With the opening this weekend of the new Robin Hood movie, there has been an increase interest in archery. A lot of people come to the range and ask about the bows used in the movie.
Robin Hood and his Merry Men (and apparently a Merry Woman) all use longbows.
Traditionally, a longbow is approximately as long as the user is tall and made of a single piece of wood. An English Longbow as used in the middle ages, is normally made of yew, ash or elm. The strings were made out of hemp (not the smoking variety), flax (yes, the same plant where the flaxseeds come from), linen or silk.
The draw weight of the English longbows varies. Longbows found on the Mary Rose had a draw weight of between 150 and 160 lb. Most specialist agree that during the heyday of the longbow average longbow draw weights were between 100 and 180 lb. To give you an idea, hunting bows nowadays rarely go over 60 lb. My own FITA or Olympic bow has only a draw weight of 39 lb. and I want to build up to a 40 to 45 lb. range…and in fita we shoot targets up to 100 yards!
There are incredible stories of the power of this bows and of the accuracy of the English longbow archers:
At the siege of Abergavenny in 1182 the Welsh arrows penetrated an oak door four inches thick. They were allowed to remain there as a curiosity, and Gerald (Giraldus Cambrensis) himself saw them six years later in 1188 when he passed the castle, with the iron points just showing on the inner side of the door. A knight of William de Braose was hit by one which went through the skirt of his hauberk, his mail hose, his thigh, and then through the leather and wood of his saddle into his horse; when he swerved round, another arrow pinned him the same way by the other leg.
The Archaeology of Weapons, p 294, 1960, R Ewart Oakeshott,Lutterworth Press, London
… [I]n the war against the Welsh, one of the men of arms was struck by an arrow shot at him by a Welshman. It went right through his thigh, high up, where it was protected inside and outside the leg by his iron cuirasses, and then through the skirt of his leather tunic; next it penetrated that part of the saddle which is called the alva or seat; and finally it lodged in his horse, driving so deep that it killed the animal.
Itinerarium Cambriae, (1191)
These powerful bows required continuous practice, and in England, all able bodied males were required to practice archery every Sunday after church.