The Art of Archery: The Anatomy of an English Longbow

by | Jun 19, 2023

Understanding the anatomy of an English longbow is crucial for those who wish to wield it effectively. A knowledge of its components can help archers understand how to properly select or build one and how to use it efficiently for maximum accuracy.

Knowing the design characteristics and what materials make up each component will also give insight into how the bow behaves under stress. This can provide guidance on proper maintenance techniques to ensure longevity.

The anatomy of the English Longbow is just as important to its user today as it was centuries ago. The Longbow is comprised of the bow limbs, bowstring and grip. Typically made from a single stave of Yew or Ash, usually 6 or 7 feet in length, it could withstand huge amounts of force.

Those who wish to use this weapon effectively must respect and master its power and precision.

Furthermore, a proper understanding will empower archers to make informed decisions when they select arrows that best suit their bow or determine the appropriate type of string to use.

The Anatomy of an English Longbow

Historians believe that bows were first used by early humans more than 10,000 years ago, and over time they evolved into a variety of shapes and sizes.

By the time the medieval period arrived, the English Longbow had become an important weapon on European battlefields.

The English quickly became known for their mastery of this type of bow and developed their own unique design.

The Longbow characteristically presented a ‘D’-shape in cross-section, with the flat side of the bow facing the archer.

The heartwood (inner part of the tree) of the yew was positioned on the belly of the bow, the side facing the archer.

This was so that the bow could withstand the compression, while the sapwood (outer part of the tree) composed the back of the bow to endure the tension.

The Bow Limbs

When pressure is applied to the bowstring by pulling back, these limbs are the parts of the bow that bend.

As the limbs store energy, they progressively become tenser until they reach maximum draw length. At that point, they release all the stored energy into the arrow.

Anatomy of An English Longbow

The upper limb, or upper limb tip, is marginally thinner than its counterpart and has a narrow, concave curve towards the bowstring.

Its main function is to ensure smooth energy transfer from string to arrow while also maintaining accuracy and stability.

The lower limb is usually thicker than the upper one and has a wider curve away from the string. Its primary role is to store more energy as it bends further back when pulled by an archer.

Materials Used In Making the Limbs

In Medieval times, people favoured yew wood for making longbows due to its unique properties.

However, today, craftsmen can construct contemporary longbows using various materials such as bamboo, carbon fibre, or fibreglass, offering alternative options for construction.

With advances in technology came progress in manufacturing techniques with carbon fibre providing a lightweight option for modern-day archers who seek exceptional power transfer without sacrificing speed or accuracy.

Fiberglass offers another popular option because it’s both durable and affordable while bamboo combines both strength and flexibility making it an attractive choice for those looking for quality at a reasonable price point.

Regardless of material choice though, each offers its own unique advantages. Understanding what you need out of your Longbow will inform your decision on which one best suits your needs.

The Bowstring

The bowstring is one of the most important components of an English longbow. A good bowstring can make all the difference between a successful shot and a complete miss.

The bowstring is responsible for transferring the energy from the limbs to the arrow, so it needs to be strong, durable and well-maintained.

A good bowstring should be able to withstand repeated use without losing its strength or shape.

It should also be flexible enough to allow for smooth movement without damaging any other parts of the bow or arrow.

A poorly made or worn-out bowstring can result in a lack of accuracy, loss of power, and even potential injury.

Materials Used in Making a Bowstring

In the past, people traditionally made English Longbow strings from animal sinew or silk because these materials offered strength and durability.

However, today, manufacturers typically use synthetic materials like Dacron or Kevlar to create strings for English Longbows. They choose these materials for their superior strength and longevity.

Dacron is a popular material choice because it’s affordable and easy to work with. Its flexibility allows for smooth release which results in better accuracy while shooting arrows.

Kevlar, on the other hand, is stronger than Dacron but more expensive. It’s often used in high-performance bows where maximum speed and power are required.

Choosing the right material for your bowstring is important for maintaining peak performance throughout prolonged usage periods with your English longbow.

Always make sure your string is well maintained and replaced when necessary to ensure optimal performance every time you take aim at your target!

The Grip

The grip of an English longbow may seem like a small detail but it can make a huge difference in your accuracy and comfort while using the bow.

The grip often has a curve or contour to fit comfortably in your hand and may be wrapped in leather or other materials for added comfort.

The size of the grip can also vary depending on personal preference and hand size.

Longbow Grip

How The Grip Affects Accuracy And Comfort

Having a comfortable grip not only makes shooting more enjoyable but can also increase accuracy by reducing hand fatigue which could lead to shaky shots.

A proper grip allows for better control over the bow during the drawing, aiming, releasing, and follow-through phase.

As different people have different preferences either due to their palm shape or finger length, having customizable grips helps you achieve better accuracy and consistency.

The Limb Tips

The limb tips are at the ends of the bow limbs. They play a crucial role in ensuring that the bowstring stays in place while you draw the arrow back.

The tips also reduce friction between the bowstring and limbs, which reduces wear on both. A Longbow’s limb tips are the most vulnerable part of the bow and often come protected with a sheath of leather, or animal skin as an overlay.

War Bows vs Hunting Bows

The English Longbow has been used successfully in many battles throughout history including Crecy (1346), Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415).

At Agincourt, legend holds that outnumbered English archers fired volley after volley into charging French knights with devastating accuracy from up to 250 yards away.

But with so much emphasis placed on the War bow, I feel it’s time that we should mention the differences between Medieval War bows and Hunting bows from the same era.

War Bow

The Medieval War Bow, often referred to as the Longbow was the longer of the two bows. This enhanced length was designed to allow for a longer draw.

When combined with a high draw weight typically between 80 and 150 pounds, it resulted in a powerful kinetic release capable of propelling arrows over considerable distances.

These traits were integral for warfare, as the longer ranges allowed archers to remain safely behind their own lines. The high draw weight ensured that the arrow could penetrate armour and bring down heavily fortified opponents.

Anatomy of An English Longbow

Hunting Bow

The Medieval Hunting Bow, in contrast, was a different creature. It was often shorter, around four to five feet in length, a feature that improved the hunter’s mobility in the constrained and dense forest environment where they operated.

This shorter design also translated into a quicker draw speed, critical for hunters who needed to react swiftly to fast-moving prey. The draw weight for Hunting Bows was typically lighter, ranging between 50 to 70 pounds.

This reduced draw weight was adequate to take down game, but more importantly, it was sustainable over longer periods, allowing the hunter to stalk their prey without tiring.

In terms of range, hunting bows were more suited for closer distances, as their primary objective was not long-range engagements but rather precise, lethal strikes on unsuspecting game.

These technical disparities underscore the unique roles these bows played in the context of their Medieval users, each crafted with a clear and distinct purpose in mind.

Related: How To Shoot An English Longbow: A Beginner’s Guide


Understanding the anatomy of an English longbow is crucial for achieving maximum performance and accuracy. Each component plays a vital role in how the bow functions and performs.

The limbs are responsible for generating power and speed, while the bowstring is responsible for transferring that energy to the arrow.

The grip and handle of a longbow are also crucial as they affect how comfortable and steady one can hold it. A good grip ensures that there is no slipping when drawing or releasing arrows.

The nocks play an essential role in directing arrows towards the target, while arrow rests ensure proper arrow alignment. Bow tips play a critical role in maintaining structural integrity during use.

Ultimately, each component works together to create a high-performance weapon that has stood the test of time.