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Marcus G




Location: Perth
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PostPosted: Fri 27 Apr, 2007 6:59 pm    Post subject: English longbow: best option?         Reply with quote

I was wondering, was the longbow, that the english used to dominate for some time, was this actually the best weapon to use.
I have been told that recurves are more 'efficient' than longbows, and easier to draw. Recurves create a faster arrow speed and can shoot thinner arrows, meaning more range.
If recurve technology was already around, then why was a longbow used instead?

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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Apr, 2007 8:58 pm    Post subject: Re: English longbow: best option?         Reply with quote

Marcus G wrote:
I was wondering, was the longbow, that the english used to dominate for some time, was this actually the best weapon to use.
I have been told that recurves are more 'efficient' than longbows, and easier to draw. Recurves create a faster arrow speed and can shoot thinner arrows, meaning more range.
If recurve technology was already around, then why was a longbow used instead?


Simple: They were cheaper and easier to make than fancy recurves. And in the hands of a professional English archer who could handle them, they just made the bow thicker and heavier to get what they needed from it. Sure a recurve is more *efficient*, but you can get plenty from a less efficient system if you're willing to use brute-force engineering.

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Greyson Brown




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Apr, 2007 10:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It should also be noted that lighter arrows may not be the most desirable. I am certain that this is dicussed more thouroughly elsewhere, but a heavier arrow, while slower, etc., is likely to pack a bit more punch. I still wouldn't want to be hit with either, of course.

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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Sat 28 Apr, 2007 12:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And a composite bow doesn't always loose a lighter arrow. The "battle arrows" shot at point-blank range--where horse archers were most effective--were in fact quite thick and heavy so that they'd be able to achieve better penetration.
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Glennan Carnie




Location: UK
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PostPosted: Sat 28 Apr, 2007 2:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just out of interest, does anybody on this forum shoot in a heavy English warbow and arrow? By that I mean bows and arrows typical of those found on the Mary Rose (sunk 1545, raised 1981)

To clarify:

The bow:
roughly 72 - 78" nock-to-nock; elliptical-, D-, or galleon- cross-section; "compass" tiller, bending through the handle; draw-weight 100lb+ at 32"; horn nocks

The arrow:
31.5" shaft, 1/2" diameter; 7.5" fletching; forged bodkin head; horn-reinforced nock; arrow weight 75 - 80g (1150 - 1230 grains)
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Mikael Ranelius




Location: Sweden
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PostPosted: Sat 28 Apr, 2007 6:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nice to see you here Glennan

As to the question, I'd say the recurved composite bow has two advantages: it's more durable (will last longer) and it's relativley short, so it will be good at what it's made for i.e. shooting from the horseback. But then a solid english warbow of yew has advantages too: for instance it's much cheaper to mass-produce, and it will perform well in any weather (the composite bow made with traditional glue is sensative to moist and heat)
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Jonathan Harton





Joined: 07 Aug 2005

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PostPosted: Sat 28 Apr, 2007 7:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is a topic we discussed at length in my Medieval Warfare class. My Professor just published a book on the battle of Lechfield in which he researched the flaws behind the Magyar horsebow. The biggest draw back that he could find was that, under wet conditions, the bows start to come apart as the glue holding the layers together looses its hold when wet.
Though you don't want a yew longbow to get soaked (it's just not good for the wood over time) the bows will still hold together and function in wet conditions. For example, it rained heavily before the battle of Crecy and English archery still served its purpose.

Couple this fact with the reality that a horsebow took between 12-18 months to produce, compared to a few days for a yew longbow, and you can start to see why the English favored it. Sure it was not the best system around, but it was the best choice to mass produce and field to a group of men who knew how to use it.
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David Sutton




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PostPosted: Sat 28 Apr, 2007 8:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is evidence to suggest that many longbows actually had a degree of recurve to them. There are several examples in the artistic record and, I think, some of those recovered from the Mary Rose also showed this feature. This was demostrated well in a documentary series that was on a few years ago presented by Mike Loades. In the programme they built and tested a recurved longbow, steaming the ends of the stave around formers to acheive the recurve. It suggesed that encounters with eastern, recurve composite bows by crusaders was the inspiration for this improvement to the straight bow staves then in use in Europe.
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Glennan Carnie




Location: UK
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PostPosted: Sat 28 Apr, 2007 12:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The recurve-tipped warbow may well have existed. Many people mistake the Burgundian bow (which was recurved) for the English bow (which, in general, was not recurved).

Always check the date, artist and country-of-origin of any painting when using pictorial evidence.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sat 28 Apr, 2007 12:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am not yet an archer, but have the three volume set of the Bowyer's Bible. From what I remember (read it about two years ago) the recurve has less shock in the follow through of the shot. Aside from efficiency, it may improve accuracy depending on the strength of the archer. I do not wish to deviate from the subject of the original post. I suscribe to the school which advocates that the purpose of the war bow was to lob arrows into an approximate area based upon range, not pin point accuracy. This has been repeatedly argued in several prior posts about long bows. Whatever position one takes, if they subscribe to the "range accuracy" not "pin point" accuracy, then it is one more reason to mass produce long bows and not spend as much time imparting steaming and crafting effort on optimal recurve.
Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 28 Apr, 2007 2:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Glennan is right. Full-height self bows have been in use on battlefields for thousands of years all over the world. Just because it is six-foot long and made of yew doesn't mean that it is an "English longbow". And Mr Loades isn't known for attention to detail. Getting your face on a lot of TV docos doesn't make you an expert at anything except getting your face on TV docos.
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Glennan Carnie




Location: UK
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PostPosted: Sat 28 Apr, 2007 5:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
If recurve technology was already around, then why was a longbow used instead?


Because it was.

We don't know how the medieval mind worked, but the evidence says they chose not to adopt recurve bows. Adoption of new (or foreign) technologies doesn't seem to be a prominant behaviour in the medieval world. If something is good enough for the job it must do then why change it?
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2007 4:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jonathan Harton wrote:
Couple this fact with the reality that a horsebow took between 12-18 months to produce, compared to a few days for a yew longbow, and you can start to see why the English favored it. Sure it was not the best system around, but it was the best choice to mass produce and field to a group of men who knew how to use it.


It depends on how you count the time. If we take account only of the final working, then this comparison might indeed be true. But the wood for any kind of bow has to be seasoned by air-dying and this is a process that can take a couple of years on its own.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2007 7:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:


It depends on how you count the time. If we take account only of the final working, then this comparison might indeed be true. But the wood for any kind of bow has to be seasoned by air-dying and this is a process that can take a couple of years on its own.


In the reference texts I have read the authors recommend shaping of the bow as being easier with a somewhat green limb (~6 months old, air dried) and oiling the finished bow to keep it somewhat more flexible. I am not sure which author it would be (believe over 12 contributed to the Bowyer's Bible set) characterized the typical English bowmen as making their own bows, and keeping a supply of several staves as the majority of staves were expected to turn out unsatisfactory. I can not recall the source, but also ran into an article stating that long bow archers carried an unworked stave as a backup while on campaign. I am curious if anyone else has heard of a similar claim. It seems to make sense. Bows finished with traditional all natural materials and oils can become "tired" from exposure to weather, being left strung for long periods (possibly had to be done in sieges, etc.), or after firing as few as 1000 arrows. Its my opinion that a medieval archer on long campaigns may very well have had to make his own replacement bow before the end of the campaign. If the opinion turned out to be correct, the circumstances could favor the classic simple form (no recurve, no steam box available, etc.) of long bow.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Michael S. Rivet





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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2007 8:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This isn't really a contribution, but I wanted to say that this is a great discussion and I'm enjoying the debate. This is what collaborative learning is all about!
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Mikael Ranelius




Location: Sweden
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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2007 9:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared, English archers in the HYW and onwards did not make their own bows, we know that specialized bowyers made them, and the quality of the finished weapons was checked by royal officials before being issued to the troops as "livery bows". Many bowyers and fletchers actually joined the campaigns and were payed the same salary as the archers.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2007 12:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am not disagreeing with you Mikael. My understanding (based on reading in Bowyer's Bible and elsewhere) is that there was such a thing as a "master archer", and these were expected to be a capable bowyer. I am envisioning these having to turn out bows even while on campaign. There is a wide range of bow types known; simple one wood solid species (actually characterized as knotty since the growth rings were followed), and very nice tripple specie wood laminate bows. One has to wonder what happened on campaigns. Did bows get damaged in battle? How many extra bows (ready to use) would be taken? Etc.
Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Glennan Carnie




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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2007 1:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
One has to wonder what happened on campaigns. Did bows get damaged in battle? How many extra bows (ready to use) would be taken? Etc


A self bow can break for any number of reasons (internal flaw, poor wood, over-drawn, bad tiller); strings snap (and take bows with them); arrrow-nocks can fracture (and take bows with them)

It is recorded that an English army took two bows for each archer and four strings. This is (presumably) in addition to the bow, arrows and string the archer himself brought along.

Bowyers on campaign could do more than just make new bows, for example shortening and piking 'working' bows to increase the draw-weight and cast.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2007 7:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared Smith wrote:
I can not recall the source, but also ran into an article stating that long bow archers carried an unworked stave as a backup while on campaign. I am curious if anyone else has heard of a similar claim. It seems to make sense.


I seem to remember this being a somewhat erroneous claim linked to the finds of bowstaves in the Mary Rose. Some people were skeptical that the bows could really have such high draw weights, and speculated that these were unfinished staves that would be further whittled down before use. However, the evidence from the shape and the fittings of the bows indicate otherwise--they're far more likely to be finished staves ready for shipping, with only very little trimming (if any) needed on the archer's end and that more for the sake of comfort than anything else.
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Glennan Carnie




Location: UK
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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2007 1:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yep, there were no unfinished bows found on Mary Rose. All 138 bows were finished - and to a pretty high standard, too. They still look (almost) as good as a new bow, even after 450 years on the seabed.
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