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Jay Bluff




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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2020 6:31 am    Post subject: Steel Arrows A date for widespread use of the steel cuirass?         Reply with quote

Hi all,
I've been working on some research on and off based on Thom Richardson's thesis on the Tower of London armouries. Basically, I was trying to see if I could narrow down the point in time the steel cuirass begins to displace the coat/pair of plate in English harnesses.

Examining monumental evidence has been fairly inconclusive, but it at least got me into the ball park of 1350 to 1375, and from that, I began going over the Coram Rege accounts and Close Rolls, as well as the guild records that survive for the period to see if the orders for the Tower armoury gave a clear date. Unfortunately not.

Then I'd began to wonder, if I couldn't find evidence in the tower armouries for a clear transitional period, might I find a trace of it in a reaction in the weapons of the time? While I wasn't expecting a smoking gun, I did find something. It's regarding the type Arrows made for the English army.

A little background. First, there's the well known rolls extract before the Sluys campaign.

Quote:
April 18. 1341
Westminster.
To the sheriff of York. Order to cause 500 white bows and 500 sheaves of arrows at 12d. the bow and 14d. a sheaf for steeled arrows and 12d. for non-steeled arrows to be bought and purveyed and taken to the port of Orewell to be there at Whitsuntide next at latest to be delivered to those deputed to receive them, as the king needs a great number of bows and arrows for his war with France on account of the passage which he will shortly make to those parts in armed force, and the sheriff shall not omit to do this under pain of forfeiture. By K.


Obviously the 'steeled' and 'non-steeled' references are the key bit. Most modern scholars seem to take this as evidence of some form of case hardening of a percentage of the arrows on issue. But in this case, I'm more interested in the fact we have a good date that shows the English were mostly armed with iron arrowheads in the early 1340s.

This is consistent with munition orders sent to the Sheriffs throughout the 1340s and 1350s, but in the late 1360s there's a change...

Quote:
Feb. 5. 1368
Westminster.
To the sheriff of Norhampton. Order, for particular causes, of the issues of his bailiwick to cause 600 sheaves of arrows in places where he shall see best to be made and purveyed of seasoned and not of green wood, as he will answer it before the king, and to be fitted with steel heads to the pattern of the iron head which shall be delivered to him on the king's behalf, sending the same to the Tower of London before Midsummer next there to be delivered to John de Sleford the king's clerk, keeper of his wardrobe in the said Tower, knowing assuredly that, if the same be not made of seasoned wood, the king will charge him with the cost over and above the punishment he will inflict.

The like to the sheriff of Bedford and the sheriffs of 24 other counties, every sheriff for 600 sheaves.



This didn't stand out to me at first. But it is the first time Edward specifically requests an arrowhead made to a pattern. It's also the first time he has specified 'Steel' and not 'Steeled'. 18 months go by and unlike every previous order for county arrows, there's a problem.

Quote:
July 8.1369
Westminster.
To the sheriff of Lancastre. Order, under pain of forfeiture, without any delay to cause the 600 sheaves of arrows by the king commanded, of seasoned wood and not of green as he will answer it before the king, to be purveyed in his bailiwick within liberties and without, fitted with heads of steel after the pattern of the iron head delivered to him on the king's behalf, and to come to the Tower of London there to be delivered by indenture to John de Sleford the king's clerk, keeper of his wardrobe in the Tower, so that they be there on Michaelmas day at latest, knowing assuredly that, if the same be not of seasoned wood, the king will cause the sheriff to be charged with the costs thereupon laid out, and punished by forfeiture; as the sheriff has hitherto taken no heed to do aught concerning the said sheaves which the king commanded to be purveyed and delivered as aforesaid for his service, and thereby the furtherance of the king's business affecting him and the defence of the realm is delayed, whereat he is moved to anger. By K.

The like to the sheriff of Oxford and Berkshire, and to seven sheriffs of nine other counties, to purvey 600 sheaves in every county.

To the sheriff of Norhampton. Like order, mutatis mutandis, to purvey and deliver 402 sheaves of arrows, arrears of the 600 sheaves commanded as above.

The like to the following:
The sheriff of Stafford to purvey 480 sheaves, arrears of 600.
The sheriff of Essex to purvey 295 sheaves, arrears of 600.
The sheriff of Surrey and Sussex to purvey 800 sheaves, arrears of 1,200.
The sheriff of Lincoln to purvey 218 sheaves, arrears of 600.
The sheriff of Notingham and Derby to purvey 407 sheaves, arrears of 1,200.
The sheriff of Hereford to purvey 360 sheaves, arrears of 600.
The sheriff of Bedford and Bukingham to purvey 881 sheaves, arrears of 1,200.


As you can see from the arrears, it's been 18 months and the county Fletchers have barely been able to provide half of what Edward ordered. While there had been issues in the past, this specific order has met a more serious delay than any other. Why?

I think it's because the Fletchers hadn't previously had to source 'steel' heads locally. Certainly the Sleaford returns for the Tower show the heads begin to be manufactured at the Tower and headless sheaves begin to be ordered more and more frequently from the county from 1375 onwards. So why the sudden change from the earlier 'iron' and 'steeled' heads?

Am I perhaps reading too much into it or could this be evidence of widespread plate use from around 1365, at least widespread enough to force the English to change their arrows by 1368?

There's probably a ton I've not considered, so what does everyone think?
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2020 7:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steel was a more exotic material but it seems common on weapons before it became common in armour. At least that is the impression I got from reading some work of metal analysis. Helmets and breastplates seem to have been made from iron or very low carbon steel centuries after swords and the like were made exclusively from steel or had steel insets for the tip or edges.

I believe England produced it locally but also imported a fair bit of the stuff from Sweden and Flanders with the best coming from the Iberian Peninsula. In Bruges and London a premium price was paid for the Spanish stuff which suggests it had some quality. In terms of price Alan William citing Thorold Rogers suggests it was around three and a half to twice as expensive as Iron in the year 1300 and 1400 respectively.

Besides material expense I suppose working the harder material is also more time consuming. All the extra effort put into steeling arrowheads or giving them steel heads would be pointless if you did not expect to derive any advantage from it. .

Almost a century earlier around 1240 John of Plano Carpini tells us that to fight the Mongols the Christians ought to use hardened arrows and bolts.

*Note that the translation is simply from the web so I cannot vouch for its accuracy.

Quote:
Soldiers also must be furnished with strong hand-bows and cross-bows, which they greatly dread, with sufficient arrows, with maces also of strong iron, or an axe with a long handle. When they make their arrowheads, they must, according to the Tartars' custom, dip them red-hot into salt water, that they may be strong enough to pierce the enemies' armour. They that will may have swords also and lances with hooks at the ends, to pull them from their saddles, out of which they are easily removed.


As you can see some people realised the advantages of steel arrows long before cuirasses became common in Europe.

I suppose linking the steeling of arrowheads in England to the emergence of plate armour requires the alternatives be dismissed.

    If steel or steeled quarrelheads were common for crossbows in England or the Continent prior to the 1340s the move to provide steel or steeled arrowheads for bows might simply reflect its increase in status and importance. Prior to the 1300s the bow seems to be the inferior of crossbows so it may only commonly have used iron arrowheads prior to that time.

    A second alternative is that steel arrowheads are good or better regardless of what they face. The mongols for example seem to have hardened their arrowheads and they faced anything from lamellar to mail so tying its emergence in England to one particular piece of equipment might seem tenuous.

    A third alternative is that steel or steeled arrowheads weren't intended to deal with the emergence of torso protection which was typically the thickest piece. The sources we have occasionally make mention of armoured men being turned into pin cushions but when it specifically mentions which part of the body it usually mentions the limbs and neck/face. These pieces being thinner, covered only with mail or full of holes to facilitate breathing are more vulnerable. Harder arrowheads might have been implemented to deal with advances in protection these areas.


I hope this helps somewhat.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2020 6:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

We have examples of steel armour dating back to Roman times. IMO steel armour was developed purely as a means of reducing weight and had nothing to do with the weapons they faced. Even when firearms came on the scene, wrought iron armour was used to stop bullets, but it was thick and heavy. Steel enabled the same armour to be made lighter.

Steel arrowheads were acknowledged in many sources all over the world to be better against armour, regardless of what type of armour they faced.

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Jay Bluff




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PostPosted: Tue 05 May, 2020 4:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:


I hope this helps somewhat.


Thanks, Pieter. This is exactly what I've been mulling over in my head. I could be reading far too much into Edward simply adopting a new arrowhead type for his garrisons and ships. I can't shake the feeling something triggered the change however.

Edward's urgency and frustration over the issue are quite out of character for the close rolls.


Quote:
We have examples of steel armour dating back to Roman times. IMO steel armour was developed purely as a means of reducing weight and had nothing to do with the weapons they faced. Even when firearms came on the scene, wrought iron armour was used to stop bullets, but it was thick and heavy. Steel enabled the same armour to be made lighter.

Steel arrowheads were acknowledged in many sources all over the world to be better against armour, regardless of what type of armour they faced.


Dan, agreed. What I'm thinking of in this particular context is, does this hint towards an English reaction to the growing proliferation of plate harness by switching to a specific type of arrow made of steel?
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Tue 05 May, 2020 5:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The chance of an arrow punching through plate far enough to incapacitate the wearer is negligible. It happened occasionally but not enough to influence the outcome of a battle. Steel arrowheads have a better chance against mail and brigandines, but not solid plate.
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Jay Bluff




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PostPosted: Tue 05 May, 2020 7:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
The chance of an arrow punching through plate far enough to incapacitate the wearer is negligible. It happened occasionally but not enough to influence the outcome of a battle. Steel arrowheads have a better chance against mail and brigandines, but not solid plate.


True, Dan. I'm sure the archers were more aware of that than anyone, too. Which is why I think this sudden switch in the type of arrowhead and it's materiel may reflect an attempt to overcome a recent shift in the battlefield paradigm. Wether that was a change in tactics by the French or a reaction to the proliferation of plate or something else is what I'm trying to figure out.

I figured I'd throw it out there for people more versed in late 14th or early 15th century harness and combat than myself.
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Anthony Clipsom




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PostPosted: Tue 05 May, 2020 7:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is, according to Richard Wadge in Arrowstorm a reference to a 1338 order for 4000 arrows with steel heads. Reference is Calendar Patent Rolls 1338-40, p.124. You may wish to check the original wording but this may count against the idea that steel arrowheads were novel in govt orders in 1368. There are, of course, a whole lot of things around arrow supply ramping up in the middle of the 14th century which may be having an impact on the inability to deliver orders than a shortage of steel or steel workers. There may, for example, have been a shortage of seasoned arrow timber.
Anthony Clipsom
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Jay Bluff




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PostPosted: Tue 05 May, 2020 8:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks, Anthony. I'll look into that.
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Leo Todeschini
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PostPosted: Thu 07 May, 2020 11:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Was having a chat about this with Kevin from Plessis Armouries and he made this very good point

some interesting references used there, thanks.
The year 1368 was also "the third pestilence", a large scale return of the black death to England. We always need to reference the socioeconomic factors during research. Maybe the arrow makers or shaft suppliers suffered heavily?
Lots of things to consider but steel heads just the same seem to be the head of choice.

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Jay Bluff




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PostPosted: Fri 08 May, 2020 2:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That's a good point, Tod. I hadn't considered the impact the plague might've had. The peasant revolt is only 10 years later, too. So the socio-economic changes are undeniable.
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