How far did Longbow archers starting shooting from?

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,128
Australia
Other skeletal irregularities in archers include elongated fingers in the right hand and compressed bones in the left wrist.
 
Jan 2019
34
Northumberland-England
Sources say that some arrows hit the visors, not that they specifically aimed for them. If you shoot enough arrows at someone, eventually one of them is going to find a weak spot regardless of whether you deliberately aimed for it or not.
Quite true Dan. At longer ranges it's not conceivable that an archer would be able to aim at a particular weak point. However, get to within 50 yards and it's a different story. Archers would have been very aware of weaknesses in armour and at shorter distances would have been able to target those weak areas with great accuracy. I've been shooting for 20 years or so and can hit a football sized target at 50 yards more often than not. Take a look at Kevin Hicks to see just how deadly an archer can be at shorter distances. And remember, most dismounted men at arms would be trudging forward, at a relatively slow pace, giving ample time for considered aiming.
 
Mar 2018
963
UK
Quite true Dan. At longer ranges it's not conceivable that an archer would be able to aim at a particular weak point. However, get to within 50 yards and it's a different story. Archers would have been very aware of weaknesses in armour and at shorter distances would have been able to target those weak areas with great accuracy. I've been shooting for 20 years or so and can hit a football sized target at 50 yards more often than not. Take a look at Kevin Hicks to see just how deadly an archer can be at shorter distances. And remember, most dismounted men at arms would be trudging forward, at a relatively slow pace, giving ample time for considered aiming.
Are there any weak points in plate that are the size of a football? A visor is obviously much smaller, but even things like knees or arm pits are more like tennis ball sized - not that they would be visible to someone straight ahead at range anyway.

To get back on point, I doubt that longbowmen would often engage anywhere near as far as the 200+ yards quoted here. At such range, can the arrow hope to penetrate even relatively light armour like a gamberson? Or go through a shield or not get stopped in flight by a "forest of pikes"? If not, then what's the point of shooting at the range? You might get a few lucky hits but more of the time you'll just be tiring yourself out and wasting expensive ammunition.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,128
Australia
Henry Barrett wrote that a third of an archer's sheaf should consist of "more flighter" arrows to gall the enemy at range. They are not going to penetrate a shield or armour but they have other uses. At Agincourt they were used to provoke the French into charging. Once the charge had begun, they would be sufficient to disrupt a formation of unarmoured horses.
 
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Jan 2019
34
Northumberland-England
Are there any weak points in plate that are the size of a football? A visor is obviously much smaller, but even things like knees or arm pits are more like tennis ball sized - not that they would be visible to someone straight ahead at range anyway.

To get back on point, I doubt that longbowmen would often engage anywhere near as far as the 200+ yards quoted here. At such range, can the arrow hope to penetrate even relatively light armour like a gamberson? Or go through a shield or not get stopped in flight by a "forest of pikes"? If not, then what's the point of shooting at the range? You might get a few lucky hits but more of the time you'll just be tiring yourself out and wasting expensive ammunition.
A helmet is approx. football sized...but don't focus on my ability to perforate a football, but on Kevin Hicks ability to repeatedly hit a small target. And I can't imagine many archers in the employ of the crown would be any worse than Kevin and a lot would be much better. You don't earn sixpence a day in the middle ages unless you're the best of the best!
To answer your second point, the longbow was primarily an artillery weapon. Drop a lot of arrows (6,000 at frequent intervals at Agincourt) from 300 feet up and you're going to hurt a lot of people. If they had no effect then why not just stand there and wait until the archers had run out of arrows? And don't suppose archers from the period under discussion would become tired after loosing their allotted supply of arrows, once the enemy was close enough and arrows were expended, the archers in many conflicts would take on the men at arms with great effect, not slink off for a cup of tea.
 
Mar 2018
963
UK
A helmet is approx. football sized...but don't focus on my ability to perforate a football, but on Kevin Hicks ability to repeatedly hit a small target. And I can't imagine many archers in the employ of the crown would be any worse than Kevin and a lot would be much better. You don't earn sixpence a day in the middle ages unless you're the best of the best!
To answer your second point, the longbow was primarily an artillery weapon. Drop a lot of arrows (6,000 at frequent intervals at Agincourt) from 300 feet up and you're going to hurt a lot of people. If they had no effect then why not just stand there and wait until the archers had run out of arrows? And don't suppose archers from the period under discussion would become tired after loosing their allotted supply of arrows, once the enemy was close enough and arrows were expended, the archers in many conflicts would take on the men at arms with great effect, not slink off for a cup of tea.
A helmet is not a weak point though, it's potentially some of the strongest armour. It's weird to use a wage of sixpence a day to argue that they're the best-of-the-best, when that was actually the second lowest wage in the army I believe? Only billmen were lower, I think anyone with a horse was paid much more, and crossbowmen in other armies also typically earnt a lot more.

300 feet is not 200 yards. I'm happy believe that a common engagement range was 100m or so, it was the longer numbers of 200m+ that were quoted here that I was sceptical of. @Dan Howard makes the good point that horses were easy target, but I'm still curious as to at what range arrows from a war bow could penetrate different kinds of armour: such as shields, mail or gamberson. I can imagine very long distance shooting (like the 250m thrown around here) might have been done to harry the enemy and put pressure on them, but how many casualties would that actually inflict on people wearing the armour of the period?

And shooting a war bow *is* tiring. Joe Gibbs, one of the best war bow shooters alive, complains about it lots. Just because you're tired from shooting your allotted arrows, doesn't mean you won't pick up your sword to defend yourself if your life depends on it. It just means that you'll do it less well, and the last arrows you fire will be less accurate or not at full draw.


I understand that the longbow has a lot of myth and culture revolving around it (and it has for 500+ years), but that doesn't mean we have to overexagerate everything about it, or call those who used it supermensch. It clearly was not a combination sniper, machine gun and artillery piece. It was clearly an effective battlefield weapon, but not absolutely overwhelming, otherwise the English would have won every war they fought with it, and every army would be desperate to train their own people to use it.
 
Jan 2019
34
Northumberland-England
A helmet is not a weak point though, it's potentially some of the strongest armour. It's weird to use a wage of sixpence a day to argue that they're the best-of-the-best, when that was actually the second lowest wage in the army I believe? Only billmen were lower, I think anyone with a horse was paid much more, and crossbowmen in other armies also typically earnt a lot more.

300 feet is not 200 yards. I'm happy believe that a common engagement range was 100m or so, it was the longer numbers of 200m+ that were quoted here that I was sceptical of. @Dan Howard makes the good point that horses were easy target, but I'm still curious as to at what range arrows from a war bow could penetrate different kinds of armour: such as shields, mail or gamberson. I can imagine very long distance shooting (like the 250m thrown around here) might have been done to harry the enemy and put pressure on them, but how many casualties would that actually inflict on people wearing the armour of the period?

And shooting a war bow *is* tiring. Joe Gibbs, one of the best war bow shooters alive, complains about it lots. Just because you're tired from shooting your allotted arrows, doesn't mean you won't pick up your sword to defend yourself if your life depends on it. It just means that you'll do it less well, and the last arrows you fire will be less accurate or not at full draw.


I understand that the longbow has a lot of myth and culture revolving around it (and it has for 500+ years), but that doesn't mean we have to overexagerate everything about it, or call those who used it supermensch. It clearly was not a combination sniper, machine gun and artillery piece. It was clearly an effective battlefield weapon, but not absolutely overwhelming, otherwise the English would have won every war they fought with it, and every army would be desperate to train their own people to use it.
Where to start...
The sides of helmets were actually relatively weak points, a fact well known to archers. Dan Howard is probably the best guy to consult on thickness of armour, so I'm not going to comment further on that. And sixpence a day was a cracking wage if you compare it to a skilled craftsman. An archer would earn as much in a month as an artisan would earn in a year. And the archer would have his bows/arrows/strings etc. supplied foc. Not sure if he had to pay for his ale/food, but my guess is probably not, but I may be wrong on that one. Regarding the wage as an indicator of quality, if you couldn't pass muster at accuracy, rate of shooting and distance achieved, then you'd be walking home. At those rates of pay employers were entitled to expect excellence. Admittedly your indenture wasn't a permanent contract, but during the HYW it probably felt like it.

The reference to 300 feet was in relation to the height from which the arrows were falling, not the distance shot. And the units of measurement were yards/paces (they seem to be one and the same at this period) and not metres. All practice (if you were over a certain age) was to be around 220 yards, obviously with an eye to future military application. Unfortunately there's been no academic research into the efficacy of arrows against armour/shields/gambesons etc. at distances approaching 200-250 yards. Such research is possible, but setting up tests of that nature would require some investment and there's probably not the appetite. It's a pity as if conducted correctly then it would put to bed some misconceptions on both sides of the argument.

Well, Joe Gibbs is certainly the current benchmark for heavy bow shooting. He mentioned in a recent video that he was entirely comfortable shooting a 150lb bow, only wilting when the higher weights were being shot. He practices (he says) 2-3 days a week, so probably comparable to a medieval archer, although I suspect back then, that daily practice would be encouraged preceding a campaign.

Those of us interested in the history of the bow try very hard not to exaggerate it's capabilities, or that of the men who drew it. And It certainly was both an artillery weapon and a snipers tool, of that there is no doubt. And it's a fact that when the English/Welsh archers were in a properly prepared position, they did win every battle. It was only bad luck and the advent of properly milled black powder that ended their reign. As you mention, every army was very keen to have longbowmen in their ranks, it's just they never were able to persuade enough of their countrymen to take it up. That's why they employed English archers.
 
Mar 2018
963
UK
Those of us interested in the history of the bow try very hard not to exaggerate it's capabilities, or that of the men who drew it. And It certainly was both an artillery weapon and a snipers tool, of that there is no doubt. And it's a fact that when the English/Welsh archers were in a properly prepared position, they did win every battle. It was only bad luck and the advent of properly milled black powder that ended their reign. As you mention, every army was very keen to have longbowmen in their ranks, it's just they never were able to persuade enough of their countrymen to take it up. That's why they employed English archers.
I'm impressed that you both claim not to do something and then do it in the same paragraph. As for your middle sentence, that's just pure no-true-scotsman fallacy. I can claim that any weapon was never defeated by only counting the battles were it was used properly.

It seems to me common sense that if a longbowman could easily kill a fighting man at 200m (I'm converting all distances to m in my posts to make comparisons easier), then every English battle would be a complete walk over and the 100 years war would have been over in a few months.
 

Mrbsct

Ad Honorem
Jul 2013
2,659
USA
Mamaluk manuals I think say 70 meters was the starting engagement distance. The problem I see with shooting at 200 is that the arrows will be missing a lot with little damage and your wasting ammo and energy doing so