Tactics, Strategy, and Battlefield Formation during the Hundred Years War: The Role of the Longbow in the ‘Infantry Revolution’

By John J. Mortimer

Master’s Thesis, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 2013

Archers - British Library Royal 16 G VIII f. 189

Abstract: The English longbow was the driving force tactical change during the Hundred Years War. The English army was introduced to the longbow by the Welsh and the weapon was used during the Scottish Wars of Independence where the English were exposed to new methods of strategy. The English did not adopt the use of the longbow on a large scale until the reign of Edward III. The longbow, in combination with men at arms, transformed the manner in which medieval warfare was conducted. This encouraged what is now known by historians as the “infantry revolution.”

The longbow was extremely effective and was considered by contemporary historians to be a deadly weapon. The introduction of plate armor caused some problems with arrow penetration which as a result diminished the lethality of the longbow, but it still continued to be a highly effective weapon.

Introduction: The English longbow had a tremendous impact on strategy and tactics during the Hundred Years War. Early medieval warfare was often dominated by the “shock combat” of cavalry whose greater numbers in battle usually determined the outcome. During the First Scottish War, a prelude to the Hundred Years War, the English army was on the receiving end of the power of the longbow wielded by experienced Welsh archers. The English would not adopt the weapon into its military on a large scale until the reign of Edward III (1327-1377). The adoption of the English longbow changed the manner in which medieval warfare was fought. The English longbow encouraged what is known by historians as the “infantry revolution.”

The Medieval Magazine

The use of the longbow in battle was a success and was considered by many contemporary and secondary historians to be a deadly weapon in the early stages of war until the introduction of advanced plate armor in combination with chainmail. This raises the question as to why the English army relied so heavily upon the longbow during the second half of the Hundred Years War. Armor would not be the main reason for the decline in the English longbow. The training necessary to master the bow in combination with the appearance of the plague in 1350s created a void in available archers which would not be completely replenished. These difficulties in finding able-bodies archers in combination with the difficulty of finding the resources used to produce the bow attributed to the weapons decline.

Click here to read this thesis from Indiana University of Pennsylvania

For more on the Battle of Agincourt check out the latest issue of Medieval Magazine.

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