Q&A: The English Longbow

So say I had a female protag in a medieval setting (like game of thrones) and they’re handy with a long range bow. Is there any details I should consider?

Remember that she’s going to be ripped. Contrary to the popular image of archers in fantasy, drawing a bow is (basically) heavy lifting. When we’re talking about a longbow, you’re effectively having to pull the full weight of the draw. This means we’re talking about a character who can casually lift over 100 pounds with one arm.

I say, “casually,” because she’d need to be able to keep drawing the bow with minimal fatigue for hours. This is a character with incredible upper body strength.

Combat archers were not willowy, fragile, little things stuck behind enemy lines.

At least for English and Welsh longbowmen, this was a lifetime vocation. They’d start as children; the bows they’d learn to shoot with would scale as they grew. By the time they were adults, they were using bows that were functionally inoperable for archers who lacked that background.

Now, it’s possible her bow wouldn’t draw quite that hard. It might be shorter than an English Longbow, but you’re still talking about a character who is pulling at least 80 pounds with every shot.

Also, for range, on an English longbow, you’re looking at being able to punch through iron armor at over 300 yards. The kill range for steel armor would be shorter (though I’m not sure exactly how far out.) Also, the maximum range would vary based on the archer’s skill, so 300 isn’t a hard number.

The other major thing to remember (or at least look into) is historical context. This is frequently absent from fantasy, and results in a lot of technological anachronisms.

Game of Thrones is based on The War of the Roses, which occurred during the English Longbow’s final years. In fact, The War of the Roses is contemporary with the introduction of gunpowder weapons in Italy.

It’s worth remembering that, “medieval Europe,” involved over five hundred years of military technological development, and that it was never just a homogenous, “these are the weapons and armor we’ve always used.”

-Starke

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