During the medieval times, medieval English longbowmen formed one of the most important components of the military.
The English longbow, also known as the Welsh longbow, was invented in Wales and became a powerful weapon during the medieval times. English longbowmen went through extensive training to gain the expertise of the weapon.
The history of English longbowmen extends to the ancient times and the earliest evidence of using longbows in England has been found from 2665BC at Ashcott Heath, Somerset.
However, most widespread use of English longbows was during the late medieval times when English longbowmen contributed heavily in several major battles. The use of longbow declined at the end of the medieval times because of the increasing use of gunpowder.
Medieval English longbows were the weapon of choice in England during the late medieval times and were made with a variety of woods and came in varying sizes, starting from about 4 feet and going up to 6 feet in length. The arrow nock, where the bowstring was attached, could be made into various shapes such as shallow, wide, and deep etc.
Extensive training was required for medieval English longbowmen in order to become expert marksmen. The entire youth of the population was encouraged to take part in longbow sports so that at any given time, a large pool of expert English longbowmen were available to fight.
Exhaustive training of medieval English longbowmen resulted in changes in their physical structure. Skeletons of English longbowmen from the medieval times show enlarged left arms as well as open bone spurs on left wrists and left shoulders.
The most important battle tactic for medieval English longbowmen on the battlefield was positioning them on the flanks of English armies. This allowed the armies to advance while the English longbowmen showered a “cloud of arrows” on the enemy.
This tactic proved to be most successful in the major battles during the medieval times. Another tactic was to position the English longbowmen behind fortifications or physical barriers. Specialised arrows with heavy bodkin heads were also developed in order to penetrate the chain mail or lighter armour.
During the medieval times, no other country could rival the expertise of English longbowmen and thus they were in high demand as mercenaries in other European countries. This was particularly true for Italian city states and Spain.
Various “free companies” of English longbowmen were formed that provided mercenaries to other countries. One of the most famous such free companies during the 14th century was the White Company which was commanded by Sir John Hawkwood.
English longbowmen played a decisive role during some of the most important medieval battles. This included the Battle of Sluys in 1340, the Battle of Crecy in 1346, and the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. But the most important battle where English longbowmen played central role was the famous Battle of Agincourt in 1424.
English longbowmen were a necessary feature of English armies during the medieval times. Longbows were invented in Wales and soon spread to all parts of England. English longbowmen not only played a central role in major English battles during the medieval times but were also employed as mercenaries by other countries.
Clive Bartlett the English Historian states in his book
“The English military ascendancy which lasted from the mid-14th to the early 16th century was founded upon defensive tactics based on the use of the longbow.
This weapon, distinctive in that it was used by English forces alone, was probably the most effective missile weapon of the Late Middle Ages: its arrow had the same penetrative ability as a modern day bullet and the bow’s rate of fire was not equalled by any weapon used by English forces until the adoption of the Lee Enfield rifle at the beginning of the 20th century.
The English longbowmen’s involvement in wars such as the War of the Roses (1455-1485) and One Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) is discussed.”