By Erik Roth
The History Press, 2012
Erik Roth presents a comprehensive examination of the archer and his weapon in a time when archery was both economically and militarily vital to the security of England, based on the study of mediaeval writings and period artefacts. The book examines the types of weapons and kit produced by guildsmen, the materials used and the work of different specialists including bowyers, fletchers and stringers. It also details the life of the archer himself, how he cared for his equipment, learned to shoot and fought for his country on the battlefields of Scotland and France. With Bended Bow gives an exceptional insight into the tools, training and fighting techniques of the soldier who defined mediaeval warfare.
We had the opportunity to interview Erik to learn more about his book:
You have extensive experience in both archery and in creating metalwork an other materials from the Middle Ages. How did these skills help you in writing the book?
I consider all information helpful in producing many dots to be connected when they are enough. I had an early interest in heraldry which helped me understand the use of badges, liveries, and standards as they apply to archers’ dress and identification. Making and handling reproduction items increases understanding. You would not likely know why a ballock dagger had that shape before you pick one up. I believe that I was the second person to have made a reproduction Mary Rose yew longbow from measurements of one brought up by divers long before the ship was raised.
There is a lot of debate among historians about how effective were archers and crossbowmen on the battlefield during the Middle Ages. What are some of the ways your book looks at this issue?
I have definite eyewitness information that practiced archers were extremely accurate whether shooting level or in high arc. The theory that they just loosed random arrows in the hope of accidentally hitting something, is the product of inadequate research. Archery was in fact more effective than the firearms that replaced it for many years. In Texas, Comanche archery triumphed over settler firearms in mounted combat until six shooters and repeating rifles appeared after the Civil War.
Your book goes into detail around the manufacturing process related to bows and arrows. What would might surprise people today about what it took to build these items during the Middle Ages?
I think the greatest surprise would be the extreme organization, especially in England, of the craft guilds, or companies as they were called. Bowyers were prohibited from making arrows, fletchers were prohibited from making bows and people were not to make their own archery gear. Compulsory duties included sentry duty and participation in religious plays.
What are some of the unexplored areas of research around medieval archery that you would think are worth pursuing?
Considering possible reprinting of my book, I assembled a new chapter on uses of archery apart from the required use in practice, hunting and war. It included university riots, murders, revenge killings, and individual duels. Unfortunately Windows 8 seems to have destroyed it. However, I consider my book to have covered as complete information on mediaeval archery as a book could be expected to include on contemporary archery. I have avoided much discussion of battles, which are recorded in contradictory accounts with fantasy casualty numbers, that have been speculated about by many, many authors.