Imagine a time when you weren’t allowed to play any ball games on a Sunday but you could do Archery? Not only that if you were aged between 15 and 60 in 1252 onwards you were expect to have at least a halberd, a sort of pike with an axe on the end, or a knife or bow. You only had to have this if you owned land worth more than two pound (in new money) and that was pretty much everyone who was a free tenant or villein (a villein was someone who was very poor but didn’t need to beg).
Of course we are much more used to the tanks and planes that the army are air force use nowadays and many of us often wonder what it must be like to be in charge of these power machines – you can get a taster by taking part in Tank Driving Days from companies such as https://www.armourgeddon.co.uk. But what would life have been like with just a longbow to protect you.
The cheapest thing to have was a bow as there were plenty of Yew trees about and you would train to use it from childhood. This meant the King could have a ready-made army to go at a short notice to hop over to France or quell some Welsh or Scottish rebellion. It also meant that the Nobility had to watch themselves otherwise they might face an internal rebellion from the masses
The most popular image of the Longbow man is at the Battles of Crecy and Agincourt. These were great victories for England and Wales, as it was Welsh bowmen that first used the weapon to such effect, and helped to secure English holdings in France and maintain the English nobilities right to the Crown of France a throwback from the days of William the Conqueror. This was a weapon of devastating power especially when combined with the short stabbing bodkin arrow as this could penetrate the plate armour of the Knights all though the broad pointed head arrow was deadly too. The English and Welsh Bowmen could launch salvos of these missiles with stunning speed. They fire in bulk up to 40 arrows a minute. As the development of plate armour went on it became harder to penetrate but also the Knights began to wear a thick padding underneath that stop the arrow. However, the legs and thighs were still exposed and it was still impossible to protect the horses they rode in on. It was not uncommon for a Knight to be trampled or drowned in the mud as his mount was shot out from beneath him.
Our popular view of the Bowman, in fact all of the ventures into France in the hundred years war, is coloured by Crecy and Agincourt but this is not a true impression. There were broken at the Battle Verneuil where the more traditional slog of Men at Arms prevailed and they were routed at the Battle of Patay when they were unable to build their defensive stakes through leadership mismanagement. The English lost a lot of their skilled and seasoned bowmen that day. It was to be the turning point in the war. The English army lost almost half its men and was never able to recover the lands they had taken.