While archers and knights tend to be the best known fighting men of the medieval army, during the Wars of the Roses a significant number of infantry or foot soldiers used weapons which had evolved from farm tools. An example is the “English Bill” (pictured right) which evolved from the billhook, traditionally used for hedging. [Photograph: Jo Homfray]
The Pole Axe
To penetrate armour, something more substantial than a sword was required. Knights would frequently use the Pole Axe (pictured left). This combined several weapons into one – an axe head for chopping; , hammer head for smashing and crushing and spikes for stabbing. It evolved from a farm tool used for killing animals. [Photograph: Jo Homfray]
Another weapon used by knights to penetrate armour was the War Hammer (pictured right), with a hammer head used to smash and crush, and spikes used for stabbing. [Photograph: Jo Homfray]
While the archer is most renowned for his bow and arrows, he also carried other weapons. These included: The Maul (Top), a large wooden mallet used for smashing and used to great effect by the English archers against the French in hand-to-hand fighting at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415; dagger, (Left); Axe (Centre) and Falchion (Right). The Falchion was a sword used for hacking and cleaving and could be easily used by a soldier inexperienced in sword play. [Photograph: Jo Homfray]
The longbow and the men who used it were the most feared soldiers of their day. A good archer with a bow of around 100-150 lbs draw weight could shoot an arrow over 300 yards. At Agincourt 5,000 archers and roughly 1,000 men-at-arms defeated an army of between 20,000 and 30,000. If each archer shot 12 arrows a minute that would be 1,000 shafts a second leaving the bows. In 8 minutes it would be possible to shoot over half a million arrows. The chroniclers of the day said that men fell like leaves after the first frosts of winter, and the sky turned black with wooden shafts.
Pope Innocent II in 1139 tried to ban this weapon as he thought it should not be used against Christian souls, yet it remained popular in most parts of Europe. The French used large numbers of mercenary crossbowmen, such as the Genoese, in their armies. In England it was mainly used for hunting and in castle defence. Its limitations were its slow rate of shot. A good crossbowman could shoot 3 arrows a minute, compared with the 12-15 arrows a minute of the longbow. Spanning device
A mechanical spanning device was necessary to pull the string into the locked position because of the immense power of the crossbow. These devices were called spanners. Various types such as the windlass, goat leg lever and cranequin were used. On lighter bows a simple hook attached to a belt would help the archer to pull the string over the locking nut.
Short arrows called quarrels were used with the crossbow. Wood or leather fletchings were used rather than feathers, as the immense power of the crossbow would flatten feathers. We think the term “to pick a quarrel” comes from the use of this arrow.
The pavise was a large shield designed to protect crossbowmen while they reloaded their bows. It was made from wood, boiled leather and canvas and was decorated with coats-of-arms and pictures of saints. Rows of these highly-decorated shields would have been quite an awe-inspiring sight on the battlefield.
Needle-shaped arrows known as long bodkins were used against mail armour. Short bodkins could also be used against mail and plate armour, which was becoming more common on the battlefields by the end of the 14th century.
Barbed leaf-shaped arrows, known as type 16s, could be used against horses and lightly-armoured men. All these arrows were capable of inflicting savage wounds.The first two arrows are crescent-shaped arrows used for hunting birds and small game. A bodkin-type arrow could pass through the wing feathers of a bird in flight, but the crescent would take out a substantial section of the wing, bringing the bird to the ground.
The next two are fire-arrows, both used for setting fire to wooden and thatched buildings and were used against enemy ships. The first has a basket into which a piece of red-hot charcoal is inserted. The speed of an arrow travelling at approximately 120mph causes the charcoal to ignite. The next arrow is wrapped round with linen fastened with a copper wire. The linen has been soaked in “Greek Fire”, a substance which is very difficult to extinguish. An acid solution, such as vinegar or stale urine, had to be used to put the fire out.
The final arrow is known as a blunt arrow, used for target practice and hunting small game. The large, bulbous head would kill pheasant, partridge and woodcock, which could be hunted legally.
Large, broad-headed, swallow-tailed arrow-heads were normally used for hunting large game, such as deer and wild boar. The razor-sharp edges of the barbs gave a long cutting edge to kill or disable the animal.
Arrow shafts were made from ash and aspen, 32 inches long, with a thin slice of horn to protect the V-shaped groove at the end of the arrow. These arrows were known as clothyard shafts. The flights were made from flight feathers from goose or swan, cut to shape, fastened on with glue and whipped with linen thread for extra strength.
Illness in medieval times was seen as being the result of the four bodily humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile) being out of balance. Diagnosis was carried out by questioning the patients regarding lifestyle, examining complexion, pulse and bodily excretions, including urine as seen here. The urine’s colour, smell and taste would be evaluated.
Treatment – bringing the humours back into balance – could include bleeding, taking more or less exercise or rest, or through the use of herbs. Herbs could be combined with wine into a tissave which could be drunk, although another way of administering medicine was rectally.
The Surgeon was responsible for carrying out surgical procedures such as suturing, or stitching wounds, setting broken bones, pulling teeth and carrying out operations such as amputations and removing arrows, knives etc. Well-trained surgeons were in the minority during the medieval period, many having gained their experience treating wounded soldiers after battles or from butchering animals (dissection of human bodies was forbidden by the church). As a result, their collections of surgical tools were a far cry from those we associate with surgery today, often resembling a butcher or blacksmith.
Anaesthetics were available and often contained opium, alcohol or hemlock, but the problem was not sedating the patient, it was reviving him afterwards. The most frequent way of operating on a patient was to get his friends to hold him down while the surgeon operated, as can be seen from the example of tooth-pulling.
When there was little surgery to be done, surgeons would make money by cutting hair and shaving people.