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Weapons that made Britain The longbow

The bow, the longbow holds a special significance in the hearts of Englishmen. It's the weapon of the
underdog against the oppressor. Agincourt band of brothers the few against the many it's the honest
weapon of the common man.

It was the weapon that took on the might of feudal France and shook it to its core the skill and
courage of English bowman changed the face of war on the medieval battlefield.

And at the heart of this military revolution was a simple stave of wood fashioned into the most
beautiful deadly and perfect weapon.

The defining campaign for the longbow took place at the beginning of the hundred years war in
thirteen forty head with the third laid claim to the French throne and launched a series of dramatic
raids into northern France. These raids were called shevel shaves the principal weapon was fire.

Hit-and-run lightning attacks what the English king was doing what Edward was doing was he was
saying to the French look your Kings not protecting you he's not looking after you where is he where
is his army now if you swore loyalty to me things would be better.

But most of the French didn't see it that way. On the continent the English was seen as the dregs of
humanity brutish and ignoble and most of France had no wish to have Edward on their throne but he
was determined to fight for the French crown. In july 1346 edward sailed with an invasion force to
France.

He had an army of fourteen thousand men the largest army that had ever set sail from England at
that point and in that army more than half of them were archers in fact seven and a half thousand
were archers.

Six weeks later this relatively small army stood against a massive French force with standing wave
upon wave of heavily armored Knights on the battlefield of Crecy. Though heavily outnumbered the
English army was battle-hardened and highly disciplined. The Battle of Crecy was the greatest test of
nerve and skill that the longbowmen had ever faced.

English armies of the later Middle Ages were famed for their longbowmen their prowess was
brought about by a culture of constant practice. The English archers at crcy would have practiced
just like this today I'm shooting with a fraternities and George a group who keep that tradition of
community shooting alive they're shooting at the marks and this is a key skill to medieval military
archery the marks are set out across country at different ranges and the skill of the archer is to read
the landscape which falls and dips often deceiving the eye and to range his arrows.

They're trying to get as close as possible to each mark medieval English archers were renowned for
their skill to be battle ready it was essential that they were accurate over all sorts of terrain.

Just look at this forest of arrows behind me that's the strength of military archery lots of archers all
shooting together all ranging together and dropping their arrows into a killing zone this is just with 70
archers shooting three arrows, imagine an English army with 7500 archers the effect is devastating.

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Every arrow had to count. A single arrow is a complex carefully crafted and expensive missile. At
Crcy the English would be up against the full might of the French Armored Cavalry how effective
with their arrows be against these steel clap knights how much punch does an arrow need to
penetrate armor.

To find out I've come to the ballistics test site at the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham.
It's where the British Army still tests its small arms today. I've invited champion Bowman mark
Stretton to come along it takes a hundred and fifty pounds power to draw his bow fully which is at
the extreme top end of the sort of bows used at Crcy. On the firing range a Doppler radar records
the exact speed the arrow is traveling precisely measuring the rate at which it decelerates.

Excellent a result you got a reading you have casting my god just like this is very what does that
mean? Well we got from the bow here we're going off at front about 52 meters a second all right up
here after eight hundred milliseconds we're going that thousands of 42 meters a second star actually
losing quite a lot of velocity. So it's decelerating separately yeah. But how significantly does this rapid
loss of speed affect the arrows ability to punch through armor?

Here we are back at the laboratory and what we're going to try and do now is find out what this
arrow would have done to a piece of armor. It's munition quality that's to say it's steel but not
specially hardened steel and we're going to be able to shoot the arrow from an air cannon very
controlled conditions the Cannon has been calibrated so we can replicate different velocities and
therefore replicate the arrow being shot at different ranges will start at the furthest range and find
out what this will do.

Our first shot is equivalent to a range of about 80 meters yepwall it's made a dent but I don't think
that's penetrated it's bounced out. The second shot is equivalent to only 30 meters away it's just
punctured the armor and at most would have only bruised the knight. The third shot is going to be
equivalent to a range of just 20 metres here the Knights were almost on top of the archers. So
significantly bigger hole, yes there's that done a lot more damage look at that really gone through
yeah it's on past the shoulder and gone right in there yeah so then that's that's a close range that's
20 meters there we go and it's gone into the aketon this has really made a difference in springing the
arrow out but the arrow has gone in there it's penetrated deep that's one very ill man. These tests
suggest that it was only a close range that an arrow could be relied on to penetrate the armor of an
advancing French knight and yet in 1346 at the Battle of Crecy the flower of French nobility lay dead
and dying at the feet of the English archers just what was it that made these men so effective. Not all
long bows were the same there are clues that many had a more sophisticated shape than the simple
curve that is so familiar today, in the centuries prior to the Battle of Crecy the English had gone on
crusade where they'd encountered different bows and different tactics.

Arches of the east fought in a completely different way to the European counterparts they fought on
horseback they rode into battle and shot their bows from their horses wave after wave with hit-and-
run tactics shoot their bows and turn away come back again for a second wave. They used a
completely different type of boat was made of different materials and it was a different shape it was
curly the limbs are reflex maybe this influence later European design. No medieval English bows of
any shape have survived to the present day the only evidence we have dates from Tudor times when
Henry the eighth's flagship the Mary Rose sank in 1545 the oxygen-free atmosphere of the solent

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bed preserved a treasure trove of Tudor artifacts collections manager Andy has beautiful everyday
objects from tankards to shoes which have survived intact.

That just shows the state of preservation that you've got something leather organic material that
when normally would truly that was remarkable when the ship went down is a living community
the crew r on board their their personal possessions professional effects the ship's equipments there
the weapon memories there and is yourself know the long bows are there. VIII. Henry was a
passionate archer and he made sure his flagship was manned with the finest longbowmen in the land
these are their bows what 137 of them. They're finally tapered ends suggests they were of a very
particular type to an expert who has studied them closely bowmaker Chris Boyton. When I first saw
these bows I was initially a bit puzzled by the the finest of the tips and generally when people make
bows replicas they represent that with tips which is slightly thicker than this and it's often have been
my my with you that the bow makers in this period and earlier actually turn the tips or reflex them
away from the the back of the bow because this is the belly-buster the bow actually this is the way it
bends back so that is curve is that way yeah Ben I'll snap your forward like that like a snake medieval
manuscripts support Chris's theory reflex bows bows that curve back at the tips are often Illustrated
this extra curvature makes the bows limbs spring back faster propelling the arrow with greater
velocity bow making was a major industry in the Middle Ages the best straight grain timber ferbos
came from southern Europe hundreds of Boas had their workshops near the port of london had
commissioned chris poitin to make me a reflex bow like the ones on the mary rose he's ordered a
magnificent piece of view the ideal wood for bow making that's a picture was this fairly happy for the
time of other we're making and the actual draw weight of the body should be just perfect for walking
a member you has a natural lamination two different types of wood bonded organically together in
the same tree the darker honey color is the heartwood it forms the plump rounded belly of the bow
it naturally resists compression it's the powerhouse of the bow then on the back of the bow we have
this creamy sapwood it's the spine that holds it all together it resists tension and stops the bow
Breaking once the bow has been roughed out the reflex curves must be put in first the ends of the
state are boiled to make them flexible bending it over the former is going to be a critical moment i'm
going to move quickly now Chris wash down on the end Domeier I've started to bend a now wash
your just tighten up okay okay that's fine okay nicely just really bending nice yeah just tighten down
maybe a bit more yup you know gonna put some rubber find him around this head to hold it down
and that'll slowly bring it down to the right it's really holding that's lovely thanks such a beautiful
curve as mat that's it you know as the optimistic this is going to hold we'll see I've just plays that the
thing has gone round the former without breaking the archers Edward the third took to France in
1346 were masters of their trade these men trained hard to become fast and accurate but how
difficult is it to learn to shoot the longbow proficiently fingers aren't prepared to draw I want to find
out how well these beginners will do in just two days of learning the basics of battle field archery
when you're shooting a bow you don't pull it back with your arms as an expression bend in the bow
you're actually inside the bow you're doing it with the muscles of your back and your shoulders this is
hard physical labor and you're really using your whole body so get a good start that you can put
some musculature into it what military actually is all about is getting volume of arrows in the air and
so actually what the most important thing is is the knocking and that was the thing you were all
worse than what you need to be able to do is you need to be able to get those arrows on the string
quickly and you don't actually need to look down to do that place push poll found it quite awkward
with the arrow having to do knocking thing and it's quite Columbus enero keeps falling out and it's

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not right and you pull back and bump it goes off draw wait for the draw loose preferably on the same
day Hood in his workshop chris is testing my new bow on the tiller to check its draw weight the
power needed to pull the bow to full draw look at I can't round that's a thrilling action isn't Chris that
has the most exquisite bow I have ever drawn I can't wait to put an arrow on it right now take it away
thank you very much angel like you sure if it would like leave the bow is because I really love that one
to ensure they had a ready supply of excellent moment English kings of the middle ages passed a
series of laws enforcing archery practice in 1252 Henry the third ordered that every man between
the ages of 15 and 60 had to practice the longbow every Sunday and Edward the third even made the
playing of handball bandy ball and football illegal because they distracted young men from their
archery he needed quality archers for his campaigns in France and they needed to practice it's the
second day of the novices training so as ever youth has found idle ways to pass its time very
disappointing clearly you think you're good enough I would like to see how much you've progressed
so could you take your bows again No Oh nurse nope throw move honestly that was really good I'm
genuinely impressed really clean losses and that's in you know less than 24 hours so I mean it's not
the dark arts clearly a bit of intensive training and you can get a body of archers together nope these
definitely feel a lot weapons now looking at home you think their toys growing up with just smaller
ones but these are killers serious killers definitely the archers Edward the third took on campaign
were lightly armed and highly mobile what I've got here it's a sort of kit that a medieval Archer would
take on campaign first of course I've got my bow my trusty bow the canvas bag waxed or oil to
protect it from the weather similarly my arrows in a waterproof bag I have a rosary because I'm very
religious and a hag stone st. stone because I'm very superstitious I have weapons our fall shun broad
cutting sword because any battle ends with hand-to-hand fighting and the Bowman had to do their
work along with the other soldiers I have food cheese and bread apples and smoked fish simple
things which I've probably looted on the way from the local villages all this is very light portable gear
so the archer was a very mobile soldier but what is known about the individual archers that Edward
took with him who were these long Bowman who would be so effective at crcy hundred of archers
were recruited here in the peak district in the church at whaley bridge lies the grave of one of them
william Jodrell the arch died 1375 there we have evidence of a man who actually lived and fought in
the armies of Edward the third and the black prince and a man who was the founder of a dilla see
there's a whole list of job loss here Roger job his son fought at Agincourt this was a man of substance
a man who was the founder of a dynasty he was no humble peasant this unique document dating
from 1355 shows that william george raleigh Archer was a man of considerable importance while on
campaign in france he was given this pass granting him leave from active service by royal warrant it
has the black Prince's private seal on it an indication of how valued these Bowman really were
William Jodrell was probably a high-ranking Archer and most likely a mounted Archer rich enough to
take his horse with him on campaign the great advantage of the mounted Archer is mobility ideal for
raiding situations and also for deploying quickly to the battlefield where they could keep up with the
Knights and there they could dismount and fight alongside the night each giving protection to the
other tactically on the open battlefield the mounted archers fought on foot alongside the infantry
archers on the cressey campaign Edward took 2,500 mounted archers with him and 5,000 regular
archers and the regular archers would pay just four points a day quite a good wage but the mounted
archers got six months a day and that together with the spoils of war with the plunder they could get
from looting made them really quite prosperous men northern France was full of rich pickings by
August the English army had filled their saddlebags with loot they caused havoc sacking con and
skirting around Paris now they were heading for Calais and home but King Philip of France had

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assembled an enormous army of over 20,000 men he was hot on their heels filly was determined to
cut the English off from their ships they blocked Edwards escape by destroying all the bridges over
this river the Somme and by the time the English got here they could hear the distant rumble of the
French army sounding like thunder the English were trapped in August 1346 Edward the Third's army
was trapped according to The Chronicle wazza King Philippe of France's massive army of over 20,000
men was closing in fast the French had burned all the bridges over this river the Somme and there
seemed no way home for the English without a fight then one day they captured a Frenchman a man
called GABA a gas and for a bribe he told the English of a secret crossing place a place where at low
tide there was a man-made causeway a place called blush tak near senvy at low tide the next day at
dawn the English army crossed they could only cross 12 abreast and the chroniclers tell us that the
long Bowman went first the water was chesty we can imagine them with their blows above their
heads keeping them dry but on the other side with a pick ax d militia led by nada mudou Fay and
among his troops were some 600 genoese crossbowman the longbowmen would have been sitting
ducks as the bolts from these weapons feathered the water as they were trying to cross they couldn't
turn back because of the main French army behind them but how did they manage to cross in the
face of so much resistance on the other bank as a tantalizing clue in a manuscript that sits in the
bibliothque nationale in Paris it shows the mounted archers still on their horses galloping and
splashing across the Ford shooting their bows as they went if Fras account is true then maybe the
English mounted archers drove back the pickety militia like this at blush tack the French were hard on
their heels they just nipped the English baggage train but main English army got across on August the
24th 1346 the English army avoided total annihilation right just a man of minutes the French had to
go around the long way and the rest of the story happened two days later pitched battle lay ahead at
crcy but the longbowmen would not be the only archers on the field in continental Europe a
different type of bow was far more popular the crossbow a mechanical weapon that was easier to
shoot than the longbow Philippe the second of France add up to 6,000 professional crossbowmen in
his army the bow part of the early crossbow was made of wood it had to be quite long to prevent it
from snapping making it cumbersome the exotic Byzantium Princess Anna come Nina who wrote an
account of the First Crusade described the European Knights as lying on their backs and spanning the
bow by putting their feet on it and drawing it back so they really could get a power advantage by
using their legs and their whole body so this really was relatively powerful and then they could get up
and shoot it the Europeans experience in the Crusades however introduced them to a new type of
bow technology one that allowed them to make shorter and more powerful bows it was a composite
technology a technology which use different materials this is a cross-section of a 15th century
crossbow these little squares here are horn and this area around the outside is sinew horn is a
material that is good for compression takes great compressive strain and that is the power of the
bow to hold it in place they used sinew this stuff like the neck tendon of an ox but if you hammer it
then what happens is you start to get something very fibrous it really becomes the more hammering
the more fibrous it gets in fact until it gets like this just like modern fiberglass matting and just like
modern fiberglass it's held together with a type of glue a type of resin the type they used was this
these are the swim bladders from fish and you boil them up and they make the most wonderful glue
so this elaborate technology allowed the crossbow to go into the next generation but now with these
more powerful bows they needed to devise spanning devices one of the earliest was the Belton claw
so they would wear this hook around their waist and they simply had to bend on and they could lift it
with the whole body and place it on the string like that is ready to shoot they were incredibly
ingenious always coming up with new mechanical devices for spanning ever more powerful bows this

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one's a goat's foot lever later claimed the more elaborate rack and pinion but perhaps the most
exotic of all is called the windlass and it really is a fairly time consuming business you've got to really
wind this up but it does enable you to use bows of mighty wait this really will span a very powerful
bow and by the 15th century improvements in steel technology allowed bows to be made with steel
prods and they were the ones that by far the mightiest punch but by comparison with the longbow
the crossbow was an extremely expensive and elaborate piece of kit this was not the weapon of the
common soldier it was the weapon of highly professional and specialized mercenaries so we have the
old controversy which is best long bow or crossbow longbows going to shoot faster we know it's
gonna shoot frustrate I think it's been very over exaggerated how much faster especially with
something like a belt and claw so I'm gonna give you 30 seconds I think that last 30 seconds with a
big on rush of night is the critical time when you're under major pressure I'll say go start with an
arrow and a bolt in your hand and then I'll give you 30 seconds and stop when I say stop standby and
go the long Bowman has his arrows in the ground by his side this means they're quick to get at much
quicker than taking them from a quiver and what's more they're contaminated with bacteria making
any wounds more likely to be infected the crossbowmen is behind a large shield called a pavese it
gives him cover while he bends down to load his weapon stop so Gordon you've got nine off and you
got 40 but it was hard work your wizard hard worker but you got four off which is eight crossbow
bolts in a minute I mean that's faster than anyone's ever suggested before the longbow could shoot
twice as fast and more than twice as far but at close range the crossbow was deadly the French didn't
arm they're commoners like the English so instead of using local archers the French hide in genoese
mercenaries they were known to be the best crossbowman in Europe these mercenaries were a
central part of the French battle plan at crcy the idea was the genoese would form a covering
screen for the Knights while they prepared for their great chivalric charge the 20,000 strong French
force was too large to cross the title for dat blonde stack so they went the long way round via Abba
vide by now the English were waiting for them at crcy the English arrived at the crest ridge the day
before the battle it gave them time to rest they could sleep that night and Edward could plan his
positions deploy his troops on this slope the perfect terrain for an army defending a position the next
day the French took a long time to make their way from AB veal and during the day the English had
time to eat so they were refreshed and fed French didn't arrive until late afternoon just before they
arrived there was a violent storm it soon passed and the Sun came out and warmed the English box a
bright Sun that glared in the Frenchman died to investigate what happened next I've moved down
into the valley retracing the steps of the French advance with historian Andrew Aten French is
coming from other view looking where to sit out the army and oh I come across this and you cannot
take a horse down that now that's that's new to me was it was this here at the time they're
confronted by the bank at crcy a topographical feature that has never been discussed before in the
literature according to scientific evidence has been there for tens of thousands of years and so it's
Nora is not a product of agriculture it's a natural feature of the landscape and it must determine the
dynamics of a battle in a dramatic way because as you say the French advancing right across the
valley simply couldn't have gone straight over and up the other side the French were forced to enter
the valley through this narrow gap below the English position it made it extremely difficult for them
to deploy effectively it's a very confined area the being funneled indeed absolutely dictating the
terms of his battle he's got the ground they have to take the battle to him and he's saying where
you've got to approach for indeed he selected the site which is good for his defensive position please
also determining the approach of the Opposition up on the hill the English had a clear view of the
chaotic French advance the choice of ground was already dictating the perfect terms for the

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longbowmen it would chosen ground that will give himself and his archers the best advantage and
limit the possibilities that the French have to deploy their own men and it forces the French to bring
the battle to the English indeed and how do you think the troops are actually deployed and we read
of this idea of the hearse which has been variously interpreted into wedge formations etc what we
should be thinking in terms of its a deployment mixing men-at-arms and spearmen with archers so if
I'm shooting next to you that lead and is you're defending me against the big charge if the cavalry get
too close you have a very solid defensive pikemen and indeed this may well be the way we should
interpret father's famous s as derived from the French word aerosol which is Hedgehog ah whilst the
English forces were carefully deployed and highly disciplined it was a totally different story at the
bottom of the hill Philippe's forces were being pushed forward by thousands of troops flooding in
from abbeville eager to engage the English outraged by the violence of the English campaign the
French carried the oriflamme flag signifying no quarter to the enemy no prisoners would be taken
alive in the vanguard of the French army were genoese mercenaries crossbowmen and they were
being pushed forward by the big press of night behind an irresistible pressure pushing them in but far
more forward position than they were ready for at that point the function of the crossbowmen at
this period is to make a covering screen a defensive position from which the Knights on their horses
could charge forward and retreats to behind their shield or per visas the crossbowmen should have
been able to provide cover while the huge french army deployed but at crcy there / visas were left
back on the baggage tray they didn't have them they were vulnerable they could feel the sting of the
long bow arrows they've been pushed by the men behind far more forward than they wanted to and
they were in range of the long bows they couldn't reach them with their crossbows they did the only
sensible thing a professional soldier would do in such circumstances they made a tactical retreat the
withdrawal of the Genoese mercenary was seen by the French as an unforgivable betrayal hot with
pride and anger the Duke of Allison cries kill me this rabble and the french knights set about
slaughtering their own crossbowman before the battle had even begun the French had killed some of
their most valuable men it left the English longbowmen as the only archers on the field but their
greatest challenge was still to come ahead of them was the might of the French army 12,000
mounted men-at-arms and knife and they were about to bring their great chivalric charge up the hill
it was an ultimate test for the long the English longbowmen at the Battle of Crecy were about to face
their greatest challenge over 20,000 Frenchmen were preparing to charge the french knights were
confident they could crush the lightly armed english front line and our tests suggest that the english
arrows could only penetrate armor at very close range heavily outnumbered what with the English
tactics be so Andrew we're in the English positions here on the hill and you would reckon the French
would be coming from that direction yes they will have arrived at the bottom of the valley Valley
declare and would be confronted by the English position directly in front of them and before them
would have been the first of the English battles that led by the Black Prince and we're standing
towards the right end of the line and the big question that mean it's puzzle over is at what range
does the longbow become effective and there's a lot of factors to feed into that question one of
which of course is how long is it going to take a French cavalry charge to cross that bit of ground and
with the help of old Clio here and we've borrowed and we're going to have a bash are coming from
that little Ridge there which would be extreme long bow range and see how long it takes it do you
have a timepiece to you know yes they have a stopwatch here and little time the right this simple
experiment will tell us how quickly the French charge could reach the English positions this is quite
soft going for the horses soft loamy soil a lot short hills it's well great ah we think at the time of krissy
would have been like this just after a crop oh we're coming through the crop really pushing on here

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bit on girl and we're upon you how long did that take andrew 40 seconds 40 seconds just 40 seconds
it doesn't sound like much but look at the maths and it's terrifying our bowmen can shoot 12 arrows
in 40 seconds 7,500 Bowman could shoot 90,000 arrows during that first French charge but how
many would have hit an arc and caused real damage it all rather depends on where the arrow hits
and at what range to get an idea of the consequences of an arrow storm I've had these life-size
targets made gentlemen you can see these targets ahead of you there representing nights on horses
at different distances so what we want to do is see how well you can hit them changing the range as
we go we need a little bit of military urgency with this as if it's in a battle situation so don't fuss too
much about aiming but the result is important not draw closer at 100 meters fewer arrows hit home
coming they're coming change may change range but a close range is a different story well he's not
very well is he he's really taken a lot of hit but you know I don't think as many of these hits are as
deadly as they look the summon the shield some have missed him over the neck the one in his Lance
the ones that really count are down here he's ones and his legs that would bring a horse down
instantly it's not fleshy that's going to drop the horse ones like this in the flank not sure how much
damage that would do but it is a very sobering thought to see how quickly a nightan horse can
become a pin cushion at close range as the first great French charge swept up the hill at crcy there
was little doubt the experienced English archers were aiming for the horses they were by far the
softer targets the King of France himself is recorded as having two horses killed beneath him our
tests have shown that the night in their armor were much better protected they were only really
vulnerable at close range as the arrows hit home at over a hundred and forty miles an hour but once
the mounted Knights were unhorsed their formation broken they were easy prey the pride of France
was hacked to pieces by sorties of English men-at-arms but carnage must have been immense yes
the French came what 16 times well some of the chroniclers suggested went on well into the night
into the early hours of the following morning I think perhaps the most evocative description of the
carnage below this position here the position of the black Prince's battle is to be found in the King's
Own newsletter after the battle he says that more than 1,500 french knights and noblemen were
killed in a small area where the first onslaught took place because of course once they start to go
down yes they actually start to make a barricade in favor of the English in so it's a stopping point it
concludes the charge as you go Marcus is embodies series are sort of mounds of dead cart and
writhing carcasses I'm very difficult to get through so you're going round them and providing new
targets for the archers on the hillside above them it's a horrific scene down there in zara declare after
a matter of minutes but not only did they lose the battle not only did they lose such terrible loss of
life but it was a real slap in the face for the class in many ways one can characterize the Battle of
Crecy is the confrontation between two political communities by the end of the battle the English
critical community was still intact only two nights are known by name to have been killed in Edwards
arming certainly no nobleman on the French side and ability have been devastated it is estimated
that the total french casualties were up to 10,000 they included some of the most important people
in Europe the flower of the French aristocracy lay dead in the valley perhaps the most effective
summing up of this from the French perspective is to be found in the grande chronic where he says
it's a great shame that so many French nobleman had been killed have been brought down by men of
no value that is to say archers the Battle of Crecy was an extraordinary victory founded on the
perfect combination of expert archers supreme bows and the right tactics it marked the height of the
power of the longbow but already at crcy a new sound filled the air the sound of the weapon that
was eventually to replace the bow the gun you