History for the fantasy buff: construction of the medieval longbow

I mentioned in my last post that the preferred wood for longbow construction is yew. This is true today, and it has been true for all of recorded history. Wood from the yew tree simply has the best elasticity for longbows. In some parts of the western world, where the yew did not grow, other woods were used, such as elm and pine in Scandinavia. And for unknown reasons, some bows were made of wych elm even in areas where yew was available. But yew makes a superior longbow.

English archers fletched their arrows with goose feathers, giving rise to the adage, “England were but a fling, but for the crooked stick and the gray goose wing.”

Medieval arrowheads were made of wrought iron, but designs varied. Archaeologists have identified 28 different designs used between the 10th and 16th centuries, some of which were meant for penetrating mail and plate armor, others for killing by hemorrhage, others which are barbed to make removal difficult, etc. Medieval archers had names for many of these arrowheads: broadhead, bodkin, bykere, dokebyll, forker, horsehead. Some, like broadhead, are still in use by modern-day archers, but most are obsolete.

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3 Responses to History for the fantasy buff: construction of the medieval longbow

  1. Jessi Gage says:

    Great info! I wonder what the similarities are between European arrowheads and American Indian… Might be interesting to see collections side by side.

  2. Amy Raby says:

    I think materials are different for sure (flint vs. iron?), but it would be interesting to see if they came up with different designs for the arrowheads, or similar ones.

  3. Pingback: Next Big Thing: Noon Onyx Book #2 « Jill Archer

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