Barnabe Rich- A right exelent and pleasaunt dialogue, 1574

I was surprised to find that this one was published in 1574. The arguments are extremely similar to those of Roger Williams, whose Discourses were not published until 1590. The argument takes place in the form of a dialogue between Mercury and an English soldier. Since speaker tags have been forgotten in some places I’ve added them in for clarity.



Soul. But if without presumption I might but demaund this laste question wherein I greatly desire to be satisfied, and this it is, whether the Calyuer, or the long Bowe as we tearme them heare in Englande, be of greatest force I haue harde this question diuers times to be argewed on & some that haue bin supposed to haue had good experience haue preferred the the Caliver to be of greater force in seruice then the bow which I think few wisemen wyll beleeue, and our enemies can witnesse to the contrary that from time to time haue felte our Archers force, and how many noble victoryes haue bin by them achiued, Cronicles are ful, and Histories can well make mencion, and I am of that mind that one thousand good Archers would wronge tow thowsande shot, yea and would driue them out of the feeld and there be a great many of that opinion beside my selfe.

[Mer.] What hath bin don in time paste maketh nothing to the purpose for the time present for the order of the warres is altogether altered, and in an other manner then they haue bin in time past, but now to answer to thy demaund and breifly to satisfye thy desire, thou must first consider to what perfection shot is lately growne unto ouer it hath bin within these few yeares, when paradnenture if there were one that sarued with ah Halfhaake or a Hagbus as they termed them which were peeces to small efect, unlesse it were euen hard at hand, ther is now ten for that one, which serueth with that Caliver or Musquet which, peeces ar of a new inuention and to an other effect. So lyke wise they haue a better composition for the makynge of their powlder and the Souldier is grown by practise to a greater celetrity in the using of his peece then in the paste he hath byn of. Thus the effecte of the one by practise is increased, and the force of the other by nature is deminished, for the strength of men is generally decaied, whereby they are not able to draw so stroung a bow, nor to shoote so stronge a shotte as in the olde tyme men haue bin accustomed.

But to the ende thou mayest the better perceaue wherein the aduantage or disaduantage doth growe. I wyl use this comparison (wherby) I doubt not but thy owne reason shall perswade thee.

Suppose one thousande Archers shoulde be leuyed within two Shiers in Englande let them use no further reagard in the choice then of ordinary they ar accustomted: In the seruice of the Prince, let these Archers be apoynted with such liuery Bowes as the Country generally useth to alow, let these Archers continnewe in the feelde but the space of one weeke, abidynge such fortune of weather, with their Bowes and Arrowes, as in the mene time might happen. I would but demaunde how many of those thowsand men were able at the weeks end to shoote aboue x. score. I dare undertake that if one hundred of those thousande doo shoote aboue ten score, that .ii. hundred of the rest, wyll shoote shorte of .ix. score, and is not this a peece of aduantage thinkest thou? when euery Calyuer that is brought into the feelde wyl carry a shot xviii. score and .xx. score, and euery Musquet .xxiiii, and xxx. score.

Besides this euery Bushe, euery Hedge, euery Ditch, euery Tree, and lamost euery Moalhil is a sufficient safgarde for a shotte, where the Archer is little worse, but on a playne, when the shotte wyll conuay them selues into euery couerte, that the Archer shall not see whereat to shoote, and yet hee himselfe remayne a fayre marke for the other, or els can use no seruice.

Now whether part hath the aduantage, I thinke may well be deemed, and whether weapon is of greatest force, a man mays easlye perceaue, when the shotte shall be able to preiudice the Archer, who shal not be able to shoote halfe the grounde towardes him agayne. Farther when the Shotte shal take aduantage almost in eueri ground to shrowd himselfe, where the Archer must remaine an open mark uppon the plaine or els to occupy his Bow to smal efect.

[Soul.] But let it be that one thowsand Archers and one thowsande shot should meete in the playne feelde where no vantage were to be taken by the ground, & admit they were ioyned in skirmish, within .viii or .ix score where the Archer is able to shutte twice to the others once, wherby the Arrowes comming so thick amonst them, wil so astone them that the contrarye part shall not well know where at to shoote.

Mer. But those that frame this argument hath little practise in the use of the Calyver, and lesse experience in the order of a skyrmishe for if a thowsand Archers were brought into the feelde I trust all woulde not be brought to shootte at one instant for yf they were, some of them would shoote to small auauayle, as he that hath experience can well say.

And yet if there were no other aduantage to be used in skirmishe, but who can shoote fastest he that is a ready shoote I dare say, would be loth that an Archer should shoots aboue .viii times to his .v

And this aduantage in often shootyng is not so great in the one but the difference is much more in the other, considerig their force for where the one doth but gaulde the other doth either mayne or kyll.

But to shew thee what farther aduantage the shot hath of the Archer thou shalt undertstand that where the Archer may shoot both wide short and gone, the other may shoott but wyde onely. But because thou mayst the better perceaye my meanynge thou must consider that when the Archer shooteth any distance of grounde, the Arrowe commeth compasse of a great height, so that when it commeth where it should indanger, which is, with in the compasse of mans height it falleth presently to the ground and hath but as it were one lightyng place and paraduenture may come directly ouer one mans head and fall right at an other mans feet which standeth but .iii, yeardes behind, where if it had falne but one foots shorter, it had indaungered the firste so yf it had gone but one or two foote farther it had hazarded the last.

Thus as I haue saide the Archer, though he shoote right yet he may shoote both ouer and under, where the other can shoote but wide onely, considering that the shot is styll carried away within the compasse of mans height, which aduantage to such as hath reason to decerne it arighte shall perceyue, that one shotte from the Musquet or Calyuer, is of greater possibilytie to indaunger then fiue that shall come from the beste Archer that is brought into the feelde.

Soul. I understande the meanynge verye well, and doo nowe perceaue the Calyuer indeede to be of greatest force, and yet I had a great deale rather beleeue it my selfe, then to undertake to make a great many of others to beleeue it.

But now I perceaue we may hange our Bowes uppon the walles for I can not perceaue how they wyll nowe stande us in any great steede to serue in warres.

Mer. Nay not so neyther, was it any part of my pretence to absolutlye to objecte the Archer nor yet to make hym of so small effect, but that his seruice is to be commended, and not to be forborne, for so it mighte as well be sayde what should Horsemen do in the feelde where the enemye hath picks to defende them against whom they coulde yet neuer preuayle: yet no man doubteth but Horsemen are seruisable for manye causes, although it be not to run against the picks, so likewise Archers maye do verye good seruice, althoughe it be not to inconnter with shotte.

But my wordes tended to this ende that I woulde not haue thee to be ignoraunt in the use of so principall a weapon, but rather woulde wyth it might be practised, considering it asketh tyme, or many haue the ready use of it, for lyke as it is a specyall Weapon to hym that can use it in good order, so it is as defused, untowarde to hym that hath not the practise of it, and shal sooner indaunger hymselfe, or his friends that standes nexte unto hym, then hurte his Enemye. Therefore I woulde wyshe that those which shoulde use this Weapon, to be very expert and wary in the use and orderyng of the same.

William Garrard – The Arte of VVarre

The Arte of VVarre, by William Garrad, d. 1587, published posthumously 1591.

Page 2-3:

He which seekes to attaine and attribute to himselfe the honourable name of a Souldier, must first employ his time in practice of those armes wherewith he means to serue, and so apply his time, that when any enterprise shall call him forth to make proofe thereof, he may be able to handle his peece with due dexterity, and his pike with assured agilitie : since those be the weapons wherwith now Mars doth most commonly arme his warlike troupe, and trie each doubtfull fight of bloudy battaile : for in this our age experience and practise makes apparant that Archers amongst forreine Nations be neuer vsed, and the halberd but either amongst few or few in number. The Archer serues to small purpose, but when he is shadowed with some trench or bulwarke free from hargabuse or musket-shot : Or that lyning a band of Hargabusiers, hee doth second them in any inuading onset, and then a whole flight of arrowes, so that they be light and able to flie aboue tweluescore, will maruellously gaule any maine battell of footemen or Squadron of Horsemen. The Halberd likewise doth onely serue in the sacke of a towne, in a breach, in a sally, or canuisado, to enter a house, or in the throng of a stroken battell to execute slaughter ; wherefore touching these two weapons, vnlesse necessitie constraine, and that Hargabusiers be wanting, Archers may well be spared : and these great numbers of Halberdiers and Bill-men, which are and haue beene in times past vsed in England, may well be left off, saue a few to guard euery Ensigne, and to attend vpon the Colonell, or Captaine, which in an armie will amount to a sufficient number to depresse the ouercome and flying enemy.

Page 82

Caliuers or Hargabuzieres, or Musketieres
Such must haue either of them a good and sufficient peece, flask, tutch-bore, pouder, shot, yron, mold, worme, tyrebale, rammer, swoord and dagger, and a morion. The like must the Musketeare haue, witha  forked staffe best hye, with a stringe to fasten to his wrist. Such as serue with shot in raine, mistes and windes, must haue their peeces chardged and primed: They must carie the tutch hoale of their peeces under their arme-hoales, match light in their hands couertly and drie, their peeces faire and cleane within and without, so bee they seruicable at all times, hauing regard they keepe their march and retyre of good distance in sunder, their match and pouder verie drie, and their peeces often chardged and discharged.

Archers or long Bowes.
Necessarie it is that euery man haue a good and meete bowe, according to his draught and strength, light & easie, a light side jake hanging loose to his knee, with a skul, swoord & dagger, nothing upon his armes, wherby in time of seruice hee may easilie draw the arrow to the head, that they may deliuer the same with strength and art, as Englishmen bee accustomed, They must haue also a bracer and shooting gloue, their stringes whipped and waxed ouer with glew, their feathers drie: and so is he seruiceable.

Page 112-113

These two bands of Hargabuzers set to encounter the enemy on their broad sides, the fronts discharge & turn their faces, retyring betwixt the other, which aduance in like maner for their rescue. These retire and charge againe to seruice, by practicing the skirmish in this sort, you may bring bands of Archers to seruice, to the great anoying & discomfiting of the enemie.

These bands of Archers beeing brought to seruice by the Hargabuziers, although the hargabuziers bee accompted to be of greater force then they bee of, and the Archers not now so much used in the field as they haue bin, yet hauing light shaftes made to shot 12. or 14. scoore, may keepe their place, shooting al together ouer the heads of the hargabuziers, to the gauling, blemishing, and great annoy of the enemie.

List of arrow wounds suffered by US soldiers, late 19th century

Here is a rare opportunity to get hard numbers of the lethality of arrow wounds. This book is A Report of Surgical Cases Treated in the Army of the United States from 1865 to 1871. In reports of 83 arrow wounds, 26 are fatal, or 31%. Excluding men who suffered multiple wounds, 21 out of 76 died, or 27%. Most of the fatalities occurred when “…the three great cavities, or the larger bones or joints were involved…”.

On page 86 there is an analytic review of gunshot wounds. At a high level, there is an 38% fatality rate.

I will look through later and try to exclude cases of multiple wounds, pistol wounds, suicides, accidents, etc. Since the soldiers are not using muskets by this period, the data is not entirely relevant. I will seek sources on musket lethality elsewhere as well.

Pequot War: John Mason’s Special Providences

More anecdotes from the Pequot Wars, these from John Mason’s account.

The first demonstrates the low penetrating power of arrows:

I shall mention two or three special Providences that GOD was pleased to vouch safe to Particular Men; viz.two Men, being one Man’s Servants, namely, John Dier and Thomas Stiles, were both of them Shot in the Knots of their Handkerchiefs, being about their Necks, and received no Hurt. Lieutenant Seeley was Shot in the Eyebrow with a flat headed Arrow, the Point turning downwards: I pulled it out my self. Lieutenant Bull had an Arrow Shot into a hard piece of Cheese, having no other Defence : Which may verify the old Saying,
A little Armour would serve if a Man knew where to place it. Many such Providences happened ; some respecting my self ; but since there is none that Witness to them, I shall forbear to mention them.

The second, the power of a musket:

And as we Marched, there were two Indians standing upon a Hill jeering and reviling of us : Mr. Thomas Stanton our Interpreter, Marching at Liberty, desired to make a Shot at them; the Captain demanding of the Indians, What they were? Who said, They were Murtherers: Then the said Stanton having leave, let fly, Shot one of them through both his Thighs; which was to our Wonderment, it being at such a vast distance.

Full text here:

Pequot War: John Underhill’s Landing on Block Island

The Pequot War was a series of small battles fought between the English colonists of New England and the Pequot tribe, 1636-1638. Two of the English captains John Mason and John Underhill, would later write accounts of the war. Of the two, Underhill’s is the more readable and informative.

This section tells of the English militia’s landing at Block Island, 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. Note the line, wee gave fire upon them, they finding our bullets to out-reach their arrowes, they fled before us.

But some knowing them for the generality to be a warlike nation, a people that spend most of their time in the studie of warlike policy were not perswaded that they would upon so slender termes forsake the Island, but rather suspected they might lye behind a banke, much like the forme of a Baracado: my selfe with others rode with a Shallop made towards the shore, having in the Boat a dozen armed souldiers drawing neere to the place of landing, the number that rose from behind the Barracado, were betweene 50. or 60. able fighting men, men as straite as arrowes, very tall, and of active bodyes, having their arrowes nockt, they drew neere to the water side, and let flie at the souldiers, as though they had meant to have made an end of us all in a moment; they shot a young Gentleman in the necke thorow a coller for stiffenesse, as if it had beene an oaken boord, and entered his flesh a good depth; my selfe received an arrow through my coate sleeve, a second against my Helmet on the forehead, so as if God in his providence had not moved the heart of my wife to perswade mee to carrie it along with me which I was unwilling to doe, I had beene slaine.

[Here Underhill goes on a long tanget about the treatment of women in the colonies]

But to the matter,the Arrowes flying thicke about us, wee made hast to the shore, but the suffe of the Sea being great, hindered us, so as wee could scarce discharge a Musket, but were forced to make hast to land : drawing neere the shore through the strength of wind, and the hollownesse of the Sea, wee durst not adventure to runne ashore, but were forced to wade up to the middle, but once having got up of our legges, wee gave fire upon them, they finding our bullets to out-reach their arrowes, they fled before us; in the meane while Colonell Hindecot made to the shore, and some of this number also repulsed him at his landing, but hurt none: wee thought they would stand it out with us, but they perceiving wee were in earnest, fled; and left their Wigwams or houses, and provision to the use of our souldiers : having set forth our Sentinels, and laid out our Pardues, wee betooke our selves to the guard, expecting hourely they would fall upon us; but they observed the old rule, ’tis good sleeping in a whole skin, and left us free from an alarum.

John Underhill’s full account of the war is available here:

A Brief Discourse by Humfrey Barwick- Modernized Transcription

Humfrey Barwick’s pamphlet, full title A Breefe Discourse, Concerning the force and effect of all manuall weapons of fire, and the disability of the Long Bowe or Archery, in respect of others of greater force now in vse, is the most important single source of information concerning the bow vs. musket issue. Sir Roger Williams touched on the issue only briefly. Sir John Smythe, a partisan for the retainment of the longbow, wrote a lengthy discourse,  but Smythe’s argument dealt more with the use of bows in ancient battles than contemporary realities. Barwick’s discourse was written particularly to expand on Williams’ arguments and to debunk Smythe.

Barwick was, like Williams, a veteran of the wars in France and the Low Countries. With years of experience in both the bow and the firearm, Barwick is well-qualified to speak on the subject. Barwick firmly takes the position that the musket is technically superior to the longbow, possessing greater range, accuracy and lethality.

Many modern scholars take it as a given that the longbow was superior in all three categories, and additionally that the bow was capable of a far greater rate of shot. They argue that the musket could only have replaced the bow for economic reasons. For example, a lack of quality wood to make bow staves, or musketeers being faster to train. Barwick thus present a major problem to the modern scholar who takes the economic position. The typical response is cite him out of necessity, but then ignore, disparage or outright lie about the content of his discourses.

The worst culprit of this is Thomas Esper, whose award-winning (!) paper, The Replacement of the Longbow by Firearms in the English Army, published 1965, has been cited uncritically in many papers dealing with early modern firearms since. Esper says that “Barwick did not claim that the harquebus had an accurate range greater than 8-10 yards” (lie), “Barwick constantly compared the weapons with a 12-yard range in mind,” (lie) and that Barwick’s argument against the bow “indicates a lack of understanding on aiming an arrow” (Esper thinks he knows better than a man who was raised shooting the longbow). Esper ultimately writes off Barwick as a prejudiced snob.

Esper could expect to get away with this in 1965, when Barwick’s discourses were not widely available. Bow Versus Gun, edited by Ernest Heath, which contained Smythe and Barwick’s discourses, was not published until 1976. Today, Barwick’s discourses are available to everyone with an internet connection.

the_norseman has transcribed and translated the first nine of Barwick’s discourses into modern English (the 10th-18th discourses dealing with miscellaneous military subjects, such as the training and accoutrements of footmen and plans for repelling a Spanish invasion). Click below:

Given that Elizabethan English is very hard to understand and that Humfrey Barwick was not a very good writer, I’ve decided to create a modern transcription or translation of his work. In short what you are getting here is not the original in all of its Elizabethan glory, but my modernisation. I realise this may disappoint some people, but consider that I am writing this to be a source for my online friends.

Baron Marbot’s Encounter with Mounted Archers at Dresden and Liepzig, 1813

Some people suppose that the only reason muskets replaced bows was the musket’s superior ability to penetrate armor. It is often suggested on various history and video game boards that a line of Napoleonic musketeers, lacking armor, would be annihilated by an equal number of archers, were the two ever to encounter one another. The theory goes that muskets, supposedly possessing inferior accuracy, rate of shot, and range relative to bows, wouldn’t stand a chance. Fortunately, there is no need to debate this on theoretical grounds because Napoleonic troops, did, in fact, have at least one major encounter with archers.

The following passages come from The Memoirs of General the Baron de Marbot. Marbot was an officer of cavalry in Napoleon’s army. In his account of the events before and during the Battle at Liepzig, 1813, Marbot recounts the oddity of men armed with only bows and arrows trying to defeat soldiers armed with musket, lance and saber.

In this first passage, Napoleon’s army is still camped around Dresden when they are attacked by 60,000 Russians, including many mounted archers. Marbot’s description of the bow’s ineffectiveness stand on their own:

During our stay on the plateau of Pilnitz, the enemy, and above all the Russians, received many reinforcements, the main one, led by General Benningsen was of not less than 60,000 men, and was composed of the corps of Doctoroff and Tolstoï and the reserve of Prince Labanoff. This reserve came from beyond Moscow and included in its ranks a large number of Tartars and Baskirs, armed only with bows and arrows.

I have never understood with what aim the Russian government brought from so far and at such great expense these masses of irregular cavalry, who having neither sabres nor lances nor any kind of firearm, were unable to stand up against trained soldiers, and served only to strip the countryside and starve the regular forces, which alone were capable of resisting a European enemy. Our soldiers were not in the least alarmed at the sight of these semi-barbarous Asiatics, whom they nick-named cupids, because of their bows and arrows.

Nevertheless, these newcomers, who did not yet know the French, had been so indoctrinated by their leaders, almost as ignorant as themselves, that they expected to see us take flight at their approach; and so they could not wait to attack us. From the very day of their arrival in sight of our troops they launched themselves in swarms against them, but having been everywhere repulsed by gunfire, the Baskirs left a great number of dead on the ground.

These losses far from calming their frenzy, seemed to excite them still more, for without any order and in all directions, they buzzed around us like a swarm of wasps, flying all over the place and being very hard to catch, but when our cavalry did catch them they effected a fearful massacre, our lances and sabres being immensely superior to their bows and arrows.

Napoleon, amused by the sight of the “cupids”, asked Marbot to capture some so that he could meet them. Marbot did so in an ambush, capturing thirty and killing many more. Napoleon rewarded with the title Baron.

Marbot would encounter horse archers yet again at Liepzig:

Facing a terrible cannonade, and continual attacks, the French line remained steadfastly in position. Towards our left, Marshal Macdonald and General Sébastiani were holding the ground between Probstheyda and Stötteritz, in spite of numerous attacks by Klenau’s Austrians and the Russians of Doctoroff, when they were assailed by a charge of more than 20,000 Cossacks and Baskirs, the efforts of the latter being directed mainly at Sébastiani’s cavalry.

With much shouting, these barbarians rapidly surrounded our squadrons, against which they launched thousands of arrows which did very little damage because the Baskirs, being entirely irregulars, do not know how to form up in ranks and they go about in a mob like a flock of sheep, with the result that the riders cannot shoot horizontally without wounding or killing their comrades who are in front of them, but shoot their arrows into the air to describe an arc which will allow them to descend on the enemy. This system does not permit any accurate aim, and nine tenths of the arrows miss their target. Those that do arrive have used up in their ascent the impulse given to them by the bow, and fall only under their own weight, which is very small, so that they do not as a rule inflict any serious injuries. In fact the Baskirs, having no other arms, are undoubtedly the world’s least dangerous troops.

However, since they attacked us in swarms, and the more one killed of these wasps, the more seemed to arrive, the huge number of arrows which they discharged into the air of necessity caused a few dangerous wounds. Thus, one of my finest N.C.O.s. by the name of Meslin had his body pierced by an arrow which entered his chest and emerged at his back. The brave fellow, taking two hands, broke the arrow and pulled out the remaining part, but this did not save him, for he died a few moments later. This is the only example which I can remember of death being caused by a Baskir arrow, but I had several men and horses hit, and was myself wounded by this ridiculous weapon.

I had my sabre in my hand, and I was giving orders to an officer, when, on raising my arm to indicate the point to which he was to go, I felt my sabre encounter a strange resistance and was aware of a slight pain in my right thigh, in which was embedded for about an inch, a four foot arrow* which in the heat of battle I had not felt. I had it extracted by Dr.Parot and put in one of the boxes in the regimental ambulance, intending to keep it as a memento; but unfortunately it got lost.

You will understand that for such a minor injury I was not going to leave the regiment, particularly at such a critical time…

Marbot’s comment that the archers were “the world’s least dangerous troops” echos Sir Roger William’s description of bowmen as “the worst shot vsed in these days” more than two centuries earlier. The low lethality of wounds inflicted by arrows is consistent with other accounts.

*Tartar arrows are long, but not four feet long. Marbot may be forgiven for overestimating the size of an arrow sticking out of his thigh.