Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Bittersweet » Mon Apr 16, 2012 8:01 am

alfred the bowyer wrote:Hm yes, the notion "horses for courses " comes to mind


I think that's the whole point...adapt to what's required at the time and lets face it, if everyone hadn't done that, we wouldn't be here now would we :thumbup:


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby cloudy-cola-corp » Mon Apr 16, 2012 6:19 pm

you can also possibly assume that people could draw heavier bows than we think is likely because cultures untouched by major technologies seem to naturally be stronger ancient greek Olympic javelin throws are though to have marked 150m and some Aboriginals can throw spears 110m also native american games involved running with a wooden ball for 24 hrs to see who got furthest some easily doing over 200km so i think that the mr bows being our only authentic insight is best to agree on



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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Adam R » Mon Apr 16, 2012 10:22 pm

cloudy-cola-corp wrote:you can also possibly assume that people could draw heavier bows than we think is likely because cultures untouched by major technologies seem to naturally be stronger ancient greek Olympic javelin throws are though to have marked 150m and some Aboriginals can throw spears 110m also native american games involved running with a wooden ball for 24 hrs to see who got furthest some easily doing over 200km so i think that the mr bows being our only authentic insight is best to agree on

Absolutely. And skeletal remains show evidence of the strength increase from it affecting the skeleton itself, so we know they definitely changed their own physiology to adapt to the task.


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Rchave » Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:50 am

Hi, I joined this forum ages ago with intentions of being a bit more involved, instead I went back to occasional lurking :p
Anyway, this thread's an interesting one, and a few things came to mind reading it...

We seem to have a lack of primary evidence. This is unfortunate cause without it, it's hard to get solid conclusions, so we're stuck with a large amount of speculation based on a few facts. So- we have the examples of 'lighter' bows mentioned at the beginning of the thread... We have ordinances saying when and how people should practice... we have the Mary Rose bows. And then there's the skeletons found at Towton. If people didn't pull pretty heavy bows, how did they end up with the skeletal deformities that suggest they did?

Even though the Mary Rose bows aren't contemporary proof, I don't see why they'd only start increasing poundage later on.

Would it be possible that people might have more than one bow? To go shooting every Sunday, I'd use a lighter bow I'm comfortable with. But if I was capable of pulling 120lb, and about to go to war, I know what I'd be happier taking with me. Considering these chaps trained quite often (plus the 'gathering of testosterone' element), I don't doubt they'd be able to pull pretty heavy if they wanted to. The "90 - 130lb" as a ballpark range for war bows sounds very reasonable- most fit young men with regular training should probably be able to pull somewhere in this range, when they wanted to.

Even if technically they were relying of the psychological effect of an arrow storm, rather than being able to pierce plate (a contentious point I'll stay out of)- if I were facing a French army, I wouldn't be thinking "although I could pull 120lb, 70lb will have the desired effect".

Although I don't agree with the people who tout it as a superweapon, I don't see any reason why they wouldn't be in the 90 - 130 ish range. It's well within human limits, and to me it seems common sense that, in battle, people would want to be hitting the enemy as hard as they could.



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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Matt Easton » Tue Apr 17, 2012 12:30 pm

Yes, I agree.

The fact is that what evidence we do have all weighs up to indicate the probability that most English medieval warbows were over 100lbs draw weight, because we know from a whole range of data that this is the weight range most likely to replicate the effects that English longbows evidently had – perhaps the hardest piece of fixed evidence being that they could send a livery war arrow a MINIMUM of 220 yards (which was the minimum legal range of practice butts). Even with the best yew bows available people struggle to put a full weight war arrow that distance with anything less than about 100lbs.

I also agree that it makes no sense that the Mary Rose bows would be heavier draw weights than their 14th or 15th century counterparts (the legal practice range of 220 yards was enforced under Henry VIII, so it seems they performed the same), and we know from copious examples in art that the longbow did not change in design. The Tudor bow looked exactly like the Wars of the Roses bow, as did the arrows and the method of carrying the arrows! These are all shown clearly in 15thC art and exactly paralleled by the Mary Rose finds, even down to the perforated leather discs to hold arrows.

Hunting bows are an entirely different discussion, just as hunting arrows are. You may as well compare cars and motorbikes as to compare warbows vs. hunting bows. They used different arrows at different ranges for very different purposes.


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Hobbitstomper » Tue Apr 17, 2012 12:33 pm

If the army was provided with standard arows by the king. Would a weaker bow be able to shoot them far enough?



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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Matt Easton » Tue Apr 17, 2012 12:38 pm

Potentially, no.

But I -suspect- that there was some form of test for archers before major campaigns - there is a reference in one of Curry or Barker's Agincourt books that two archers are recorded as having been sent home from Harfleur because they could not shoot well enough.


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby EnglishArcher » Tue Apr 17, 2012 2:29 pm

Matt Easton wrote:Potentially, no.

But I -suspect- that there was some form of test for archers before major campaigns - there is a reference in one of Curry or Barker's Agincourt books that two archers are recorded as having been sent home from Harfleur because they could not shoot well enough.


Actually, it was Barker's book. She writes that two archers were sent home for not being able to pass muster; which she states (without reference) is because they couldn't shoot the regulated 12 arrows per minute.

(Sigh...)


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Rchave » Tue Apr 17, 2012 2:53 pm

I always thought that 12 arrows per minute was quoted just as a reasonable expectation... Heard it loads of times as a kid taking part in archery displays, I remember being able to do between 12 and 14 so didn't see a problem with it.

I guess when people make very rough calculations on the effectiveness of arrow storms, it's a reasonable "top speed" (although I bet they didn't usually use their ammo that quickly).

Maybe after the millionth time someone quoted it while describing the battle of Agincourt, etc, people started to think of it as a regulation rather than a ballpark figure?



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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Vermin » Tue Apr 17, 2012 3:25 pm

Assuming the MR bows are to be used from the ship - is there a possibility of a longer effective range being practical from a ship than on a battle field due to lack of cover / obstruction ?


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby cloudy-cola-corp » Tue Apr 17, 2012 5:15 pm

the skeletal changes don't really point out large draw weights so much as rapid increase in growth and repetitive strains from a young age I shot allot from 7-15 between 1-3 hrs. a week and my right shoulder is notably different in shape to my left but it is practical to assume that the weight was similar to the MR bows i have a quote to back me up if I can find it about the end of the bow into hand guns.
"witness archers failing to draw to the head shooting wildly in order to loose as fast as possible....Barwyck retorted if he have not his three meals a day, as is his custom at home nor lies warm at nights, he presently waxes be-numbered and feeble, and cannot draw so as to shoot long shots " he continues on to say that he would rather have 500 muskets than 1500 archers at the end of the 16th century as only 1500 in 5000 "could shoot strong shots" and "after 3 months campaigning in winter not one in ten could keep up his strength" so really i find a higher draw weight than MR very unlikely and a range of 100lb -the 150lb we can prove a very very likely estimate
Last edited by cloudy-cola-corp on Tue Apr 17, 2012 6:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Matt Easton » Tue Apr 17, 2012 5:24 pm

Yes, on balance of evidence 100-150lbs seems most likely throughout the period for warbows. Beyond about 150lbs self yew bows seem to suffer from the law of diminishing returns anyway.


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Brian la Zouche » Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:02 am

I'm not [i]fully[/i] convinced that early bows would be as the same DW's as the Mary Rose finds, I have the nagging feeling that higher draws would be more effective against better armour as it evolved, although i have seen some tests done against a padded gambeson type which seemed quite effective on reducing the effect of the hit, so i could be wrong, however the need to import better quality yew from abroad, which does seem to indicate 'english' yew wasnt up to the job,
which kinda tells me it must have been used for them to know that,

I'm only guessing here.....but give a bower dozens of staves, and there are going to be some that wont be able to reach the same DW's as some of the others, and I also guess a skilled bower would be able to tell with his knowledge which staves would not meet the minimum requirment for bows of war, as again I'm only guessing here, that there would be a standard that had to be met, so any bow meeting that standard would be ok, I also doubt they would purposely down weight a good bow, but then again I'm not in the mind set of a medieval bower

from most things i have read a 100lb for the 14th Cent would seem fine, but for 16th Cent 150
i could be wrong but im kinda happy with that,

I wont break a boulder without a sledge hammer,but if all i'm ever doing is driving in nails in a 1'' peice of wood, why would i need a sledgey when a claw hammer will do

BUT i do know as stated before thats with my modern way of thinking



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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Matt Easton » Thu Apr 19, 2012 3:03 pm

Like I said, it was law to shoot at butts 220 yards as a minimum. That gives us quite reliable minimum parameters - bows below a certain power output simply can not shoot a military issue arrow 220 yards. Most modern recurve archers (shooting around 40-50 lbs) with modern technology and arrows can't even put a lightweight arrow out to 220 yards, let alone a whopping great livery arrow with Type 16 arrowhead on the end.


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Langley » Fri Apr 20, 2012 4:24 pm

Sorry to be devil's advocate but is the 220 yds the distance to the target or the overall length of the area with the target perhaps half way up to allow for overshoot without killing passers by? Have not gone to the original source to check I have to admit but a little detail which worried me!



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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby EnglishArcher » Fri Apr 20, 2012 5:33 pm

Langley wrote:Sorry to be devil's advocate but is the 220 yds the distance to the target or the overall length of the area with the target perhaps half way up to allow for overshoot without killing passers by? Have not gone to the original source to check I have to admit but a little detail which worried me!


Well, 220 yards is a furlong, the traditional length of a ploughed field. When the ploughs are turned a bank of earth builds up. This bank is known as a butt.

To me this suggests they shot from one butt to the other, meaning the target was at (approximately) 220 yards. I suspect then the term butt was applied to any earth-mound archery target.

The medieval mind didn't have quite the same concepts of health and safety that we do. I don't think overshoot areas were considered. Besides, you'd be able to see if anyone was in the next field (no hedgerows)


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Matt Easton » Fri Apr 20, 2012 7:04 pm

The law under Henry VIII stated that archers were to shoot at butts not *less* than 220 yards away (some versions state 240 yards).


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Bittersweet » Sat Apr 21, 2012 6:24 am

But aren't we coming back then to a time (by Henry VIII) that the 'heyday' of the artillery bow has gone? It's like Henry wanted to keep some sort of tradition alive...a bit like the Victorians did later.

I'd like to see more references to the bow, arrows, etc. and archery skills requirements from earlier. Accepting that we have a lot of conjecture and speculation it would be so good if there was more documentary stuff to be found and put into simple terms for non-academics like me.


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby cloudy-cola-corp » Sat Apr 21, 2012 9:02 am

don't know it this has been said but the need to import yew for bows whilst is still probably needed for bows that needed long lifespan or very heaviest of bows due to a 1500year climatic cycle they had a noticeable hotter temperature in the uk than there is now (i know global warming and the like but for the majority of the planets lifespan with an O2 and CO2 atmosphere we have no icecaps)and the favourable yews either grow very very very slowly so you get very tight rings but sometimes if it grows faster and has very good soil the rings are wider but just as dense.



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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Sat Apr 21, 2012 10:30 am

I thought that was why the best bows were made from Spanish and Italian Yew, English Yew, because of the climate was an alternative but a second rate one.


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby cloudy-cola-corp » Sat Apr 21, 2012 9:51 pm

anything from a mountain range is a good bow yew it grows slowly so the rings are tight as can be and are therefore rock solid and don't peel apart basicaly if its slow grown or grown very quickly in good soil because even though its got big rings they are still very strong anything thats grown british kinds of weather tends to be in the middle of both and suffers because of it



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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Bittersweet » Sun Apr 22, 2012 6:57 am

Wasn't it supposed to be very wet in Britain early on as well? There were crop failures and famines in 14thC weren't there? So, presumably the yew growing in warmer, drier climes at the time would have been better during 15thC, hence the importing.


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby hobbitomm » Sun Apr 22, 2012 9:15 am

Henry VIII still sent significant numbers of longbow archers overseas, and the bow weights were probably going upwards, in response to uparmouring (and the engagement ranges were coming down, which gets remarked on by French sources, talking about how brave the English must be to allow them so close before firing).

That said, I do think around the 100lb draw for medieval bows is reasonable- as has been said, otherwise the range with a war arrow would be laughable.



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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Matt Easton » Sun Apr 22, 2012 8:15 pm

I don't think that there is any evidence to support the idea that bow weights increased in the Tudor period - on the contrary, most written sources state that archery was a fading skill in England in the 16th century. That is not to say that draw weights used by the top archers had decreased, but that there were simply less top archers available who could use these warbows effectively. It is clear that Henry VIII tried to revive the archery laws, which had not been heavily enforced by the last couple of generations. But the laws themselves were not new - they had been heavily enforced by Richard II and Henry V for example - Henry V even released Acts specifying that arrowheads for war should be made in a certain way.

On balance there is no evidence I have seen, or presented here, to suggest warbow weights went up in the 16th century, but equally there is little to suggest that they went down either. The arrows found on the Mary Rose and arrowheads from other 16th century sites match the parts of arrows found from 15th century sites. The projectiles do not show any evidence for increasing or decreasing bow power. The drawings and paintings of bows do not suggest this either. Therefore the best estimation is surely to say that warbows did indeed cover more or less the same power ranges in 1545 as they did in 1415 or 1445. Saying that warbow weights went either up or down between 1400 and 1545 seems unsupportable with current evidence. The evidence suggests continuity.


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Bittersweet » Mon Apr 23, 2012 7:00 am

I suspect you're probably right Matt, the armouring improvements started quite early on so any need to increase draw weights to use heavier arrows would have been then too (around 1400s and on). If it worked they would keep using it and there must be a point at which an optimum is reached...as said earlier..performance/archer/bow/arrow.


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Matt Easton » Tue May 15, 2012 12:35 pm

Additionally, I don't see any 'up-armouring' in the 16th century. On the contrary, common soldiers continued to wear sallets, brigandines, jacks and mail shirts, just as they had done during the wars of the roses, and 'knights' wore the same degree of full plate as they had at Agincourt.

In fact the height of hardened carbon steel armour production seems to have been in the late-15thC. According to examples tested in Williams' 'Knight and the Blast Furnace', armour seems to decrease in quality in the 16thC on average, probably as armour was increasingly seen as less important in warfare and artillery more so.

But I don't really think changes in armour played much of a deciding factor on archery by this time - longbows and their arrows seem to have reached a sort of peak in their science and stayed there. As I said above, there is no general difference between the arrows used in 1400 and those used in 1550, as far as I can see. That the projectiles remained the same suggests that they did the job required and the bows were probably also pretty much the same (and this appears to be true according to longbows in art).


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Brian la Zouche » Wed May 16, 2012 12:19 pm

[quote="EnglishArcher"][quote="Matt Easton"]

Actually, it was Barker's book. She writes that two archers were sent home for not being able to [i]pass muster[/i]; which she states (without reference) is because they couldn't shoot the [i]regulated 12 arrows per minute[/i].

(Sigh...)[/quote]

stop sighing :D maybe their minutes were not like our earth minutes :D



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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Adam R » Sun May 20, 2012 8:07 am

Matt Easton wrote:Additionally, I don't see any 'up-armouring' in the 16th century. On the contrary, common soldiers continued to wear sallets, brigandines, jacks and mail shirts, just as they had done during the wars of the roses, and 'knights' wore the same degree of full plate as they had at Agincourt.


I think I would have problems agreeing with you more Matt. The one bit of evidence that might change my opinion would be the discovery of arrow heads that showed a larger diameter socket (heavier arrow). It is the arrow that is the weapon after all, the bow is just the delivery system. If the weapon became heavier because of armour (not that I think that's a very compelling argument - see Matt's comments) then the socket of the arrow would be the best indicator of that. Then draw weight would need to increase to hit the same required range.

But the MR arrows vary anyway, although they typically have a tapering diameter from 1/2" to 3/8". The medieval shaft found over Harry V's tomb was 7/16" all the way down until near the nock. IF this was a representative arrow (I wonder if it was the one that hit him at Shrewsbury?) then the weight would have been pretty darn similar to the MR ones.

And archery was still a healthy part of England's military provision in Henry VIII's time - it continued after too, with continued legislation for it's use (and banning the use of crossbows and handguns by commoners) into the 16th C.

Not enough clear evidence either way, but I can't see any real reason for supposing that they changed much in the 3 generations from WotR to MR.

Some interesting facts turned up though.


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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby Fox » Sun May 20, 2012 1:26 pm

EnglishArcher wrote:
Matt Easton wrote:Potentially, no.

But I -suspect- that there was some form of test for archers before major campaigns - there is a reference in one of Curry or Barker's Agincourt books that two archers are recorded as having been sent home from Harfleur because they could not shoot well enough.


Actually, it was Barker's book. She writes that two archers were sent home for not being able to pass muster; which she states (without reference) is because they couldn't shoot the regulated 12 arrows per minute.

(Sigh...)

And they were sent home from Southampton....

But she does quote the required rate of fire on two seperate occasions, once in the Agincourt book and once in Conquest; the reference she gives is that it's from Strickland and Hardy.



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Re: Medieval Longbow Draw Weights

Postby chidokan » Sun May 20, 2012 9:07 pm

Modern man is obviously weaker than his ancestors... there again we do sit on our backsides all day, have cranes and forklifts to pick up anything heavy, and have health and safety limits on how much you are allowed to pick up, even if you have a manual labour type of job... and then stick it in the boot of the car, rather than carry it home. You would have to be fit/strong, there is very little in the way of automated/mechanical help, so no reason why a well fed healthy man could not pull these weights. 220 yards is a LONG way, I have yet to attain this with a 'modern' longbow, as I am just up to 85lbs now, but like everything else you train up to it...
I am fairly sure there is a raising of bow weights as time passes, stopping around the WOTR. Why would I need a bow of 200lbs just to kill an unprotected horse or someone wearing chainmail? As the armour vs weapons race goes on, bow/armour goes up, same as guns and armour does now.
I quite like Pip Bickerstaffe's idea of reverse engineering from the size of the nocks in the MR shafts...the gap would dictate a bow of 100lbs or so. So re-enactors should really carry and use bows of at least this size, otherwise they are cheating. In my book that's like wearing modern shoes... :devil:




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