The History of The Longbow

The history of the longbow goes back centuries. Invented by the Welsh 1180 CE, they fought hard to keep it from the English but were ultimately unsuccessful.  England went on to win many wars over France using the longbow simply because France did not possess a weapon that could compete with it.

Medieval archeryThe longbow dates back to the first century, and it was originally used in warfare by the Welsh. These soldiers used their bows as both a defensive and an offensive weapon.

Sometimes during battle, Welsh archers would be posted in trees so that they could shoot arrows from high up which was quite terrifying for the enemy.

The Welsh and English fought for many years about who would get to keep the valuable bows, but they both knew that if either side had them, they would be able to dominate war in Europe.

They were also worried that if anyone other than themselves got their hands on these bows it could mean trouble for them in future battles with other countries.

Longbow Wars

The English eventually learned how to make longbows themselves, and they became quite famous for using them against their enemies. The longbow rose to legendary status in Hundred Years’ War from 1337 to 1453 after it was dominant in procuring the English victories at Crécy in 1346, Poitiers in 1356 and Agincourt in 1415.

The war of the longbow ended in 1453 when the last major battle was fought. Edward III was credited (or maybe discredited) with starting the war when he took control of French territory and caused a civil unrest.

The Most Famous Longbow Battle

longbow battleThe most famous battle in the war of the longbow is referred to as the Battle of Agincourt.

The French outnumbered the English by three thousand to seven hundred at this battle.

Even though they had such a disadvantage, the English won because they had better armor and weapons.

The French were defeated after what was supposed to be a quick victory turned into a nightmare for them, shooting flaming arrows and attacking with poleaxes from behind rocks and trees.

The war of the longbow was important because it showed that longbowsmen could defeat larger numbers whilst actually being at a disadvantage. The English were not superior to their opponents; they simply trained well and knew how to use their weapons.

Monarchs started to pay attention to longbow usage by the middle ages, which created peace between England and France. This eventually led to wars with other countries in Europe including Scotland and France.

Longbow Construction Materials

The English used Yew wood for making their longbows. They used Yew trees from around 450 years of age and cut them down when they became 800 years old.

The reason why they used older and stronger wood was because the bows would not break as easily if they were made from old wood. Longbows could be made by cutting a long strip of Yew, which would then have to be carefully shaped using a drawknife.

The strips were then heated and bent into shape before the bow staves were trimmed down to size.

Who Was The Best Longbowman

The best longbowman was from an ancient Welsh family called the Tudors. His name was Henry VII, and he taught himself to use a longbow instead of a regular bow.

He wasn’t that good at first but to his credit, but he kept practicing and eventually became highly skilled.

The Mighty Welsh Longbow

The longbow was utilised by the Welsh long before any of their conquerors, and it was used against their adversaries to great effect for generations.

Bows and arrows date back to the Paleolithic period, with evidence dating back to 8000-9000 BC in Germany. 

Kennewick man, a contentious skeleton discovered in the Columbia River in Kennewick, Washington, dates back to around 7500 BC. A CT scan found a stone implanted in his hip with a projectile tip.

Oetzi the Iceman was discovered with a quiver of flint-head arrows in his bag, as well as an unfinished yew longbow that was taller than he was. He was born around 3300 BC.

A recent discovery in Norway uncovered 4500-year-old bows and arrows that are almost identical in appearance and function to those discovered in the Yukon at the same time.

The longbow was first used in a fight between the Welsh and the Northumbrians in 633 AD, headed by Cadwallon ap Cadfan of Gwynedd.

The shot killed Ofrid (or Osric? ), the foster-uncle of Cadwallon and son of Edwin of Northumbria. Cadwallon had joined forces with Penda of Mercia to push the Northumbrians out of Gwynedd. Cadwallon was a winner.

The majority of Saxons were not archers. The usage of a longbow in England is not documented for another 5 centuries.

From the time the Normans managed to cross the English Channel to capture England and Wales, the Welsh employed longbows against them.

There is credible proof of Welsh archery 11 years before Hastings in the narrative of Ralph, Earl of Hereford, on the expedition he led into Wales, according to one writer.

The Saxon riders were attacked by archers who fired so precisely and powerfully that, according to the Abingdon Chronicle, “the English people fled, before a spear had been hurled, because they were on horseback.”

According to one estimate from the period, the English lost 500 soldiers, while the Welsh suffered none. This was a lesson that, if the Saxons had learnt it, may have influenced the outcome of the Battle of Hastings; cavalry is powerless against well-equipped infantry.

The Battle of Cymerau

The Battle of Cymerau, in which the Normans lost 3000 men, was one of the biggest triumphs for Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native king of Wales, in 1257. Nearly 25 years later, in 1282, at Llandeilo Fawr, the Normans cowered for two days under a storm of Welsh arrows, suffering a crushing loss.

Bowmen were recruited in great numbers into the English army when King Edward conquered the Welsh, as it was one of the only ways they could earn a decent income.

Longbowmen, both Welsh and English, were a significant element of the English army during the Hundred Years War with France, sometimes outnumbering the Men-at-Arms by up to 10 to 1. The average ratio was around 3 to 1.

As effective as the longbow was, why was it not adopted much earlier? Both its size and the amount of time necessary to master its use have a role in its effectiveness.

Yew longbows were often over six feet long (6 ft. 6 in.) with arrows that were over one yard long. It takes a lot of muscle to draw them, as they are quite strong weapons. There is a range of 200 to 300 yards for the draw weight of 120-150 lbs.

Longbow formations fired 10 to 12 volleys every minute during battle. Each archer was equiped with 60-72 arrows, depending on their skill level. Five minutes is all it would take for 4,000 longbowmen to fire 240,000 arrows.

As a result, the archers had to put in a lot of practise in order to perfect its use.

When King Edward I discovered the longbow’s full potential, he adopted it from the Welsh, to the point where Edward I prohibited all activities save archery on Sundays to assure a continual stream of bowmen for his army.” Shooting ranges were constructed up on or near church land so that parishioners may practise archery after worship services.

During the 100 Years War, Edward III utilised the longbow to great advantage, flooding his army with Welsh and English longbowmen who devastated the French, especially at the Battles of Crecy and Agincourt.

To Summarize…

Longbows were first used by the Welsh in a fight against the Northumbrians in 633 AD. The longbow was then used to attack the Saxons, who were on horseback at the time.

Longbows have been found in Germany and the Yukon years later. The longbow was first used by King Edward I in the Hundred Years War with France. Longbowmen, both Welsh and English, were a significant element of the English army during the war.

They were recruited as it was one of the only ways they could earn a decent income.

The Modern Longbow

Today there are no soldiers who use bows as their main weapon in warfare. Their main use is in sporting events where people participate in competitions including target archery and shooting arrows to see who can shoot the farthest or highest, referred to as Flight Archery.

The advantages of using a longbow includes training and the fact that you are not limited to a weapon with just one type of arrow. The longbow is a very powerful weapon, it can shoot far and accurately.

This is because it has a longer draw length than the average bow and this allows the arrow to be shot faster, and therefore further.

Longbows Are Still Very Popular

Longbow hunters today are fortunate because they don’t need to wear heavy armor or invest in expensive weaponry in order to hunt. Bows are much more light weight and easy to use than other hunting weapons, such as a rifle.

They also have a very natural, ‘earthy’ feel when you use them. If you haven’t tried hunting with a bow before, do have a go! It doesn’t take any special skills, just practice and the right equipment to get started with.

Longbows are still considered by many as the best type of bow to use in a competition today. Factors that make them useful in competition include their natural feel and ‘earthiness’.

7 Critical Steps for Shooting a Longbow Successfully

  • Do your research and find a longbow that is suitable for you. If you are not sure what you should be using, see if there is someone at an archery store to help answer any questions or direct you.

  • Choose an arrow to use with the bow. Check the specifications of the arrow and make sure it matches up with the specifications for your bow.

  • Place a shooting tab under your finger on one of your three fingers – right index, left index or middle finger – it does not matter which one so choose whichever feels most comfortable to you or whichever one matches up with what is recommended by the person who sold you the bow and arrows.

  • Make sure that the arrow is nocked onto the string then pull back on the string to a comfortable position where you can hold it for at least one full second.

  • Aim at the target.

  • Release your finger from the string where you will let go of the arrow.

  • After shooting, check to see if your arrow hit the target where you wanted it to and if not, adjust accordingly and try again until hitting your desired spot.

The Longbow Stance

Longbows are more difficult to shoot than recurve bows.

This is because the longbow requires more precision in technique and hand strength to pull back the bowstring. The best way to shoot a longbow is to be in a natural stance with your feet shoulder width apart.

Your toes should point towards your target and your elbows should be at about right angles from your torso. This will keep you stable and balanced during shots as well as give you some extra power for longer distances, which is necessary for shooting higher poundages at lower draw weights with this type of bow.

Is The Longbow Suitable for Beginners?

longbow beginnerIt is safe to say that longbows are suitable for beginners because they are easy to use.

They are not the most popular type of bow and arrow in the US, but it’s a good idea to start with them in order to get a simple feel for it before moving on.

A way to build your confidence with this bow will be achieved through practice, you start by holding the longbow in a c-shape.

The string of the bow is under your chin, and you shoulder your arms backwards, while holding it up against something sturdy so that you will have good balance.

Make sure that you don’t lean too far back, or else you’ll lose control of the bow. You can hold it comfortably for a while until you get stronger and feel like exerting more power into it.

Younger children may find it a bit more difficult to hold the bow while shooting with one hand or two hands.

While some kids will use both hands, others may not. In order to shoot an arrow, they must first pull back on the string and then release it using their fingers, thumb or both thumbs.

Young children should be able to hold a longbow in their hand without too many difficulties with gripping.

What Makes the Longbow Unique?

The primary difference between a longbow and other bows is the draw length. This is how far back the archer pulls the bowstring with respect to their arm when they hold it in position.

The longer the draw length, the harder it becomes to pull back on the string for each successive shot. A good guideline is to shoot your longbow at a distance of about 30–40 feet (9–12 m) until you’ve mastered proper form, then move up to 40–60 feet (12–20 m).

Oh, nearly forgot… there’s that minor thing that they’ve been around for about 800 years and were instrumental in changing the course of mankind.

Well yeah, there’s that!


The longbow is a powerful weapon and has been used for centuries in battle, they are still considered by many as the best type of bow to use in a competition today. Archers love their natural feel and the fact that they’re created from natural wood.

Today, it is considered more of a sporting weapon, but can be very useful for hunters who venture out into the wilderness and try to bring something home for the dinner table!