We thought it might be interesting to compare the different characteristics of the traditional English yew wood longbow, used with devastating effect against the French knights during the Hundred Years War with the recurve or horse bow, used by many different races throughout history such as the Mongols, . Parthians and Sarmatians .
The expression ‘parting shot’ may derive from Parthian Shot which alludes to the Parthians ability to continue to fire at an enemy whilst riding away from them You wound, like Parthians, while you fly, And kill with a retreating eye.
The first and most obvious difference is their size and shape. The longbow, a single curve with a length of 6 feet (1.8 metres) compared to the sinuous curves of the horse bow with a length of just over 4 feet (1.4 metres).
Stringing the bows requires a very different technique too. The longbow merely requires flexing at mid point, usually with your knee to enable the bowstring to be fitted. The double curve of the horse bow means this method is virtually impossible, so a length of cord with a loop in each end, placed over the ends of the bow and used as a stirrup to flex it is the easiest method.
Regarding their shape and construction, the big advantage of the longbow is that it is shaped from a single stave of yew wood. this means that anyone who had a bit of bow making knowledge and expertise, plus some woodworking skills could craft one in a few hours with only a few basic hand tools. Whereas the horse bow, with its multiple curves and elaborate construction, traditionally made using animal horn, sinew, silk cord and wood to form the complex laminated bow arms, was something only an expert and highly skilled craftsman with access to all these materials could manufacture. Nowadays fibre glass has replaced horn and sinew.
Without the benefit of a horse, we had to conduct the test from standing and firing at a static, standard archery target. So what were the first and most obvious differences when it comes to actually using them?
The longbow had a draw weight (the amount of force required to fully pull the bowstring back) of approximately 65 lbs (29.5 kg), whereas the horse bow was much easier to draw at 45 lbs (20.4 kg).
Drawing each bow felt entirely different, the longbow starting off easy and getting progressively harder as it neared full draw, whereas the horse bow felt just the opposite and it was noticeably much harder work to shoot the longbow.
As far as accuracy goes and given our somewhat mediocre archery skills, there was no appreciable difference down range on the target which was roughly 30 yards (27 metres) away. We were using traditional, wooden, feather fletched arrows.
The arrows certainly did seem to fly appreciably faster from the recurve bow, typically an arrow from a recurve bow will reach speeds of up to 150 mph (240 kph) apparently. Where the longbow fared noticeably better was in the distance test, it was able to send an arrow much further afield.
Each of these bows were eminently well suited for the type of archery they were designed for. The longbow, comparatively easy to mass produce, used to devastating effect when deployed en masse over a considerable distance and able to penetrate all but the heaviest of armour, as at the battle of Agincourt.
The horse bow, smaller, highly manouverable but slightly less powerful and designed to be fired from a moving horse at an enemy at close to medium range. The Chronicles Of The Crusades records Richard The Lionheart’s army being constantly harried by Saracen horse archers during their march on Jerusalem.