3 Archers


   Having themselves learned the lessons they taught the French during the HUNDRED YEARS WAR, the English during the WARS OF THE ROSES adopted equipment and tactics that nullified the power and effectiveness of the longbow, which, during the civil wars, was never the decisive weapon it had been in FRANCE. Nonetheless, a sizable contingent of archers was an important component of almost every civil war army.
   English victories over the French at Crécy (1346), Poitiers (1356), and Agincourt (1415), as well as thirteenth- and fourteenth-century English triumphs in WALES and SCOTLAND, derived in large part from the superiority in firepower that the six-foot longbow conferred on English armies. Able to fire ten to twelve arrows a minute, a rate of fire five to six times that of continental crossbowmen, English archers decimated French cavalry charges over an effective range of 165 yards. By the late fifteenth century, both English and continental armies had learned to attack with foot soldiers who employed curved plate ARMOR, which arrows could not penetrate, or other types of lighter protection, such as leather jerkins, which lessened an arrow’s impact. Also, because both sides in the civil wars had bodies of archers, the two contingents often canceled each other out. As a result, most battles were decided by the course of hand-to-hand combat between struggling lines of dismounted MEN-AT-ARMS. Two exceptions were the Battle of EDGECOTE in 1469 and the Battle of STOKE in 1487; in both cases, the eventual winning side enjoyed a distinct superiority in numbers of archers.
   Although archers did not decide most civil war battles, they could significantly shape the course of the fighting. Volleys of arrows and ARTILLERY opened most civil war encounters, and occasionally forced an opponent to abandon a strong defensive position and launch an unplanned attack. At the Battle of TOWTON, fought on a blustery day in March 1461, William NEVILLE, Lord Fauconberg, used an advantageous wind to neutralize the Lancastrian archers. He ordered his own archers, who were shooting with the wind, to fire one volley and then stand still. Stung by the Yorkist arrows, the Lancastrians responded in kind, only to find that the wind caused their missiles to fall short of the Yorkist line, where Fauconberg’s men picked them up and fired them back. Under a hail of arrows, and unable to respond effectively, the Lancastrian troops suffered both heavy casualties and falling morale. To halt the damage inflicted on his lines by the Yorkist archers, Henry BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, the Lancastrian commander, ordered his men to attack, thus opening the close-quarter combat that characterized the rest of the battle. Seeing the enemy advance, Fauconberg realized that his archers were becoming vulnerable; he ordered them to withdraw behind the Yorkist lines, but also told them to leave some of the Lancastrian arrows in the snow where they would obstruct the enemy attack.
   See also Battles, Nature of
   Further Reading:
   - Boardman, Andrew W., The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998);
   - Bradbury, Jim, The Medieval Archer (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1985).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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