The British defeated the French knights with the longbow. A new investigation shows how fatal the injuries were. The rotation of the arrows resulted in particularly severe wounds.

That the knights were driven from the battlefields by the invention of firearms is a myth that stubbornly persists. Compared to the early hand-held firearms, far older bows of the Middle Ages were far more dangerous. They caused wounds similar to those of today’s infantry weapons. This is the result of a study by archaeologists from the University of Exeter.

Surprising find

To do this, they evaluated skeletons and bones that were unearthed at a Dominican monastery in Exeter. A lucky find. Because sources testify to the use of bows in the wars of the late Middle Ages, finds of injured skeletons are extremely rare. At a monastery in Exeter, 22 bones or bone fragments were found with traces of arrow wounds. Radiocarbon testing indicates the remains date to between 1482 and 1645 AD.

The team found a skull where the arrow entered the right eye and exited the back of the head. The deadly weapon possessed a peculiarity. This arrow was feathered to rotate clockwise during flight. This rotation stabilizes the trajectory because it compensates for small inaccuracies in the arrow’s mass distribution. When entering the body, this twist then leads to particularly serious injuries, especially when a flattened tip is used. Scientists were only able to study the entry and exit wounds, but the disintegrated soft tissue was also torn open with a wide canal.

“Arrow trauma is difficult to identify, but our compilation shows that arrows fired from longbows can result in entry and exit wounds in the skull comparable to modern gunshot wounds,” the authors write. “These results have profound implications for our understanding of the power of the medieval longbow.

War Decisive Weapon

The English longbow is not an ordinary hunting bow or a light bow as used by horsemen. The English longbow is about 1.8 meters long and a formidable weapon. A lifetime of training was required to cock it. The effort resulted in specific changes and wear and tear that have been identified in riflemen’s skeletons. These arrows penetrated chain mail and lighter armor at 200 meters. Depending on the arrow used, they could also carry a distance of over 300 meters. But unlike Robin Hood movies, no single shots were fired.

Military historian Andrew Ambert said in the Smithsonian World of Weapons series: “The longbow is not a precision instrument. It is not designed to hit a single man at long range. It was created to shoot a formation of men and of horses who are moving towards the gunners. They fire volleys at the mass of enemies. It’s a type of mass fire, it’s quite modern.”

Huge salvos

During the Hundred Years’ War, English foot soldiers used this weapon to defeat the heavily armored French knights. The archers always appeared in large groups and rained down a shower of arrows on the enemy formation in volleys. Whether and where the arrows hit the body was then random. Due to the crowded battle lines, they always found their victims. Also due to the high frequency of shooters. At the Battle of Crecy in 1346 – the first major battle of the confrontation – English archers are said to have fired 35,000 arrows in one minute. In this way, they broke the attack momentum of the French and, despite being outnumbered by only 14,000 to 30,000 French, they were able to win the battle. Only heavy and expensive armor plates prevented the arrows from going through.

The aristocratic chivalry despised long-distance weapons because they made the armored knight obsolete. However, this meant that the kill radius of the armored warriors was hardly more than two meters. It was absolutely futile to trudge 200 or even 300 meters across the battlefield in heavy armor and hope to reach the enemy alive.

Quelle: Smithsonian, The Antiquaries Journal

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