The Origin of the Longbow, Arrow and the Fletchers P. 2/4
At the battle of Falkirk in July 1299 Edward's army was victorious principally because of the devastating effects of the Welsh longbow archers. The longbow made a significant debut at the battle of Crecy, France in 1346 (see illustration) and changed the way battles were fought thereafter. Edward 111 called on his Welsh allies who contributed 3,000 of the 6,000 arches who faced the enemy knights. These well-trained Welsh bowmen could 'loose' about 10 arrows a minute. At any moment thousands of arrows would be hissing through the air, looking, as one observer at the time put it, 'so thick that it seemed like snow'. The longbow archers fired volleys of arrows, travelling like a "swarm of bees", rapidly making a decisive advantage over the French crossbow which took longer to 'draw' and slower to shoot arrows.
Archery was like a religion. The Welsh longbow archer played a critical role in the battle of Agincourt (see illustration). They were experts in using the longbow and were feared by their enemies. On 25 October 1415, English and Welsh longbow archers, many of them from Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire and Brecknockshire, under King Henry V completely destroyed the French cavalry at Agincourt. King Henry poured considerable sums of money into equipping his army, ‘purchasing bows, arrows, bow strings....from a number of different fletchers and tradesmen’. A loyal servant of King Henry, John Merbury of Herefordshire, ‘would recruit twenty men-at-arms and five hundred archers from south Wales for the Agincourt campaign’. Sir John Fastolf of Wiltshire also recruited Welshmen for his army at Agincourt. They were clad in distinctive battle clothes, ‘the contingents of archers raised by the crown in Wales and Cheshire were clearly identifiable by their caps and tunics of green and white’ (see illustration above).
The powerful longbow in the hands of a skilled and experienced Welsh archer stirred dread in the minds of their enemies. With a large draw weight (pull), a well made arrow could travel between 180 and 200 yards and pierce armour and chainmail. No wonder the longbow archer was feared by his enemies across Europe for three centuries. The feared Medieval longbow archers usually used a two-fingered draw on the string and if captured, the French soldiers would cut off these two drawing fingers. However in close combat it was common for longbow archers to taunt their enemy by holding up their two fingers. Illustration: Welsh longbow archer at the Battle of Agincourt.
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