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Archery and longbows on the Mary Rose

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Chests of longbows and arrows were stored on the lowermost deck in the stern, though some of these had been taken to the upper deck, ready for action. Mass produced for the King’s Ships and for fortifications, these are the only examples of precisely dated English longbows.

The collection recovered is the only precisely dated archery assemblage surviving from any historical period. There are 172 longbows (of 250 listed for the ship), over 2,000 complete arrows and about 7,000 fragments. Four chests for longbows and seven for arrows were recovered.

There are 24 wristguards, predominantly of leather. These were strapped to the bow arm to protect it against the snap of the string. Many are stamped, and two display the combined arms of Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII. There are parts of one arrow bag, but evidence for 17 more. One horn nock was recovered and one (possibly two) bowstrings, identified as either hemp or linen.

Spot locations of individual bows associated with arrows or wristguards indicate that archers were moving around the ship when the Mary Rose sank. The archers would have shot their arrows from fighting tops, castle decks and upper decks of the ship. The upper deck had a series of wooden blinds, some of which could have been  removed for hand gunners or archers.


All of the longbows are made from a single piece of yew containing the junction between the unyielding centre (heartwood) and the very bendy (sapwood) towards the outside of the tree or branch. The staves are shaped by the bowyer to increase the bend in the sapwood whilst maintaining the strength of the heartwood, creating a perfect, natural spring.

Scientific analysis of both longbows and arrows combined with making working copies to assess their functional envelope has been ongoing since the first longbow was found in 1979.

The length varies from 1839mm to 2113mm.  The cross- section is mostly D-shaped, and at the centre of the bow about 35mm wide and 33mm deep. Draw-weights suggested are between 65 and 175 pounds, with a peak at 110 pounds.


Drawings of arrows from the Mary Rose

Nine different species of wood have been identified within the arrows studied, but most are poplar. The total length ranged from 667mm-880mm, with most between 715-845, giving predicted draw lengths of 712mm and 762mm (28-30 inches). They were stored tip-to-tip in arrow boxes.

The arrow heads had rusted away and the feathers had vanished, but traces of the glue and feathers provide information of the materials used, as well as the shape and length of the arrows and heads. The flights were made from the feathers of geese or swans. The barbs on the iron heads would have made them difficult to remove.

Incendiary darts

Incendiary arrows

The use of fire as a method of destruction is ancient. Unexpected weapons include parts of three long wooden darts with flights made in wood with an incendiary bag secured just behind the iron tip.  Two metres in length and launched from the fighting tops or shot from a gun, these would set fire to enemy ships.