'Recurved' longbows?

Historic questions, thoughts and other interesting stuff

Moderator: Moderators

Post Reply
Phoenix Rising
Posts: 223
Joined: Sun Aug 21, 2011 8:58 pm

'Recurved' longbows?

Post by Phoenix Rising »

Some of the medieval illustrations of battles etc show bows that seem to have, at least at first glance, a 'recurve' effect (ie, the last part of the limb is curved forward to give more 'snap' to the shot), and that this has been shown by (I think) Chris Boyton to have been a possibility as he steamed the ends of the stave and then, whilst the wood was pliable, gave it a gentle curve forwards.

The argument put forward is that the crusaders saw horsebows in the Holy Land (which are recurved) and brought the idea back with them.

However, when you look at the illustrations, is it a recurve that you see, or do the manuscripts stylise the horn nocks and the general shape of the bow towards them?

User avatar
John Waller
Post Knight
Posts: 1551
Joined: Tue Sep 06, 2005 1:36 pm
Location: Surrey

Re: 'Recurved' longbows?

Post by John Waller »

Chris has made bows as described. I don't think there is a huge demand for them as they don't meet the spec for a longbow as defined by various archery bodies. A couple of friends have bows by Chris with recurved limbs based on a LOTR elvish / ancient eygyptian hybrid style. Lovely work and very fast cast bows.

I agree some illustrations do suggest that long bows with recurved limbs may have been in use.
Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.

User avatar
Brother Ranulf
Post Centurion
Posts: 963
Joined: Thu Sep 20, 2007 7:46 pm
Location: Canterbury

Re: 'Recurved' longbows?

Post by Brother Ranulf »

I have collected all available images of archers in 12th century English sources and a number of these show slightly recurved ends, like this one from the Morgan Bestiary of around 1185:
MBarcher.jpg (15.43 KiB) Viewed 3763 times
and this in the Hunterian (York) Psalter of about 1170:
hpsagittarius.jpg (56.54 KiB) Viewed 3763 times
None of the illustrations from this period seem to show horn nocks - but then none of them include a bracer or spare arrows, so it may simply be simplification. My own view is that these are not longbows in the modern sense, so having the extra "whip" from recurved ends would give a bit more power to the shot - just like many of the shorter bows used in other parts of the world. Many 12th century illustrations do not show this feature, indicating that it was not a general artistic convention but a genuine feature of one particular type of bow.
Brother Ranulf

"Patres nostri et nos hanc insulam in brevi edomuimus in brevi nostris subdidimus legibus, nostris obsequiis mancipavimus" - Walter Espec 1138

Posts: 22
Joined: Sat Sep 21, 2013 6:01 pm

Re: 'Recurved' longbows?

Post by Grendel2 »

In this vid they make a reflexed longbow and test it.


Phoenix Rising
Posts: 223
Joined: Sun Aug 21, 2011 8:58 pm

Re: 'Recurved' longbows?

Post by Phoenix Rising »

Yes, the vid clip is from 'The Weapons that made Britain', which is where I too first saw this being done. I was always surprised that the take up for them wasn't more sustained, as the bow Chris makes is a beauty and no mistake.

However, given the illustrations, I can't help but wonder how much of the 'recurving' is just in the mind, and what we might be seeing is the natural tendency of a bow to bend slightly forward, especially when its new? Yew bows especially are noted to do this, and I'm wondering if this, coupled with the shape of horn nocks, is what we are truly seeing?

I'm thinking the horn nocks being missing might be because they may have only been needed in high draw weight bows (ie, warbows) to stop the bow string cutting through the slender wooden tips. In the lower weight bows this may not have been needed?

Posts: 46
Joined: Tue Sep 24, 2013 3:29 pm

Re: 'Recurved' longbows?

Post by Will.S »

This is a debate that is never ending amongst bowyers. Nobody is quite sure, but the general consensus is that the typical medieval warbow had no recurves.

None of the Mary Rose bows show any real sign of recurves, although plenty are set back in the handle, either naturally, or heat induced or as a result of how they were preserved.

For what it's worth, all of the yew bows that I've made have needed horn nocks, as even on the light bows (60lbs or less) the string makes serious gouges in the wood. I personally wouldn't trust any yew bow without reinforced tips. White wood bows like ash, elm or holly are much less prone to this and don't require any additional protection. Whether the artists knew this or not... Who knows? Chances are images of bows without horn nocks are of white wood bows, or the artists are working from memory/imagination.

As a last thought, I'm fairly sure (but by no means certain!) that any true warbow (draw weight in excess of 100lbs) wouldn't benefit much from a recurved limb tip but that is supposition. It's a risky job recurving a limb tip, requiring pre-made and tested jigs, clamps, time and the element of risk as it's easy to lift a splinter on the heartwood belly of a yew bow by flipping the tips.
Last edited by Will.S on Sat Feb 08, 2014 2:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2349
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:54 pm
Location: Polmont-Edinburgh

Re: 'Recurved' longbows?

Post by guthrie »

To me, not being an archer, the pictures shown so far are merely the usual sort of mostly but not quite accurate drawings that occur all the way through the later medieval period, and are certainly not good enough for proving the existence of a recurve on longbows of the time.

Post Reply