Corfe Castle and medieval archery

Trying out medieval archery at Corfe Castle, Dorset © National Trust/Martin Franks

Trying out medieval archery at Corfe Castle, Dorset

Robin Hood and the design of Corfe Castle have something in common – they both show how important archery was in medieval times.

The legend of the man in green underlines how deeply it was ingrained in the culture at a time when men and boys were commanded by law to practice with the bow so they could fight for their lord.

The arrow slits or loopholes in the walls are evidence of the role of archers in defending a castle.

Between about 1250 and 1450 the longbow was the most important weapon used by English armies, who had learned its effectiveness in battles with the Welsh.

Archers were the backbone of the army during the Hundred Years War and central to victories like Crecy in 1346, Poitiers in 1356 and Agincourt in 1415.

Strength and skill

From the late 12th century onwards castles like Corfe were designed with towers projecting from the outer walls so that archers could shoot at attackers from the sides, making them much more effective.

In 1403 a force of only 37 archers held Caernarfon Castle against two attacks by forces loyal to Owain Glyndwr.

The bows themselves were usually made of yew and each was about the height of the archer who owned it.

They were much more powerful than the bows used in the modern sport of archery and shooting one accurately took years of training and great strength as well as skill.

Their range was about 300 yards and the 3ft arrows could pierce chain mail.

A skilled archer could shoot between six and twelve arrows a minute from a longbow.