The Writer’s Guide to Bows: Part 3

Poundage, Range, Rate of Fire & Training

In the third part of my five-part series on bows, I will be covering some more bits of critical information if you are writing an archer, especially if you’re doing a battle scene.

As always, magic is the exception to the rules. Because magic.

Poundage

Probably one of the biggest differences between historical bows and modern bows is poundage. By poundage, I mean the amount of weight the bow is exerting on the string when it is at full draw. The standard modern draw length is 28 inches (71 cm).

The draw weights of most modern longbows and recurves are in the 25-60 pound (11-27 kg) range. In 1971, the wreck of King Henry VIII of England’s flag ship, the Mary Rose, was discovered. The ship sank during the battle of Solent on July 19th, 1545. In the hold were 170 English longbows, almost 4,000 arrows and various other archery artifacts. The draw weights ranged from 100-185 pounds (45-84 kg)! [1] It took a lot of strength to pull one of these bows. Another indicator of the immense weight of medieval bows are the deformities seen in the skeletons of longbow archers from the period. They have enlarged left arms and most have osteophytes (bony projections along the joint margins) on the left wrist and shoulder and right fingers. [2]

Writer’s Tip: It would be wonderful to see a depiction of a real war bow. Unfortunately, books, movies and television tend to portray the bow as a weak person’s weapon.

Bows found on the Mary Rose. Photo source.

Range

King Henry VIII set a minimum practice range for adults in 1542 of 220 yards (201 m). The longest recorded longbow shot was 345 yards (315 m) in the 16th century at Finsbury Fields in London. In 2012, Joe Gibbs, a well-known English longbowman, shot a 2.25-ounce (64 g) livery arrow 292 yards (267 m) using a yew bow with a 170 pound (77 kg) draw weight. [3] If you want to see Joe Gibbs in action with his 160-pound longbow, I suggest this video from Tod’s Workshop.

Rate of Fire

I can say from experience that a competent longbow archer can shoot at a rate of up to twelve arrows per minute with relatively good accuracy. The heavier the poundage of the bow, the less that rate is sustainable, however. An author in Tudor England expected a longbowman to be able to fire eight shots in the same amount of time a musket shot five. [4] However, the rate of fire could also be limited by the number of arrows available. It would not do to run out of arrows before the end of a battle!

Training

The English archers became renowned for their skills, due in large part to compulsory practice. A law passed in 1252 required all Englishmen aged 15 to 60 to own a bow and arrows. Another law passed in 1363 required them to practice archery for two hours every Sunday. [5] This law is still on the books so if you are a man living in England over the age of 14 legally you should be at the archery range every Sunday.

Despite the simplicity of shooting a bow, it takes time and consistent practice to become good. Being proficient at archery was also patriotic because it meant a man could help defend the kingdom if it went to war not to mention being able to supplement your diet with fresh game.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

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Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2020 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] https://archeryhistorian.com/the-mary-rose-longbows/
[2] Dr. A.J. Stirland. Raising the Dead: the Skeleton Crew of Henry VIII's Great Ship the Mary Rose. (Chichester 2002) As cited in Strickland & Hardy 2005, p. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_longbow
[3] Loades 2013, p. 65. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_longbow#Range
[4] A right exelent and pleasaunt dialogue, betwene Mercury and an English souldier contayning his supplication to Mars: bevvtified with sundry worthy histories, rare inuentions, and politike deuises. wrytten by B. Rich: gen. 1574. Published 1574 by J. Day. These bookes are to be sold [by H. Disle] at the corner shop, at the South west doore of Paules church in London. https://bowvsmusket.com/2015/07/14/barnabe-rich-a-right-exelent-and-pleasaunt-dialouge-1574/ accessed 21 April 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_longbow#Shooting_rate
[5] http://www.lordsandladies.org/the-butts.htm

1 Comments on “The Writer’s Guide to Bows: Part 3”

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