7
$\begingroup$

Restated in more words, would a conscripted pikeman with a decent set of chainmail but no shield have any hope against an arrow from your basic english longbow?

$\endgroup$
13
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Pikemen and longbow archers seldom met on a field of battle; you may be thinking of spearmen. Pike formations were introduced in the Renaissance, by which time English longbows were already falling out of fashion. One of the few notable battles where pike formations fought against longbow archers was the battle of Flodden in 1513; the (Scottish) pike formations lost against the (English) halberd formations; the English had longbow archers in the field, but contemporary sources say that they did not have much influence on the outcome. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 5, 2019 at 19:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ P.S. Pikemen were very well trained professionals. No self-respecting officer would even think of placing a conscript in a pike formation; he would be a danger to himself and to his comrades. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 5, 2019 at 19:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "A king pulls the farmers from the field:" that's not how things went in the Middle Ages, except possibly, occasionally, in eastern Europe. Is the story set in Wallachia? In western Europe, all the king could do is summon his direct vassals, who would summon their vassals and so on down to yeomen. And nowhere, eastern or western Europe, would the king even think of providing equipment. Everybody was required to come with their own equipment. In more civilizied countries, such as England, the law specified what equipment (e.g., "a good bow") each free subject was required to have. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 7, 2019 at 6:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The feudal society was very highly hierarchical, with each person (except the sovereign, whatever their title) having a suzerain, and each person (except those on the lowest rungs) having one or more vassals. (Clerics had their own distinct and parallel hierarchy.) A vassal had to provide consilium et auxilium, advice and support, to their suzerain. A country was not "divided" into provinces, it "consisted" of provinces, which could (and often did) move from the rule of one sovereign to another's. Yes, a medieval army consisted of the assembled forces of the grand vassals of the sovereign. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 8, 2019 at 16:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Start with the Wikipedia article on feudalism, which is a good introduction. You may then want to read a detailed description of some military campaign; for example, The History of the Battle of Agincourt by Sir Harris Nicholas, London, 1833, available at Archive.org. It describes the full campaign; how the negotiations broke down, how King Henry V arranged for financing the war, how the army was raised etc. It has both the historian's narrative and excerpts from the primary documents. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 8, 2019 at 17:03

5 Answers 5

24
$\begingroup$

This depends a lot on the arrow and type of chainmail. the draw of the bow (english longbows do not have a standardized draw) also matters. A broadhead hitting an 8 ring mail wouldn't yield much more than a scratch, a spike bodkin will go right through 4 ring mail and barely notice the armor. Image of different chainmail types below. 4 ring is by far the most common (~97-98%) but examples of 6 and 8 ring do exist. there was even something called doublemail but no one knows what it was, I personally suspect it is either 8 in 1 or another name for kingsmail a variation of 4 ring in which every ring is doubled called 8 in 2. Keep in mind you don't wear chainmail by itself but with padding below it which also matters.

If the archers know there will be armored targets they will be using bodkins which are very good at penetrating chainmail (and armor in general) of course the downside of these arrowheads is they don't cause all that much bleeding meaning they take time to kill someone most of the time.

enter image description here

$\endgroup$
7
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is the right answer, though I wish for more detail. The quality of the metal (both for the arrow and the armor), the density of the rings (which might be what you're talking about with 4-ring and 6-ring mail). As well the cushioning under the mail, if any (allowing the mail to flex), etc. This answer would be better with a couple more paragraphs. $\endgroup$ Jan 5, 2019 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ @John Thanks for your answer. The idea here is that the opposing force is not using bodkins, just standard broadheads. As far as the quality of the metal in the armor, I must confess that I have not reached that point in my research yet, I still need to learn more about different qualities of metal. $\endgroup$
    – LoganP98
    Jan 7, 2019 at 2:41
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Also important is a distinction between butted and riveted chainmail. Butted was more cheap and common, but provided little defense against broadheads and virtually no defense against bodkins. Riveted was more rare, but could be good at stopping all kinds of arrows. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jan 7, 2019 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander Is there any evidence of butted chainmail in actual combat armor? $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 25, 2019 at 1:16
  • $\begingroup$ @John not so much in Europe. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jan 25, 2019 at 1:33
2
$\begingroup$

Broadhead arrows - definitely, it would.

Bodkin arrow - probably yes. It depends on many factors like distance between archer and his target, angle of impact, draw of bow, etc.

But even if an arrows penetrates the mail, it will not kill the soldier wearing it. Because of gambeson under the mail. And gambeson is an amazing thing, it can deflect blows even arrows (if you are lucky), it´s cheap, available and easy to produce.

It´s also possible to wear second gambeson over the mail to increase protection.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

If the pikeman was 20 yards farther than the maximum range of the bow he would be safe from that shot since it wouldn't even reach him.

In the US Civil War bullets would slow down as they traveled farther and farther and would eventually be what was called "spent rounds" shortly before falling to the ground. Many soldiers survived being hit by spent rounds without serious injury.

If the same thing happened to arrows then there would be distances where arrows from even the strongest bows couldn't reach, closer distances where unarmored men wouldn't be seriously injured by arrows, closer distances where men in mail were safe but unarmored men would be seriously wounded, closer distances where arrows penetrated mail and inflicted serious wounds but couldn't penetrate plate armor, and perhaps closer distances where arrows might penetrate even plate armor.

And perhaps someone who is more of an expert on medieval archery will be able to tell you what those ranges would be.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Another factor is the arc at which arrows are loosed. At Agincourt, the archers nocked and drew but held their arrows until the mounted French, closely packed on an ever-narrowing uphill approach, were all but bearing down on them. Thus, they loosed at steep an angle, that their arrows, tipped with heavy spiked and bevelled bodkin points, struck that target-rich enviornment at terminal velocity, finding first the visor slots in helmets of the many inexperienced French "only yesterday made knights" who turned their faces upward to watch their death come down to claim them. For the more experienced wearing good plate, the deadly points battered helmets and armour like hailstones, then richoeted downward driving into the unprotected necks, withers and haunches of the huge destriers. The massive horses, wounded and panicked, went down, taking their hapless riders with them into the quagmire where they were trampled by following ranks now pressing forward, or kicked literally to death by their own dying mounts. And herein lies the rub: a long bow could be nocked, drawn and loosed in rapid succession, much moreso than the crossbows favored by the French, so much faster, in fact, that the practiced English bowmen could attain a rate of loose at 8 arrows per minute. History records that, at Agincourt, the third volley was in flight before the first volley struck home. And the rain of feathered willowwood and steel was relentless, whittling away the French forces in the dozens with every volley.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Have a look at these two videos they may help. They're from a YouTube channel called Tods Workshop and he (Tod Cutler) actually has a business making realistic (period) arms and armor.

The two clips are part one and two on the same subject. The historic effectiveness of bows against chain mail. For these videos best as possible Tod re-creates (or gets from others) the armor samples and arrows used in the test. These are all made with the materials and techniques we 'think' medieval craftsmen used based on archeological records and historical texts.

(Note he's using modern crossbows for the test - for reasons explained but he has done similar experiments with historical long bows). In any case the tests being done were designed to answer a specific question. Namely how effective was chain mail armor at stopping projectile weapons (arrow and bolts). So it other words your question! Hope it helps.

Part 1, arrows vs mail

Part 2

$\endgroup$

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .