Medieval Longbows had a long wooden stave usually made of yew wood that had a rounded central section similar to a D shape, they were used as early as Roman and Viking times and were popular weapons throughout the medieval period. Although longbows were an effective weapon it was not until later in the medieval period that military commanders realised how effective the Longbow could be in battle when used by a large army of tightly packed, highly trained and organised longbow archers.
During it’s history the longbow did face some serious competition from the crossbow which required less effort to load for medieval archers as it had a mechanised loading system and this also meant it took less time to train soldiers to use. The Longbow had had many advantages over the crossbow however as it was quicker to load and arrows could be fired with more kinetic force than from a crossbow. Typically a longbow archer could fire more dangerous arrows at a much faster rate in the same time frame as a crossbow archer.
Longbows really cemented their reputation as invaluable weapons during the hundred years war between England and France and they were the decisive weapons used in many battles such as the battle of Crécy. During the battle of Crécy around 1000 tightly packed longbowmen were able to defeat the French army conclusively, the well-trained usually dominate French knights had no answer to the constant stream of arrows that rained down on them mercilessly from the longbows of the English archers.
The medieval Longbow was made from sapwood on the outer-side and heartwood on the inside, this gave the body of the longbow called the stave a natural spring which helped produce a powerful firing action. The typical length of a longbow was around 6 feet and they were designed to be in proportion to the height of the archer using them. In the centre of the Longbow stave was a thicker area that was designed to improve grip. The longbow was held in the left hand, the right hand would be used to drawback the string which was usually made of gut or hemp. The string of the Longbow was looped over each end of the longbow stave, and the centre of the string was also strengthened at what was called the nocking point.
A Longbowman would draw the longbow string back towards his chest, this required considerable strength and medieval Longbowmen were very strong people, training was developed to increase the Longbow man’s strength and the constant practise of firing the longbow also helped to improve the longbowman’s strength. Longbowmen would spend numerous hours learning the best way to fire an arrow from a longbow for the maximum effect, they had to know when to release the arrow at the best moment of the drawback, however this would eventually become second nature for the medieval Longbowmen after years of practice.
Longbows could be used in many different ways, some medieval tales described how Robin Hood used the weapon in the woodlands and forests of Nottingham in ambushes, however it wasn’t until later in the medieval period when the longbow came into its own. New tactics were developed and medieval Longbow archers were tightly packed together in large units of up to one thousand men, these footsoldiers would fire at enemy positions in unison creating a devastating effect on the enemies forces who were unable to avoid the arrows that rained down on them. These tactics were used to great effect and were decisive in the battles of Agincourt, Crécy and Poitiers.
Good Longbowmen were in high demand during later medieval periods due to the effectiveness of these longbow formations and they were wanted all over Europe, many longbowmen could find that they could hire out their services for high rewards and would travel far and wide fighting for any army that would pay them well. Scottish Longbowmen for example were hired by the French during the Hundred years War to fight against the English.
Just as with other medieval weapons the medieval Longbow declined with the invention of guns and gun powder, Longbowmen were no longer needed as they couldn’t compete with these new weapons, however the English were reluctant to let go of one of their best medieval weapons and the Longbowmen survived right up until Tudor times even though there effectiveness had declined considerably.