The English longbow is one of the most significant weapons, recreations, and symbols in UK’s history. Across English history, a simple crooked piece of wood takes on three forms and means of impacting the nation: a military weapon which built and secured a nation, a form of recreation and national sophistication, and finally a proud symbol of English history and ultimately a core piece of British identity and strength. However, the longbow physically remained very similar.
While engaging in the Hundred Years War, England found archery to be their strength, proven at the battle of Crécy. The years between Crécy and Agincourt were filled with monarchs and society monopolizing on their victory and potential for defeating France with the warbows. The “father of the longbow” King Edward I paved the way for the most significant piece of archery legislation in English history. Passed by King Edward III, archery practice was mandated and enforced. It became a social hub, a place of gathering, and a community event. Official archery clubs formed, tournaments held, and archers began to make names for themselves. Archery in England was the core of life for most individuals.
With the rise of the Tudors came the decline of the warbow. Times were changing, society was moving on, and the monarchy did not put enough effort into maintaining archery legislation. The quality of the warbows declined, and their effectiveness on battlefields were so sub-standard to that of Agincourt, that they were rendered useless compared to the new firearm technology. By the early reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the longbow was up for the axe. Visionaries and archers like Ascham were adamant to try and couch for the sport, writing treatises and plays to commentate on the benefits of archery in society.
After the loss of the weapon, the longbow was adopted by a new society in England. Writers discussed the shift in plays where the popular opinion emerged that warbows were no longer useful to the expansion of English military power. However, they remained inseparable from English history and identity. The longbow served the public as a symbol of English identity as well as a recreational activity that required focus and discipline. The warbow had been rebranded as the longbow and went from a military weapon to a tool of social unity and identity.
By the nineteenth-century, the English longbow had become a part of the British identity and offered security and hope in a time that society needed it. The longbow’s legacy was solidified by its history being captured by historians and various individuals. Furthermore, the shooting clubs that fought hard to survive were revived with prestige and English symbolism. In the overall narrative of the English longbow, its significance occurs in three forms: one physical, one intermediate, and one simply symbolic. The English longbow, despite the passage of time, remains a core part of English history, identity, and serves as a legendary tool of British nationalism.
Franzusova, Elena, "The History of the English Longbow- An Analysis of the Transformative Longbow in the Military, Society, and Identity Throughout British History" (2021). Senior Independent Study Theses. Paper 9253.
Cultural History | Diplomatic History | European History | Intellectual History | Medieval History | Medieval Studies | Military History | Political History | Social History | Sports Studies
longbow, England, history, Medieval, Culture, arrow, archery, military, shoot, society, monarch, Britain, United Kingdom, war, battlefield, Agincourt, Crecy, Edward III, Edward I, Henry VIII, bow, William Shakespeare, Henry V, Rodger Ascham, Toxophilius, France, Hundred Years War, New Model Army, chronicles, historian
Bachelor of Arts
Senior Independent Study Thesis
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