Medieval Longbows had a long wooden stave usually made of yew wood that had a rounded central section similar to a D shape, they are recorded as being used in ancient times.
The Viking also used Longbows and they 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 organized longbow archers.
The longbow was a very effective weapon, but it was harder to use and required greater strength than the crossbow which was easier to load as it had a mechanised loading system, this also meant it took less time to train soldiers to use a Crossbow.
The Longbow had some advantages over the crossbow however as it was easier to load and fire, typically a longbowman archer could fire his arrows at a much faster rate than a crossbowman.
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 dominant 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, so that the draw back was around chest height.
In the center 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 draw back 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 center 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 practice 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 that 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 enemy 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 following battles of the 100 years war between England and France
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 realised 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 their effectiveness had declined considerably.