found in an illustration from the Holinshed’s chronicle depicting a deer hunting scene in the highland dated 1577. A german broadsheet published in 1631 depicting probably some scottish mercenary fighting for Gustavus Adolphus again show us a recurve bow type. In at least two source i have seen the bow is pictured like a normal long bow of “english” design, in a watercolour from the early 17th century from the travel book of Hieronymus Tielssch, and in the famous portrait of the highland chieftain by Michael Wright datet 1660 and depicting in the foreground an highlander armed with a long bow.

So, in my opinion, the bow was a weapon firmely associated with the scottish highland where it’s use as an hunting and war weapon lasted well into a period where it was abandoned elsewhere, most notably in england. I’m quite sure also that the weapon used in scotland was the same yew longbow design used in england and the pictorial souce showing recurve bows unreliable or fancifull. The only doubt i have is about the poundage, the use of the bow also for hunting, the nature of the clan warfare where most of the opponent was unarmoured or armed only with mail armour and the description of the clan encounter i have found where the bowman act much more like snipers than in massed formation like the english longbowman, suggest me a less powerfull weapon respect to the english warbow. The poundage for hunting weapon rarely was over 70lb so if i have to make an educated guess the bow used in the highland was between 70-80lb, but this one is just my opinion.

Hope that this help.
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A. Spanjer




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PostPosted: Mon 13 Sep, 2010 3:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the help Lin and Gabriele. I guess I'd assumed a longbow would be a bit cumbersome in the mountains. As I'm sure we all know blind assumption is a dangerous thing, and something I'll try to avoid in the future. Blush

So nobody has heard about any surviving historic bows of Scottish origin?

Any suggestions on the best way to aquire a longbow? Preferably one of lower poundage (i.e. 70-80?) I'd like to make my own and though I've been making bamboo bows as long as I can remember, I don't have much experience in wood bows and I am open to the possibility of purchasing one instead.

Na sir 's na seachain an cath.
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Mon 13 Sep, 2010 4:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A. Spanjer wrote:
Thanks for the help Lin and Gabriele. I guess I'd assumed a longbow would be a bit cumbersome in the mountains. As I'm sure we all know blind assumption is a dangerous thing, and something I'll try to avoid in the future. Blush

So nobody has heard about any surviving historic bows of Scottish origin?

Any suggestions on the best way to aquire a longbow? Preferably one of lower poundage (i.e. 70-80?) I'd like to make my own and though I've been making bamboo bows as long as I can remember, I don't have much experience in wood bows and I am open to the possibility of purchasing one instead.


Glad to help, although Gabriele's comments are much better researched than mine.

When you visit the Highlands you will find that they are not quite as rugged as you might think, although there are lots of places where the terrain is steep and difficult. There is a lot of open space as well, where a long range weapon like a bow can readily be brought into play. I agree with Gabriele's assessment that the recurve bows depicted in certain contemporary works may be fanciful. There was no compelling reason to change the proven design of a formidable weapn like a long bow.

There are a number of folks making good quality bows and a lot are on the internet. You should be able to find one without too much difficulty.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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JG Elmslie
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PostPosted: Mon 13 Sep, 2010 4:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A. Spanjer wrote:
Thanks for the help Lin and Gabriele. I guess I'd assumed a longbow would be a bit cumbersome in the mountains. As I'm sure we all know blind assumption is a dangerous thing, and something I'll try to avoid in the future. Blush


to emphasise what has been said by lin, I rather suspect you've got a very distorted perception of what this country is like. the hills are occasionally difficult to travel over, but even the oldest pathways in the high hills are easy enough to navigate by foot, and lead through the valleys which glaciation has kindly sandpapered smooth.
the vast, vast majority of the population lived, and continues to do so, in the coastal regions of the west and east coasts, rather than in the central uplands which are mostly uninhabited as the land is poorly suited to farming.
the populated regions of land are no more rugged and difficult than american terrain of northern california, as a frame of reference, and its certainly less mountainous and difficult terrain than colorado, in my experience. the climate is far milder than northeastern states of the US, both in terms of summer heat, and winter cold.

Images of towering mountainous walls of granite, as per "highlander" are no more representative of the highlands than sergio leone spaghetti westerns are representative of the landscape of the US...
(I never quite understood the term spaghetti western... most were filmed in spain, not italy... Happy )
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 13 Sep, 2010 5:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If I might add to or slightly change something Lin said. The Scots sometimes used the bow very, very well. Wallace, Bruce and Douglass often used archery to good use in their various conflicts with the English. The only seal of Wallace we have is a bow, which is interesting.

I did not use battlefield intentionally though. Of course they used them in battle. The issue was that they could never raise as many bows as the English, though they did raise thousands. In the 1420s and 1430s they are sending them to France by the thousands along with men at arms. The issue to me is their inability to raise more archers than the English, not that they were sub-par or even low in numbers compared to other countries... the problem was that England could raise more. Same thing happens with cavalry. The Scots can never (or rarely) raise more cavalry, particularly heavy cavalry. So not bad quality or event that they were really few in numbers only fewer in numbers than their biggest rival.

Either James I or II began a major project to increase good Scot bowmen in the 1400s. Supposedly it did fairly well but since they were not in constant state of war they stopped enforcing the law and by the end of the 15th, beginning of the 16th they were back to what they had had before, a fair number but not compared to the English.

Now how that relates to the Highlands.... no idea. They were indeed a group unto themselves. That said they clearly adopted archer as the only accounts I can think of from the 15th and 16th often include bows, which likely are like all the others used in north-western europe.

RPM
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David McElrea




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PostPosted: Mon 13 Sep, 2010 6:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

With regard to pictorial evidence, you might be interested in one (or two) of the images from this thread:

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=14249

It's still very hard to know what we're dealing with here, as you'll gather from the discussion, but it is interesting nonetheless.
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A. Spanjer




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PostPosted: Mon 13 Sep, 2010 6:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

JG Elmslie wrote:
A. Spanjer wrote:
Thanks for the help Lin and Gabriele. I guess I'd assumed a longbow would be a bit cumbersome in the mountains. As I'm sure we all know blind assumption is a dangerous thing, and something I'll try to avoid in the future. Blush


to emphasise what has been said by lin, I rather suspect you've got a very distorted perception of what this country is like. the hills are occasionally difficult to travel over, but even the oldest pathways in the high hills are easy enough to navigate by foot, and lead through the valleys which glaciation has kindly sandpapered smooth.
the vast, vast majority of the population lived, and continues to do so, in the coastal regions of the west and east coasts, rather than in the central uplands which are mostly uninhabited as the land is poorly suited to farming.
the populated regions of land are no more rugged and difficult than american terrain of northern california, as a frame of reference, and its certainly less mountainous and difficult terrain than colorado, in my experience. the climate is far milder than northeastern states of the US, both in terms of summer heat, and winter cold.

Images of towering mountainous walls of granite, as per "highlander" are no more representative of the highlands than sergio leone spaghetti westerns are representative of the landscape of the US...
(I never quite understood the term spaghetti western... most were filmed in spain, not italy... Happy )


When I think about it, I know most everything you mentioned (though I've not had the opportunity to travel to Scotland yet.) I really don't know why I was thinking the longbow wouldn't be very good in the Highlands. I suppose I was comparing the Highlands in my mind to the mountains where I live (the Appalachians) where a longbow would be very hard to use, simply because of all the trees and shrubbery.

Funnily enough, I've never seen Highlander (or Braveheart, or Rob Roy...) Most of what I know of Scotland comes from books. Anyway, any misconceptions I do have should be remedied when I finally visit Scotland next year.


Sorry for derailing the thread. Back to bows...

Na sir 's na seachain an cath.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 13 Sep, 2010 7:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not sure dense woods in an issue with the longbow. Some of the best historic uses of it were in dense woodlands- Edward I's men in Wales for example were often shot up so Edward cleared huge swaths of the forest out to ensure it was not repeated.

Selkirk in Scotland (lowlands) was a repeated ambush location using bows as well.

I know people that go out in the woods shooting their bows on a regular basis without issue.

Might be a problem if you had a few thousand people but if executed well I think that'd work as well.

RPM
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Gabriele Becattini





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PostPosted: Tue 14 Sep, 2010 1:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i use a longbow for roving and in the part of italy where i live we have very thick bushes and woods, i have never had problems in shooting even in the thickest bush, i have visited scotland extensively and the terrain , especially in the hihgland is well suited for archery.The longbow of classical "english" form, is in my opinion the only plausible design for rappresenting the kind of bow used in scotland, simply because it was a design common in all the north europe and we have no reason to suppose that scotland was an exception to the rule.
even if technically speaking is not the most efficent design, the long bow is easier to draw and much more "indulgent"
with errors respect a recurve, it is also techically easier to produce and a less stressing design for the wood itself.
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A. Spanjer




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Sep, 2010 6:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gabriele Becattini wrote:
i use a longbow for roving and in the part of italy where i live we have very thick bushes and woods, i have never had problems in shooting even in the thickest bush, i have visited scotland extensively and the terrain , especially in the hihgland is well suited for archery.The longbow of classical "english" form, is in my opinion the only plausible design for rappresenting the kind of bow used in scotland, simply because it was a design common in all the north europe and we have no reason to suppose that scotland was an exception to the rule.
even if technically speaking is not the most efficent design, the long bow is easier to draw and much more "indulgent"
with errors respect a recurve, it is also techically easier to produce and a less stressing design for the wood itself.


I suppose what I really had was a distorted view of how big the longbow was. Though I've been studying historical arms for quite a while, this is my first time really researching bows (before this, the only bows I'd researched at all were of Native American origin.) When I read that longbows were about six feet long, I imagined a huge weapon. Now, having looked at photos of longbows with people, I see that they are not as large or cumbersome as I thought.

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Neal Matheson




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Sep, 2010 9:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi,
I am (very slowly) currently researching/writing a book on highland archery. I have discussed this on another forum and was suprised to see that things I had written (including original research) appeared unsourced and unacknowledged on a person's website. It wouldn't be too bad but that they had included good information with a load of total hokum. I am sure no one here would do such a thing but I though it fair to explain why I may seem a little reticent with information or sources. I am quite happy to discuss this in PMs.
There is a line in a gaelic praise poem that references yew bows which would suggest that yew was a wood used by highlanders. In several of the 16th century woodcuts what appears to be lamination line is present on the bows depicted. This may also be to represent the distinct difference between the sap and heartwood of yew.
Yew was the wood of choice and was greedily consumed by the English government and the Anglo-Irish Government. "White woods" were also used for bow making in England for example ash and elm. Elm bows are frequently talked about in the norse sagas and the vikingsd had a tremendous impact on the culture of the highlands, indeed the Gaelic word for bow is a norse loan word; boghan.
Bows depicted being used by Highlanders (and Irish) in nearly all cases follow the recurve type. Highland bows are described in some detail by one visitor to the mountains and are clearly described as a small recurved bow. Of course both types could easily have been made and used.
In my opinion there is no reason to assume that the highlanders used a bow that was any different to those depicted and discussed by period observers.
As for why....... The recurved design particularly the "cupid" type commonly depicted are usually about 40fps faster than longbows and have a flatter trajectory. A faster bow may help with the more personal ambush raiding style warfare of 16th century Scotland and Ireland. Or maybe not perhaps like modern hunters they prefered a recurved bow and then pressed their hunting bows into war service with the bows offering no real military advantage.

Neal
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Thom R.




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Sep, 2010 10:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Neal. What evidence is there for the use of the crossbow in 16th c Highlands and Ireland? Are there primary sources within period that discuss the use of the cross bow by gaels as well? TR
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JG Elmslie
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PostPosted: Tue 14 Sep, 2010 11:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thom R. wrote:
Thanks Neal. What evidence is there for the use of the crossbow in 16th c Highlands and Ireland? Are there primary sources within period that discuss the use of the cross bow by gaels as well? TR


use of the crossbow would be a pretty bad idea, in a climate as crappy as this. almost constant rain is not what you want around crossbows.

september the 14th, and there was hailstones earlier, and its half dark by 7:30 pm.
and that's on the better side of the highlands. "summer" here means "only raining half the time". the other seasons are worse.

as a note regarding yew, I'd personally suspect that bowstaves would've been imported. local yew has a habit of being fairly spindly, and growing even slower than in other areas, thanks to the climate.
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Thom R.




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Sep, 2010 12:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hmm, well, uh, but, I am asking about 16th c. when steel prods were in use. We know for example that the crossbow was a favorite weapon on the border at that time. Crossbows were also used at Knockdoe (1504) and at Flodden (1513). I am just curious what written sources (if any) might exist on the use of the cross bow by gaels. thanks , tr
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JG Elmslie
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PostPosted: Tue 14 Sep, 2010 9:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thom R. wrote:
Hmm, well, uh, but, I am asking about 16th c. when steel prods were in use. We know for example that the crossbow was a favorite weapon on the border at that time. Crossbows were also used at Knockdoe (1504) and at Flodden (1513). I am just curious what written sources (if any) might exist on the use of the cross bow by gaels. thanks , tr


I'm by no means an expert on crossbows, but I've always been led to understand that its the tension on the bowstring in the wet that's the problem for crossbow use, not the tension on the prod. (please do correct me if I'm wrong there)

and the borders are, generally speaking, a lot less crappy weather than the west highlands.
(admittedly, that's a bit like saying that Mars is lot less inhospitable than Venus... its still pretty unpleasant.)
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Neal Matheson




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Sep, 2010 11:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thom R. wrote:
Thanks Neal. What evidence is there for the use of the crossbow in 16th c Highlands and Ireland? Are there primary sources within period that discuss the use of the cross bow by gaels as well? TR


Hello, I'm not sure there is any evidence. I've not come across any for crossbow use in the later periods. Crossbows appear to be depicted on Pictish standing stones and crossbow nuts have been found form this period. It is worth noting that on the stones crossbows appear in hunting scenes while in war bows were used.
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