Last Modified: 17 December 1993
Written by: Michael Van Biesbrouck email@example.com
A friend of mine occasionally gives informal lectures on the history of archery. These are his notes. He is more than happy to have them modified and added to. If there is any interest in turning them into a FAQ, he has no objections. He seems to have put several random notes before the organized sections begin.
Since these lectures are usually done for the SCA, modern information on archery is lacking. There is a bibliography at the end.
This document consists of notes made in preparation for a number of lectures on the history of archery. The notes are not by any means complete; they increase in size with every lecture given. Some sections also exist only as memory triggers with incomplete information.
1776 in a letter to General Lee, Benjamin Franklin regretted that bows weren't used
Prince Louis Napoleon - "A first rate English archer, who, in a single minute was unable to draw and discharge his bow 12 times, with a range of 240 yards, and who in these twelve shots once missed his man, was very lightly esteemed."
Cannae - Romans - 79,000 light and heavy infantry
- Carthaginians - approx 50,000
3000 Romans escaped with 6000 Carthaginians killed (p91 A.A.S) was in Italy for 14 years killed 250,000 Romans total size 150,000 including infantry replacements which never reached him when they were caught by Romans without any support
ate dried meat and dried milk occasionally opening a vein in horses neck and drinking blood
often travelled over 60 miles a day (more for messengers who were wrapped up for long trips)
5 ranks - 1st two - leather armour with sabre, lance and bow other three, sabre and bow the back rows passed through the front ranks, shot and retreated until their opponents were demoralized and disorganized at which point the "armoured" mongols charged unarmoured mongols wore silk shirts. realizing that no armour was any real defense against arrows, they minimized injuries. the loose silk wrapped around the arrow head without usually being cut, the arrow could then be pulled out by tugging gently on the surrounding silk. this allowed removal without additional cuts being needed and without the danger of barbed arrowheads it also reduced the risk of infection.
note on mongol tactics - would often wipe out entire cities especially if they had rebelled to use as examples for others - artisans would be sent back to the empire core since they were horse archers, they employed engineers in particular from china to aid in taking fortified cities and castles especially in later times they switched to
Ghenghis had two outstanding generals - Jebei Noyan (Prince Arrow) and Subotai "the Valiant"
1219 Shah Mohammed raised 400,000 men to oppose Genghis (200,000 in main battle rest in garrisons????) G led 100,000 in from the north and sent J with 30000 over one of the world's highest mountain ranges in from the east (3 mile high pass) once across their foragers ran into 100,000 turks after a long battle during which the shah was almost captured the mongols disappeared during the night to meet up with the khan 1200 miles away receiving en route 5000 replacements
180,000 were killed in the main battle, but the shah escaped allowing no one to oppose him and live, ghengis sent Subotai and Jebe with 3 tuman to chase him down five months later they succeeded, effectively wiping out his empire. Subotai then decided and got permission to make a raid around the Caspian sea before returning
1222 returned home after killing the Georgian knights about to go on Crusade, and a russian army of 70-80,000
1227 Genghis died on campaign against China after two years of mourning ogedei was elected great khan following the wishes of his father Ghengis had left a comprehensive strategic plan for the destruction of the chin empire which ogedei followed with subedei as his general
1233 the chin capital fell 1234 the Chin emperor committed ritual suicide after being chased from town to town
1236 korea was reoccupied after a rebellion (was part of Chin) 1236 with ogadei kakahn, Subatai returned to Russia with 150,000 men and consolidated the gains made in Eastern Russia
1237 crossed Volga
1238 Eliminated all of the Northern Russian principalities
Dec 6, 1240 captured Kiev the largest city in Russia using bowmen on the rooftops and lancers in the streets reducing it to ashes then dividing his army into 3 parts he invaded Hungary and Poland
April 1241 > 100,000 in Hungarian army - 80,000 died in one battle and another 100,000 in consequent battles for Pest liegnitz - 20,000 killed including the Teutonic knights
Dec 1241 Crossed Danube but consolidated gains before invading Austria
During invasion, the european countries were incapable of resolving their differences to fight a common enemy (Austria seized parts of Hungary and the pope was rumoured to be trying to get the mongols to attack his main enemies)
Feb 1242 messenger arrives with news Ogadei died on Dec. 11 with ogadei dead, the political infighting surfaced. Batu, now leader of the mongol forces in Europe realized that there would not be complete support for his offensive, pulled back and consolidated his gains
kuyuk became leader of the mongols for two years and then was replaced by mongke. Mongke pushed his attack westwards towards Egypt. in this he had the support or at least approval of many of the christian kingdoms in the hope that he would be able to break the islamic power
1259 Mongke died saving Muslim Asia from the Mongols (p114 Mongol conquests) political infighting caused the mongol general Hulegu to pull most of his out to Azerbaijan, weakening his forces in Syria. The muslim army with permission granted by the crusaders to pass through their territory (against desires of Eastern Christians) defeated the remaining mongols Kubilai kahn eventually won the battle for leadership but his authority and interest was in China (conquered in 1279) after which he made a failed attempt to conquer Japan (1st fleet was repelled by the japanese while the second was wrecked by a summer typhoon)
one estimation is that 19 million people were killed by the mongols in their campaigns
due to the rain the French order of battle became somewhat confused the crossbowmen were in front - they advanced to within range and began to fire - due to the rain many of the strings snapped or misfired - in addition, since the crossbow is slow to load, they only got one round off before being cut down by the english archers the crossbowmen turned and fled, some dropping their bows or cutting their strings. The french seeing this decided to run down their own mercenaries (showing what they thought of archers) the rear lines not knowing what was going on also charged with the result that all of the french army became a mob within range of the english archers and the archers broke the charges English dead - negligible French dead - 1200 - 4000 knights and "no one troubled to count the rest"
In a letter written by the English King shortly after the battle, no mention was made of the archers.
The English took protection behind a hedge and ditch, which had a hole in one spot, after the french army came upon them from behind (English may have been retreating) The majority of the French force dismounted Those who didn't charged against the hedge and were shot down by the archers The German allies of the French (also mounted) then led a second charge for the gap which again was broken up by the archers and the men at arms supporting them However before the archers could retrieve any arrows (some succeeded by grabbing arrows out of bodies) the French who were on foot reached the hedge They were in hand-to-hand combat with the English when the English reserve cavalry charged against the French rear (included archers, but may have been crossbowmen - Gascon)
French dead - 2500 - some (doubtful) reports indicate that the prisoners outnumbered the English - these prisoners did include the King of France (and his son?) who was/were held in the Tower of London (king was ransomed for 3 000 000 gold crowns)
1363 all men were ordered to practice archery on Sundays and holidays no man under 24 was allowed to shoot at a known distance and no man over 24 was to shoot at any mark less than 11 score yds this was reaffirmed in 1512 and was still in force in 1633
1377 Piers Plowman refers to Rymes of Robyn Hode
The army was hungry, tired and many had dysentery (some of the archers went into battle naked from the waist down due to this) The French were both ahead and behind them, so they decided to give battle. English - about 6000 men - mainly archers (8600 originally - only 38 of whom were crossbowmen) archers told that if captured the fingers on their draw hand would be chopped off French forces - 60,000 (reported to be outnumbered 10 to 1) - one chronicler states that 4000 crossbowmen were actually sent away before the battle due to the cramped nature of the field (may also have had cannon although they certainly weren't effective)
the two armies faced each other (a mile apart) for hours as the French decided to wait out the English The archers were on the sides in the front lines as well as one contingent which was in the woods on the French flank Henry sounded the attack with the archers advancing slightly and planting stakes in front of them and began shooting This prompted the French to attack with cavalry charges to the wings. this charge was broken and the first wave began to retreat right into the second wave causing mass confusion the main French body eventually did continue it's attack on the English centre (knights) but while the English line was pushed back, it didn't break which was important as there were no reserves, and eventually began a counter assault with no arrows left, the archers attacked with whatever was available - swords if they were lucky, axes and even mallets which had been used to drive in the stakes
Somewhere in here two local lords with about 600 peasants led an attack on the English baggage train between this and the threat of another cavalry charge, Henry appears to have ordered the death of the French prisoners (by a squire and 200 archers as the knights wouldn't do it???) however a large number of prisoners were also brought back to England so the extent of this is hard to say
French dead 6 000 - 10 000 (Shakespeare - 10,000 dead 1500 noblemen captured includes a master of the cross-bow in the list of the dead) English <100 (Shakespeare - 4 noblemen and 25 more)
used pinch draw - the weakest of the techniques
Ishi - last member of the Yahi indian tribe - very poor marksman - but good tracker, the marksmanship was not really required to put food on the table
Most of our information comes from early ballads. The earliest surviving
ballad is from 1450 - Robin Hood and the Monk.
However, the best known is A Lyttell Geste of Robyn Hode of which there are a number of surviving copies from 1500-1550 but which was probably originally written around 1400.
A Lyttell Geste consists of four tales: Robin and the Knight - the tale of Sir Richard atte Lee; Robin, Little John and the Sheriff - the archery competition with the sheriff being killed; Robin and the King - king goes disguised into the forest, Robin Hood's Death - his betrayal at Kirklee's where he is bled to death.
Maid Marion is not part of the original tales and likely comes from French pastourelles where she was associated with a shepherd Robin.
Little John, Friar Tuck and the Sheriff are also characters likely borrowed from other tales. The outlaw theme was common, in two 13th century ballads: Fulk FitzWarin has King John as the villain and Marian de la Bruere as a maiden in distress (this may be the other tale mentioned in Piers Plowman - Medieval Archer p62) and Eustace the Monk.
The earliest mention of a king's name is Edward which was changed to Henry in later tales - this was possibly to keep the tales current, which may also have happened with Edward.
1227 pipe rolls list a Robert Hood as fugitivus 1338 - Isle of Wight - on the rolls of over 500 names, only one is given which is a shortform rather than a Christian name, listed with 42 other archers joining at that time - Robyn Hod
This is not likely to be the real Robin, but it indicates that the scribe and/or the archer was familiar enough with the name to have it listed on official rolls. This shows that the tales were well known by this time and the name Robin Hood was associated with archers
With all of the raiding which English armies made on the continent, it is not surprising that many of the peasants would not wish to return to their former lives - it also was not uncommon for some of the men not to be paid, inevitably leading to the formation of outlaws and tales of these men fighting injustice. If there was a real Robin Hood, he certainly did not perform all of the feats recorded.
If anyone knows where I can find copies of the old ballads I would appreciate it (especially if a musical score is also available).
Arrows Against Steel: The History of the Bow, Vic Hurley; Mason/charter 1975 comparison of different bows and tactics - military aspects U 877H87 The Medieval Archer; Jim Bradbury Boydell Press 1985 U877 B73 good description of 100 years war battles History of the Mongol Conquests; J.J. Saunders Routledge and Kegan 1971 DS 19 s27 Mongol history - not bad but didn't do any comparisons Bowmanship; F.L. Bishop p21 picture of one type of thumb ring (leather sleave to keep the ring tight The Grey Goose Wing; E.G. Heath Osprey Publications, 1971 GV 1185.H42 (oversize) - in different section in middle of 7th floor Heath also wrote a number of other excellent books: Target Archery and The History of Archery Military Service and the Development of the Robin Hood Legend in the Fourteenth Century; Nottingham Medieval Studies 36 (1992)
This is a section of the FAQ for alt.archery. It is maintained by me at the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org Comments, flames, etc. on the FAQ are welcome and should be directed to me. Comments on the specifics of the section can be addressed to either me or the person responsible for this section. If addressed to me, I will forward them to the author of the section. If you wish to see this section cross-posted to another group, please e-mail me a request to do so. If I can access that group, then I will so cross-post whenever I post this section.
Terry Trier email@example.com