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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Sunday 6 April 2014

English and Welsh Longbowmen

When I started the army list for our Bannockburn participation game I realised that I didn't have enough longbowmen. I am a big fan of Front Rank figures and their offerings, if perhaps a little too well equipped for Bannockburn, were an easy decision.

Painting these made a change from Scots spearmen and I was delighted that the bows are part of the casting. Having wrestled with gluing a mace on the figure I am painting for Thomas Randolph for several evenings, this was a real pleasure! Skulking at the back of this unit are two English command figures. On the right is Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and to his right is a more generic figure that I will probably use for Robert Clifford. The church will become St Ninian's Kirk and comes from Caliver's Battlefield Buildings range.

English and Welsh longbowmen were an important part of English armies of the period, even if they hadn't reached the fame that they would achieve in the Hundred Years War. The technology and training were the same, but English commanders were not. At Bannockburn they forgot the lessons of Falkirk and charged the spearmen before allowing the longbowmen to soften up the schiltrons. Clifford, De Bohun and Valence were all at Falkirk, but it appears they had forgotten the lessons. 

Noble arrogance is the common explanation for ignoring the socially inferior foot soldiers, before impetuously charging unsupported. It's possible, but that doesn't explain Falkirk or an equally important battle in 1295, when the Earl of Warwick defeated Welsh spearmen at Maes Madoc with a well coordinated attack by archers and knights. There was a time gap, so they could have forgotten the lessons of these actions and Edward's army at Bannockburn was large, but of poor quality. 

A more credible explanation in my view is that the English knights camped on the Carse without their archers because they expected Bruce to withdraw. His advance on the second day of the battle left the English archers on the fringe of the action, rather than coordinated with the knights. 

This is a bit of a problem for war gamers refighting Bannockburn because an English commander knows how to win. This therefore requires some scenario planning to make it difficult for the English commander to use too much historical hindsight.

On the subject of archers, the Scots are often portrayed as being armed with lighter hunting bows. However, we know that the Scots also used the longbow, importing them via the Hanseatic ports. Their inferiority was down to smaller numbers.

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