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POLL: Are English Longbows Over-Rated?

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Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP writes:

"My argument has always been that bows (including longbows) are area fire weapons that primarily harry and disorganize their opponents. Causing high numbers of casualties is not the best way to model that."

Hmmm. If bows didn't cause casualties, they wouldn't be effective at harrying and disorganizing opponents. No one would *care* if the arrows were hitting them, and therefore the arrows wouldn't disrupt the line. For a line of battle to be disrupted, the men in it must be suffering significant injury, so significant that at the very least it scares them into abandoning the protection of their fellows, or either so severely wounds large numbers of men so that they are unable to fight. If missile attacks are simply a nuisance, the line will hold, or at worst will be provoked into attacking the bothersome gnats. The latter did happen during the 3rd Crusade at Arsuf, when the Knights Hospitallers got so annoyed by the constant barrage of (weak) bowfire that they broke ranks and charged. But their attackers were *not* using longbows (or even crossbows), but much weaker short bows. Note that in that instance the response to a *lack* of severe damage was not one of fear but of anger; those bows indeed were *not* effective as casualty causing weapons, and when charged proved useless at providing any stopping power at all... and that was against *mail*.

Compare that battle to battles with longbows. The longbow fire at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt did not provoke attack, but rather served at the very least to dull the charge, if not stop it outright. It certainly caused enough casualties to disrupt the cohesiveness of the French line to the extent that much smaller English forces were able to inflict highly disproportionate casualties when melee was joined-- which is a sign that the French line must have arrived, when it arrived at all, in a rather ragged state-- reduced from an initial advantage of as much as 4 to 1 to an effective fighting front of much less. Yes, the French behaved stupidly (particularly at Agincourt), but they were attacking in all three cases a much smaller, march-weary force. Even given bad terrain, the French *should* have won simply because they had significantly more men, who were both better fed and better rested. I submit that if the longbow had not been present, or been replaced by weaker short bows or even crossbows, the French would have won. Suffered casualties, certainly, probably even excessive ones. But lost? No. The longbow made the difference, and it did so because it killed.

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definitely over-rated
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somewhat over-rated
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slightly over-rated
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not over-rated
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slightly under-rated
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somewhat under-rated
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definitely under-rated
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no opinion
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not a medieval gamer
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Some recent studies have suggested that the English longbow was not as powerful as previously believed, and therefore was not a major influence in medieval warfare. Other scholars defend the traditional view of the longbow in military history.

In medieval gaming, do you believe the longbow has been over-rated?