The longbow was a formidable weapon during the Middle Ages and thus changed the nature of warfare. At the Battle of Crecy, which was fought on August 26, 1346, King Edward III decisively won against a superior French army. The French had been harrying the English Army and there was a skirmish at the ford of Blanche-taque (white stones) on the River Somme the day before. Edward’s army was exhausted and running low on food, however, after fording the river there was clear path for retreat to Flanders if necessary.Share
At Crecy, Desmond Seward writes concerning Edward’s forces, “His army, now somewhat reduced, consisted of about 2,000 men-at-arms and perhaps 500 light lancers together with something like 7,000 English and Welsh bowmen and 1,500 knifemen—approximately 11,000 men, though estimates vary.”1 It should be noted how skewed his army was in favor of the archers.
But Edward III was familiar at this point with the longbow’s capabilities and what a four-sided steel point, called a bodkin, could do. A bowshot was approximately 150 yards and could pierce armor at around 60 yards.2 Modern calculations give us a glimpse into the longbow’s raw power and disproves skepticism. Seward writes, “With a typical war bow, having a draw-weight of 80-100 lb, the instantaneous thrust on the string at the moment it checks the forward movement of the two limbs when it is shot is in the order of 400 lb, so it needed to have a breaking strain of about 600 lb to allow an adequate safety margin.”3
It becomes clear that the closer an archer is to his target the greater the damage and, this was accomplished by a seemingly innocuous wooden stave from a yew tree. The descriptions of the longbow in this piece are typical. Where yew was unavailable, there were other species of trees that were good substitutes. Other sources differ slightly on the range, draw-weight, and length of the bow; however, there is no dispute that the English Longbow revolutionized medieval warfare. Its use shifted the paradigm: armor improved, battlefield strategies were modified and, during the Hundred Years War, the English armies were victorious in the majority of the battles (though they never gained the French crown). (Read more.)