John longshanks

 Born in Norwich in 1330 he was taught to make bows and shoot at a young age by his father. At the age of 16 he went with him to France as a bowyer’s apprentice, this is where he saw and used a bow in battle for the first time. On returning home he worked in the family business: in 1349 his parents died of the plague and he then took it over. As a freeman of Norwich he was part of the militia which defended the city and provided men fight in campaigns. In 1356 he went back to France as a vintenar (captain of 20 archers). Now back in Norwich he can concentrate on being a bowyer and passing on his craft to his sons.


In the 1355 "call to arms" a list of men aged 16 to 60 was compiled to discover the number available for military service and their level of arms. 801 men responded to the call of which 140 were archers (17.5%).

In January 1356 Edward III ordered 600 bows and 700 sheaves of arrows (a sheave is 24 arrows) from Norfolk and Suffolk to equip archers on his campaigns.

In York, similar in size to Norwich in the 14th century, there were 17 bowyers, 7 fletchers and 1 stringer listed as freeman. The cost of a bow was about 18 pence, 16 pence for a sheave of arrows and 1 penny for a bow string. The average earnings for an archer in the mid 14th century were 3 pence a day, a labour would have to work for 17 days to earn enough to buy a bow and arrows.

The Bow

The bow is on average 6feet long and for warfare would have a draw weight of 80 to 160 pounds. Native woods were used to make them; the best was yew then wytch elm, ash and hazel. The string was made from hemp, flax or linen waxed to bind the fibres together and keep the moisture out.

Medieval bow making terms

  • Chipping - rough cutting the stave to shape with hand axe
  • Thwyting - whittling or scraping the back of the stave to a single growth ring
  • Dressing - working down the sides and the belly to a rough finish
  • Bending - tillering - to give the bow its shape
  • Horning - nocking
  • Clensyng - upper final smoothing particularly at the tips after nocking
  • Afterbendyng - final tilling to check shape
  • Polyssyng and skynnyng - honing the surface of the bow (now done with a round metal bar) and sealing with linseed oil, wax or similar
  • Boryng - drilling out the nocks