This article is about the weapon. For other uses, see Longbow (disambiguation).


Longbowman depicted on a sign commemorating the Battle of Crecy

longbow is a type of tall bow – roughly equal to the height of the user – allowing the archer a fairly long draw. A longbow is not significantly recurved. Its limbs are relatively narrow and are circular or D-shaped in cross section. Flatbows can be just as long; the difference is that, in cross-section, a flatbow has limbs that are approximately rectangular.

Longbows for hunting and warfare have been made from many different woods in many cultures; in Europe, they date from the Paleolithic era and, since the Bronze Age, were made mainly from yew, or from wych elm if yew was unavailable. The historical longbow was a self bow made of a single piece of wood, but modern longbows may also be made from modern materials or by glueing different timbers together.

Organisations that run archery competitions have set out formal definitions for various classes of the bow; many definitions of the longbow would exclude some medieval examples, materials, and techniques of use.[Some archery clubs in the US classify longbows simply as bows with strings that do not come in contact with their limbs. According to the British Longbow Society, the English longbow is made so that its thickness is at least 5⁄8 (62.5%) of its width, as in Victorian longbows, and is widest at the grip. This differs from the medieval longbow, which had a thickness between 33% and 75% of the width. Also, the Victorian longbow does not bend throughout the entire length, as does the medieval longbow.




Illustration of longbowmen from the 14th century

The earliest known example of a longbow was found in 1991 in the Ötztal Alps with a natural mummy known as Ötzi. His bow was made from yew and was 1.82 metres (72 in) long; the body has been dated to around 3,300 BC. Another bow made from yew found within some peat in Somerset, England has been dated to 2700–2600 BC. Forty longbows which date from the 4th century AD have been discovered in a peat bog at Nydam in Denmark.

In the Middle Ages the English were famous for their very powerful longbows, used en masse to great effect against the French in the Hundred Years’ War, with notable success at the battles of Crécy (1346), Poitiers (1356), and Agincourt (1415). During the reign of Edward III of England, laws were passed allowing fletchers and bowyers to be impressed into the army and enjoining them to practise archery. The dominance of the longbow on the battlefield continued until the French began to use cannons to break the formations of English archers at the Battle of Formigny (1450) and the Battle of Castillon (1453). Their use continued in the Wars of the Roses however and they survived as a weapon of war in England well beyond the introduction of effective firearms. The average length of arrow shafts recovered from the 1545 sinking of the Mary Rose is 75 cm/30 in. In 1588, the militia was called out in anticipation of an invasion by the Spanish Armada and it included many archers in its ranks; the Kent militia, for instance, had 1,662 archers out of 12,654 men mustered.

The first book in English about longbow archery was Toxophilus by Roger Ascham, first published in London in 1545 and dedicated to King Henry VIII.

Although firearms supplanted bows in warfare, wooden or fibreglass laminated longbows continue to be used by traditional archers and some tribal societies for recreation and hunting. A longbow has practical advantages compared with a modern recurve or compounds bow; it is usually lighter, quicker to prepare for shooting, and shoots more quietly. However, other things being equal, the modern bow will shoot a faster arrow more accurately than the longbow.

The Battle of Flodden (1513) was “a landmark in the history of archery, as the last battle on English soil to be fought with the longbow as the principal weapon..The Battle of Tippermuir (1644), in Scotland, may have been the last battle involving the longbow in significant numbers. It has also been claimed that longbows may have been used as late as 1654 at the Battle of Tullich in northeast Scotland.


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