Longbow the final

I apologize for letting this blog go so long. Maybe I don’t have the right disposition for mainting a blog. However I will try to do better in the future. Now to continue my discussion of the myth of the longbowmen. When we turn to the smaller battles of the Hundred Years War the lack of dominance by the longbow is readily seen. Take the battle of Mauron, 1352. The French attacked the English archers on horseback. They broke the archers who fled. Another battalion of French attacked the English on foot.  However, it was the English men-at-arms which won the battle. They finally beat off the French. The thing to notice here is that the bowmen could not stand up to a cavalry attack.

 

Four years later at Constance (1356) The French crossbowmen had their pavises this time and they wore their armor. So protected, the longbow fire was quite ineffective. They simply waited for the longbows to run out of arrows then they returned the fire. The longbowmen quickly hid behind their men at arms. With the French crossbowmen supporting the French dismounted attack, the English were defeated this time.

 

Nogent 1359, the French made their initial attack on horseback but had to fall back. Then, on foot, the French attacked the English bowmen. The French were so well armored and with them holding their shields a loft that English arrows could not hurt them. The French broke the archers position and when the archers broke and ran the French mounted men-at-arms rode the archers down and slaughtered the, Once more the English men-at-arms could not hold and were defeated.

 

The chroniclers who wrote about the battle of Auray clearly pointed out the English bowmen were quite ineffective. The French men-at-arms were too well armored and shielded. The French were finally defeated but they were defeated through a combination of English men-at-arms and Breton cavalry.

 

The longbow was a mature technology even when it appeared first on the battlefield. It could not keep up with the armor improvements. By 1415, at Agincourt, the armor of the French was so well developed they no longer needed their shields. What Constance showed was when crossbowmen were properly armored and had their pavises, the English longbowmen were no match for them.

 

Luckily for the English, the French raised their military forces a bit differently than did the English. The English military contracts specified how many men-at-arms and archers were to be raised. Thus, English forces were always composed of both arms. The French, on the other hand, contracted with men-at-arms separately from crossbowmen. There were a number of occasions in which French men-at-arms had to fight without crossbowmen simply because there was not enough money with which to raise units of crossbowmen.

 

The French men-at-arms were quick to improve their armor and make tactical changes. They adapted their attack tactics to include dismounted attacks and to carry their shields over their heads much in the manner of the Roman tortoise. The one thing the French couldn’t match was the steadiness of the English man-at-arms. When the English won, they won because of their men-at-arms not their longbowmen.

 

With regards to Robert Hardy:

 

“It had been hard to train him to his best; it proved impossible to keep him to it; but as his best there was no man in the world to beat him, no matter the odds against him; and his breed lasted long beyond the longbow; he used the musket and the rifle; he endured in 1915 the same, and worse, than his forefathers suffered in 1415.”

 

This kind of jingoism is hardly history. And,

 

“When two such armies met again ten years later at Poitiers there were almost no crossbows on the French side. They were remembered as useless.”

 

his historical knowledge I find to be lacking.

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9 Responses to Longbow the final

  1. That first Robert Hardy quote belongs in the 19th century with social Darwinism and eugenics. 1415 and 1915 were so different that you can’t really compare them at all. British soldiers in 1915 were well motivated and good with their rifles, but they often failed because they didn’t have enough artillery, mortars, grenades, or light machine guns.

  2. Well, there _is_ one factor that is often overlooked in the longbowmen’s success because it doesn’t have anything to do with their longbows at all: their willingness to engage in hand-to-hand combat, which added a lot of mass and psychological momentum to the charge of their dismounted men-at-arms. I say “charge,” because on one side we all know that Poitiers was won because the English counterattacked rather than staying put behind their defenses, and on the other I favor a more aggressive interpretation of the English tactics at Agincourt based on Enguerrand de Monstrelet’s account–where the Englishmen, rather than waiting for the French attack, actually advanced and shot at the French until they got frustrated by the lack of French reaction and then launched a massive charge on foot that bowled over the first French battle almost right away. The composition of the English army in this battle was so unbalanced (too many longbowmen compared to men-at-arms) that the charge would probably not have succeeded if the longbowmen had not been so keen on wading into hand-to-hand combat. (And I suspect the English, with their surfeit of relatively “light” longbowmen, might not have survived if they had stood on the defense as the traditional model says. The French would simply have chewed the longbowmen up in the defensive positions.)

    BTW, following up the last comment in the previous longbows entry, I should also mention one of the indirect effects of the longbow’s use that might have played an important part in putting the French side at a disadvantage during some of the lengthier battles: it forced the men-at-arms to keep their visors down in contrary to the usual practice for fighting on foot, forcing them to risk heat exhaustion rather than take an arrow to the face. The ultimate consequences of this choice would only show themselves up in (again) the shock of hand-to-hand combat, but then were there _any_ Hundred Years’ War battle that was won purely by missile power without any hand-to-hand contact? Of course, whenever the French could field their crossbowmen in sufficient numbers and under sufficiently competent command, the English suffered from the same disadvantage so the effects would cancel each other out somewhat.

    So yes, the longbow itself is pretty much overrated in popular history, but the longbowmen aren’t necessarily so because they had more capabilities than just their archery. Otherwise the French would not have bothered to model the “archiers” of their Ordonnance companies on the English longbowmen–although in this case they went too far to the hand-to-hand side and ended up with a bunch of “medium” cavalry rather than the mounted infantry they had envisioned, even if these proved to be fairly effective cavalrymen in the end. The Burgundians also deployed many archers modeled on the English longbowmen in their own version of their Ordonnances–when they didn’t hire English mercenaries outright, that is.

  3. wapenshaw says:

    Lafayette, interesting response.

    “I say “charge,” because on one side we all know that Poitiers was won because the English counterattacked rather than staying put behind their defenses.”

    Actually, according to the chronicler le Baker, captal de Buch with 60 knights and 100 archers hit the flank of the French third attack. It was after this flank attack that the rest of the English moved out of their defensive position to also attack the French.

    “I favor a more aggressive interpretation of the English tactics at Agincourt based on Enguerrand de Monstrelet’s account–where the Englishmen, rather than waiting for the French attack, actually advanced and shot at the French until they got frustrated by the lack of French reaction and then launched a massive charge on foot that bowled over the first French battle almost right away.”

    I think this is a misreading for Monstrelet. The first attack was the French mounted attack which Monstrelet calls the van. The cavalry attacked the archers, behind their protection, severely disrupted and drove off this first attack. Afterwards the archers attack those who were wounded and dispatched them.

    Then came the second battalion which most historians call the van. It was composed of around 500 knights. The very next action is where Monstrelet states the duke of Brabant and a small number of men attack the English in advance of the second battalion. It is only after this attack that the English begin fighting back.

    As to the advantages of the longbow men engaging in hand-to-hand combat, the only way that light infanatry can engage and beat heavily armored infantry is to swarm them like wolves bringing down a stag. This could only be done after the integrity of the French battalion had been broken. So while the archers certainly caused casualties, they could not have the cause for breaking the French integrity.

    “it forced the men-at-arms to keep their visors down in contrary to the usual practice for fighting on foot, forcing them to risk heat exhaustion rather than take an arrow to the face.”

    We have a number of block prints and other drawings of the teim showing knights fighting at tournament , on foot, with visors down. This was there own personal protection against accidents. Also, Agincourt was fought on the 25th of October. I doubt that the heat would have been much of a factor at this time of year.

    “So yes, the longbow itself is pretty much overrated in popular history, …”

    What I’m suggesting is that the archers are pretty much overrated by academic historians.

    But you bring up a good point about French experiments with the longbow. The center of this experiment seems to be Picardy. This might have to do with Picardy and it’s proximity to the Burgundian counties. Burgundian military ethos in the first half of the 15th-century was a bit different that that of France. French men-at-arms had accepted the need to dismount. Burgundian men-at-arms were still having a problem with dismounting. While Burgundians dismounted at Agincourt and Tongres, they had to be threatened with death if they refused to dismount at the battle of Crevant. This is significant because the strength of the longbow, in a secure defensive position, was against mounted men-at-arms. Anyway, this experiment probably didn’t last very long. One hundred years latter, at the battle of Ravenna, Picard infantry were armed with pikes not longbows.

    Rich

  4. “Actually, according to the chronicler le Baker, captal de Buch with 60 knights and 100 archers hit the flank of the French third attack. It was after this flank attack that the rest of the English moved out of their defensive position to also attack the French.”

    Would the flank attack have been so decisive if the English had not also launched the general attack against the French front? I strongly doubt that. Without the major frontal attack, the English probably wouldn’t have been able to seize the initiative so completely from French hands.

    “I think this is a misreading for Monstrelet. The first attack was the French mounted attack which Monstrelet calls the van. The cavalry attacked the archers, behind their protection, severely disrupted and drove off this first attack. Afterwards the archers attack those who were wounded and dispatched them.

    Then came the second battalion which most historians call the van. It was composed of around 500 knights. The very next action is where Monstrelet states the duke of Brabant and a small number of men attack the English in advance of the second battalion. It is only after this attack that the English begin fighting back.”

    Well, the French mounted attack at the beginning of the battle at Agincourt was sorely undermanned and improperly executed–it should have gone around the English flanks but charged their front instead. The Duke of Brabant’s attack was similarly small in scale. So the first proper large-scale attack (as opposed to small-scale probes) in the battle was the English charge, and I don’t know how to interpret this other than by concluding that the English tactics in that battle were actually more offensive than defensive.

    “As to the advantages of the longbow men engaging in hand-to-hand combat, the only way that light infanatry can engage and beat heavily armored infantry is to swarm them like wolves bringing down a stag. This could only be done after the integrity of the French battalion had been broken. So while the archers certainly caused casualties, they could not have the cause for breaking the French integrity.”

    Only if you assume that hand-to-hand combat proceeded in the manner of a confused melee–and it obviously did _not_. You didn’t have to kill the enemy to defeat him in a shock action. If the English charge had sufficient numbers and psychological momentum to significantly disorder the French formation at the point of impact, it would have been able to deal a serious blow to French morale without having to go through a prolonged hand-to-hand slog where the French could have made their advantage in armor and training felt; and I don’t see any way that the English could have attained the critical momentum, whether in physical or psychological terms, without the numerical boost provided by the longbowmen. (Note that I said the longbowmen added weight and momentum to the men-at-arms’ attack rather than attacking on their own; the English attack wouldn’t have succeeded either if it hadn’t had a nucleus of men-at-arms for the longbowmen to pile up behind.)

    Another problem with seeing the longbowmen as “light infantry” is that they weren’t really that light. I’d blame it on the modern fetish for glorifying “peasant” and “light” infantry without regards to the actual social, economic, and political background of warfare in pre-modern times. They had plenty of armor–not quite as much as the men-at-arms, of course, but their jacks, brigandine, or mail was enough to put them on a par with troops that other realms would have counted as heavy infantry (say, Low Countries pikemen or French voulgiers) and was definitely far more protective than what most other comparable missile troops wore. The sword and buckler was also a standard part of the longbowmen’s personal equipment, not an occasional addition worn only by the richest men, so the longbowmen were actually expected to be willing and able to engage in hand-to-hand combat if the situation called for it.

    The modern proclivity to classify foot troops into “light” and “heavy” infantry can be quite misleading for the late medieval period, and not only for the longbowmen; handgunners, for example, usually fought in the dispersed formation characteristic of light linfantry but they wore fairly heavy armor and were seldom reluctant to get into a hand-to-hand scrap!

    “We have a number of block prints and other drawings of the teim showing knights fighting at tournament , on foot, with visors down. This was there own personal protection against accidents.”

    Tournaments were fought under a different set of rules, including provisions that emphasized protection of the participants’ life and limb rather than battlefield practices that tried instead to strike a compromise between protection and convenience. If you restrict your search to illustrations of battles and sieges, you’ll often see the men-at-arms fighting on foot with their faces bared by their upraised visors–and I really mean completely-armored men-at-arms, not lighter kinds of infantry that can usually be identified by their lack of complete leg armor.

    “Also, Agincourt was fought on the 25th of October. I doubt that the heat would have been much of a factor at this time of year.”

    If you’ve ever trained to fight in a full harness of plate, you’d realize that heat exhaustion is a risk even in winter–provided you moved vigorously enough not to freeze to death inside your suit of armor.

    Last but not least, let’s not forget what is perhaps the longbowmen’s greatest advantage–their ability to operate as mounted infantry. This aspect alone might have been overwhelmingly more important than any tactical advantages or disadvantages they had because it allowed the English to swell the numbers of their raiding parties while keeping the composition of these parties more in line with the main English armies, which gave them the ability to utilize standard English tactics even in small numbers.

    So I still don’t think that the longbowmen are _that_ much overrated. As archers, yes, they probably weren’t the medieval heavy artillery that A.H. Burne makes them out to be, but I will never tire to repeat that the longbowmen were more than just archers. If anything, archery was hardly the most important part of their capabilities.

  5. wapenshaw says:

    Would the flank attack have been so decisive if the English had not also launched the general attack against the French front? I strongly doubt that. Without the major frontal attack, the English probably wouldn’t have been able to seize the initiative so completely from French hands.

    This is not a historical issue. It is a philosophical issue. What we know from the sources was that the English were slowly being beaten down when de Buch put forward his plan. The flank attack relieved the pressure from the French long enough for the English main body to magnify the disruption caused by the flank attack as was planned.

    Well, the French mounted attack at the beginning of the battle at Agincourt was sorely undermanned and improperly executed–it should have gone around the English flanks but charged their front instead.

    Forests protected the English flanks. The cavalry could not go around.

    The Duke of Brabant’s attack was similarly small in scale. So the first proper large-scale attack (as opposed to small-scale probes) in the battle was the English charge, and I don’t know how to interpret this other than by concluding that the English tactics in that battle were actually more offensive than defensive.

    This is the problem of relying on a single source. We know the French halted before contact. They formed three wedges coming out of the van. The points were directed at the English and the base in the van. Clearly what Monstrelet was describing was one of these wedges. Once the wedges were formed, the van of 5000 French knights struck the waiting English.

    Only if you assume that hand-to-hand combat proceeded in the manner of a confused melee–and it obviously did _not_.

    No, I’m assuming the French were a formed unit.

    I don’t see any way that the English could have attained the critical momentum, whether in physical or psychological terms, without the numerical boost provided by the longbowmen. (Note that I said the longbowmen added weight and momentum to the men-at-arms’ attack rather than attacking on their own; the English attack wouldn’t have succeeded either if it hadn’t had a nucleus of men-at-arms for the longbowmen to pile up behind.)

    This is a problem then. All the chronicles that mention the beginning of the hand-to-hand combat state, including Monstrelet, that it was the French who attacked the waiting English.

    Another problem with seeing the longbowmen as “light infantry” is that they weren’t really that light. I’d blame it on the modern fetish for glorifying “peasant” and “light” infantry without regards to the actual social, economic, and political background of warfare in pre-modern times.

    To be factually correct this was the modern time. The modern age was invented during the Renaissance that was active in Italy while Agincourt was being fought. Renaissance writers believed they lived in modern times. They studied works from classical times and what was in between was the middle age.

    But I understand your objection. Light infantry were named so not so much from their lack armor as for the function they performed in battle. Perhaps I’ll do a posting on light and heavy infantry. In any event, the archers’ clothes were in taters. Some didn’t even have shoes.

    If you’ve ever trained to fight in a full harness of plate, you’d realize that heat exhaustion is a risk even in winter–provided you moved vigorously enough not to freeze to death inside your suit of armor.

    I’ve been to your excellent site and so you should know about the venting areas that were designed into a suite of plate armor. Closing or opening visors will have little effect as to the risk of heat exhaustion at this time of year. The closing of the visor would have more impact on the vision of the fighter than the risk of heat exhaustion. Plus, there were about 5000 fighters in the French van. They were formed into around 20 ranks. What is to prevent the rear ranks from replacing those who were hot and exhausted?

    Last but not least, let’s not forget what is perhaps the longbowmen’s greatest advantage–their ability to operate as mounted infantry.

    But that was not the subject of my posting.

  6. Ralph Hitchens says:

    Excellent discussion. All I have to contribute is that from my reading, Henry V was clearly one of the most accomplished soldiers of his day, and the army he brought to Agincourt surely reflected his desires and expectations about how to fight battles. Fine and good that thoughtful modern scholars will want to take a second look at the myth of the invincible longbowmen, but we should concede the likelihood that King Henry V knew what he was about.

  7. wapenshaw says:

    That’s true but what Henry was about was avoiding battle. He was pinned and forced to fight at Agincourt by the French.

  8. Jessica says:

    Ok. So i got onw question i just don’t have enough time to read all.
    Here’s my question:

    What was the impact of the longbow in science and technology?

    I got to answer this right now; I got to present something tomorrow on this.

    Please someone answer my question and thank you. :)

  9. Pete Roberts says:

    Great in depth discussion ( love it ) , Just a couple of points – The actual tactics involved with using the longbow were fine tuned against the scots , battles like the Standard / Falkirk / Duplin muir / nevilles cross / flodden etc etc taught the english to dismount and wait for the scottish attack . The devastating arrow storm against mostly unarmoured spearmen ussually causing them to turn and rout . This was the start of the legend of the longbow ,but against men in armour the killing rate was far less but what I think we tend to forget is that even a fully armoured knight ( with visor down ) when hit by a average type 16 arrow from a average “draw ” longbow , was being hit with approx 80 joules of energy ( roughly the same as a punch from a 75 kilo boxer ) . A french knight must of endured many multiple blows . This must of added greatly to the confusing / hurt of the battle .

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