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Josh Warren




Location: Manhattan, Kansas
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PostPosted: Wed 01 Nov, 2006 11:02 pm    Post subject: Longbows again         Reply with quote

So, after scanning a few recent threads in this forum about the armour-piercing qualities of the longbow, I note that one or two individuals seem to be re-asserting that longbows could indeed drive their arrows through nearly any armour, which flies in the face of much recent evidence I've seen.

Is the academic wind beginning to blow back in that direction? I admit that I really only know the issue from the armour side of things. A cursory glance through a few primitive archery forums shows me that the forces of the "longbows R kewl" crowd are lining up behind the likes of Mark Stretton, Pip Bickerstaff, and others who appear to want us to believe that it was indeed the wonder-weapon that pop culture makes it out to be.

I note that one or two new books on the subject are out, including one by Stretton himself, I gather. What is in these books that adds new fuel to this debate? What tests have been conducted? Just how thick a metal plate has that Stretton monster managed to penetrate? Was the average longbowman back then pulling a bow anywhere near as heavy as Stretton pulls? Are there really any accounts from the period that indicate that longbows could pierce plate? The primary source evidence I've read tells a different story...

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William Knight




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Nov, 2006 9:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, I don't have Stricklands The Great Warbow which is probably the contemporary authority, but I remember seeing a chart by the author of The Knight and the Blast Furnace that basically said that fully heat-treated steel plate could withstand far more energy than a longbow can exert. Also, I understand that Strickland mentions that most WotR battlefields show a predominance of broadheads, which strikes me as unlikely if bodkins could pierce plate. But I don't know about wrought iron, particuarly if it hadn't been case-hardened.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Nov, 2006 11:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Was the average longbowman back then pulling a bow anywhere near as heavy as Stretton pulls?


Yes. According to The Great Warbow, most bows from the Mary Rose had a draw weight of about 150 pounds. Some were heavier. Even the lighest one had a 100-pound draw.

Quote:
but I remember seeing a chart by the author of The Knight and the Blast Furnace that basically said that fully heat-treated steel plate could withstand far more energy than a longbow can exert.


Yes, though Williams underestimates the energy of your average longbow arrow. If I recall correctly, he gives the figure of 80 J. According to tests in The Great Warbow, even light arrows launched from your average longbow would have that much energy at maximum range. At close range, heavy arrow could have had 146 J or even a bit more.

Of course, this all still suggests good plate armor is proof against arrows, except perhaps the thinner bits. 16th-century sources support this. There's really no question that longbows couldn't reliably penetrate plate armor in the 16th-century. Smythe, the longbow's great advocate, only talks about arrows striking unarmored parts and piercing mail. Many others note the inability of arrows to pierce plate armor. The Battle of Flodden Field shows this. Fourquevaux, however, suggests that an arrow barrage at close range might have been able to pierce low quality harness.

It's a little less clear in the 15th century and earlier. For example, an English source on Agincourt claims arrows pierced visors and the sides of helmets (the weaker parts), which doesn't sound completely unreasonable. And, in a battle in the late 14th century, one source says English arrows easily penetrate a Scottish king's armor.
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Allen G.





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PostPosted: Thu 02 Nov, 2006 12:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I havent read Strettons books but I sort of doubt they were pulling 200 pound pull bows like he does.. 150 is possible but probably above average.

On the contrary, I've seen many online resources change dramatically on 1 key point-Agincourt. This was previously the champion of the long bow and rock solid proof that armour did nothing against the bodkin. Now I see more neutral views, even 1 of the large classical archery forums is using that episode of battlefield detectives as a source, where they rigged up a bodkin and section of plate armour to a machine that hit with exact desired velocity and the bodkin crumbled upon impact without scratching the steel. Penetration depends twice as much on follow through force than on the velocity of initial impact, which is why we swing axes at trees rather than throw franciscas at them, so I cant compare longbow velocity to a poleaxe either.

People do however seem to have a view on any topic this debated that flops to one extreme side due to anger, but I do believe the bodkin and longbow were very deadly and effective-in that at moderate to close range with the bodkin they could penetrate *some* mail where in contemporary accounts of the crusades islamic bows had little affect.

And I know its probably the most repeated logic on this issue but, if plate armour didn't guard against the long bow, and chain armour guarded well enough against 90% of swords, what was the point of wearing it?

Overall I think the 'academic wind' is blowing in the same direction, and the 'katanas could cut through gun barrels' and 'bodkins could pierce greathelms at 300 yards' people are blowing the opposite direction.

Now what about those arrowheads designed to crack plate/cause blunt trauma externally, or did such a thing even exist? Ive only seen brief accounts on another forum and he refered to them as 'plate crackers'.
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Bill Tsafa




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PostPosted: Fri 03 Nov, 2006 11:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have a website I put up with some interesting Longbow information. The second have focuses on the physics of a bow and arrow.

You may view it here:
http://mysite.verizon.net/tsafa1/longbow/longbow.htm

Regarding the Mary Rose 150 lb bows, I so not think it is possible to accurately measure the tension of any wood as it might have been before 500 years. Woods stiffens over time. Even a new wooden bow will stiffen over the course of a year if it is not used and oiled. Add to that the effects of the Marry Rose bows being in salts water for a long period of time and I don't think they is any way to tell that the lb tension on those would have been originally. Any figure that they come up will have a margin of error that is at least 25%.

Now let me add some modern reality to this question. I am one of the strongest guys in my gym. I can do bent over rows with 225 lbs for 8 strict reps. I also do special one-handed cable excercises that simulate pulling a bow where I pull the cable high up to my ear with heavy weight. I use a 65 lb bow at a 31 inch draw that I pull to my ear. I can fire this with decent accuracy for an hour alternating hands before my aim gets to the point where I am not effective. Meaning not even close to the target. I reason that I would be able to use a 100 lb bow to get a few shots off, but I would not be able to keep that up for even 5 minutes and I don't think even one arrow would be accurate. Given that this is the best I can do using modern specialized training technics and nutrition, I feel confident is saying that the 150 lb bow is a myth. The bows in the May Rose where not analyzed correctly. They either stiffened over time or the were so rotted that the scientists were not able to accurately measure their original draw weight.

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John Cooksey




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PostPosted: Fri 03 Nov, 2006 11:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vassilis Tsafatinos wrote:
I have a website I put up with some interesting Longbow information. The second have focuses on the physics of a bow and arrow.

You may view it here:
http://mysite.verizon.net/tsafa1/longbow/longbow.htm

Regarding the Mary Rose 150 lb bows, I so not think it is possible to accurately measure the tension of any wood as it might have been before 500 years. Woods stiffens over time. Even a new wooden bow will stiffen over the course of a year if it is not used and oiled. Add to that the effects of the Marry Rose bows being in salts water for a long period of time and I don't think they is any way to tell that the lb tension on those would have been originally. Any figure that they come up will have a margin of error that is at least 25%.

Now let me add some modern reality to this question. I am one of the strongest guys in my gym. I can do bent over rows with 225 lbs for 8 strict reps. I also do special one-handed cable excercises that simulate pulling a bow where I pull the cable high up to my ear with heavy weight. I use a 65 lb bow at a 31 inch draw that I pull to my ear. I can fire this with decent accuracy for an hour alternating hands before my aim gets to the point where I am not effective. Meaning not even close to the target. I reason that I would be able to use a 100 lb bow to get a few shots off, but I would not be able to keep that up for even 5 minutes and I don't think even one arrow would be accurate. Given that this is the best I can do using modern specialized training technics and nutrition, I feel confident is saying that the 150 lb bow is a myth. The bows in the May Rose where not analyzed correctly. They either stiffened over time or the were so rotted that the scientists were not able to accurately measure their original draw weight.


Strength isn't everything, when it comes to using a bow or any device that involves the use of leverage. I am far, far stronger and more muscular than my skinny, elderly stepfather, but he can regularly do "feats" of work that I find very, very difficult.
Most archers, in historical periods, spent their entire lifetimes practising and perfecting their skills and abilities. I would personally hesitate to say what they could and could not do.

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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Fri 03 Nov, 2006 12:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I havent read Strettons books but I sort of doubt they were pulling 200 pound pull bows like he does..


Wait... his tests were done with a 200-pound bow?

Quote:
150 is possible but probably above average.


According to The Great Warbow, it was the average. The authors and others have done extensive modeling and testing of replica bows. Most of the bows from the Mary Rose pulled 150-160 pounds. The lightest was 100 pounds, the heaviest 180 pounds. Simon Stanley can draw 190-pound bows, though he doesn't like to.

Quote:
I so not think it is possible to accurately measure the tension of any wood as it might have been before 500 years.


I suggest reading The Great Warbow. It may change your mind.

Quote:
I feel confident is saying that the 150 lb bow is a myth.


And I feel confident saying you are wrong. You can't shoot such heavy bows because you haven't trained enough. Hell, some period sources claimed that the only way to shoot strong bows well is to be brought up doing it. Guys like Mark Stretton, Simon Stanley, and Howard Hill can command 150-pound bows completely. It is possible.
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John Cooksey




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PostPosted: Fri 03 Nov, 2006 2:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Hell, some period sources claimed that the only way to shoot strong bows well is to be brought up doing it. Guys like Mark Stretton, Simon Stanley, and Howard Hill can command 150-pound bows completely. It is possible.


I sure would like to see that in person. I am always on the "minority side" when having local discussions over the power and accuracy of historical archery, and it would be funny as heck to see some of the local pundits witness such bowmanship in practise.

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Allen G.





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PostPosted: Fri 03 Nov, 2006 3:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Quote:
I havent read Strettons books but I sort of doubt they were pulling 200 pound pull bows like he does..


Wait... his tests were done with a 200-pound bow?


No, I wasnt meaning anyone claimed medieval archers used 200 lbs pull. The original poster asked; 'Was the average longbowman back then pulling a bow anywhere near as heavy as Stretton pulls? ' I was saying Stretton pulls 200+ so i doubt they concluded the tests using stretton's personal ability as a basis.. at least i hope they didnt.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Fri 03 Nov, 2006 6:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wasn't there evidence presented a couple years ago that all surviving bodkins are soft wrought iron and very light, whereas the broadheads are hardened steel and much heavier? The number of bodkins and broadheads found is also reversed in ratio to the number of flight and sheaf arrows required of each archer, going by the old assumption that the broadheads were the flight arrows and bodkins the heavy sheaf arrows. The conclusion is one of those great "Oh, crap, we were all wrong!" things: Bodkin arrows were the light flight arrows, not meant to be armor-piercers at all. They were shaped that way for aerodynamics. War arrows were bigger, heavier, wider, and stronger to do more damage.

Or am I mis-remembering something?

Matthew
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James Arlen Gillaspie
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PostPosted: Fri 03 Nov, 2006 7:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've only seen metallurgy write-ups on five or so 'bodkin' tips, and they were all pretty crappy. I think the ones used in the tests Peter Jones was associated with were better than the real ones.
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Michael Edelson




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PostPosted: Fri 03 Nov, 2006 9:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In regards to strength and pulling bows...

I am not in the best shape of my life. I'm fairly strong, and I pull a 70lb bow (compound) without difficulty. My longbow is 56lbs and I can shoot that without problems as well. A friend of mine is a licensed physical trainer and works out religiously; he's built like a miniature hulk...he could probably be in a bodybuilding magazine. When he tried to draw my 70lb bow, he could barely do it. It took him several attempts to get to the let off point. Naturally, he has never shot a bow before.

Archery uses muscles that we don't tend to use in our daily lives, or in our workouts. It doesn't matter how strong or weak you are...it has little to do with archery (within reason). If you practice every day for one hour, you will be pulling a 100lb bow in a few months, a 150lb shortly thereafter. And I'll bet medieval archers practiced more than an hour a day.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 04 Nov, 2006 12:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Wasn't there evidence presented a couple years ago that all surviving bodkins are soft wrought iron and very light, whereas the broadheads are hardened steel and much heavier? The number of bodkins and broadheads found is also reversed in ratio to the number of flight and sheaf arrows required of each archer, going by the old assumption that the broadheads were the flight arrows and bodkins the heavy sheaf arrows. The conclusion is one of those great "Oh, crap, we were all wrong!" things: Bodkin arrows were the light flight arrows, not meant to be armor-piercers at all. They were shaped that way for aerodynamics. War arrows were bigger, heavier, wider, and stronger to do more damage.

I think you might be remembering a theory I proposed based on the evidence you outlined. I haven't read any papers that support my hypothesis however. Last I heard of Dr Starley's examination of extant arrowheads, only a few broadhead typologies showed any evidence of hardened steel. Some of these had hardened steel edges forge-welded onto a softer core. The so-called "bodkins" were all of wrought iron. A copy of one of his letters is on one of the SFI threads.

IMO bodkins were intended for flight arrows, not armour-piercers. Some impromptu tests using modern compound bows and arrows with replicas of various types of arrowheads show that the bodkins increase the range by about 5-10% if the arrows are all the same weight. If the bodkin is placed on a lighter arrow then the difference in range is greater still.
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Joe Maccarrone




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PostPosted: Sat 04 Nov, 2006 1:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My own impression (and I'm not terribly well read on the subject) is that the shape of armor plates -- i.e. rounded -- had a lot to do with protection against arrows. Perhaps a longbow arrow could defeat the plate, but only with a perfect perpendicular hit at relatively close range -- which would rarely be the case, of course.

There's no doubt that plate armor was wonderful protection against longbow arrows. In his Archaeology of Weapons, Oakeshott ties to rapid adoption of plate armor in the 14th century to the proliferation of the longbow at that time.

Whatever the weapon vs. armor argument, though, I think we should be cautious in applying the logic of "if it didn't work, they wouldn't have worn it", because what percentage of the time does a bit of cumbersome protection have to save your life before you'll wear it? The body armor I wear as a law enforcement officer is bloody hot and unpleasant to wear all day, but I wear it anyway -- despite the fact that it will only stop a fraction of the ammunition on the shelf at any store...
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 04 Nov, 2006 1:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe Maccarrone wrote:
There's no doubt that plate armor was wonderful protection against longbow arrows. In his Archaeology of Weapons, Oakeshott ties to rapid adoption of plate armor in the 14th century to the proliferation of the longbow at that time.

While Oakeshott was a renowned sword expert, he knew little about armour, and that particular book was written almost 50 years ago. The areas in which plate armour developed had virtually no exposure at all to the English longbow so this weapon could not have been the impetus for the development of plate. I might suggest that plate armour proliferated because blast furnaces and hammer mills made it cheaper and quicker to produce than mail.
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Allen G.





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PostPosted: Sat 04 Nov, 2006 1:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe, firstly, I agree, the few tests I've seen where swords or bodkins pierced plate armour were under ridiculously ideal conditions, not through a round moving target (not speaking for stretton's tests in specific though). From messing around with cheap barrel helms vs polearms I can say the flat part is quite easily penetrated with a spike but nearly useless on the rounded sugarloaf top of the same thickness. The difference is quite dramatic, like trying to turn a door knob with soapy hands, doesnt matter how hard your pushing vs a round slick surface. That also brings me to the point that people treat plate armour as though it was 1 generation/nationality, when it varies as much as helmets.

But on your other point, what level of modern body armour are we comparing it to? Light softer stuff rated to stop a concealled 380 auto or big steel/ceramic plates that stop AP 7.62x51 nato? I think a suit of plate armour would have been akin to wearing the latter. Worn when you know theres a good chance of facing big guns.
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Joe Maccarrone




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PostPosted: Sat 04 Nov, 2006 5:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
The areas in which plate armour developed had virtually no exposure at all to the English longbow so this weapon could not have been the impetus for the development of plate.


Rather a sweeping statement -- can you refute that plate armor suddenly rose to prominence in England and France during the 14th century (regardless of the location of its initial development) ? That doesn't prove the longbow was the cause, but cheap mass production of plate was still well in the future, no?


Last edited by Joe Maccarrone on Sat 04 Nov, 2006 5:59 am; edited 1 time in total
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Joe Maccarrone




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PostPosted: Sat 04 Nov, 2006 5:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allen G. wrote:
But on your other point, what level of modern body armour are we comparing it to? Light softer stuff rated to stop a concealled 380 auto or big steel/ceramic plates that stop AP 7.62x51 nato? I think a suit of plate armour would have been akin to wearing the latter. Worn when you know theres a good chance of facing big guns.


Hopefully not too akin to a raid vest -- I hate those things! No way you'd fight hand-to-hand all day in one of those... Big Grin

I think you're right, but the question remains: at what point, then or now, do you decide the level of discomfort or inconvenience outweighs the level of protection you're getting? What I mean is, even if it isn't guaranteed to save your life -- but will a good portion of the time -- you should wear it, if it's available to you. How well it's going to work is always subject to a host of variables.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sat 04 Nov, 2006 6:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe Maccarrone wrote:
Allen G. wrote:
But on your other point, what level of modern body armour are we comparing it to? Light softer stuff rated to stop a concealled 380 auto or big steel/ceramic plates that stop AP 7.62x51 nato? I think a suit of plate armour would have been akin to wearing the latter. Worn when you know theres a good chance of facing big guns.


Hopefully not too akin to a raid vest -- I hate those things! No way you'd fight hand-to-hand all day in one of those... Big Grin

I think you're right, but the question remains: at what point, then or now, do you decide the level of discomfort or inconvenience outweighs the level of protection you're getting? What I mean is, even if it isn't guaranteed to save your life -- but will a good portion of the time -- you should wear it, if it's available to you. How well it's going to work is always subject to a host of variables.


There is protection level and them there is the level of coverage ! Center of mass / chest and upper abdomen but the lower abdomen is very exposed: The good thing is that if it's a vest worn beneath a uniform shirt the bottom edge of a vest might not be to obvious and few will think of aiming that low. ( Just my theory ! Let me know if you think it has merit or not: Curious. Wink )

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sat 04 Nov, 2006 7:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Josh,

ah once more the longbow returns to the front of discussion....

Some randomness
Careful with Alan Williams appx in his book. While a good account for armour he underestimates both bows and crossbows grossly. 70 pound draw bow (I was using a 70 pound draw bow at 14-16, now can use 80 but not sure if I will move past this as I do not have the time and practice infrequently) and a crossbow as 200 or less...... anyone who has used used these should instantly be suspect as 200 pounds for a crossbow is very low, especially in an era verses plate armour, its like using a brown bess to shoot 15th century armour and say guns could pierce any armour at the time... I think Dr. Williams work is great but look at his variables and do the logic test, 70 pounds is a weak weapon for war and having drawn a 70 as a hobbiest not a part time job I think is a sad underestimation.
I think that anyone who thinks the longbow could pierce all armour at any distance is perhaps looking at the information that is out there perhaps with a slight bias Big Grin . I think that the harder better armours could defy most longbow arrows, especially at long ranges. I think that close up most armour was falible as it was not the best quality that was the majority, especially earlier on.
Mark Stretton is a good archer. I know people here in England that draw 120-140 and only have been doing this for a have decade or so, so saying 150 is a myth is just ignorant and show the importance of different muscle group training. Mark in some testing I read was using a 160 pound bow I believe and punching holes though mild steel 16 gauge breastplates. I do not recall the range but I assume from outside his test ranges coverd the longbow did not prove effective (in this same test he said the brig was much better as it did not pierce but his test did not cover anythign but penetration so I don't think his conclusion is valid then as trama to the lungs and heart can be fatal, at least according to the military guides on testing for kevlar vests).
I think armour definatly had an advantage. I think many thicker parts of armour were immune to bows, as we start to see in the 16th with flodden and pinkie the bows are not doing their job as they had done before, that is not saying they did not main, hurt or kill people but not as well.
But the fact that most armour on the field was not the highest quality is a factor as well as the fact most men likely were not fully armoured at all, making the longbow very useful.
I think in Agincourt likely armour was being punched through. Now whether or not the most of the fatalities of the french happened after the archers engaged in the melee is up to interpretation of many of the accounts but the chaplain of henry V sees to indicate the longbow was a major factor on the field before this melee action and many of the french are dismounted so the old horse being shot from under them claim does not follow here.
The great warbow lists many arrowheads of good material so that is an invaluble source as well on that as well as others. Also many of the statutes of the realm and just in londons own manufacture and sale of arrows require testing on arrowheads for hardness. obviously something was being done to make them harder. What Dan said can in manyways be correct the long thin bodkins to my mind would crumble. There are though some bodkins in the warbow that are shorter and resemble chisels almost, I figure those would be the better candadate for armour piercer, i think I have some pics at home of one...
In the end the problem is that people are in one camp or the other and are not willing to bend even if their is evidence. there are accoutns of armour being pierced. There are also ones of armour withstanding them. This should not be to hard to see both are correct in their own context with the many variables involved.
Cliff Rogers is coming out with a great book soon that deals a little on this so keep an eye open.
I look forward to seeing what other things come up on this topic, an oldie but a fun one everytime...

RPM
added some more randomness
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