The Battle of Agincourt: The Longbow

‘He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.’ – Henry V

The Battle of Agincourt took place on 25 October 1415 and was a major English victory of the Hundred Years War. Over the course of 2015 many events will commemorate the battle – amongst them a Royal Armouries’ special exhibition at the Tower of London, which will explore the ‘the story, myths and legacy of this extraordinary battle’. A sumptuously illustrated book – the defining reassessment of arguably the most iconic military engagement of the medieval era – accompanies the exhibition. Join us on the YaleBooks blog as we celebrate Agincourt600 by sharing a selection of extracts from The Battle of Agincourt: ‘Agincourt Chivalry’, ‘Agincourt Weaponry’ and ‘Shakespeare’s Agincourt’.

The Battle of Agincourt

This extract is taken from the chapter ‘All Kinds of Weapons’: the Weapons of Agincourt by Robert C. Woosnam Savage

The French made greater use of the crossbow than the bow; this included the crossbowmen of the urban militias during the Agincourt campaign. Although capable of shooting a heavier arrow, or bolt, crossbows required a longer time to load. The lath of the bow would have been made of wood, composite (made up of laminated layers of wood, horn and sinew) or of steel, the latter having been in use from at least the early fourteenth century. Improved mechanical spanning  devices, such as the ‘goat’s foot lever’, made of a double-framed lever and using two lugs on the side of the tiller, enabled crossbows to become increasingly powerful. However, the more complex these spanning devices became the longer they took to span the bow, the result being that they probably could shoot no more than two or three bolts per minute. The bolts could be shot over a similar range to the lighter longbow arrows (up to about 229 metres [250 yards]), but had a shorter effective range. At Agincourt the author of the Gesta Henrici Quinti wrote that after just ‘one over-hasty volley by which they did injury to very few [the French crossbowmen] withdrew for fear of our bows’. Crossbowmen developed a type of large wooden rectangular shield to give them cover while spanning their bows: the pavise, which was sometimes borne by another soldier, the pavisier, but it is unclear how many pavises were in use at Agincourt. Le F.vre and Waurin make one ambiguous mention of the word pavaix when seemingly referring to the advance of the French men-at-arms. The only other reference is with regard to the urban militias, such as that of Amiens, which provided 30 crossbowmen and 25 pavisiers, but they were probably not actually present at Agincourt.

Anne Curry is Professor of History and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Southampton. Malcolm Mercer is Curator of Tower History at the Royal Armouries Museum.

This book is published in partnership with the Royal Armouries. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter

The Battle of Agincourt edited by Professor Anne Curry & Malcolm Mercer is available to buy from Yale University Press. 

The Battle of Agincourt

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