How Were Archers Supplied With Arrows During Battle?

by | Dec 20, 2022

When you think of archers in battles during the Middle Ages, you probably think of long lines of bowmen repeatedly drawing and shooting arrow after arrow into the air and showering the enemy frequently with said arrows. And according to the history books, you’d be right. But how were archers supplied with arrows?

During campaigns like Crecy, arrow mass production spanned across England and Wales. Local hubs gathered the arrows into sheaves of 24 and then transported them to the Tower of London. The arrows were shipped from the Tower to France, and then transported in barrels to the battlefield. A runner, assigned to a company of archers, replenished their supplies by distributing sheaves of arrows as they ran low

We tend to think of battles in the Middle Ages as complete chaos, with no organisation or logistics of any kind. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially when it came to supplying arrows to the battlefield.

How Were Medieval Archers Supplied With Arrows On The Battlefield?

To understand the scale of logistics involved in getting arrows to the battlefield, we first need to establish some context.

The production of arrows during the Middle Ages was big business. Producing arrows en-masse was crucial to winning wars, and Kings during the Middle Ages made sure that the length and breadth of the country became involved in the endeavour.

During the Hundred Years War, bowyers and fletchers across the country produced arrows and Longbows to an exceptionally high standard. The need to manage the large-scale production of arrows resulted in the establishment of designated hubs across various regions. These hubs played a crucial role in collecting, recording, storing, and transporting the substantial quantity of arrows being manufactured.

But the whole logistical process would start with the Fletcher.


A Fletcher was the craftsman who made the arrows, usually from ash or oak. They worked closely with the Bowyers who made the Longbows.

From 1337 to 1456, records show a significant event in 1360: the production of half a million arrows. Fletchers crafted these arrows into sheaves of 24.

Villages often received assignments of 20 sheaves, while small towns could have the responsibility of producing 140 sheaves for a campaign

Highly skilled craftsmen, Fletchers received appropriate compensation for their expertise.

Centralised Hubs

The local Sheriff collected the arrows after they reached the designated quota of sheaves. The arrows were then bundled, sleeved, and packed into barrels before being loaded onto carts for transportation to a central hub such as Bristol.

During this stage, the arrows underwent meticulous signing and proper packaging into chests, barrels, and other containers to ensure secure transport to their next destination.

During the strictly regulated transportation process, a Clerk assumed the responsibility of overseeing the loading of arrows onto carts. With great diligence, the Clerk carefully inspected and marked off each chest of arrows as they were loaded onto the carts.

The Clerk would then travel with the consignment of supplies to the Tower of London, where on arrival, he would then hand over a list of the supplies to another Clerk, who would then sign off the arrows.

The Clerk who had delivered the supplies would then turn around and make his way back. His return journey was also bought and paid for.

Tower of London

The Tower of London was the final destination for the arrows before they were transported to the battlefield.

Here there would have been a rigorous system of logging and storage of all the supplies.

Each King had an arrow keeper, whose job was to rotate the arrows while they were in storage so that the wood didn’t warp.

During the Crecy campaign, Edward III had 7,700 bows stored in the Tower, along with 130,000 sheaves of arrows. That’s a lot of rotating!

These feathers were transported to the Tower for storage, preparing them for use as fletchings. For the Crecy campaign, the King’s Pavilioner, a single individual, was responsible for transporting the arrows by sea.

One shipment alone during the campaign transported 3,800 sheaves of arrows.

They would then have been taken to another localised hub near the coast and then distributed to the army.

To The Battlefield

The arrows underwent division and assignment to each company or battalion before reaching the battlefield. Subsequently, a series of checks took place prior to loading them onto carts and dispatching them to the field.

Even during the transportation process, arrows continued to be produced.

They took mobile forges with them, so they would never arrive at a destination with the worry of running out of ammunition.

After a particular battle, reports indicated that they had collected 7,000 arrows from a campaign in Brittany and transported them back home for repair and restoration.

It took 6 days for a team of 10 Fletchers to strip, clean and re-fletch the arrows.

On The Battlefield

Once the carts of arrows have reached the battlefield, they can’t simply roll onto the field for the convenience of the archers.

They had to maintain a discreet distance from the action. Each company of archers would have their own designated carts of arrows. They would be sorted by ‘women of the baggage trains’, who would then hand the sheaves of arrows to boy runners.

The boys would then run the arrows into the company that they were serving, supplying arrows to the bowmen when they needed them.

As the bowmen would be intent on a constant rate of fire, the boys would keep them informed of the number of arrows that they had left in supply. The bowmen would be well aware of when they needed to go in search of new arrows, or whether to draw their sidearms and go forward into battle.

Battle of Agincourt

How Much Did The Arrows Cost?

We have exact records detailing the cost of arrows during the Middle Ages, particularly around the time of Crecy.

The cost sometimes varied depending, For example, 400 sheaves at 2 shillings and six-pence per sheaf were made for the King’s valets between the years 1353 – 1360.

(1 shilling = 12 pennies)

Another record shows that the King also had 6000 sheaves made at 18 pennies per sheaf. The 5000 at 16 pennies per sheaf, and the prices drop from 13 to 10 pennies per sheaf.

Who the arrows were made for clearly influenced their standards. Records show that the King commissioned 4 sheaves of arrows for himself at a cost of 6 shillings per sheaf.

Meanwhile, the Queen had 2 sheaves made, fletched with peacock feathers and broad heads, at a cost of 10 shillings per sheave.

Astronomical prices for the day!

How Many Arrows Did An Archer Carry?

During the year 1252, if you owned between 40 and 100 shillings of land, you would have to turn up ready for war with a bow, at least one sheaf of arrows, a dagger and a longsword.

Going into battle, Bowmen would have carried 2 sheaves of sleeved arrows, with probably more tucked into their waistbands or belt.

They would turn up on the battlefield with around 65-70 arrows.

How Did An Archer Carry Their Arrows?

Medieval archers usually carried their arrows in arrow sleeves. They were made from sackcloth and could be carried over the shoulder, or alternatively, strapped around the waist and positioned just behind the hips.

There are also depictions of archers in the Middle Ages taking a sheaf of arrows, removing the divider, and sticking the arrows through their belts for easy and quick access on the battlefield.

How Many Arrows Would A Bowmen Shoot During Battle?

The rate at which a medieval bowman could fire a war bow varies, but modern tests put the number at around 12 -20 arrows per minute.

An archer that couldn’t shoot more than 10 arrows per minute was deemed unfit for duty.

This is an incredible rate of fire to maintain for any length of time considering that War bows were around 150-170lb draw weights.

But if we go back to the 65-70 arrows that the Bowman carried, that would mean that after about 5 minutes of shooting, he would have been out of ammo!

This is where strategy and formation come in.

The Bowmen would fire off a round of arrows, then they would be replaced by bowmen standing behind them.

They would rotate like this until they’d all exhausted their supplies of arrows. You can just imagine the panic of the runners running back and forth to the wagons with armloads of arrows.

At the Battle of Agincourt, it has been estimated that Henry V had around 4000 archers. If those archers could fire off 15 arrows per minute, and let’s assume that they could shoot for 15 minutes, then Henry would have had somewhere in the region of a million arrows with him!

Did Medieval Archers Worry About Spine?

There are no existing records anywhere that mention spine.

Arrows at the time were being manufactured in their hundreds of thousands. So arrow spine was the last thing on their minds.

During the battle, if a Bowman ran out of arrows, he would have to make do with collecting arrows from the dead enemies that littered the battlefield, making do with whatever he could find.

What was apparent is that the tens of thousands of arrows that would have been transported to the battlefields were all made to be a certain length.

They were classified as an ‘Ell’ length. This was measured from the crease of the shoulder to the tip of the middle finger – 29 inches, or a cloth-yard.

Which is the exact measurement of the only Medieval arrow in existence, the Westminster arrow.

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

Related: How To Make Longbow Arrows: A Step-By-Step Guide

Final Thoughts

In contemplating the chaos of medieval battle, with arrows soaring overhead, the clash of swords, and the clamour of horses, it is easy to overlook the logistical intricacies that underpinned the madness. Organized systems were integral to the success of these campaigns, often forgotten amidst the tumultuous spectacle.

From the Fletcher plying his trade in small villages and towns across the country to the handing over of the arrows to the local Sheriff who then transported them to centralised hubs. All accounted for.

As they shipped the arrows overseas and carted them across the battlefield to the bowmen, meticulous monitoring and scrutiny took place at each step of the process.

The entire system from top to bottom worked.