The Great British Bowmen

Upon reading the blog of one of my favourite authors, S. Alexander O’Keefe, I realized that I haven’t written a blog post about one of my deepest passions, history. So to remedy that I’d like to tell you all about some of my favourite warriors, the famed Welsh Archers.

The Great British Bowmen

The Welsh Archers were feared throughout Europe in the Middle Ages as one of the deadliest tools in warfare. While each archer was incredibly skilled, it was more than just their deadly accuracy that made them the stuff of nightmares for French Nobles.

Firstly it was the longbow itself. The bow stood at 6 feet tall and required between 80 and 120 pounds of force just to draw it. Archers became synonymous with strength and musculature during this time. Skeletons of archers from this period have even been found with thicker bones on the side of their body that drew the bow.
Because of the bows immense size and power, archers could accurately fire arrows 350 yards, that’s over 3 football fields. (Some estimates even put that number closer to 400 yards.)
And at 350 yards, these arrows weren’t just bouncing off the armored knights and falling to the dirt.

In the war against the Welsh, one of the men of arms was struck by an arrow shot at him by a Welshman. It went right through his thigh, high up, where it was protected inside and outside the leg by his iron chausses, and then through the skirt of his leather tunic; next it penetrated that part of the saddle which is called the alva or seat; and finally it lodged in his horse, driving so deep that it killed the animal.
— Gerald of Wales - Royal Clerk To The King

The second, and possibly more impactful, reason the Welsh archers were so effective is the sheer number of arrows they rained down on an approaching enemy. There is a stat from The Battle of Crecy in the 14th century (why can’t we have more medieval stats?) that 6000 archers were firing 42,000 arrows a minute. When you’re firing that many arrows accuracy is less important, just aim at the mass of enemy knights coming towards you and you’ll probably be sweet. Those knights in the most expensive and heaviest armour may not have been wounded or killed by the arrows, but walking through an arrow storm would be both physically and emotionally exhausting and by the time they clashed with the enemy they would be completely fatigued.

There is a story about the Welsh archers and a certain two fingered gesture still in use today. As the story goes the French, upon capturing one of the fearsome Welsh archers, would cut off their middle and index fingers and send the now useless archer back to the army. Knowing this, the Welsh archers would often proudly display these two fingers towards the French before unleashing another storm of death, a triumphant act of defiance. Sadly while the story is a fun one, there is little historical evidence to confirm its validity.

The Great British Bowmen

I found another blog post about these famous and feared archers. Written by Andrew-Paul Shakeaspeare, who is obviously a far more professional and passionate historian than I. So if you’re interested in reading more then definitely head to Flying With Dragons.