Friday, 23 October 2009
The English Longbow
Sunday will be St Crispin's Day, the 25th October.
On this day in 1415 a small bedraggled English Army defeated a much superior French force at The Battle of Agincourt.
Estimates vary as to the actual size of the French Army but it is known that the English force consisted of approximately 1000 men at arms and 5000 archers.
The French were wary of attacking this force, primarily because of the reputation of English Bowmen.
In these times it was law in England for young men to practice archery, starting at the tender age of seven and regularly attending local tournaments, from which the best were selected for military service.
Through years of constant practice an English Military Archer was not thought competent unless he could fire a minimum of 10 arrows a minute. The average however, was closer to 15.
What makes this even more extraordinary is that todays modern bows have a pulling weight of around 60 pounds.
An English Archer at Agincourt carried a bow with a pulling weight of 150 pounds!
Today very few people would be capable of even pulling such a bow, let alone firing 15 arrows in a minute!
These bows had a range of up to 400 yards and could penetrate any type of armour at up to 200 yards.
Thus it was on St Crispin's Day 1415, this small army suffering from hunger and dysentery, under the command of Henry V, had no option but to take the fight to the French.
The outcome of the day was an English victory, for the loss of less than 500 men, to a French force whose estimated losses are recorded as being somewhere between 7000 and 10,000.
Since most of these losses were Knights, the direct effect on the French aristocracy was appalling and to think that they had been killed by English peasants rather than their aristocratic equals, was too much to bear.
The final humiliation came with the subsequent peace treaty which required that the daughter of the French King should marry Henry and that their first son would be the heir to the French throne.
For a period of approximately 200 years the English Bowman was the most feared fighter in Europe and was not replaced until effective firearms were introduced.