Some Archery History, by Olaf the Grey

Greetings and well-met fellow toxiphiles. Today I would like to share a brief story about the importance of the bow in ancient warfare. I will illustrate this by giving an account of the Battle of Crecy, France in 1346 during the Wars of The Roses and the Hundred Years' war.

We in the United States have been greatly influenced by the six-foot-long English Longbow which for hundreds of years was the sole missile weapon of Great Britain's foot-soldiers. England's supremacy as a military nation was predicated on the skill of the foot-soldier armed with the longbow. By law, every male from sixteen to sixty years of age was required to own and practice with the longbow. Price regulation is not a modern innovation. Since England's safety depended on her archers, the price of a good bow was fixed by law so that no individual could plead that he could not afford one. Now that that is out of the way, on to the battle.

During the Wars of the Roses and the Hundred Years' War archers were the elite troops of Great Britain. They were the decisive factor in many a hard-fought battle. At Crecy, France, in the year 1346, the English longbow proved its worth for the first time in Continental warfare.

The English, under Edward III, lay on a forward slope of a hill with their right flank resting on the River Maye at Crecy and their left flank on the village of Wadicourt. Two divisions, or battles as they were called at the time, consisting of a center of dismounted knights and men-at-arms plus two wings of archers, formed the first line. A third division was in reserve. The total force was 3,900 men-at-arms, 11,000 English archers and 5,000 Welsh light troops.

The French, under King Philip of Valois, were in much greater strength, numbering at least 13,000 men-at-arms, 6,000 Genoese cross-bowmen and over 20,000 foot soldiers. The English chose the battle field and were drawn up waiting for the attack. The French host, marching in column, came unsuspectingly upon the English position when they arrived at the village of Estrees. Philip could not control his unruly feudal lords who, instead of deploying and forming for action as an army, attacked piecemeal with their contingent of troops.

The cross-bowmen and archers opened the battle. After a brief contest, the cross-bowmen, outdistanced by the long-bows of the English, were forced to retreat. Through these men, the first line of French knights tried to charge the English men-at-arms. Into this confused mass the English archers shot with deadly effect. As successive bodies of French knights tried to reach the English lines, they but served to increase the number of dead, exposing themselves to the deadly point-blank flanking fire of the English archers.

From the beginning of the battle, there could be but one result. The French army was practically annihilated. It was customary in those days to record only the chivalry who fell in battle. At Crecy, the French loss was 1,542 men, while the English lost but 50.

For the first time, the calvary arm had met its equal. The choice of ground, the massed firepower of the English archers, and the stability afforded by the steady ranks of spearmen made a tactical combination that provided the margin of victory.

As firearms improved, they gradually replaced the use of the bow in English warfare. The forces of Elizabeth were the last in which the bow played an important role. Sadly to say, of all the longbows that were made and used in England, only four examples survive until the present day. Two of these were taken from a ship that sank in the Thames during the reign of Henry the VIII.