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"Old on YouTube - could English longbowmen fire mounted?" Topic

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Warspite129 Jan 2020 9:49 a.m. PST

Now this is something I have debated with others in real-time, including my long-time opponent Graham T.

There are manuscript illustrations which appear to show longbowmen firing mounted (there is even one at the start of the YouTube clip below) but just because it can be drawn does not make it possible. Froissart also appears to imply they did at Blanchetaque, prior to Crecy in 1346. This is referred-to as well.

On the other hand re-enactor Mike Loades makes a fairly good case and actually demonstrates it here:

YouTube link

I am certainly not suggesting that English mounted longbowmen were horse archers. These are no Parthians or Skythians. Re-reading about the English in Ireland in A Military History of Ireland by Bartlett and Jeffrey there are numerous references to hobilar-archers being recruited with comments about how suitable they were for war in Ireland. Given the Irish kerns' speed of movement and their javelins, archers who could shoot from the saddle would be a great advantage.

During the English raids (chevauchées) in France during the 100 Years War a longbowman who could fire from the saddle would also be a great advantage. We also have the example of modern Japanese riders who fire very large bows from horseback and at speed.

My thoughts have been, for some time, that the English longbowmen – mounted on DBA/DBM/DBMM type modules could probably shoot straight ahead and probably at 90 degrees to their left, the hand which holds the bow. Range would be half the range of foot archers and effectiveness would be half as well – that is (in my rules) roll one die per two modules shooting instead of one die per module as I do with foot longbow.

I cannot see them being much use in a stand-up battle such as Towton but given the skirmishing which took place the night before, when Lord Clifford took an arrow in the face, I could see a situation where Vaward/Vanguard horse perhaps fired arrows at close range in skirmishes in much the same way as cavalry from both sides in the ACW used sawn-offs, pistols and carbines.



dapeters29 Jan 2020 10:06 a.m. PST

Okay I bite, one guy riding a horse in the present day shooting and arrow, IMHO really only mean just that. Get ten guys and try it much less 60-100. In the ACW they are using these weapons to shoot at point blank as they enter melee. You would not want to shoot a error moments before you collided with a foe. They are also riding nags. Lastly there is the dread question of what do you do with…

Warspite129 Jan 2020 10:21 a.m. PST

A dread question indeed!


Huscarle29 Jan 2020 10:27 a.m. PST

You fire a gun or loose an arrow, you cannot fire a bow unless you make a fire out of it.

I cannot see a longbowman loosing an arrow from horseback with any effectiveness. I know that the Samurai used their bows from horseback, but their bows were designed to be used from horseback, whilst the English or Welsh longbow was designed to be used on foot.

Perris070729 Jan 2020 10:27 a.m. PST

I always try to shoot my errors.

Eclectic Wave29 Jan 2020 10:50 a.m. PST

I thought your average longbow man was not in the right social class to be able to own/ride a horse?

Warspite129 Jan 2020 11:01 a.m. PST

@ Eclectic Wave:
It appears the fast majority of English troops may have ridden to battle. The chroniclers suggest that some armies moved at well over foot speeds. A book I read last week credits Edward IV's army moving at 35 miles in one day in the summer heat.

Note also:
TMP link
where I quote:

Walter Strickland, a Westmoreland squire, made an indenture with Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury (uncle of the Kingmaker) -
bowmen horsed and harnessed 69
billmen horsed and harnessed 74
bowmen without horses 71
billmen without horses 76
Source: A history of the art of war in the Middle Ages volume two by Sir Charles Oman.

Charlie29 Jan 2020 11:03 a.m. PST

@Electric Wave – In short, that is not correct. 'Mounted archers' were an important part of English retinues, and presumably were men who who owned both a bow and a horse, and could use both (and probably had overall better equipment / armour than foot archers). They almost certainly were only used in battle as infantry. They could perhaps be utilised as light cavalry for scouting/skirmishing/etc, but not with bows. Their main advantage was having a horse for TRANSPORT. So a lord and his retinue of men-at-arms and archers, all mounted, could get about quickly, whereas foot archers and other infantry would be slower on campaign. To have a horse, the archer would probably either have a bit of his own money, or would be provided it by his employer. He might well see 'promotion' to the rank of man-at-arms during his career.

Warspite129 Jan 2020 11:04 a.m. PST

I thought that until I read a debate along the same lines in Hobilar, the journal of the Lance and Longbow Society. During a student riot in Cambridge in the 1450s the longbowmen quelling the riot were ordered to fire!

Surprised me as well.


Charlie29 Jan 2020 11:07 a.m. PST

As to firing a longbow from horseback…

Just because it might be technically possible does not mean it was widespread, or even useful.

Sure, perhaps the odd chap might loose an arrow or two from horseback in the occasional skirmish. But in battle? I can't see it ever happening.

If you are an archer obviously used to shooting your bow on foot, doing so from horseback (when there is no tradition in your culture for mounted archery) would presumably be vastly different. Either you'd be relying on your horse to stay still, or you'd be trying to do it on the move, which would require even more skill?

ROUWetPatchBehindTheSofa29 Jan 2020 11:28 a.m. PST

Certainly by the end of the Hundred years war longbowmen were widely mounted for mobility – particularly during chevauchee. They were also paid more than those who were unmounted and increasingly looking more like professional soldiers – certainly not impressed peasants.

In 1417 William de la Pole had 4 horses for each of his 90 mounted archers.

Loades himself in in Osprey book on the Longbow suggests that firing from horseback would have been a restricted practice.

Warspite129 Jan 2020 2:43 p.m. PST

ROU etc:
Do you have a source book for the 1417 WIlliam de la Pole?
I would like to add it to the retinues list.

TMP link

Its just the sort of information I am looking for.


Patrick R30 Jan 2020 2:24 a.m. PST

Interestingly Joerg from the Slingshot channel came up with a nifty little invention called the "Instant Legolas/Ghengis Khan/Robin Hood" which is a magazine-fed bow.

YouTube link

It has been tested by modern Archers and reenactors and one of them believes that this is a missing invention that might have added an interesting twist to late medieval warfare.

YouTube link

The design could have been easily made in medieval times and could have given mounted bowmen greater ability to shoot from horseback.

ROUWetPatchBehindTheSofa30 Jan 2020 10:33 a.m. PST

Do you have a source book for the 1417 WIlliam de la Pole?

That was also lifted from Mike Loades The Longbow by Osprey – and he only gives a secondary source Richard Wadge's Arrowstorm (2009).

Sloth1963 Supporting Member of TMP30 Jan 2020 3:01 p.m. PST

Can it be done? Yes. Practiced from the baCK of our bay mare many times with pretty good results. Does that make it useful on the battlefield? Probably not. You can't ride knee to knee with other archers and do it. It requires canting the bow horizontal while switching from one side or the horses head to the other and that requires room.

Warspite130 Jan 2020 3:18 p.m. PST

@ ROU etc:
Thank you.

Last paragraph of my original post agrees with you:

"I cannot see them being much use in a stand-up battle such as Towton but given the skirmishing which took place the night before, when Lord Clifford took an arrow in the face, I could see a situation where Vaward/Vanguard horse perhaps fired arrows at close range in skirmishes in much the same way as cavalry from both sides in the ACW used sawn-offs, pistols and carbines."


MacColla03 Feb 2020 1:34 p.m. PST

@ Barry,
Much as I admire Mike Loades as a medievalist, I can't agree with him on this one, not least because his You Tube demonstration clearly shows a "one-shot" weapon. In other words, once the archer has loosed his one arrow, he is unarmed. That may be fine if you are galloping across a stream as shown on You Tube but not, I suggest, if crossing a major river like the tidal estuary of the Somme.
The impression I get from Froissart is of, in modern terms suppressive fire from the English archers until the Men at Arms waded across and took on the French force.
In your ACW example, the weapons will either fire more than once or are relatively easy to reload. Like Loades, the archer on horseback shoots only the once.

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