Medieval Bows and Arrows - Life in Medieval DaysWhen you think of medieval people with bows and arrows, you undoubtedly think of Robin Hood, Maid Marion and all the Merry Men romping around in Sherwood Forest. They indeed were set during King Richard's reign, in the middle ages. What types of bows and arrows did people of this era use?
First, the image of villagers with bows and arrows is one to think about. Back in middle ages, all forest land was owned by nobility. It was a very serious crime to "poach" - or kill - any animal on a noble's land. People would have fingers cut off and even be slain if they killed a rabbit, deer, or other forest animal without permission. Even if they were starving to death, it makes no difference. In the Turner version of Robin Hood, the movie starts with such a scene, where a poacher is caught with a deer and is going to have his eyes put out as a punishment.
Still, people did use bows and arrows. It was a questionable practice in war. The brave knights who wanted to fight hand to hand to see who was the better man felt it was EXTREMELY cowardly for someone to hide in the woods and shoot arrows at them from afar. Still, arrow volleys were well known by this time. The Romans would set up gigantic banks of archers who shot raining cascades of arrows down on their enemies. For a good scene of this, check out the introductory scene of Gladiator where the Romans do this to the German resistance.
The standard bow had been used for thousands of years - but a big change in medieval times was the longbow. This first came from the Welsh in the 1100s and as you might guess it was a longer (taller) version of the bow. It was about 6 feet long and typically made of yew. The taller height meant it was harder to carry around easily, but it had a huge range and great power. It could shoot 200 yards and go through a knight's armor. It took great strength to draw, and precision to aim and release smoothly, but it conveyed a hgue advantage to the wielder. A trained archer could shoot between 10 and 15 arrows a minute. Bowmen were considered elite units in many battles.
For an awesome scene of the power of the longbow, watch Henry V with Kenneth Branagh - his vastly outnumbered army won the day at the Battle of Agincourt thanks to their longbows.
Set up differently, the crossbow was held "sideways" with the main wood of the bow curve going left to right parallel to the ground. The string was cranked back and therefore could be brought to a much higher strength pull than a person could do manually. These were first used in England around the 900s and used a trigger release. This was a huge change on the battlefield. Pretty much anybody could use a crossbow since you did not to carefully hold back the string with your own power and then aim. You could crank it up, wave it around until you found a target and just point and pull the trigger. These weapons could go straight through a knight's armor even at 200 yards away.
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