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Catapults are not Atomic Bombs: Towards a Redefinition of Effectiveness in Premodern Military Technology
By Kelly DeVries
War in History, Vol.4:4 (1997)
Excerpt: Since at least the sixteenth century most historians have believed that the longbow significantly changed English strategy and tactics in the later Middle Ages. In fact, it has been thought that this weapon alone determined many victories for England, the only military entity skilled or ‘privileged’ enough to possess the longbow, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
The origin of the longbow is uncertain; in fighting with or against the Welsh some time during the thirteenth century, the English encountered a bow which made them discard their traditional bow. This was constructed in a similar way and with similar wood to the traditional English bow, but it was longer, and its string was drawn to the ear instead of to the chest, allowing for the discharge of a longer arrow. The English army quickly adopted the longbow, recruiting for their army large numbers of Welsh and Cheshire archers proficient in the weapon.
It seems evident to many historians that the longbow altered English warfare from the late thirteenth until the end of the fifteenth century. In 1298, for example, Edward I took a troop of over 10 000 archers with him on his conquest of Scotland (a ratio of three archers to one mounted man-at-arms), an extremely large number in comparison with numbers of archers included in English armies previous to this time.
And he was victorious. Also victorious was the English army, again including a large contingent of archers, which faced the Scots at Dupplin Moor in 1332 and at Halidon Hill in 1333. Finally, English archers participated in the decisive victories over the French and Scots armies at the battles of Sluys (1340), Morlaix (1342), Crecy (1346), Neville’s Cross (1346), Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415). Could it not be that all of these victories were brought to the English army because their opponents were unable to face the longbow arrows, fired at a rate of ten flights per minute ‘like snow on the battlefield’?