The Longbow in the Hundred Years' War

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  • 0:08 What is a Longbow?
  • 2:34 The Hundred Years' War
  • 3:19 The Battle of Crecy
  • 3:54 The Battle of Agincourt
  • 4:36 The Success of the Longbow
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

The Hundred Years' War was fought between England and France over English control of French territories. In two major battles, England won because of their longbowmen. This lesson explains why the longbows were important.

What Is a Longbow?

A longbow is a bow that is about equal to the height of the person using it. Longbows in the Middle Ages were made of different types of wood. A longbow could be made of a single piece of wood and could be made quickly. The bows were called longbows because of their size and to distinguish them from another popular weapon at the time, the crossbow.

Usually a longbow was made out of yew wood. This type of wood must be dried for up to two years. During the drying period, the wood is shaped slowly into its final form of a longbow. Eventually, the process was sped up by using shortcuts (like rewetting the wood for shaping). The bow was constructed from one branch cut in half. The heartwood, or the inner part of the branch, was used on the inside of the bow, facing the archer. This is because the heartwood has more resistance to compression. The sapwood, or the outer part of the branch, was used on the outside of the bow because it reacts better to tension. Bowstrings were usually made from linen or sometimes hemp.

The longbow may have had a range of up to 270 yards, but it was difficult for the archer to be accurate at this distance. Better accuracy could be had if the archer was around 80 yards from the intended target. However, accuracy was less important if archers were shooting at a large number of assailants. Longbow archers would usually have enough arrows to last for around three to six minutes of continuous fire. They may have increased their speed by taking arrows out of their quiver and sticking them into the ground for quick access.

Longbow archers could be more vulnerable than other soldiers because they didn't have adequate armor and weapons to use for close combat. Archers had to be positioned at a distance or behind some kind of physical obstruction like a body of water. The archers could also be positioned behind lines of infantry. The archers could shoot at attacking groups to help protect the infantrymen in front of them.

Special arrows were made for longbows. The heads of the arrows were created in a way to allow them to penetrate the chainmail and other types of light armor soldiers might wear. Archers could also aim for the horses of mounted soldiers who wore heavier plate armor. Forcing them down from their mounts took away an advantage gained by fighting on horseback.

The Hundred Years' War

The Hundred Years' War was a war that occurred between 1337 and 1453 between England and France. At the time, Edward III was king of England and Charles IV was king of France. When Charles died, he didn't have any sons or brothers. Edward's mother, Isabella, was Charles' sister. Edward thought he should be king of France, but Charles' cousin Philip claimed the throne for himself. Philip started attacking lands over which England held control in France. England and France fought over these territories until France won back control of all of them but one small territory. This war lasted 116 years and ended in 1453.

Crecy

The Battle of Crecy occurred in 1346. Edward landed in France and was pursued by the French. The troops stopped to fight a battle in Crecy where they were outnumbered by the French. The French sent out crossbowmen who could fire at about three to five bolts (arrows used for crossbows) per minute. This was much slower than the longbowmen, who could fire ten to twelve arrows per minute. France's cavalry proceeded to attack 16 times. However, along with the archers and other soldiers, the English fought them off every time.

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