Tuesday, 22 May 2012


It took great skill to shoot with accuracy using a longbow. The Mary Rose Archers would have been well trained in the use of this weapon. The English Archery Law of 1363 had made it obligatory for Englishmen to practise their skills with the longbow every Sunday. Longbow training included much practised commands and motions which could be carried out automatically in battle. The Mary Rose archers would have been strong to be able to draw the bow. This was confirmed by the examination of the 200 skeletons which were found on the Mary Rose. Nearly all of the skeletons were of young men in their twenties with an average height of 5 foot 7 inches. Many of these men would have been skilled with the longbow as there was a marked skeletal shoulder development which had been accentuated by their skill in archery - wide shoulders were common amongst the Mary Rose Archers.The artefacts found on the Mary Rose ship included more than 3,500 arrows and 137 whole longbows. The actual number of longbows which the Mary Rose was equipped with was 250 with a total of 8000 arrows. This was an unexpected find, it was assumed that the majority of weapons on the warship would focus on the new technology of the gun and the cannon. Most other weapons were assumed to be those which suited to capturing the enemy ship by hand-to-hand fighting. The surprise when raising the wreck of the Mary Rose was that there were hundred of longbows and arrows on board, the new technology of the gun had not replaced this valuable weapon in the early Tudor period and the find enabled valuable information to be collected about the power and design of the longbow. There were so few surviving longbows before the raising of the Mary Rose that little detailed information was available regarding their size, draw and range. 
The Mary Rose longbows have revolutionised our knowledge of the performance and power of this important weapon.The bows staves recovered from the Mary Rose warship were made from a single baulk of yew covered with a layer of  sapwood to preserve the natural laminate of the wood. The size of the Mary Rose longbows ranged in length from 1.87m to 2.11m (6 ft 1 in to 6 ft 11 in) with an average length of 1.98 m (6 ft 6 in). The longbows of the Mary Rose are estimated to draw at 65 to 70 pounds. The longbow could pierce armour at ranges of more than 250 yards. The bow stave was shaped into a D-section from a half cross section of a tree or branch. A skilled longbowman could release between 10 - 12 arrows per minute. The longbow could also pierce armour at ranges of more than 250 yards. The string of the longbow was made from hemp as it was the strongest and least elastic fibre available which was soaked in glue as some protection against moisture. The longbow arrows, called bodkins, consisted of a straight shaft with a sharp point on one end and the arrows measured about 3 feet long. Long Bodkin point arrows were used for piercing chainmail and short bodkins were used for piercing armor plate.

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