Anything about bows and crossbows

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,387
Dispargum
#52
So now I've read all of Burwick's treatise, or at least everything he's going to say about archers vs arquebuses. My thoughts and observations:

1. He's clearly biased against archers. Whether this is from honest appraisal or just professional rivalry and prejudice, it's hard to say.

2. Comments like 'archers are soft and lazy and complain of the discomforts of camp life on campaign. They allow their arrowheads to grow rusty. They say it's too inflict dirtier wounds, but it's really because archers are too lazy to keep their arrowheads sharp' tell us nothing except that Burwick has a low opinion of archers. I'm reasonably certain there were lazy arquebusiers, too. (9th Discourse)

3. At one point he describes a theoretical battle between an arquebusier and an archer on one side against an advancing enemy. He claims the arquebusier can fire his first shot when the enemy is 480 yards out and can reload and fire again every 80 yards the enemy advances so that the arqubusier gets off six shots before hand-to-hand combat breaks out. He seems to be describing an enemy who is double timing and advancing 80 yards in 24 seconds which seems about right for an arquebusier to reload. Then he says the archer's reload time is slower than the arqubusier's which seems wrong. Then he says the archer can only fire his first shot when the enemy is 80 yards out, also probably short, and the archer will only get off one shot before hand-to-hand combat. Again, he's clearly biased against archers and is uninterested in a fair comparison. (9th Discourse)

4. Another time he issues a silly challenge. He will stand 120 yards in front of an archer while wearing bullet-proof armor and let the archer shoot 10 arrows at him. If the archer wounds him, Burwick will admit he's wrong and that archers give good service.
A. Why does he need armor if he's 40 yards beyond the archer's range?
B. He doesn't prove anything by showing that an area weapon can't hit a man-sized target at long range
C. He's already made a pretty good case that arrows can't penetrate armor so there's no need to make that point again. (10th Discourse)

5. He describes one skirmish between English and French with a few hundred on each side including 35 English archers. One archer was killed but no French fell to the archers. This would have been a great opportunity to brag how well the arquebusiers had done, but he makes no such claim. Instead he says that in other battles he has seen 20,000 killed by arquebuses, but there was no logical reason to bring that up here. (7th Discourse)

6. In another battle between French with archers and Spanish with arquebusiers he doesn't tell anything to establish the superiority of one over the other. (4th Discourse)

7. He makes frequent reference to Sir John Smith who had recently published a treatise arguing the superiority of longbows over arquebusiers. I'm not convinced either of them is right, but the fact that the argument is still ongoing 100 years after the invention of the arquebus tells me the arquebus is not an overwhelming improvement over the longbow.

8. Most of his arguments follow the format 'Everybody knows arquebuses are superior to longbows...,' or 'I've seen it with my own eyes and you have to believe me,' but he makes no cogent arguments.

9. He makes a good case that arquebuses can penetrate armor while arrows can not, but personnally, I already knew that so didn't learn anything in that regard.

https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A05277.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext
 
Last edited:
Apr 2018
267
USA
#53
Sorry for the delay, thanks for taking the time to look up Barwick's treatise and read through it!

I was going to try and post a load of different links but it looks like the bow vs musket blog already has a pretty good overview. There are a couple of others you can find by searching the EEOB site so be sure to let me know if you're interested in more reading or have any further questions. https://bowvsmusket.com/2016/04/30/english-books-on-bow-vs-musket-issue/

I'd definitely recommend reading John Smythe's treatises, both "Certain Discourses" and "Certain Instructions" as he was probably the longbow's strongest proponent at the time. Smythe certainly seems to have thought that the longbow was more accurate and he's the one who came up with the argument that bows had a greater "effective range" despite a shorter range overall based on reports from battles where thousands of bullets were fired but seem to have resulted in very few casualties.

He's also the one largely responsible for suddenly reigniting the bow vs gun debate in the 1590s. By 1590 the longbow had already been more or less replaced by firearms in practice and only saw combat if there nothing else was available, so the privy council's decision "officially" give up the longbow in 1595 was really more of a formality than anything. If we are to believe the reason Barwick himself gave for writing his response to Smythe, he was just a retired old mercenary who was getting tired of listening to people be wrong,

. . . I haue found so very many addicted to the opinion of Syr Iohn Smith, as touching the commending of the Archerye of England with so many reasons and arguments by him alleadged in that behalfe, that many are thereby perswa∣ded, that the long Bowe is the onelye wea∣pon of the Worlde for the obtaining of Battailes and victories in these daies, with so manye allegations against Muskets, Harquebuzies and other weapons of fire, as in the same Booke appeereth.
If you can, I'd highly recommend trying to find a copy of the modern edition of "Certain Discourses Military" which has an introduction by J. R. Hale. He includes more than 50 pages going over Smythe's background and the bow vs gun debate. He was known for being fairly difficult to work with and a sort of proto-nationalist. He argues so strongly in favor of the longbow largely because that's the weapon his english ancestors used and it worked fine for them. Similarly, he favored the arquebus over the newer musket and caliver, and thought that more soldiers should go back to using short bills and halberds instead of pikes.

Hale even briefly discusses the unpublished response to Barwick smythe was working on between 1592-1594. After Smythe had his 1591 treatise suppressed by royal degree for accusing various high-ranking officials of treason and conspiracy, he couldn't risk attacking the likes of Sir Roger Williams while trying to regain favor. A relatively unknown commoner like Barwick however was apparently fair game. Unfortunately, Hale concludes that it is probably for the best that he decided not to publish this response and started writing "Certain Instructions" instead, as the response didn't really bring new arguments to the table and instead devolved into a lot of insults and pedantry:

His scorn for Barwick led Smythe into a depressingly humorless vein of scolding. Barwick had remarked that he had seen archers who had complained of the bow's disadvantages. "Now between hearing and seeing there is a great difference," Smythe heavily comments, "for men do use to see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and not to see with their ears and hear with their eyes," so Barwick must have heard, not seen, these complaints, "unless peradventure he hath some supernatural gift of hearing with his eyes."
On the subject of other period uthors, though the don't go into as much detail as barwick, Sir Roger Williams and Barnabe Rich would have been much more influential at the time. Williams especially was already a well-known war hero and one of the queen's favorites at the time. Rich similarly was a well-known figure with decades of experience from the continent, scotland, and ireland. Rich was a prolific writer and was already complaining about the longbow in his 1574 pamphlet, but his views seem to have stiffened over time. The final section of "A Martial Confrence" which I linked to earlier gives a pretty good overview of the pro-gun arguments at the end of the 1590s.

I'd also highly recommend having a go at Robert Barret's "Theorike and practike" which gives a very good discussion of 16th century pike and shot tactics in general.

Overall, the weight of veterency does seem to have been largely in favor of the pro-gun side, while those who were more in favor of bows (aside from perhaps John Smythe) were more often young men or scholars who were just as eager to see infantry return to using short swords and large, rectangular shields.

If you're interested in some modern books for more context, "Elizabethan Military Science" by Webb gives a very good overview of various military treatises and authors from this period. For books which go into more detail on the bow vs gun debate in particular I'd reccomend "English Warfare, 1511–1642" by Mark Fissel and "Gun Culture in Early Modern England" by Schwoerer.

---

Anyways, On the subject of accuracy. Barwick thought guns were more accurate, Smythe thought that bows were more accurate, I think maybe Rich claimed that guns could hit a target more often, but aside from that you're right. Most authors don't really seem to bring up accuracy when comparing bows and guns one way or the other, and the fact that there was even room for debate in the first place suggests to me that even with perfect marksmen under ideal conditions accuracy for the longbow and arquebus was pretty similar.

Something to keep in mind though is that at the time the performance of an arquebus in combat was still primarily seen as an extension of personal qualities, not an inherent property of the weapon. If a soldier's arquebus missed or missfired then it must have somehow been his fault, either he lacked skill, didn't load correctly, wasn't using the right kind of bullets, wasn't taking enough care of his weapon or powder, or perhaps he just wasn't going to church often enough. You can see this attitude with Barwick when proposed a scenario where it is raining and the soldier can't shoot because his powder is wet, he simply responds with something along the lines of "Well, if the soldier was skilled, then he wouldn't have let his powder get wet in the first place."

Sir Roger Williams mentions something similar regarding the early successes of the Huguenot cavalry:

True it is, the great Captaine the Admirall Chatillion, chose often to fight, and would haue diuers or the most of his horse∣men to bee armed, wyth one Pistoll and a good Cur∣tilace [Cutlass]: hee had great reason, for the most of his follo∣wers on horsebacke were Gentlemen of qualitie, or resolute Souldiours that fought for the Religion. Di∣uers of the Gentlemen were in quarrells for their hou∣ses, or for their particular reputation, but all in gene∣rall, were resolute valiant faithfull men of warre, that fought either for religion or reputation, to maintaine their wordes after the olde Romane fashion. Being such men, no weapons comes amisse: for constancie and true valor, ouerthrows al pollicie, being in Armes, readie to fight without delayes.
Overall, despite gaining such controversy the bow vs gun debate really was just a fairly small part of the overall discussion, and most treatises touch on it only very briefly. Instead the bulk of ink tends to get spent discussing morality, military laws, and what makes a "perfect" soldier or officer.

Sure, a perfect soldier ought to know the advantages and disadvantages of every sort of weapon as well as which weapons are "best" overall. And it's wrong for him to lead fellow soldiers to their deaths due to his ignorance. But the weapons themselves don't actually win wars or battles.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,387
Dispargum
#54
What surprises me about the longbow-arquebus debate in England is how long it took. Some armies made the deliberate choice of arquebus over crossbow in the very early 1500s. Even less progressive armies were replacing crossbows with arquebuses by 1550. The longbow was in some respects better than the crossbow and the arquebus' advantages over the crossbow were greater than the arquebus' advantages over the longbow, but it still surprises me the longbow survived as long as it did.

Looking at how many archers were present in various 16th century battles, how many bows were on hand in English arsenals at different times, etc, I get the sense there's a steady decline throughout the 16th century.

Considering how often Tudor monarchs had to issue laws punishing the playing of games other than archery, enforcing the mandatory archery practice laws, and requiring towns and villages to maintain their butts (shooting ranges), it seems clear to me that 16th century Englishmen were far less interested in archery than their great great grandfathers were.

During the 100 Years War by law every able-bodied Englishman had to own a bow. By the 16th century only the poorest Englishmen are required to own bows. Working class and middleclass men were allowed to own firearms instead. There was a loss of status in being an archer. When Barwick talks of archers being lazy and prone to complaining, he's commenting on archers being drawn from the lowest elements of society.

Given the abundance of legislation, the Tudor monarchs still loved the longbow and apparently resisted the arquebus. When the privy council finally admited the end of the longbow in 1595, was the decision forced on them by army officers who no longer wanted inferior longbows and instead wanted arquebuses, or was it the rank and file soldiers who no longer wanted to be longbowmen?

Archery was no longer the popular sport it used to be, there were better games to play that required less effort to become proficient at, mandatory archery practice was no longer enforced in many places, village butts were often not being maintained, and being an archer was less prestigious than it used to be. I think there were many reasons why the longbow slowly faded away that had nothing to do with the superiority of the arquebus.

If the superiority of the arquebus had driven the decision, I think the longbow would have disappeared far earlier and much more abruptly.
 
Mar 2012
4,226
#56
Yes, there are proponents of bows over arquebus.

John Smythe wrote the following:
"Amongst other weapons left accustomed, are the Bow and the Crossebow, which are two weapons that may do very good service against unarmoured men, or those that are ill armoured, especially in wet weather, when the Harquebussier loses his weapon. And were it for that the archers and crossbow men could carry about them their ammunition for their bowes and crossbows, as easily as do Harquebussiers may do theirs for their Harquebusses I would commend them before the Harquebusse, as well for their readiness in shooting, which is much more quicker, also for the fureneffe (finesse/accuracy?) of their fhot, which is almost never in vain. And although the Harquebussier may shoot further, notwithftanding the Archer and Crossbow man will kill 100, or 200, paces off, aswell as the Harquebussier: and sometime the armour, except it be the better quality, can not hold out: and the uttermost the remedy is that they should be brought as near before they do shoot as possibly they may, and if it were so handled, there would be more slain by their shot, then by twice as many Harquebussiers, and this I will prove by one Crossbow man that was in Turin, when as the Lord Marshall of Annibault was Governor there, who, as I have understood, in five or six skirmishes, did kill and hurt more of our enemies, then five or six of the beSt Harquebussiers did, during the whole time of the siege."

Smythe seem to hint that at further distances like 100-200 paces, the bow/crossbow is more accurate. This is understandable, as there are more air resistance for bullets because of its speed and hence the further it goes, the less accurate it becomes.


We also have a number of Englishmen who promoted the longbow over the arquebus at this time. For example, Roger Ascham wrote a famous book Toxophilus all about promoting the longbow and its merits including over early firearms and presented it to Henry VIII after his victory at Boulogne.


In the east, Coyett also stated that the Ming archers during the siege of Zeelandia "nearly eclipsed the musket," of the Dutch when they fought each other.
Also, even in China, northern generals still preferred three eyed gun and bows over arquebus; however, Qi Jiguan attributed it to their lack of familiarity with the arquebus:


北兵不耐煩劇,執稱快槍三眼銃便利過於鳥銃,教場中打靶,鳥銃命中十倍快槍,五倍弓矢,猶自不 服。

"Northern soldiers are impatient, they claimed that "fast gun (handgonne)" and "three eye gun" as more convenient than arquebus. During training, the accuracy of arquebus is ten times better than handgonne, and five times better than bow and arrow, but they are still unconvinced."

By Qing times, archers universally only made up about 20% of the army whereas arquebuses made up around 50% and these are more powerful Manchu bows we are talking about. It's clear that the arquebus is favored over the bow except in certain terrains and the Manchus never had problems with "training" the men in archery as they grew up with it.
 
Apr 2018
267
USA
#57
John Smythe wrote the following:
"Amongst other weapons left accustomed, are the Bow and the Crossebow, which are two weapons that may do very good service against unarmoured men, or those that are ill armoured, especially in wet weather, when the Harquebussier loses his weapon. And were it for that the archers and crossbow men could carry about them their ammunition for their bowes and crossbows, as easily as do Harquebussiers may do theirs for their Harquebusses I would commend them before the Harquebusse, as well for their readiness in shooting, which is much more quicker, also for the fureneffe (finesse/accuracy?) of their fhot, which is almost never in vain. And although the Harquebussier may shoot further, notwithftanding the Archer and Crossbow man will kill 100, or 200, paces off, aswell as the Harquebussier: and sometime the armour, except it be the better quality, can not hold out: and the uttermost the remedy is that they should be brought as near before they do shoot as possibly they may, and if it were so handled, there would be more slain by their shot, then by twice as many Harquebussiers, and this I will prove by one Crossbow man that was in Turin, when as the Lord Marshall of Annibault was Governor there, who, as I have understood, in five or six skirmishes, did kill and hurt more of our enemies, then five or six of the beSt Harquebussiers did, during the whole time of the siege."
As A minor nitpick that passage comes from from an English translation of Instructions for the Wars by Raimond Forquevaux, which was first written in 1548, about 40 years before Smythe wrote certain discorses. https://imgur.com/a/eN7DnPa

By "sureness of their shot" he's saying that bows and crossbows misfire less often. He still concludes with: ". . . at the uttermost the remedy is that they should be brought as near before they do shoot as possibly they may"

What surprises me about the longbow-arquebus debate in England is how long it took. Some armies made the deliberate choice of arquebus over crossbow in the very early 1500s. Even less progressive armies were replacing crossbows with arquebuses by 1550. The longbow was in some respects better than the crossbow and the arquebus' advantages over the crossbow were greater than the arquebus' advantages over the longbow, but it still surprises me the longbow survived as long as it did.

Looking at how many archers were present in various 16th century battles, how many bows were on hand in English arsenals at different times, etc, I get the sense there's a steady decline throughout the 16th century.

Considering how often Tudor monarchs had to issue laws punishing the playing of games other than archery, enforcing the mandatory archery practice laws, and requiring towns and villages to maintain their butts (shooting ranges), it seems clear to me that 16th century Englishmen were far less interested in archery than their great great grandfathers were.

During the 100 Years War by law every able-bodied Englishman had to own a bow. By the 16th century only the poorest Englishmen are required to own bows. Working class and middleclass men were allowed to own firearms instead. There was a loss of status in being an archer. When Barwick talks of archers being lazy and prone to complaining, he's commenting on archers being drawn from the lowest elements of society.

Given the abundance of legislation, the Tudor monarchs still loved the longbow and apparently resisted the arquebus. When the privy council finally admited the end of the longbow in 1595, was the decision forced on them by army officers who no longer wanted inferior longbows and instead wanted arquebuses, or was it the rank and file soldiers who no longer wanted to be longbowmen?

Archery was no longer the popular sport it used to be, there were better games to play that required less effort to become proficient at, mandatory archery practice was no longer enforced in many places, village butts were often not being maintained, and being an archer was less prestigious than it used to be. I think there were many reasons why the longbow slowly faded away that had nothing to do with the superiority of the arquebus.

If the superiority of the arquebus had driven the decision, I think the longbow would have disappeared far earlier and much more abruptly.
The adoption of new military technologies was typically not as smooth, consistant, or logical as you might expect. During the late 16th century Irish noblemen were still fighting from horseback without stirrups.

Already the longbow and Agincourt had become a huge part of the English national identity. Yes there were laws requiring weekly longbow practice among english subjects, right alongside laws which forbade any foreigners from practicing with the longbow in order to keep them from stealing England's secret bent-wood technology. Debates about giving up the bow completely could become very emotionally charged, like it did with Smythe. Laws requiring archery practice in particular continued to receive fairly broad support and remained on the books well into the 17th century, with proponents reasoning that if nothing else it promoted good health and would keep young men away from brothels, gambling houses, and bowling alleys.

England was a bit late to start picking up on changes that were happening on the continent as they had matters to deal with on the island and were only tangentially involved in the Italian Wars, a series of major conflicts where "classic" pike and shot tactics really coalesced before exploding in popularity across europe. Henry VIII himself took a keen interest in military matters and had a wide collection of guns, but he didn't start relaxing legislation to allow english subjects to own and practice with firearms until the 1530s. This was shortly after Henry's break from the catholic church and happened alongside a number of other modernization efforts such as greatly expanding/modernizing the navy and dotting the entire the entire english coastline with artillery forts in case of invasion.

When Henry was preparing to invade Boulogne in 1544 however, the bulk of his army were still armed with the old bows and bills, so he opted to spend a great deal of money hiring foreign arquebusiers and pikemen as well as offering higher payment to englishmen willing to learn how to use the new weapons. It seems to have been one of these initiatives which initially turned Humphrey Barwick into an arquebusier instead of an archer, it was also during this period that Montluc found himself fighting against English longbowmen. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A51199.0001.001?rgn=main;view=toc

By the late 16th century it had already been made very clear that firearms were a very important weapon and were here to stay Even smythe felt that in certain situations guns were unmatched. The debate by this point had shifted to whether england should continue trying to combine longbowmen with pike and shot, or ditch the longbow completely. Longbow practice was declining, but it was still a very popular pasttime. Oddly enough, Smythe actually rejects the Idea that English archers in the past were simply much stronger and better than men today, and while he does say that archery practice has declined he rejects the notion that there are no longer any good archers left in england.

As a brief aside, He does note that archers had developed a very poor reputation military as of late, but after observing the English army muster at Tilbury in 1588 in response to the Spanish armada, he concluded that modern captains just weren't using them correctly:

. . . to performe the same, they ought not to haue anie other weapon placed before them, that may anie waies take away their sights to direct their ar∣rowes towards the Enemies faces; but as they were placed, their sights had not onlie been taken away vp∣pon such an action with the smoake of the shot, and with so manie ranckes and Ensignes closed in frunt and flanckes as were before them, but also the most of their volees of arrowes should haue flien through the taffaties of the Ensignes, and haue glaunced or lighted vpon the piques, either cleauing them, or bea∣ting them downe: besides that, (to the Archers great disaduātage) they should haue lost a great part of their ground, in giuing their volees of arrowes at their E∣nemies, by reason of the distance, so manie ranckes of other weapons being before them:
Smythe's position was basically the one from way back towards the beginning of the thread, that england should continue employing a small number of the best archers around as sort of an elite force alongside the rest of the more modern troops. As far as I can tell though he seems to have been largely alone in this opinion. Most authors saw the longbow as more of a militia weapon since it was cheap, many people were already familiar with it, and practice arrows could be reused, unlike practice gunpowder.

In the end, the Privy council's decision seems to suggest that the pro-gun side finally did win out. Men continued to show up at musters armed with bows and arrows every now and again, but would be classified as "untrained men", given lower pay and primarily non-combat duties. There were a few more attempts to revive military archery in the 17th century, but again none of them seem to have achieved much.

Anyways, getting back to the subject of "why" it was decided to give up the longbow. Personally I think the evidence suggests that they were simply being outperformed by firearms, but even that isn't really relevant compared to understanding the thoughts and opinions of people around at the time that a decision was made, and I still have yet to come across anyone from this time who actually believed something along the lines of: "The musket is a far worse weapon than than the longbow, but I think we should still get rid of the rest of our longbowmen and defeat our enemies by instead throwing endless waves of expendable musketeers at them."
 
Mar 2012
4,226
#58
As A minor nitpick that passage comes from from an English translation of Instructions for the Wars by Raimond Forquevaux, which was first written in 1548, about 40 years before Smythe wrote certain discorses. https://imgur.com/a/eN7DnPa

By "sureness of their shot" he's saying that bows and crossbows misfire less often. He still concludes with: ". . . at the uttermost the remedy is that they should be brought as near before they do shoot as possibly they may"
Thanks. However, I can't but wonder how much distance do play in accuracy as bullets do wear off faster than arrows because of greater air resistance.
 
Aug 2014
3,709
Australia
#59
Thanks. However, I can't but wonder how much distance do play in accuracy as bullets do wear off faster than arrows because of greater air resistance.
Arrows have a much higher surface area on the sides than a bullet and take much longer to reach the target than a bullet and so are far more susceptible to crosswinds.
 
Last edited:
Mar 2012
4,226
#60
Arrows have a much higher surface area on the sides than a bullet and take much longer to reach the target than a bullet and so are far more susceptible to crosswinds.
Speed makes air resistance greater, not less, and its far greater of a factor than surface area.


The formula for drag force is Fd = 1/2 PV^2 Cd A

Fd is the drag force (units of Newton or lbf)

p is the density of the fluid (kg/m3 or lbm/ft3)

v is the velocity of the object (m/s or ft/s)

Cd is the drag coefficient

A is the cross sectional area of the projectile


An arrow will have far more drag coefficient (3-4 times greater), but much less velocity (less than 4 times). Cross sectional area are more tricky as an arrowhead would have been bigger, but the wooden body would have been less, but considering most of the additional drag coefficient in an arrow would have come from the shaft body, the A should be somewhat less for an arrow.
Here is a calculation:
https://sites.google.com/site/techni...ows-and-spears


Overall, when considering that Velocity is squared in the equation, it seems bullets faces greater air resistance compared to arrows.
 

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