Medieval Longbow

As the name says, a longbow is a really long bow. A medieval longbow was nearly as tall as the person who carried it. It had the shape of the letter D, but narrower. Because of its size and shape, it allowed the archer to do a very long draw when shooting.

Longbows had two purposes in the middle ages. They were used for the fight in war as well as for hunting. This weapon was often made of a single piece of wood, so it was quite easy to make it. The use of it, however, required lots of skill.

They were large and really heavy, and it was hard to keep them still and shoot with high precision. That’s why archers normally started with their training from an early age.

Longbows in war

This weapon was very important in the medieval English and Welsh armies. They were famous for their powerful longbows. Fletchers (craftsmen who made arrows) and bowyers (bow makers) were required to join the army during the reign of Edward III of England. Archery was practiced regularly, and it was taken to perfection.

This weapon was successfully used in several battles against the French during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – until the French started to use cannons against English archers.

Even though they stopped using longbows against the French, the English continued to use this weapon on their own land during the Wars of the Roses and later. When in the sixteenth century the English expected a Spanish invasion, they called out the militia that included tens of thousands of archers.

Self (bottom) and laminated (top) bows for comparison

How longbows were made

While other peoples throughout the world used various materials to make composite or laminated bows, the medieval English bowyers traditionally made it from a single piece of wood. Such simple longbows were called self bows, and they were usually made from yew wood.

Because of the large number of archers and bows in northern Europe, by the end of the medieval period, it was almost impossible to find a mature yew tree. Bowyers also used Osage orange (hedge apple tree) and mulberry heartwood.

Some longbow facts

Because of its simplicity, a longbow can be made quickly. Medieval English bowyers made a couple of them a day and even an amateur bowyer today could make one in 10 to 20 hours.

The English were really serious about the use of the longbow, and in 1545 Roger Ascham wrote a book about it. The name of the book was the Toxophilus (“a lover of the bow”), and it was dedicated to King Henry VIII.

A medieval longbow archer would receive over sixty – and sometimes over seventy – arrows for use in battle. They did not shoot too fast because of two reasons; the number of arrows was limited, and shooting them was physically exhaustive.

An army used to include some young boys, whose role was to take additional arrows and hand them over to archers on the battlefield.

Longbow arrows

An arrow is a long straight firm shaft, stabilized with fletchings (such as feathers), and a sharp and heavy arrowhead on the front end. The rear end has a slot called the nock to fit the bowstring. Compared with crossbow bolts, longbow arrows were long and lightweight.

The most popular arrowheads in medieval England were so-called barbed arrowheads. Their points and edges were sharp, and they had two long barbs, which made the arrow almost impossible to remove from the target.


Which armies in medieval Europe most relied on longbows?

Those were English and Welsh armies.

Who made longbows?

Artisans called bowyers.

What material did they use?

They most often used yew wood.

What kind of projectile was thrown by a longbow?

Longbow arrows – straight, firm, long and lightweight shafts with pointed head and stabilizers called fletchings.

What is Toxophilus?

It is the first book on longbow archery ever written in the English language.