Anything about bows and crossbows

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,535
Dispargum
#61
@ hbborrgg

I found that link to Montluc shortly after I read Barwick. After reading Montluc's first book I concluded he was not going to spend much time comparing arquebuses to bows. I didn't want to read 50 or 100 pages of text just to find one or two sentences. I did do key word searches in his other nine books but I guess he uses different terminology than I do. I couldn't find his comments on longbows.

"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."

Agree the rational decision was to adopt firearms and clinging to longbows was irrational, based on a national afinity for archery and a nostalgia for the good old days of the 100 Years War. Archery was still practiced in 16th and even 17th century England but more as a hobby than as a practical skill. Probably much the same as some modern Americans shooting with black powder - no longer practical but still fun.

Is there any evidence the English continued to use longbows into the late 16th century because they could not produce enough arquebuses to give everyone? I would not think so. If that was the case Barwick would not argue the qualitative advantages of firearms but would instead urge the increased production of firearms. He's clearly taking aim at those who believe that longbows are superior to firearms.

I have no doubt that Barwick and many others knew the advantages of firearms over bows. The question I have is why were they ignored for so long? Especially considering how quickly most other European countries transitioned to firearms. There was something different about England. Something else was driving the agenda there besides weapon performance.
 
Last edited:
Apr 2018
274
USA
#62
Sorry about that. Montluc starts talking about the English intervention around page 75, and he briefly gives his thoughts on english archers on page 85. Sometimes just searching for "bow" or "arrow" will give you better results.

Supplying early modern armies with enough weapons as they grew larger and larger seems to have been a common problem, especially when it came to firearms of a decent quality which were not to heavy and not too likely to explode. In addition to that there was the issue supplying enough gunpowder, (leading to serious fines for any citizens found to have cleaned out their stables or outhouses before the king's saltpetermen could arrive), as well as making sure that you enough soldiers skilled enough with firearms that they didn't do more harm to each other than the enemy. During the Northern Rising of 1569, as both the rebels and loyalists were reportedly struggling to find enough weapons and armor in the shires to equip their soldiers period, not just pikes and firearms, and had to start turning men away.

The situation does seem to have been improving over time though. If you have JSTOR access then the articles "Longbow and Hackbutt: Weapons Technology and Technology Transfer in Early Modern England" by Gervase Phillips, and "Archery Practice in Early Tudor England" by Steven Gunn, they go into a bit more detail about the economics, but over time the price of firearms was going down relative to inflation, unlike the longbow. In addition, the availibility of high-quality yew imported from the continent may have been decreasing somewhat. By the end of the 16th century, the cost of the highest quality yew longbows was about on par with many of the cheaper calivers (~12 shillings or so), but the typical longbow would have still only cost about a third of that. According to Robert Barret, "our countrey people are loth to be at the charges of so many costly weapons" when many of them already owned the old fashioned bows, bills, and jacks. He states that a true musket at the time still cost 30-40 shillings, the same as a pikeman's corselet complete with helmet and arm protection.

Additionally, if we are to believe Barwick, the quality of firearms themselves had improved noticeably even during the 40 years since he first became a soldier under "Syr Peeter Mewtas Knight, who had as I doo remember the charge of 500. halfe Hakes, the which were but mean stuffe in comparison of those that are now in vse."

Regarding why England was seemingly so slow to adapt. Remember again that weapons alone aren't what decide the outcome of a war or battle. At the battle of Flodden and the battle of the spurs in 1513 the English still performed very well, (though most accounts of flodden credit the victory to the english billmen rather than the archers). Additionally, Henry VIII proved really good at preparing logistics and keeping large numbers of soldiers fed, paid, and clothed while overseas (according to mark Fissel, he did a much better job at this than many of his successors like elizabeth). And while they were behind on pikes, small arms, and cavalry, English artillery and ship technology remained top notch throughout the 16th century.

England's slow adoption of the arquebus perhaps isn't too unusual in the first place when you look at it's neighbors. They generally still had more firearms than the irish or scots did in the 16th century. Even France continued to field large numbers of Gascon crossbowmen up until at least Pavia. (Montluc actually mentions that his very first infantry command in around 1520 consisted of "for at this time the use of the Harqu•buze, had not as yet been introduc•d a∣mongst us." Presumably he's referring to the region of Gascon in particular, and not the french army as a whole.) Though less than 30 years later, fourquevaux claimed that archers and crossbowmen had become extremely rare, he was able to note two crossbowmen who had recently made a name forthemselves despite serving among companies of harquebusiers. Barwick similary mentions that over the course of his carreer he had occasionally seen men killed with a crossbow quarrel and claims that he occasionally met foreign archers as strong as those in england.

As for why the idea that early firearms were a major step backwards became so prevalent today, my theory is that a lot of it just has to do with centuries of bias in english literature (It seems that many that older, non-english authors like Hans Delbruck are far more willing to simply assume that the arquebus had far more range and accuracy than earlier weapons. Delbruck even backs this up by citing records from 15th century german shooting festivals which show handgun targets typically being placed twice as far away as crossbow targets), while much of the rest has to do with rifle manufacturers in the 19th century trying to sell their wares by hyping up just how terrible the accuracy of the smoothbore musket was.

Interestingly enough, some recent historians, like Hess's "The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth", have started to rexamine actual accounts of the weapon in combat, and concluded that outside of specially trained sharpshooters and skirmishers, it didn't actually improve accuracy that much compared to the napoleonic wars, even when both sides stood in lines 100 yards apart firing volleys at each other.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,535
Dispargum
#63
That was my take of Montluc, too - France got rid of crossbows by 1550 if not earlier.

I wouldn't think economics would delay the upgrade from bow to firearms. Most countries will pay any price for better weapons - even to the point of bankruptcy. Defeat in war is never an acceptable risk.

Doesn't surprise me about Civil War rifles missing at 100 yards. Flinching in anticipation of the recoil has got to be pretty similar for both rifles and muskets. Soldiers under fire rarely take the time to aim. Writers mentioned that in the 16th century. The advantage of the rifle was range - you could start shooting while the enemy was farther away and fire more shots at him. But I don't recall anyone claiming an increase in accuracy.

I suspect the claims about bows outranging firearms are based on comparisons between maximum bow range 100-200 yards and preferred fighting range of muskets - well under 100 yards.
 

VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,292
Brassicaland
#64
That was my take of Montluc, too - France got rid of crossbows by 1550 if not earlier.

I wouldn't think economics would delay the upgrade from bow to firearms. Most countries will pay any price for better weapons - even to the point of bankruptcy. Defeat in war is never an acceptable risk.

Doesn't surprise me about Civil War rifles missing at 100 yards. Flinching in anticipation of the recoil has got to be pretty similar for both rifles and muskets. Soldiers under fire rarely take the time to aim. Writers mentioned that in the 16th century. The advantage of the rifle was range - you could start shooting while the enemy was farther away and fire more shots at him. But I don't recall anyone claiming an increase in accuracy.

I suspect the claims about bows outranging firearms are based on comparisons between maximum bow range 100-200 yards and preferred fighting range of muskets - well under 100 yards.
Why are compound bows and pistol crossbows still being made today?
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,535
Dispargum
#65
Why are compound bows and pistol crossbows still being made today?

Recreational shooting, either at targets or some people hunt with them. Accuracy with a bow is a difficult skill to master. Some people like the challenge.

Some people also like to shoot with black powder weapons including flintlocks or in some cases even matchlocks. I don't get it myself, but there's obviously enough of a market to make it profitable to supply these hobbyists.

Some people still learn to fence even though it's no longer a practical skill.
 

VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,292
Brassicaland
#66
Recreational shooting, either at targets or some people hunt with them. Accuracy with a bow is a difficult skill to master. Some people like the challenge.

Some people also like to shoot with black powder weapons including flintlocks or in some cases even matchlocks. I don't get it myself, but there's obviously enough of a market to make it profitable to supply these hobbyists.

Some people still learn to fence even though it's no longer a practical skill.
What kind of gunpowder do current firearms use?
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,535
Dispargum
#67
What kind of gunpowder do current firearms use?
I'm no expert on guns, but black powder refers to the older style powder that results in a big puff of white smoke when the gun is fired. On battlefields, with hundreds or even thousands of guns firing simultaneously, there would be so much smoke that after just a few vollies the combattants could no longer see each other. Smokeless powder was invented in the late 19th century.
 
Sep 2014
1,161
Queens, NYC
#70
I have read that Barwick, Smythe, et al. are often referring to "paces", not "yards". The problem is, there's no accepted measurement of paces. The most frequent guess is 30 inches.
 

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