[Review] The Great Warbow

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[Review] The Great Warbow

Post by Companion Cube » 2008-04-03 06:13pm

The Great Warbow Matthew Strickland and Robert Hardy

First published: 2005
ISBN: 0-7509-3167-1

This is an accessibly-written history of the longbow, as employed famously by the English (and others) before, during, and to an extent after the Middle Ages. After reviewing the archaeological conclusions taken from longbows recovered from the Mary Rose and the social context of bow use, there's also a bit of historiographical analysis regarding the depiction of bows in contemporary artwork, and the myths (drawing to the chest, etc) that ensued.

Putting the performance of the longbow in context, the book also includes chapters on the composite bows and crossbows which opposed them. An appendix details the results of a trial shoot with a modern replica approximating one of the bows recovered from the Mary Rose.

The core of the book details a series of battles and lingers on the leadership decisions which shaped them, paying attention to the varying influence of archery. The tactical employment of these weapons merits its own chapter (which itself ties in to earlier description of men-at-arms dismounting and attacking with archers in support, a tactic noted in the 12th century and which reappeared in time for the Hundred Years' War).

When the book focuses on the wars in France, time is taken to detail French reactions to English tactics prior to and during Hundred Years' War, including the caution which allowed them to avoid having an early Crecy at the battle of La Flamengerie in 1339. Keeping in chronological order, the book leaves France after Poitiers, detailing the Black Prince's battles in Spain, the exploits of Sir John Hawkwood, and the internal English grievances leading to the bloody uphill battle at Shrewsbury in 1403. The book then steps aside for a chapter on armour and battlefield medicine before returning to the Hundred Years' War in time for Agincourt in 1415 (which has a chapter to itself).
The Great Warbow, p.311 wrote:Henry V had trusted his archer force enough to risk a major battle with them as five-sixths of his whole force, and they had responded by giving him a victory which has so echoed down the ages that now at Azincourt itself they celebrate their 'page d'histoire en Artois' and welcome visitors to a fine new museum, where among other things you can test your strength on the 'Agincourt bow' machine. It draws all of 60lb (27kg). Multiply that by two-and-a-half times and you have the bows that won so many battles. Such bows also caused huge casualties in civil wars in England, when archers such as fought at Agincourt were ranged against each other in equal numbers and equal fury, particularly at Towton during the Wars of the Roses, where the appalling numbers of dead numbered between twenty and thirty thousand.

Of course, the French eventually learned how to deal with the longbow threat, at Bauge, at Patay and at Castillon - but that is shown elsewhere in this study.
Following Agincourt the book covers the organisation of archers in Burgundy, Scotland and France, detailing the organisational measures taken to counter or harness the effectiveness of the English longbow system.

By contrast, just as the Scots were abandoning their experiments in the mass training of archers, their old ally Charles VII was making bowmen an important element in his restructuring of the French military. And unlike his hapless ally James I, Charles was to achieve far greater success in implementing a series of military reforms which were to help him turn the tide of war decisively against the English, and to see them driven first from Normandy by 1450 and from Gascony by 1453. Charles had made initial moves to create a standing force in 1439, but in 1445 he took advantage of the truce made the previous year with the English (intended to last twenty years) to create what was in effect a small but professional standing army, his Compagnies D'Ordonnance...

p.3-48 The Weapon

p.51-194 The Longbow Before Crecy

p.197-406 The Hundred Years' War and Beyond

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