Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Welcome guest Regan Walker: The Longbow

The Longbow at the Time of the Norman Conquest 

by Regan Walker

Many know of the success of the longbow in the 14th and 15th centuries at the start of the Hundred Years War and at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, but was the longbow used in England before the Norman Conquest? While it’s a subject for debate, there is evidence it the longbow was in England long before William the Conqueror stepped his foot onto English soil. So I thought to share some of my research for The Red Wolf’s Prize, my new medieval romance.


Prior to the Norman invasion of England in 1066, the Welsh made use of the longbow in repelling English attacks. The Welsh made use of the bow against Ralph, Earl of Hereford in 1055. There is also a story about Welsh longbow men penetrating a four inch thick, solid oak door with their arrows at the siege of Abergavenny Castle.
The English quickly grasped the strategic power of a 6 foot longbow and it became known as the “English” longbow.

Traditionally, it was believed that prior to the beginning of the 14th century, the weapon was a self bow between four and five feet in length, known as the “shortbow.” This weapon was drawn to the chest rather than the ear, and was much weaker than the longbow. However, in 1985, Jim Bradbury reclassified this weapon as an ordinary wooden bow, reserving the term “shortbow” for short composite bows.

In 2005, Strickland and Hardy took this argument further, suggesting that the shortbow was a myth and all early English bows were a form of longbow. In 2012, Richard Wadge added to the debate with an extensive survey of iconographic and archaeological evidence, concluding that longbows co-existed with shorter self-wood bows in England in the period between the Norman Conquest and the reign of Edward III, but that powerful longbows shooting heavy arrows were a rarity until the later 13th century.

The Bayeux tapestry shows only one Saxon bowman with a short bow. The rest of Harold's forces use the shield and battle-axe. The Norman archers from Louviers and Evreux who, according to tradition, won William's victory for him, also used the short wooden bow.

It is believed by some that Southern Wales was the home of the longbow based on the historical writings of the late 12th century cleric Silvester Giraldus Cambrensis. Cambrensis was Archdeacon of Brecknock, servant of King Henry II and his son, Richard the Lion-Hearted, and co-adjutor in administration with the Bishop of Ely of Richard's realm during the Third Crusade. But the one accomplishment he is best remembered for is his chronicle, The Itinery Triugh Wales.

In his chronicle, Cambrensis describes the archery of the Southern Welsh. He notes that a tribe called the Venta were "more accustomed to war, more famous for valor, and more expert in archery, than those of any other part of Wales."

In The Red Wolf’s Prize, it is the Welshman Rhodri who brings the bow to Talisand and fashions smaller bows for the women, including my heroine, Serena.

But even before the Welsh had the bow, the longbow was in England. The earliest, found at Ashcott Heath in Somerset, dates to 2665 BC. There is also evidence that the longbow was introduced into England from the Scandinavian countries, though it is not clear when. The best answer is probably sometime during the many Danish invasions well before 1066.

E.G. Heath, author of The Grey Goose Wing and A history of Target Archery, notes that several well-preserved longbows were recovered from Saxon burial galleys found at Nydam Moor in Denmark in 1863 that have been dated to between 200 and 400 A.D.
Dr. Elizabeth Munksgaard has verified that the Nydam bows in the National Museum of Denmark number seven and are self-wooden D-shaped bows between 5 feet 7 inches and 6 feet long. One of the bows has a nock of horn.
The Longbow Challenge at Warwick Castle, England.

Thank you, Regan! 
What a treat. 
I remember visiting Warwick Castle and seeing a demonstration of period archery. The archer told us that the insulting gesture of holding up two fingers in a "V" shape, was an offshot of the skill of English archers. The gesture showcased the strength in their bow-drawing fingers and was effectively an insult to the French that they shot. 
Grace x

Anyhow, without further ado, here is an excerpt from Regan's latest release. 

Red Wolf Excerpt:
 The Red Wolf meets Serena, disguised as the servant, Sarah

Renaud lingered at the high table in the hall until he glimpsed the servant girl with the brown plait carry a pile of linen through the entry heading toward the stairs to the bedchambers. Slowly rising, he nodded to Geoff and followed after her.
Quietly, he stepped through the open door of his chamber. The girl had her back to him as she freshened the bed, the stack of clean linen resting on a nearby chest. He did not acknowledge her but went directly to the trestle table, poured a goblet of wine and sat, pretending to examine a drawing of the lands surrounding the manor. 
She turned. “I can come back later, my lord.” She spoke meekly, barely looking at him as she hurriedly finished with the bed and began a hasty retreat to the door.
He replied in the English tongue, as he did to all save his men. “Nay, you may stay. Your work will not disturb me.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her back stiffen. Slowly, she retraced her steps and resumed her work. Her movements were rushed as if she were trying to complete her assigned tasks in haste. Was she nervous at being alone with him? Even with that, Renaud thought she was graceful as she walked to the shelves near where he sat. She held her head high, unusual for a servant in the presence of her lord. Though her long plait was the dull color of country earth, her profile was refined and her features delicate. He rose and silently moved to stand behind her where she dusted a carved box.
She must have sensed his approach.
“My lord?” she said, turning to face him.
Blue-violet eyes held his gaze only a moment before looking down at the floor. Set in her ivory face they reminded him of violets in the snow. So mesmerized was he that, for a moment, he forgot his question.
“Your name is Sarah?”
Keeping her eyes focused on the floor, she said, “Yea, my lord.”
“How long have you been at Talisand?”
“All my life, my lord.” Her voice was soft, a low purr, and with her words a flowery scent drifted to his nose. He was captivated and wanted to touch her. How long had it been since he’d had a woman? And this one was causing his manhood to stir.  
Turing back to the shelf, she resumed dusting the carved box, as if to put an end to the conversation. His gaze shifted to her hand as she set down the box. Delicate fingers and ivory skin. It was not the hand of a kitchen wench.
“Let me see your hand.” She started at his request, and though he could see she wanted to resist, she did not fight him when he reached for her hand and brought it close to his body turning her palm upward.
It told him much.

Twitter: @RegansReview (
The Red Wolf’s Prize on Pinterest: The Red Wolf's Prize by Regan Walker


  1. Hi, Grace! Thanks for having me and the Red Wolf on your blog. I loved learning more about the archers and the bows at the time of the Conquest. Archery plays a key role in my story. And I loved learning about your experience at Warwick Castle and the demonstration of period archery. Never knew that about the "V"!

    1. A pleasure, as always, Regan. The Red Wolf's Prize looks a great read and I wish you the best of luck.
      Grace x

  2. Interesting post, Regan, and one of special interest to me. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you for visiting, Mairi, and isn't it wonderful that Regan shared such an interesting post with us.
      best wishes,
      Grace x

    2. You are most welcome, Mairi. Glad you found it useful.

  3. This was a fascinating topic, Regan. Sorry I didn't get to read it until today, but I would love to research this topic further. Your date of 2665 BC knocked my socks off. I'm thrilled to read it. I couldn't conceive of the weapons used in the late 400s by the Britons to defeat the English at whatever place Badon really was. Your data makes it much clearer.


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