Longbow the final

January 30, 2008

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.