China is the odd man out in the transition from archery to musketry. Almost every other nation had given up archery for firearms, the Chinese still used large numbers of archers as late as the 19th century. While firearms were certainly not unknown in China, and muskets made up a significant portion of the Qing dynasty military, the Manchus did not use firearms themselves. The Manchus (called Tartars by the west) were a nomadic people, similar to the Mongols, who had conquered the Ming dynasty in the 17th century. They fought primarily on horseback and their favorite weapons were the saber and bow.
I have wondered for a long time why the Manchus preferred to leave the most effective weapons in the hands of their Chinese subjects. Part of it is certainly that China had no serious external threats that would require a shake-up of military traditions to deal with. Wheellock and flintlock weapons were not widely available in China, those sorts of weapons being far more convenient for use on horseback than matchlocks, but that had not stopped the nearby Mongols and Tibetans from adopting the matchlock for use on horseback. Another clue comes from this account from the first Opium war:
It is well known that the bow and arrow is the favourite weapon of the Tartar troops, upon the dexterous use of which they set the highest claim to military distinction. The spear also, of various forms and fashions, is a favourite weapon both of Tartars and Chinese ; but the matchlock, which in all respects very nearly resembles some of the old European weapons of the same name, except that the bore is generally somewhat smaller, is of much more modern introduction, and by no means so much in favour with the Chinese ; this is occasioned principally by the danger arising from the use of the powder, in the careless way in which they carry it. They have a pouch in front, fastened round the body, and the powder is contained loose in a certain number of little tubes inside the pouch, not rolled up like our cartridges. Of course, every soldier has to carry a match or port fire to ignite the powder in the matchlock when loaded. Hence, when a poor fellow is wounded and falls, the powder, which is apt to run out of his pouch over his clothes, is very likely to be ignited by his own match, and in this way he may either be blown up at once, or else his clothes may be set on fire : indeed, it is not impossible that the match itself may be sufficient to produce this effect. At Chuenpee, many bodies were found after the action, not only scorched, but completely burnt, evidently from the ignition of the powder.
In one of the latest encounters during the war, at Chapoo, where a few of the Tartars defended themselves so desperately in a house in which they had taken refuge, they were seen stripping themselves altogether, in order to escape the effect of the fire upon their combustible clothes when the building was in flames; and many other instances of a similar kind were noticed during the war.
So it seems that the Manchus may have left firearms to the Chinese because they didn’t want to burst into flames. Yet the superiority of the musket to the bow was demonstrated:
On this occasion one of the Chinese officers, with cool determination and a steady aim, deliberately discharged four arrows from his bow at Captain Hall, fortunately without effect. Had they been musket-balls, however, he could scarcely have escaped. A marine instantly raised his musket at the less fortunate Chinese officer : the aim was unerring, and he fell. An attempt was first made to save him for his coolness and courage ; but in the heat of an engagement it is impossible to control every man, nor is it probable that the officer would have allowed himself to be taken prisoner.
And the Manchus seem to have realized that their bows weren’t having the desired effect:
The strength of the Chinese army was estimated at from seven to eight thousand men, part of which appeared to be a picked body, said to belong to the Emperor’s guard ; they were fine, athletic, powerful men. It was also remarked that their arms were of a superior kind ; several improvements had been adopted; and the bow and arrow, once the favourite weapon of the Tartar soldier, had been laid aside on this occasion.
29 thoughts on “The Nemesis in China and Chinese archery in the 19th Century”
[…] in “thirty [bamboo] tubes, and put them in the leather sack, and hang it on the waist.” Descriptions from the Opium War indicate that Chinese musketeers were carrying their powder in a similar fashion about 250 years […]
Hello! I practice Manchu archery and I’ve also looked into this effect and it may come from two places. After the subjugation of the Xinjiang region by the Qianlong Emperor during the middle of the 18th Century CE, the military might of the Qing was at its highest. During that campaign, the Dzungar Mongols actually employed matchlock muskets en mass while the Qing army was made of Han Chinese musketeers and Manchu Bannermen horse archers. Manchu archery proved its superiority by out shooting and out maneuvering the Dzungars. With the success of that campaign and in pacifying the entire Empire, I don’t think they saw a need to rapidly transition all of their troops to musketeers.
And secondly, there was an ideal set out by the early Qing Emperors. They knew there was a risk in their people of becoming too sinicized. And so they enacted several policies for their people to maintain their “Manchuness”. Learning the Manchu language was mandatory alongside Mandarin Chinese. There were certain ways that Manchus had to eat with certain foods. And of course, archery was a prized skill. It helped them bring food to the table and coin to their pockets. Later on, it helped them win an Empire. The Manchu style of archery remained a staple in imperial military exams up until the very end of the 19th Century CE.
TL;DR Manchu archery was proven effective against other matchlock musketeers at the time of the 18th Century and it was an important part of their culture.
I learned a great deal about Manchu archery from this site here.
SatsuRyu, thank you for your comment. Do you know of any specific sources regarding Manchu archers outshooting the Dzungar musketeers? In the battles I’ve found between musketeers and archers, the musketeers usually won. In the rare cases where the musketeers lost, the sources indicate that it was because they were heavily outnumbered, their powder was ruined by rain or high winds, or they were very low quality/morale troops. If Manchu archers outperformed musketeers man-for-man, it would be very unusual, since archers in the rest of the world did not. I suppose it’s possible, since the Manchu composite bow is capable of better energy transfer than more primitive designs. I’d be very interested if you had a source from a Manchu soldiers or something saying something to the effect of “our archers were much better than their musketeers”.
>The Manchus (called Tartars by the west) were a nomadic people, similar to the Mongols,
While not the main topic of the article or a blog, i would like to note what they were not.
Neither Jurchen/Manchu warfare(or culture) was similar to the mongols nor they were nomadic…
Thank you for the correction.
Mike Loades has a very interesting book “The Composite Bow”, I believe you can find it on the internet in PDF format. Quote from the book:
“For the Qing military examinations candidates were required to shoot at six roughly man-size targets. Originally these targets were placed at 135 yards – quite a distance for a heavy Manchu arrow.
After 1693 the distance was reduced to 84 yards and eventually, after 1760, to 50 yards.”
Note that this was a target shooting, not the maximum range of course.
However, this represents the steady decline of archery in China. So even for officers trained in warfare the decline in target shooting was almost 3 times the distance of their predecessors.
Also, interesting quote from the same book:
“The Qing bow’s large proportions
were designed to propel an
especially heavy arrow to deliver
a thumping blow that, at short
range, would more than match
the impact of a musket ball. ”
But in the hands of a trained archer bow can indeed sometimes best the not only muskets but even rifles. Not the Qing, but their predecesors Ming dynasty had a war with Dutch East India Company. Ming used different kind of bow, unfortunately we don’t have even a clear description (hence no replica) of what it was, but some sources hint that unlike Qing (Manchu) bow, it was better in range but worse in power on short distances.
Manchus or Tartars in China were not regarded as a brave and skillful men. For example, during the Sino-Dutch war 1622-1670 we have this interesting quotes about the western view on chinese military of that time:
“Such an event actually happened in the year 1652, when two or three
hundred of our soldiers quite overwhelmed about seven or eight thousand armed
Chinese, and put them to flight. Since that time, the Chinese in Formosa
were regarded by the Hollanders as insignificant, and in warfare as cowardly
and effeminate men. It was reckoned that twenty-five of them put together
would barely equal one Dutch soldier, and the whole Chinese race was regarded
in the same way, no distinction being made between Chinese peasants and
soldiers ; if he was but a native of China, then he was cowardly and had no
stamina. This had come to be quite a fixed conclusion with our soldiers, and
although they had often heard about Koxinga’s brave exploits against the Tartars,
proving his soldiers to be anything but cowardly, yet this did not seem to alter
the general opinion. Their fighting had been against the poor, miserable
Tartars, and no opportunity had yet been given them of showing their bravery
against the Netherlanders, who would soon settle them, and make them laugh
on the wrong side of their faces.”
At the Siege of Fort Zeelandia however, dutch faced these famous Koxinga pirates, who were much more experienced and dangerous than those enemies the dutch have faced before. Here are some quotes:
“The archers formed Koxinga’s best troops, and much depended on them, for even at a distance they contrived to handle their weapons with so great skill that they very nearly eclipsed the riflemen.
[The Dutch] courageously marched in rows of twelve men towards the enemy, and when they came near enough, they charged by firing three volleys uniformly. The enemy, not less brave, discharged so great a storm of arrows that they seemed to darken the sky. From both sides some few fell hors de combat [unable to continue to fight], but still the Chinese were not going to run away, as was imagined.
The Dutch troops now noticed the separated Chinese squadron which came to surprise them from the rear ; and seeing that those in front stubbornly held their ground, it now became a case of sero sapiunt Phryges. They now discovered that
they had been too confident of the weakness of the enemy, and had not anticipated such resistance. If they were courageous before the battle, fear now took the place of their courage, and many of them threw down their rifles without even discharging them at the enemy.”
Of course it was not pure bow vs rifle battle, but the fact that bowmen stood up to the riflemen and even “nearly eclipsed” them hints that in trained hands bowmen could be not less dangerous than riflemen.
The site obviously is pure pro-musket bias.
A careful examination of the facts would yield that the chinese invented a hand cannon no later than the 13h century https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heilongjiang_hand_cannon ; and gunpowder in the year 800. Yet, they were conquered by the bow using Mongols, then by the bow-using Manchus. Undoubtedly, the composite bow on horseback was much superior to the firearm footman.
Only to the degree that history has a pro-musket bias. I do post battles where bows won when I can find them, but I simply can’t find very many. If you have have battles where bows win, I’ll post them. In real life I shoot with both muskets and bows- I like them both.
Most of the sources on this site are from the late 15th to early 19th centuries. Firearms didn’t start to replace bows and crossbows until the late 1400s, when firearms were far superior to those of the 1200s.
I could post more sources on very early guns, but haven’t because 1. Those sources are fewer, 2. They usually don’t distinguish between handheld and crew-served firearms, using the same word for both. It wouldn’t make sense to compare a bow with a crew-served cannon.
Cavalry has a number of traits that blunt the advantages of firearms over bows, but nonetheless the Manchu did employ large numbers of Han musketeers.
[…] Finally, here is a comparison of bows to muskets in the Opium War, 1839-1842. “On this occasion one of the Chinese officers, with cool determination and a steady aim, deliberately discharged four arrows from his bow at Captain Hall, fortunately without effect. Had they been musket-balls, however, he could scarcely have escaped. A marine instantly raised his musket at the less fortunate Chinese officer : the aim was unerring, and he fell.” The Chinese quickly learned that their bows were outclassed by the muskets, and in the next battle, “the bow and arrow, once the favourite weapon of the Tartar [Manchu] soldier, had been laid aside on this occasion.” […]
Your website probably the biggest collection of pro-musket bias. I think the best example is the article where you argue that bowmen didn’t require more time to train than musketeers. If other topics can be debatable to some degree – this premise is the most blatantly ridiculous and the biggest sign of either your lack of knowledge or you have knowledge but you deliberately biased.
I did not say that bowmen were faster to train. I said that they were cheaper to train. And I was talking specifically about the English government in the mid 1500’s. The English government didn’t spend any money training archers, but plans to raise large troops of musketeers were delayed for many years because the cost of training them was prohibitive.
Yes, but no. The title says “Musketeers Were Not Easier to Train than Archers” which is misliading at best. If your blog was trying to represent something serious, it would probably avoid such clickbaiting overgeneralized titles.
The whole article also makes 0 sense, because replacing 1 musketeer with another is much much more cheaper than replacing 1 good archer. Archers should be in constant shape to perform shooting. The very fact that training decent experienced longbowman, who would be able to shoot man-sized target at 220 yards as Henry VIII required from men who reach age of 23 and a fact that musketeers don’t require same time (even though they would hit such target at 220 yards only if they were very very luck, because as Major George Hanger said “A soldier must be very unfortunate indeed who shall be wounded by a common musket at 150 yards and as to firing at a man at 200 yards with a common musket, you may just as well fire at the moon and have the same hopes of hitting your object”.) – makes the whole argument of cost fall apart.
Time is money.
Decent archers require immensely more time to become decent. Novice wannabe archer will probably never launch an arrow to the 200 yards distance after half hour of introduction to the bow. While 14 year old boy can fire a musket that will fire as hard in his hands as in the hands of a veteran. Musketeer’s hardest task (if we exclude the whole marching, rotation, working in rank, discipline and cut to working with firearm itself) is to learn how to reload and point a gun in the right direction. If a dead musketeer and a dead archer leave their weapon on the field, its much easier to find replacement for musketeer than for archer.
So the whole “easy” argument that you try to manipulate your audience into believing by tossing the facts and presenting cases that suit your premise is not true either.
Can you find examples of historical military men who shared your opinion? (Hanger doesn’t count- he lived in an age when military archery was already extinct.)
Here’s a guide to get you started:
From all the sources I’ve read, not a single man has made the argument that bows should be retained in military service because they were easier to train. If you can find a good historical source who did, please let me know.
I mistyped above. I have, indeed, found historical soldiers who advocated that bows should be retained in military service because they were easier to train. What I have not found is anyone saying that *musketeers* were easier to train.
Oh so you trust only words of specific military men of specific period. I wonder how you distinguish those who are trustworthy and who are making “myth” as you constantly state through your articles. I guess I have a few ides of your method. Thank you kindly for your guide.
Honestly, I don’t even know why I’m having this conversation and probably it’s my last visit here, because this is getting ridiculous. It’s blatantly obvious that to even pull a bow of considerable draw weigh, lets say something like 60 lbs – you need to train your body a lot harder than you need to hold a musket or load/reload a musket. And even then 60 lbs would be the lowest margin which would still not be suitable for military purposes. Forget the bow, even average crossbow with cranequin requires much more labour than the average musket.
Human body reaches it’s peak physical strength at around 23-25 years (hence, why Henry VIII made a law specifically for the age from 23 to 60), so before 23-25 you won’t reach your full physical potential and after like 60 your body gradually loses strength. Obviously firearms don’t have that problem as long as you can carry them or use a rest.
Yes there are men from your guide who shared my opinion:
“If 1,000 English archers were mustered then after one week only 100 of them would be able to shoot farther than 200 paces (167 yd (153 m)), while 200 of the others would not be able to shoot farther than 180 paces.”
“My reasons are thus, among 5000 bowmen, you shall not finde 1000 good Archers, I meane to shoot strong shoots; let them be in the field 3 or 4 months, hardly find of 5000, scarce 500, able to make any strong shootes.”
Other sources, non-military non-guide related:
– Hugh Latimer, English Bishop
“I had my bows bought to me according to my age and strength. As I increased in them, so my bows were made bigger and bigger, for man shall never shute well, except they be brough up in it.”
– Scottish poet and writer, “Icon Animorum: the mirror of minds”, 1614:
“That use of the bow (the special strength of the Turk) which was once so formidable to the world, is now neglected; ~~I suppose because this art cannot be attained without much sweat and labour of the body~~. And at this day, spoiled with ease and discipline ceasing, the soldiers will not buy valour at so dear a rate. Their bows are short and cannot be bent but by those that are skilful, but they discharge their arrows with much more violence than our guns do their leaden bullets. We saw indeed (and could scarce credit out own eyes) a piece of steel three inches thick pierced by a little arrow. And no less wonder was it that a shaft wanting an iron head, shot from a bow through the body of an indifferent tree, appeared at both sides. This art was taught to a man of great account among us, when he was at Constantinople, by an old soldier of Solyman’s, who confessed that skill by the slothfulness of his fellows was quite lost, and that there were scarce three in that vast empire which were careful to preserve in themselves that fortitude of their ancestors. He said the rest had weak bows ~~only dangerous to light-armed men~~.”
You won’t be able to find something similar describing muskets. No competent person will say that musket required “being brought up in it” as Latimer said about the bow or a quote about how the musket ball would suddenly fly slower due to musketeers not being able to train regularly during the long campaign.
Anyway, why trust me or some military or other men of the past, check it for yourself.
You have a few articles here portraying modern tests with old weapons. Do the experiment.
If you have never shot a musket, there are reenactment fairs or groups that let visitors to try and shoot old firearms. Even though they might use blanks instead of real bullets, the process doesn’t differ that drastically. You can ask them to teach you how to shoot, and if u are lucky, I can guarantee you that in like an hour at most you will understand the process and will be able to send your first bullet in the right direction.
After that find local archery practice range or facebook archery enthusiast group near you, or archery shop, you get the gist. They may not have the traditional bows, only compound ones, it doesn’t matter in this case that much. Ask them if they have some heavy bows, something like 50 lbs or 60 lbs and ask them to give you a try at pulling that bow.
If you have already aquired some experience with any of the weapon, you can ask your friend or brother to do such experiment and ask him/her/them about their impressions.
Myabe then you can write an article about how pouring gunpowder, pushing bullet down the tube, holding musket, igniting gunpowder, cleaning the tube is “not easier” than pulling a string of 60 lbs weight let alone sending an arrow with it. And maybe someday I will read it, but probably not.
To make the experiment even more interesting you can attach conditions like lets say in a week or in a month there is going to be a hypothetical war where you will have to take part as either a musketeer or an archer. Then for a week you go and train with both musket and bow. At the end of the week or a moth compare your wielding of a bow to your wielding of a musket. You might be sureprised, but I doubt you will write about it, since it won’t look very good for that article of yours.
I’m quite shocked SwordvsMusket has ignored Ivan’s excellent and well-sourced comment. That appears to have showed everything he is asking for in an actual case, where the writer even notes the bow was matching the rifles… but he demands other commenters to show historical persons saying bows weren’t inferior? This is completely bizarre.
SwordVMusket would be correct in the argument bows cost the state very little to train compared to muskets (as the people take up the expense). However, his point about muskets being harder to train is wrong, as demonstrated by Phillip with your own sources, in terms of time and effort to train, and in thinking this wasn’t a historical concern. Essentially, after bow culture dies, it is a 20 year investment to restart it, at least; and it is hard to justify that kind of long-term thinking.
As I have not yet read that article, I cannot comment in detail. However, presuming that your argument is that this proves the bow must be grossly inferior, since it was economically cheaper and yet wasn’t used… that would also be wrong, as there are a lot of factors to consider: Primarily, yew was almost going extinct in England, such that a good bow was getting to cost something like a month’s pay, IIRC. Second is that enclosure destroyed the rural population which they would train into archers; you can’t train factory workers suffering from repetitive injury, cholera, malnutrition and poverty, into decent bowmen.
As for the idea of the inferiority of the Manchus… the British were all using RIFLES by the Opium war. Even the Brown Bess was rifled, with a rear sight added, and as far as I recall training standards had improved drastically. But more than this… why is the assumption that the British musket carried the day, as opposed to the British artillery, when ONE SHIP carried more cannon than the entire local opposition, as far as I am aware. The exceptional corruption of the Qing was also a factor, when the generals were refusing to work together or fight, and had even lied about how many men they had raised so as to siphon funds. In general, given the same rifles, I doubt they could’ve won.
Further, some interesting facts about the Ming: They did develop the flintlock, part way into the war, but decided to not use it… so they apparently were not so concerned with this self immolation which you decided was a major factor. And it is incredibly doubtful that it was an issue of machining ability or cost, since the Ming instead adopted BREECH LOADERS, as their primary innovation, even developing interchangeable barrels and plug bayonets for them. So apparently the Qing were very skilled, to be able to defeat the Ming, and it’s no wonder the best of them were considered equal to rifles in the other account.
To be fair, I do think you have put effort into the site, making it a good source of scholarship on the issue. You also seem to be intelligent enough in your writing. So I think it’s just an issue of approaching the subject with a Priori argument and a bad premise: That the bow and the musket are in competition, despite the fact the two were used together in combined arms throughout the early gun’s history, up till the 19th century (and even into the 20th century, with China employing some crossbows against the Japanese). So while this comment is critical, I hope you won’t be dispirited by it.
Thank you for actually looking at the historical sources. Most people don’t. (I don’t think there’s any need to be impolite to each other. Bow vs musket is a trivial matter from hundreds of years ago and we should be able to discuss it dispassionately).
You don’t exactly articulate it, but I think the majority of extremely pro-bow people (I’m not sure if you consider yourself one of them) operate on this thesis: bows, especially English longbows, were better weapons than muskets, which were mostly garbage, and muskets replaced bows only because of economic reasons such as price and easy training. At least a few prominent modern historians hold that view. My thesis is more simple- muskets replaced bows and crossbows simply because they were more effective on the battlefield, even though musketeers were more economically expensive to acquire than bowmen.
I mostly focus on the military writers of the 16th-17th centuries because they were the ones who actually used the weapons and made the decision to switch from bows to muskets. A significant minority of them could be described as “pro-bow” in the sense that they wanted archery maintained to some degree rather than fully eclipsed by firearms.
I do own and shoot both traditional bows and muskets. I agree that obviously it takes more strength to use a bow than a musket. But I think this is often over-stated. My bow is 70#, and it would be heavier except that bows heavier than 70# aren’t available commercially and have to be custom-made, or at least that was the case last I checked. Unfortunately I never got around to buying the 100# or 120# bow I wanted because it would have cost at least $600. I wouldn’t say that the 70# bow was particularly difficult and I was able to make hundreds of shots in each practice session. My reasonably fit male friends were able to draw it. I have some history of off-and-on weightlifting but I’m not a strongman. I’ve also had some experience with fasting, and Riche and Williams are right, if I go a week with no food and I’m going to have a hard time drawing my bow.
People misunderstand me so I want to be clear: bows certainly take strength to use and I don’t dispute that it takes more skill to accurately shoot a bow than a musket. I just don’t think that it was much of a factor, and certainly not the main factor, for the replacement of bows with muskets. When I say that musketeers were easier to train than archers, I am talking about easier from the point of view of the English government in the 16th century. I think some people imagine hypothetical scenarios, as if they’re playing Total War or Age of Empires, where they click on the barracks to make units and each archer takes 35 seconds to train but the musketeers only takes 15 seconds. But obviously that’s not how it worked. Trained archers were still around, the archery statutes were still in force, but nonetheless the English military chose to stop using them. I think that shows that a shortage of trained archers was not the issue.
The Mary Rose bows were very heavy, and the archers certainly strong enough to use them, but nonetheless we have the Frenchman Blaize de Montluc disfavorably comparing the Mary Rose’s contemporary archers to his harquebuses. So the issue was not that the archers were weaker than they used to be. https://bowvsmusket.com/2015/07/01/the-commentaries-of-messire-blaize-de-montluc-mareschal-of-france/ Humfrey Barwick also joined the military within a few years of the Mary Rose’s sinking, and he commented that although the archers he knew in his youth were fit and strong he didn’t see them accomplish much with their bows.
Another word on training- I will let a friend practice with my bow unsupervised and the worst thing that will happen is that they’ll lose some of my arrows. If I let somebody use my matchlock unsupervised, the worse thing that could happen is they blow off their face or hands. So obviously, I won’t let anybody use my musket unsupervised. That was the situation the English government was in. They could mandate unsupervised training in archery at no cost, but for musketeers trainers had to be paid for to demonstrate safe use of the weapon as well as the complicated formations and evolutions muskets required. The price of hiring a few musket trainers doesn’t sound like a big deal to us today with our massive modern governments, but for 16th century England it apparently was. They were still operating on the medieval system where soldiers and equipment were provided directly by the subject people themselves rather than being paid for by taxation.
Final aside- I don’t believe that John Barclay, the poet you quote, actually saw an arrow pierce three inches of steel or an unheaded arrow pierce a tree.
I’ve posted on the battle between the Dutch and Koxinga that Ivan mentioned already. “Rifles” is almost certainly a mistranslation. The Dutch were vastly outnumbered and outflanked, so I don’t think it’s a very impressive demonstration for the bows.
I have a couple of posts comparing the prices of muskets to bows. Muskets were more expensive. The availability of native English yew didn’t matter much because they preferred imported yew anyway, because it grew straighter in warmer drier climates. I have not found any period sources complaining that archers were too expensive to equip. You are right that a low-wage laborer making 6d a day would have trouble affording the best bow, but there were much cheaper bows available.
The Brown Bess was still the service weapon in the first opium war and it was not rifled.
Man, I can tell, the articles on this website are super pro-musket and super biased. Where musketeers prevailed over bowmen were usually cases of untrained bowmen. Cases from 18-19 century from China where skill with bow was neglected since Qing conquered country, as Ivan said, is what gets missed. Here, we only read how musketeers defeated bowmen with no problem but rarely we know all the details.
Same for cases with Imjin War, where victories of musketeers were obviously against untrained bowmen, who according to sources, couldn’t even send arrow farther than 100 bo (120 meters), while trained and disciplined Koreans under Yi Sun Sin won majority of battles at the sea, where their main weapon was bow and arrows against Japanese musketeers and a little bowmen. Ming dynasty predominantly used crossbows before firearms.
I’ve noticed that author has a very interesting tendency of whom to trust.
Yes, we have “Frenchman Blaize de Montluc disfavorably comparing the Mary Rose’s contemporary archers”.
And then we have John Smythe who also had military experience in several campaigns and trashes on the muskets. Interestingly enough, Humphry Barwick that is more trustworthy according to the articles here, has no such military records as Smythe, but author seems to trust him more.
Author disagrees with Smythe on almost every case where bow gets advantage over musket (according to author), but when it comes to John saying that there are many strong archers, author suddenly chooses to agree, and suddenly Humphry Barwick, or Barnabe Rich, or Roger Williams, who all state how weak archers have become – all wrong.
The issue was that we don’t know if archers were weaker than before, because we know nothing about how strong bows were before Mary Rose or how accurate archers were, because besides Henry VIII law we have nothing that would hint about their accuracy at certain distance.
You don’t trust Scottish poet Barclay? Well, he was not the only one who stated somewhat similar cases:
“That use of the bow (the special strength of the Turk) which was once so formidable to the world, is now neglected; I suppose because this art cannot be attained without much sweat and labour of the body. And at this day, spoiled with ease and discipline ceasing, the soldiers will not buy valour at so dear a rate. Their bows are short and cannot be bent but by those that are skilful, but they discharge their arrows with much more violence than our guns do their leaden bullets. We saw indeed (and could scarce credit out own eyes) a piece of steel three inches thick pierced by a little arrow. And no less wonder was it that a shaft wanting an iron head, shot from a bow through the body of an indifferent tree, appeared at both sides. This art was taught to a man of great account among us, when he was at Constantinople, by an old soldier of Solyman’s, who confessed that skill by the slothfulness of his fellows was quite lost, and that there were scarce three in that vast empire which were careful to preserve in themselves that fortitude of their ancestors. He said the rest had weak bows only dangerous to light-armed men.”
Francis Bacon “Thoughts on the Nature of Things” 1624:
“The Turkish bow giveth a very forcible shoot ; insomuch as it hath been known, that the arrow hath pierced a steel target, or a piece of brass of two inches thick: but that which is more strange, the arrow, if it be headed with wood, hath been known to pierce through a piece of wood of eight inches thick. And it is certain, that we had in use at one time, for sea fight, short arrows, which they called sprights, without any other heads, save wood sharpened : which were dis charged out of muskets, and would pierce through the sides of ships where a bullet would not pierce.”
“Pyramidographia, or a Description of the Pyramids in Ægypt” 1644 by scientist, mathematician, John Greaves:
“If the Turkish bow (which, by those figures that I have seen in Ancient mo∣numents, is the same with that of the Parthians, so dreadfull to the Romanes) be but as swift, and strong, as the English: as surely it is much more, if we consider with what incredible force some of them will pierce a planke of six inches in thicknesse (I speake what I have seen) it will not seem strange, that they should carry twelve-score, in length; which distance is beyond the basis of this Pyramid.”
So even in 1644 numbers of wood penetration are comparable to Grass test penetration of muskets at 30 yards.
Even now we have evidences of Turkish arrows being able to pierce large hard objects like iron ploughshare that is now located in Military Museum of Istanbul.
Or wooden logs
Muskets were more expensive than longbows (and probably even composite bows) in terms of money, but they were much more cost-effective. Again trying to persuade the readers that cost of musket > than cost of bow, thats why muskets are not as easy to train, which is the title of author’s article, is misleading, to say the least.
““Rifles” is almost certainly a mistranslation.”
It’s not that simple. Author of translation makes a distinction between muskets and rifles.
https://archive.org/details/cu31924023514403/page/n439/mode/2up/search/musket-arms (it takes some time to load, so be patient)
So at least we can come to the conclusion that “geweer” can be either rifle or musket (heck, even other shooting weapon, because its said that Dutch soldiers shot, so its not melee weapon). We are not entirely sure that its rifle, but we can’t be sure that its almost certainly a musket. Considering that we are not biased of course.
And I repeat again, I can teach you to shoot musket in a matter of hours, even if you never used it, but nobody can teach a man who never shot a bow to shoot 60lbs even in a month. This is not overstated. This is a fact.
sorry for “a little archers” I meant “some archers” since Japanese still deployed some bowmen, even though in much smaller scale than before.
? My comment was critical, but I didn’t consider it impolite. Nor was I concerned about your opinions regarding musket vs bow, but rather treatment of commenters. When someone presents great data, I feel it deserves appreciation, regardless of subject.
As for myself… I know people who can hit a man at 300yds with smoothbore, at will. I’ve talked about the great skill of the Sengoku Jidai veterans and the arquebusiers before. But that doesn’t mean I think any malnourished conscript with a gun stands a chance against a warrior raised with a bow since birth. Thus, I’ve spoken to the nuance of the subject, and how the man is more important than the weapon.
So sure, there will be people who go too far the other way, blaming the weapon instead of the wielder–but what’s your point? Arguing against them specifically would be a strawman, going against the weakest argument, and the general issue they have is that they’re not told the simple fact: Given the same gun, some people can hit men from 300yds, and some couldn’t hit the sea while standing at the bottom. There was a lot of the latter type, disturbingly.
Your thesis seems too simple, lacking the nuance I mentioned by just considering one weapon plainly superior. Arquebuses are superior for certain roles, like sniping and dealing with armour, but their slow rate of fire and awkwardness left them wanting in other ways. The Europeans brute-forced the issue, doubled-down on muskets and tried to deal with those problems as they came, but other regions tried a more combined arms approach. The European approach was right for their context, since again, enclosure and the shortage of Yew.
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A week with no food is about the time most fortresses would surrender…. Are you basing that off some cases where musketeers went for a week or more without any food, and still managed to shoot and bayonet charge their way to victory? That’s pretty astonishing, if so. Personally, I sometimes go two days without food just because I’m busy, and don’t feel much the worse for it (then I eat like a snake).
Curious what you were fasting for, if it’s not too personal.
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And I can see why people misunderstood you. Even with the edit, your post on the topic was terribly unclear. It certainly sounded like you were suggesting muskets took more training… the issue being you didn’t clarify you meant drill and state training. Your argument with Phillip also was confusing as to how you meant this. So I think it’s just an issue of clarity.
But yeah, you’re correct that it’s actually cheaper for the state to raise bowmen. I’ve actually had that issue with Age of Empires logic, the time it takes to click on the barracks and wait for bowmen appear, come up from pro-musket enthusiasts arguing for the musket; generally as an argument against contemporary accuracy figures.
And like I said before, expecting malnourished urbanites suffering from cholera and repetitive injury to wield bows just doesn’t work. That’s why, when they tried hard to reinforce the policy, it came to no result, as everyone was too busy earning their daily bread…. So they gave up; it became impossible for England to raise archers.
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Err, I saw that post, yeah. I commented on it. Didn’t say much about the anecdote, because I already commented good harquebusiers could hit men at great distance, and have mentioned the failing bow culture of England. Didn’t want to dig into the weeds with anecdotal evidence, but since you insist upon it:
First, he clarifies the English were charging up to the cannon, and is specifically flanking them after they routed Captain Chaux’s force; there’s no suggestion the English haven’t been effective in the overall war, but rather everyone is scared of them due to historical success and their aggression, despite the “inferior” weapons. Second, his force is an unknown mixture of pikes, halberds, and harquebusiers, likely a low number of the latter since it’s the mid 16th century. I think the French were using about a third or less harquebusiers at this point, but we don’t know what this particular captain had with his sixscore. Plus, the English also had harquebusiers of an unknown number…. You comment about him being worried about these, but considering he ran off ahead by himself, and good harquebusiers were suited to sniping officers, it’s more a wonder he survived than the fact he was worried.
As for the clash, they didn’t skirmish with superior firepower, but charged after one volley at “bow range” (whatever that is in this context). If they had such a purely superior ranged weapon that can hit targets far beyond bow range, and if you figure this force can be taken as harquebusiers against archers… why didn’t they skirmish as long as possible with the superior ranged weapon?
Rather, it brings into question their effective range, that they got as close as they could before unleashing one volley, then clapping their hands to their swords. Heck, they did that while outnumbered, too.
And of course, the English didn’t flee from the gunfire, but at “two to three pike lengths” from their charge… which lead to him stating they were cowards bereft of Gascon blood (which is very ironic, since they had just chased off another Gascon unit). He actually doesn’t comment on how effective his or the archers’ volleys were, nor on the Italians’. We could guess that maybe the English fled because the volley tore them to pieces, but it could just be that the fierceness of the charge scared them, or that the flanking attack had scared them more than it seemed. They could’ve overestimated his numbers, been worried about the force they had just chased off returning, or figured their company had gotten deeper into enemy territory than was wise.
Not saying those points as excuses, it is possible the harquebusiers were numerous and tore the enemy asunder–but there’s no way to know, and there are better anecdotes which dismiss the idea the harquebus was purely superior so it hardly matters. I try to focus on anecdotes that are a little less arguable, in general.
Oh, and one aside on bow range… we don’t know how skilled either party was, at that point, and what the doctrine was on engagement range. The English doctrine of the time might’ve been to close to 50m before raining fire rapidly on their enemies. Or it might’ve been to charge anything and everything, since all we hear in that account is of them closing on enemies violently.
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Didn’t quote Barclay, but as for your reply to that subject…. No idea what tree that were shooting at, but putting an arrow through a tree is not hard. You actually find individual pieces of straw piercing trees, after a fierce storm. Never tried shooting sharpened stake arrows at trees from a warbow at various trees, however, so I can’t say for sure.
Three inches of steel is a LOT, muskets have no hope of penetrating that. Admittedly, arrows do require fractions of the same energy to pierce steel, as found from the Knight and the Blast Furnace, and since he specifically mentions a little arrow, the Pyeonjeon arrow is specifically noted to be great at piercing armour…. Plus, it could be soft mild steel/iron. So probably they got the measurement of the steel wrong (or maybe a different inch or a mistranslation), but I expect he did witness an incredible example of armour penetration.
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Err… importing yew isn’t a big deal? Just buy a shoddy bow…? Importing wood/weapons is magnitudes more expensive than just cutting down a sapling growing near your farm. And since many English farmers in this period were growing too poor to eat their own pears or drink their own milk, selling them for rent… even paying for the shoddy bows was getting questionable, by the 17th century.
So all those factors run against the bow, and make relying on the state-bought weapons a more viable option for most people.
And in your examples… the third rate bow is nearly 2/3rds the price of the first rate one, so that hardly helps. Heck, the Harquebus is only 1.5x the price of a good bow with ARROWS (which are necessary for operation). If you’re one of the labourers getting 6d/day, you could say it’ll only take a week to ten days to afford either bow with arrows… but then you might as well say it only takes just over two weeks to afford the Harquebus.
That is, assuming you don’t need to eat pay any kind of rent or other necessary expense, in saving up for these weapons… where if you can only save a ha’penny a day on average, it’s going to take a hundred days to afford the cheapest bow with arrows… and almost 200 to afford a Harquebus. At that kind of poverty level, you don’t really have time to practice archery anyway.
And why would the state complain about the price of equipping archers, when you already pointed out they provided their own equipment? Except that as the century progressed, they found it was hard to find archers, much less good ones…. Those low-wage labourers you reference became known as the “Scum of the Earth,” AKA: the backbone of the British Empire. So they really needed a weapon these guys could learn in less than a month’s training at state expense; the musket. And that’s why Britain abandoned the bow in the 17th century, it trending down during the land theft that was enclosure.
Looking at the article of the pirates… interestingly, you barely commented on that particular anecdote, despite having so much to say in the other anecdotes you referenced. On one hand, you’re happy to conjecture that because someone did not mention bows in an account, this means they were not present or not effective (as with the Prayer Book Rebellion), and on the other hand when people specifically speak to the effectiveness of archers… you deny it as a minor point.
Certainly, if the writer spoke of the bow being ineffective, and put it to those tactical factors you mention, I would suspect they were poor archers, unlike the Mamluks, Kalmyks, or Archers of the Eye. But as it is, he specifically talks about the bow, “nearly eclipsing the rifle,” which implies some parity at least, whether they be rifles or merely muskets.
I do have another source, Lost Colony by Tonio Andrade, that mentions a rifle was given as a gift at one point, so that implies they did have some rifled arquebuses. But I don’t have the original documents, so I can’t comment on translation, or how many rifles were present. Tragically, Lost Colony doesn’t discuss the Dutch guns in detail.
To quote its epilogue:
“Koxinga did experiment with muskets—his African musketeers proved lethal against the Dutch—but he preferred larger and more powerful handguns and bows and arrows, a decision that didn’t hurt him in the Taiwan War. Dutch musketry companies, so famous in Europe, proved useless against his soldiers. When Thomas Pedel marched out on the second day of the war, confident that the ancient-looking Chinese troops would scatter at the first taste of lead, it was his own men who panicked and ran. A few other musket skirmishes, such as the one on Penghu when Harthouwer’s soldiers were overwhelmed by a small Chinese detachment, also show no advantage for Dutch muskets against Koxinga’s saber-staves and bows and arrows.”
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As for the Opium war… on the one hand you stress the tactical disadvantage of the Dutch, but on the other you’re not particularly concerned about the tactical or strategic issues I mention, except for rifling the Brown Bess. Can’t find a good source on the Brown Bess being rifled, so granted that may be a myth and I won’t contest it. Regiments did what they liked, mostly, so maybe someone tried it, but that’s speculative.
What isn’t, was the horrendous conditions the Qing were working under, and that they bow culture had declined greatly. As I recall, about half their troops were armed with muskets, anyway, by that point, and the Manchus and Mongols were getting so lazy with bow practice that the emperor actually performed a gun buyback to force them to hunt and practice with bows (which is ironic, considering the Comanche willingly started hunting with bows again).
My comment got deleted or something.
Barclay was not the only who witnesses something more or less similar in terms of penetration:
Francis Bacon “Thoughts on the Nature of Things” 1624:
The Turkish bow giveth a very forcible shoot ; insomuch as it hath been known, that the arrow hath pierced a steel target, or a piece of brass of two inches thick: but that which is more strange, the arrow, if it be headed with wood, hath been known to pierce through a piece of wood of eight inches thick. And it is certain, that we had in use at one time, for sea fight, short arrows, which they called sprights, without any other heads, save wood sharpened : which were dis charged out of muskets, and would pierce through the sides of ships where a bullet would not pierce.
John Greaves “Pyramidographia, or a Description of the Pyramids in Ægypt” 1646:
If the Turkish bow (which, by those figures that I have seen in Ancient mo∣numents, is the same with that of the Parthians, so dreadfull to the Romanes) be but as swift, and strong, as the English: as surely it is much more, if we consider with what incredible force some of them will pierce a planke of six inches in thicknesse (I speake what I have seen) it will not seem strange, that they should carry twelve-score, in length; which distance is beyond the basis of this Pyramid.
You can also google “turkish bow darb target” and find log of wood penetrated by arrow dated from 1719, or “turkish bow ploughshare” and see a pitcure of quite thick iron ploughshare, which is now located in Military Museum of Istanbul. It has an arrow stuck in it. So even as late as 17-18 century we have mentions of good penetration power from Ottoman bow.
Most muskets won’t be much better in penetration as Grazz muskets test has shown.
At 30 yards we have range of 115-190mm penetration of spruce, which is one of the softest kinds of trees, according to Janka hardness table.
So even we only believe John Greaves, who was scientist and mathematician, unlike poet Barclay. and writer and philosopher Bacon (even though he was one of the first developers of the empirical methods), we still get 6 inches of penetration stated by Greaves, which is 152 mm.
I don’t know how you could know how well-trained the archers were. Even when you have a primary source saying such and such soldiers were well-trained or poorly-trained, that’s relative to his expectations.
Well, Yi Sun Sin himself was killed by a musket. My understanding is that Yi Sun Sin had large ships armed with cannons while the Japanese had mostly smaller ships designed for boarding or shooting at short-range with muskets. Big ships with cannons trumped small ships with boarders and/or muskets very well in 16th century naval battles, often even when very greatly outnumbered.
Most of Smythe’s contemporaries apparently regarded him as an old-fashioned eccentric. Leicester thought he was insane. I used to think that there was something to that but my opinion of Smythe has reformed with time. I don’t disagree with Smythe on everything or agree with his critics on everything. For example, I think that Smythe’s listings of the faults of muskets are for the most part true- his mistake is in overestimating the capabilities of bows. Barwick, Riche and Williams are also far too generous with their estimates of a musket’s deadly range, which they say is 400 yards or more.
I think it would be an incredible coincidence if the abilities of archers, collectively, across the entire nation, suddenly fell just as muskets were being introduced in large numbers, not just in one country but in Korea, Turkey, England and more. It’s like saying that we only drive cars because people got worse at riding horses.
Bacon’s version is more believable than Barclay. I don’t know if an arrow could pierce two inches of brass or not. I have a post about the musket arrows. https://bowvsmusket.com/2019/04/28/the-naval-weapons-of-sir-richard-hawkins-musket-arrows-slurbowes-fire-arrows/ I thought I read somewhere that the musket arrows were made of steel not wood, but I can’t remember the source, so Bacon might be correct. I’m going to add Bacon’s quote to the post.
John Greave’s quote seems very reasonable. A range of 240 yards. I don’t think a comparison of wood penetration to Graz is possible because we don’t know what sort of wood it was, and there are hard woods and soft woods, or if one was shooting parallel or perpendicular to the grain of the wood. I believe you that a Turkish arrow could pierce a log or a few millimeters of iron, but I still think 3 inches of steel is impossible.
I was shooting my bow as soon as I got it without a problem, and I was able to shoot hundreds of arrows in a practice session before I got tired, so I’m not sure what you mean.
You might be confused- or I’m confused- I thought that I was replying to philip. You and he have made more comments together than in the entire blog’s history so I’m having a hard time keeping track.
I don’t think that hitting a man at 300 yards every time with a smoothbore is possible. Most people underestimate their accuracy, but still smoothbores have a trumpet-shaped trajectory and their cone of fire opens up a lot at that distance. But if you have proof please show me.
The fact that we can’t quantify how “trained” or experienced a particular historical soldier or unit was has been a great difficulty in my research.
I’ve read Tonio’s books. Besides Lost Colony he has another one called The Gunpowder Age. He has a weird agenda to prove that the Chinese were better fighters than the Europeans. He cites all the battles in his book where the Chinese won against the Europeans as great and stunning victories, even when the Chinese vastly outnumbered them. I don’t think it’s very informative that musketeers lost a battle where they were outflanked, outnumbered over 10:1, and broke before firing a shot. I wouldn’t be very impressed by a battle where 2500 musketeers beat 250 archers and wouldn’t even bother to post it.
Sometimes people basically ask me to show them battles where a big army armed with nothing but bows met a big army armed with nothing but muskets on a plain field on a sunny day, but if such a battle ever happened I can’t find it. War is sloppy and asymmetrical. I post what I can find. There are many battles where bows or muskets are briefly mentioned where I don’t bother to post because there isn’t enough information in the source to draw any conclusions from the results.
You probably confused the Brown Bess with the Baker rifle. There was a company of Madras riflemen with the Nemesis but they were always referred to as rifles, not muskets.
Your comment got auto-flagged as spam. Don’t know why. It’s approved now.
@Phillip : It is delightfully interesting to know people were still shooting arrows out of guns, even by the 17th century. And they still worked well, even with wooden stakes!
If arrows can really pierce inches of metal, that’s pretty shocking. With modern field tips, you can pierce about a quarter inch of mild steel pretty well, shooting at car doors. There are dead-space gaps in the steel, though, and material thickness has an exponential effect (it becomes ^1.6 stronger as thickness increases, more or less), so I’m not sure about the 3″s result. I figure Barclay confused the numbers somehow, and it was 2″ of brass or less. Maybe the people putting on the show mislead them, or even used some tricks?
That said, arrows are more efficient penetrators, and pyeonjeon style arrows are better, too, so I won’t deny the possibility. Jeorg Sprave did an interesting test with a longbow with modern arrows, and it showed how much the arrow makes a difference to penetration.
Either way, clearly these guys saw some terrific armour penetration. Great job finding the archeology to back it up, I’ve added your post to my notes. Thank you for sharing.
@Bow vs Musket: I can’t tell who you’re replying to on what subject, at this point.
“How well trained archers are”: Yeah, it’s hard to know without better details. That’s why it’s hard to get an elucidating anecdote.
“Well, Yi Sun Sin himself was killed by a musket.”: Your point being? If that’s meant to negate Phillip’s argument, that’s a poor job. And yeah, artillery generally plays a bigger role than primary infantry weapons, in who wins–which also negates a lot of the bow-vs-musket accounts, since forces like the British against the Qing had more cannon on one ship than their enemy had in the local armies, AFAIK.
Musket Range: Deadly to 400yds is technically possible. The .22LR is also reckoned to be lethal at about a mile… but its effective combat range is more like 70yds. Worse for muskets, they lose a lot more energy over distance.
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“I think it would be an incredible coincidence if the abilities of archers, collectively, across the entire nation, suddenly fell just as muskets were being introduced in large numbers, not just in one country but in Korea, Turkey, England and more. It’s like saying that we only drive cars because people got worse at riding horses.”
Errr… that’s an extreme strawman, and just a huge lie in general. There was not a collective throwing down of the bow. I gave context for England, and they still used the bow until the 17th century. The Ottomans used the bow until the 19th century, along with the Comanches, Qing, Kalmyks, and etc.. Even Korea, as far as I know, kept using the bow to some extent until the Kabo Reforms.
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“You might be confused- or I’m confused- I thought that I was replying to philip. You and he have made more comments together than in the entire blog’s history so I’m having a hard time keeping track.”
So this was meant in reply to me? You should probably put some quote or indicator, since this wordpress doesn’t have a reply function.
“I don’t think that hitting a man at 300 yards every time with a smoothbore is possible. Most people underestimate their accuracy, but still smoothbores have a trumpet-shaped trajectory and their cone of fire opens up a lot at that distance. But if you have proof please show me.”
? Well, you can’t really snipe people at a mile, yeah, they’re not quite that accurate. Though modern smoothbore guns, not recreations, are a bit of a different story… Don’t know of any online source for 300yds, specifically, but you can find videos of people hitting 200yds fairly consistently, so it’s quite a thing to call it impossible to manage 300yds. And of course, you’re not going to manage it every time under combat conditions… men moving between cover are just really awkward targets. But yeah, I expect the best of the Japanese arquebusiers could hit a standing man at 300yds. Heck, there’s an account of them hitting Joseon with INDIRECT musket fire… so that’s probably more like 700yds, even if it was inconsistent.
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Tonio: Glass houses come to mind. I think he’s simply interested in those anecdotes, just as you’re interested in certain anecdotes. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as people are honest. But again, you’re slipping around the point that the very source itself praised the archers as nearly eclipsing the “riflemen”…. As I said, the source couldn’t easily blamed the fact they were outnumbered, or it could’ve gone the way of other battles where a greatly outnumbered force, holding a fortress, managed to inflict grievous losses and defeats before falling; which is what would be expected if the European muskets were so superior to Chinese bow and musket.
And didn’t even fire a shot…? I guess there were some skirmishes like that, but you seem to like grossly simplifying things, like your argument that people collectively abandoned bows, earlier. Heck, you were happy to talk about the Opium War in the mid 19th century, as an example against the bow, when the British had more cannon on one ship than their entire Qing opposition.
So yeah, I recognize your limitations, since war is sloppy and asymmetrical. But that means you generally can’t know which is better, or what a particular account says about the grand scheme of things–you only get little bits of information here and there. And from what I’ve seen of them, past and presence, it seems the bow was a good weapon until the 19th century. Not really “better” than the musket, as each has their own potential for dissimilarity and overmatch, but a great weapon for combined arms.
And, honestly, you’re far better off with a good bowmen who can hit targets at 70m, instead of the half-blind musketeers which plagued Europe in the 18th century…. To say otherwise effectively denies math, and requires a much better argument than, “well, the Japanese a world away were really good shots!” Yeah, and so were the Comanche… and yet, apparently they still saw point in keeping bows around.
“Korean archers were unskilled”
“The Korean navy defeated the Japanese with bows”
“Bows are as good as guns or better at penetrating armor”
When the people complaining about pro-gun bias resort to lies this blatant and shameless it tells you all you need to know about the validity of their position.