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    Avatar photoGuy Farrish

    Eighteen months or so ago I mentioned my scepticism about what really went on with longbowmen and ‘arrow storms’:


    Recently I came across this on YouTube:


    It reflects/reinforces a less scientific ‘test’ Lindybeige posted about from the Visby re-enactment meeting some years ago, which suggested the same outcomes – arrows don’t penetrate plate armour c1390+

    The bow used in this test is a 160lb draw weight at 30” and the test ranges are all 50m or less.

    For me it spins off lots of thoughts off about armour and arrows – obviously there were gaps in armour and mail didn’t stand much of a chance at short range, so arrows weren’t obsolete all at once. Even more though, it prompted thoughts about the tactical use of bowmen, and their integration or otherwise with melee troops at different periods.

    I’m still playing around with rules for those ideas, but whether you are interested in that argument or not, the YouTube video is definitely worth a watch.

    Avatar photoMike

    That was interesting, good shout.

    Avatar photovtsaogames

    Excellent. I would think the shots that put big dents in the armor would be likely to knock the wearer down. Getting hit by a number of those would not be fun.

    It's never too late to have a happy childhood

    Avatar photoGuy Farrish

    I would think the morale effect of being hit by multiple arrows would be quite significant.

    This does get us into the ‘fuzzy’ area of how people react and did they react differently 600 years ago? Not as simple to reproduce in a test as armour penetration.

    I was particularly interested because I know I have seen another series of tests with arrow heads held in a machine which dropped them with a  specific power onto a steel sheet. I can’t remember where I watched this but am pretty sure they got significant penetration with this method (not as reliable as the real arrow hitting a properly supported armoured breastplate I think). There was another test where slow motion showed the arrow almost rebounding and then carrying on ‘screwing’ its way into the armour. Again the plate held firm I think rather than replicating the ‘give’ of wearing it over mail and padded armour.

    Now someone needs to get an archer to see how many joints and visor slits he can hit in an advancing suit of armour over a specific distance in a given time.

    Avatar photovtsaogames

    I would think the morale effect of being hit by multiple arrows would be quite significant.

    Especially if it dumped one on their butt in the mud.

    It's never too late to have a happy childhood


    What you need is one of those really mental/thick re-enactors to put that breastplate on and get shot in it, several times, at 20 yards. Then we’d know how much it makes yer eyes water when yer cop one…

    any volunteers from the Brethren?


    "Wot did you do in the war Grandad?"

    "I was with Harry... At The Bridge!"

    Avatar photoGuy Farrish

    Not a reenactor, but I think you might need to edit out the first shot before asking for volunteers.

    Avatar photoThorsten Frank

    Matt (Schola Gladiatoria) made a response video to the one above and it brings up a lot of points that I thought of seeing the original test and what you guys already brought up.

    "In strange grammar this one writes" - Master Yoda

    Avatar photoGuy Farrish

    Useful contextualisation.

    I don’t think I give much credence to either end of the extremes of the argument – terminal homing arrows or impervious armoured knights.

    I thought Todd’s test was a useful corrective to the superman image of the English Longbowman that certainly used to be a thing with some wargamers at least.

    As Matt says – it’s a complicated business and both armour and bow continued to have value throughout the fifteenth century – otherwise one or both would have disappeared before they did. (and there were still some advocates for the longbow at the end of the sixteenth century).


    Avatar photoThaddeus Blanchette

    Well, one thing’s for damned sure:  the French repeatedly got fucked over by longbow armies, so they were far from being a useless weapon.

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    Avatar photoGuy Farrish

    Nobody on this thread has suggested it was.


    Avatar photoNot Connard Sage

    Well, one thing’s for damned sure: the French repeatedly got fucked over by longbow armies, so they were far from being a useless weapon.

    Aided and abetted by the gung-ho attitude of the French knnnniggets.

    Besides, there were a lot of battles in the Hundred Years War (it did go on for quite a long time 🙂 ), and the Brits got fecked over by the French a lot too – Patay springs to mind. Also les anglais perfide didn’t ‘win’ in the end. 😉


    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.

    Avatar photoFredd Bloggs

    1390+ full plate was close to arrow proof, but, you had to walk in it from out of range to stand next to the archer to fight him. You had narrow visibility slots, as wide ones would let arrows in once in aimed range, the archer was more nimble and carried weapons that could hurt you, so you had to stay in tight formation, and there were even fewer of you in the armour than archers. And if you went to ground, you were out of it or dead. And this is ignoring his full plated men hitting you, and the less well armed men at arms shucking you out of it like an oyster with his polearm.

    The bow alone did not win battles, the combined arms did. At crecy, poitiers and agincourt, it was the english knights, sarjeants and men at arms who delivered the winning blows, after the archers had softened them up and broken the formations.

    Avatar photoGuy Farrish

    I think the problem in discussing this subject (many subjects in wargaming?) is that we aren’t necessarily being that precise in what we are discussing – see my sloppy title for a start!

    I posted it simply as an interesting corrective to the idea of the armour piercing superweapon sometimes seen in wargames rules. (This is still the dominant popular myth of the longbow – google and weep!). We have however segued into the whole ‘was the longbow any good?’ thing. Of course it was, but its capabilities and role changed over time.

    The situation on the battlefield was different in the C13th when the English longbow probably evolved, from the C16th when it fell out of use.

    Plate armour obviously improved and tactics and other arms and weapons, notably firearms, evolved.

    But possibly (probably?) more important in the change of the effectiveness/use of the longbow was social change in England. Now that isn’t of as much interest to most wargamers as weapons, armour and tactics. But even the advocates of the bow in English armies in the late C16th, and there were several, had to admit that the current crop of English archers wasn’t up to the standard of the supposed golden age of (their choice) Edward III’s time.

    Whether this golden age existed is moot, we are dealing with National Myth and antiquarian commentators vice historians.

    Theoretical archery performance in the field versus firearms probably remains in the ascendancy through the C18th, but no-one seriously tried to bring back archery into mainstream European armies after the mid C16th.

    So was it simply that armour became impervious? That defence beat missile attack? Possibly, but once the constant need for mercenary archers faded with the end of the French Wars the supply of archers capable of pulling a 150lb bow in battle dried up pretty quickly. Once you start having to pass laws to get people to not play ball games instead of shooting on Sunday you know the situation is stuffed!

    The idea of the honest English yeoman practising at the butts every Sunday and popping over to beat the French every few years is one that belongs at best to the very beginning of the Hundred Years War and was probably always a myth. The growth of the indentured retinues to fill armies during the C14th changed the nature of recruits going to wars. Captains filled indentures to raise archers not from those with feudal obligations but with hard cash paid to tried professionals and they wanted bowmen who had been training pretty seriously from a young age and could draw very heavy bows.

    The apparent inability of English archers to reproduce foreign exploits in the ‘Wars of the Roses’ has exercised traditionalists for some time and is another interesting discussion perhaps for another time.

    The C16th century commentators (from early in the century as well as later) lamented the poor quality of the ‘modern’ archer compared with the rosy misted past. The fate of the Macclesfield archers at Flodden possibly indicates how times had changed from when the Cheshire bowmen were the backbone of Richard II’s personal retinue and helped provide the hard core of many English armies.

    So yes, there was an interplay between arrow development and plate armour evolution but just as important was social change in the manpower pool and a tactical evolution that was hard to reverse. As armour disappeared with the introduction of effective firearms, so theoretically armies were vulnerable to archery again – but you no longer had a ready made group of bowmen practising every week as yeoman archers, nor was there a pool of professional archers seeking work. To reverse this would probably have taken a generation and in addition it was noted in the late C16th century that it was easier to provide powder and shot than arrows. A counterintuitive idea until you think of the expertise required to turn trees into shafts, birds into fletchings and to produce case hardened steel arrow heads in the numbers required when the number of skilled fletchers had dramatically declined. Between 1344 and 1351 the Tower supplied 900,000 arrows for English armies: organisations much smaller than later armies. Finding the expertise to produce literally millions of arrows for one battle was probably beyond the resources of late C16th and C17th England.

    So did increasing armour effectiveness render the longbow obsolete? Probably not on its own but it helped push it into a terminal decline. Associated changes in tactics and social and cultural practices which the early modern state, such as it was, had no conception of how to reverse, even if it had wanted, finished the job.

    So was Todd’s video a fair assessment of longbow v armour? Eminently so against the best breastplates available in the early C15th and as long as we bear in mind the caveats noted: weaker plates, joints, poorer soldiers, cavalry vulnerability (but see Patay) a good indicator of the abilities of the bow on the later medieval battlefield.

    Avatar photoThorsten Frank

    . So was Todd’s video a fair assessment of longbow v armour? Eminently so against the best breastplates available in the early C15th and as long as we bear in mind the caveats noted: weaker plates, joints, poorer soldiers, cavalry vulnerability (but see Patay) a good indicator of the abilities of the bow on the later medieval battlefield.

    For sure – and it didn´t come as a surprise for anyone who had even only remotely researched into this topic. I never believed in this armour-piercing and the development of plate armour is definetively linked to the massed use of first bows and later the first firearms. The same goes for “armour-piercing swords” which is completely nonsense (ok, I personally managed to pierce the front piece of a harnish with a Mordhau strike (strike with the pommel and cross guard) during a demonstration to show that it is NOT possible). That was my primary reason to link Matt´s video – to put things into perspective. There are so many factors to be considered. Not only the used weapons or the training of the involved but also things like weather, logistics, terrain, luck(!) and so on, that are decisive for the outcome of a battle or a campaign.
    And as Matt says, it is no black or white affair.
    I think it´s always a bit dangerous to look at isolated occassions and then draw conclusion from that. And, on a side note, worse, integrate the patriotism/nationalism card in that. A look at this specific war shows a very different picture if one looks at the complete conflict and not only the three “longbow battles”.
    The same goes for, to take another example, the Burgundian Wars which could have taken a complete different outcome under some circumstances.
    Or to take another time, the early successes of the Wehrmacht during WWII – in fact, especially the early western front was likely to have a complete different outcome. Even the German high command did expected a years long struggle in France. Even Poland wasn´t a “sure” affair and could have ended in a complete different way.

    "In strange grammar this one writes" - Master Yoda

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