Battle of Crecy
The Battle of Crecy, from Jean Froissart

The Longbow

What it was:

What it looked like: Around the height of the archer.
Wooden shaft with a slight curve to the points.
Often had horn on tips to hold sinew string. When strung would form about a D shape. (Other types to differentiate it from: short bows - same style but much smaller, recurved bows - a bow where the arms curve like an S and is made with a few pieces of wood attached, crossbow - sideways with trigger).

Dimensions: could be over 6 feet long (1) and around 5 inches in center of bow going out to 2 inches at its tips. Draw weight would often be around 80 to 160 lbs (6).

How it worked: Arrow would be nocked (placed) in the center of the string with its fletching facing away from the string and its body resting against the center of the body of the wood bow. Then it would be pulled back most often with the first two fingers of the right hand to either the chest or under the chin and then aimed and released to send the arrow into the opponent.

Range: 320 m (350 yds) with smaller arrowheads (1).

Materials: Tough and elastic yew wood (2). The sapwood provided tension for the arms of the bow, the heartwood for the center (3). Other woods were Brazilwood, elm or ash fro secondary bows (6). Sinew, flax, hemp, silk, or rawhide were used for the string of the bow (4).

Back to top

When and where:

Dates it became popular: First record of longbows being employed in warfare was in South Wales during the late 12th century (1).

Dates it declined:

Where popular: Wales, then spread to all of England.

Back to top

Who made and how:

Person who made it: Archers often made their own bows or a bowyer/fletcher made them along with arrows to sell.

Where to get materials: Part export of the Ordenstaat, Prussia (2). Brazilwood would be exported from India via Persia.

Cost: Eighty longbows costing one shilling each and six broadbows, each at double the price, in 1360 for Henry Bolingbroke (2). Later in 1460s price went up, rising to around 2 shillings per bow.

Other items needed: Arrows

Back to top

Technological innovations:

What changes occured and when: It is hard to tell when the longbow came into use because bows with the same shape were being used since before Roman times and were slowly being elongated. It is thought that the Welsh in the 1100's first thought of a longbow as a bow that is the same height as the shooter. This was the furthest extent of development: any longer and the bows would be unwieldy both in weight and pull strength.

Back to top


How common a weapon: An English law was passed ordering all men earning less than 100 pence a year to own a longbow (1). Men were also required to practice shooting instead of playing sports.

Battles it was famously used in: Agincourt, Crecy, Poitiers.

Primary source quotes:

  • In 1188 William de Braose, an English knight fighting the Welsh, reported that an arrow had penetrated his chain mail and clothing, passed through his thigh and saddle and finally entered his horse (1).
  • Edward III of England declared that archery had to be practiced, so all other sports (like football) were banned so as not to distract.
  • Roger Ascham published in 1545 one of the first books in English, called both 'The Schole of Shootynge' and 'Toxophilus'.


Back to top

Other interesting facts:

  • Devastated the French knights in the Hundred Years War. Often quoted as a reason for the end of chivalry because of its power for a commoner to bring easily down the mounted nobility.
  • The English may have used the longbow instead of the recurved bow, which had a longer range and stronger force, because the recurved bow would have required glue which might not have been as durable in wetter weather conditions. Longbows are waterproofed with tallow or resin and it was faster to make a new longbow than the more complex recurved bow and crossbow (7) (8).
  • A longbow has around 1/3 of the power of a modern colt gun, with better accuracy and faster reloading than the muskets of the American Revolution.
  • Draw length of a bow was how far the string is drawn back. Draw strength is the weight it takes to pull the string back to a point.
    • Because of the tension on a crossbow it would take about 400 lbs of draw force to pull it back around a 4 in draw length. A longbow would take 100 lbs of draw force to achieve a 20 in draw length. This means that even for a small draw, a crossbow would need to have some other mechanism than a human strength.

Back to top

Go back to Military Technology

Go on to the Crossbow