Saturday, 1 August 2015

Longbows/Warbows in the early 1500s

The Longbow or Warbow seems to always generate quite a lot of historical debate, even whether to call it a Longbow or not has caused argument! I have been interested in it's use in the early 1500s and was keen to paint up some figures armed with bows for my collection. Whenever you read about the campaigns of this era there are mentions of archers, but often little discussion of how they were deployed or what they looked like. Stuart has recently finished some of his spectacular French Ordonnance Archers over on Army Royal: and has also written up a great piece discussing them: . 
The French and the English are the obvious armies where these kind of troops would be deployed but I have also come across references to them appearing in other forces. De Gaury's "The Grand Captain", for example, mentions Gonzalo de Cordoba having two regiments of Basque Archers under his command when he was tasked with dividing up Naples between the French and the Spanish in 1501. Now this is a dated work, published in 1955, and certainly not up to the standards of historical writing today but it is interesting to think that the Spanish may have fielded these troops. This is a complete guess but if the Spanish did field Basque Archers, as the Basque Country is in Northern Spain I would assume they were more likely to be men carrying the Longbow/Warbow rather than the smaller recurved bow popular in the Mediterranean. David Nicolle in the Fornovo Osprey book mentions Italian infantry in the 1490s called arceri who were modelled on the English Longbowmen. I think this is the only reference to these type of troops in Italian Armies that I have come across.
What further interested me was when I had a closer look at images from the Wiesskunig, the book Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I had commissioned to chronicle his life and depict him as a paragon of Chivalry. It was completed in the mid 1510s and interestingly has quite a few depictions of archers, which I have posted below. The archers are shown being transported in a ship as part of the Imperial army and in combat in four of the woodcuts. In two of these combat scenes it looks like they represent the English at the Battle of the Spurs in 1513 when Henry VIII and Maximilian's forces routed some French cavalry. The two images below these I am not so sure of, unfortunately I don't know the full story of the Wiesskunig although I am aware it follows Maximilian's historic adventures but gives them a gloss in which he always comes out looking great! He was very keen on his propaganda after all. What is particularly odd is that in the last combat woodcut both armies are fielding archers who are dressed in the Landsknecht style. This is unusual as normally in the woodcuts they are depicted in long coats. I would be keen to know what is being represented here although it may not be an actual historical event. The final two images from the Wiesskunig show the archers more as guards, they can clearly be seen watching the grisly beheadings (the Wiesskunig is very keen on showing this kind of thing!) and then as part of a royal bodyguard in the final image. Maximilian's father in law Charles the Bold had chosen archers as his royal bodyguard as of course did the French Kings.

Image from the Wiesskunig showing archers being transported in a ship

Image from the Wiesskunig depicting acrhers in battle, I think this depicts the English archers at the Battle of the Spurs in 1513.

Archers follow up the Men at Arms, as they accompany Billmen I would guess these are also English. Note the sword and bucklers they carry.

Archers face charging Men at Arms in the top left of the this image from the Wiesskunig

Archers are depicted in Landsknecht style clothes in this rather curious scene from the Wiesskunig

Archers watch and guard a series rather grisly ship board beheadings

In this scene from the Wiesskunig the bows of the archers can be seen in the background, it looks as though they are part of  Maximilian's bodyguard

So where am I going with this ramble on archers in the early 1500s? I have always been a fan of the old citadel Empire range that the Perrys sculpted back in the 1990s. Over the years I have slowly picked up a sizeable force of the bowmen from this range on Ebay. This was made much easier when I learnt how to strip old painted figures of paint with Dettol so they look like new. You can pick up the old clogged figures pretty cheaply while the unpainted ones can be expensive. Some of these figures were in my old Tudor army, most of which has now been sold, and are shown in their previous incarnation below. I spent ages trying to decide whether to do them all as English archers but in the end decided against this, mainly for the reasons above, that it seems archers with the Longbow/Warbow were fielded by other nations in the early 16th century. I wanted a group that could be used to depict the English (ok so they should really be wearing the red St Georges cross even if they are not uniformed) or dismounted French Ordonnance Archers or archers in the pay of Maximilian. For this reason I have painted them in different coloured coats rather than in any particular liveries. I think once an English swallow tailed banner, a Red and Yellow banner of Louis XII or a Hapsburg saltire is seen flying above them they will look convincing, the long coats certainly look the part. I am not sure they could pass muster as the Basque archers or Italian arceri however!
A few things have been done to the figures. The Perrys sculpted 6 poses in the long coats so for variation I have changed hairstyles and added some beards with green stuff. I have also made a number of headswaps. This was a bit of a nightmare as I thought I would easily be able to add Perry Tudor heads or heads from their Wars of the Roses plastic sets. This doesn't work as they are big figures, about the size of Front Rank figures to give an idea. Adding Perry heads just did not look right so in the end I had to get back on Ebay and pick up some old plastic Empire heads from Citadel. These fitted much better although I did do some further converting of them. A lot of the plastic empire heads and the original heads of these figures are wearing a Landsknecht style skull cap either on its own or under another hat. While I didn't mind a few of these I certainly didn't want a whole load of archers in them so they were removed or long hair was modeled over them.
The original Citadel figures did not carry any side arms so all the figures have had plastic swords or swords and bucklers added from the Perry late medieval kits. One of the woodcuts above shows an archer carrying a sword and buckler. The addition of the swords really helps the figures look more three dimensional as well, the swords break up the rather stiff poses of them all leaning or shooting forward. The figures all already wear archers bracers and have the arrows tucked in their belts so there was no need to do any further converting.
I also had a bit of a basing disaster. Initially I thought they should be the same as the crossbowmen and arquebusiers that I have based in closer order, four to a base. I glued them all to the bases like this and added all the gravel only to realise the next day that they were way too close together, none of them would have been able to loose any arrows! As mentioned before they are big miniatures. So in the end they ended up three to a 45mm by 45mm base and I think this looks about right.
So here they are, thirty figures on 10 bases that could represent English from the Calais Garrison or an invasion force, English in Imperial pay, dismounted French Ordonnance archers or even Scots Archers of the French Royal Guard who have become bedraggled and non-uniformed on campaign. I would say they fit for around 1500-1530, although I suppose the 1510s is when they are most accurate for. I already have some more generic command bases that could go with them and will probably work on a few more. I think they need a flag to fight under and am quite keen to see what they look like under a swallow tailed English flag.

An earlier attempt at these figures, I painted them up to represent archers in Henry VIII's army of 1513.

The archers

A close up of some of the archers

A picture from the back showing the long coats and the addition of the plastic swords

One of the archer bases, the two figures on either side have had headswaps

Another base, the closest figure has had a feather added to his hat and the two figures behind have had beards modeled on with greenstuff


  1. Very interesting post, Oli! It is difficult at times to know what references to "Archers" means in this era, given such troops as the French "Archers", whop were really lance armed heavy Cavalry below Gendarme status and armament. The images, though, are far less ambiguous, even if we can't be sure of the veracity of all of the details depicted.

    1. Thanks Gonsalvo, yes what the woodcuts do tell us is that Maximillian, or at least the chaps working on his book, thought the Archers worthy of inclusion in many of the scenes which is interesting.

  2. I can't speak for Germany, but in France North of the Loire, the Low Countries and probably the Westernmost German States, bows were more common than crossbows. There were 'shooting guilds' (for bows, crossbows and eventually arquebus), who held competitions (some of which survive, or have been resurrected today).

    The only difference in relation to England was that they were fewer in number, as shooting was largely a middle class (and upwardly-mobile lower class) hobby essentially. The weapons of the 'common man' in Northern Europe were long spears (and eventually pikes) and pole-arms and not the bow, as *had* been the case in England.

    The French 'Archers' began as professional bowmen, but increasingly the corps became gentrified (albeit they could still use the bow - gentry hunted), but their value as 'medium cavalry' and as a cadet branch of the gendarmes became far more important than their original role as mounted infantry as the 16th Century progressed.

    Besides the 'English' then, I'm almost certain that there would be 'German' archers too, just not many of them. Basques and Italians I couldn't say and I was under the impression that the composite bow was used in Italy and that like the rest of Spain and Southern France, the Basques favoured crossbows... I can't say I've ever looked deeply into them though.

    1. That's interesting that the shooting guilds also included the longbow/warbow, I know they were very proud of their crossbow and arquebus shooting! Reading 'War, State and Society in England and the Netherlands', they mention (its co-authored) that Towns in the Low Countries did hire English archers at times, so I am guessing that, as you say, the numbers of native archers were not high, or perhaps they simply did not like serving as town garrisons.

      I think the numbers issue is important because as the 16th century progresses the armies steadily get larger and larger, a French army of the 1550s is way way larger than the French armies of 1500. The Longbow/Warbow seemed to be effective in the comparatively small "medieval" armies of the Hundred Years war but by the 1520s I do wonder if the small numbers of archers would have made their impact less, regardless of the quality of the archers. Saying that the English were still fielding them in conjuction with arquebusiers in the wars of the 1540s.

      I do find the Italian and Spanish references odd as well. Perhaps the Basques were indeed crossbowmen. David Nicolle does specifically state the Italian "arceri" were modelled on English Longbowmen but I have never found any other reference to these chaps. I read the Mallet and Hale tome on the Venetian Army years ago so maybe I have forgotten but I am pretty sure the "arceri" are not mentioned in the Venetian forces.

  3. Great looking archers Oli, I like the use of the older Citadel mini's, nice.

    I think a lot of archer's depicted from contemporary sources are referring to hunting rather than warfare as bow hunting was very popular on the continent around this time.

    Good post to get the discussions going.

  4. PS The Scots Guard of the period were armed with the crossbow, not bow but I know what you mean about using them.

    1. Thanks Hendrid, yes I remember your blog post on the Scots Guard now and you did indeed explain they had given up the bow by then. The Osprey on Fornovo mentions 200 Scots Infantry Archers, I wonder if these are other infantry, no the Guard, or if it's simply an error. Saying that Fornovo is a few years earlier?

      Since posting this at the weekend I have also come across references to Gascon Archers in the French armies, but you wonder if this is an error and again refers to crossbowmen. Hard to trust some of the sources!

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  5. Great blog, I always check it out, I thought I read that the woodcuts here were continental representations of the battle of Flodden , so flemish artists trying to show scots and english with no real idea of what they look like except the english used longbows, some of the other images, especially the ship one I haven't seen before
    cheers Iain

    1. Thanks Iain, yes one of the woodcuts is definitely of flodden but I didn't include this one, it is in the osprey book on Henry VIIIs army and I think is also the cover of Gervase Phillips excellent Anglo scots wars book. As I mentioned above one depicts the English at the battle of the spurs but I am not sure of all the others, I don't think they are all of flodden though.

  6. Great post and splendid archers!