Robert Barret – The Theorike and Practike of Moderne VVarres, 1598

Barret is another military writer critical of “inueterate conceirers of bowes and blacke billes”. Barret asserts the superiority of the firearm over the bow, the corselet over the jack, and the pike over the bill (halberd). I have skipped over the sections dealing with the bill and jack.
Pages 2-3

You haue touched many pointes vnder a few termes, but (Captaine) all this and much more will hardly perswade our rurall sort; and I thinke many of vs Gentlemen not farre better minded: for in executing her Maiesties commands, for trayning our men, prouiding of armour, I heare many say, what neede so much a do, and great charge in Calliuer, Musket, Pyke and Corselet? our auncestors won many battels with bowes, blacke Billes, and Iackes. But what thinke you of that?


Sir, then was then, and now is now; the wars are much altered since the fierie weapons first came vp: the Cannon, the Musket, the Caliuer and Pistoll. Although some haue attempted stifly to maintaine the sufficiencie of Bowes, yet daily experience doth and will shew vs the contrarie. And for that their reasons haue bene answered by others, I leaue at this instant to speake thereof.


Why, do you not like of our old archerie of England?


I do not altogether disalow them; true it is, they may serue to some sorts of seruice, but to no such effect as any of the fierie weapons.


Will not a thousand bowes handled by good bowmen, do as good seruice, as a thousand hargubuze or muskets, especially amongst horsemen?


No, were there such bowmen as were in the old time, yet could there be no comparison.


Your reasons.


First, you must confesse that one of your best Archers can hardly shoot any good sheffe arrow aboue twelue score off, to performe any great execution, except vpon a naked man, or horse. A good Calliuer charged with good powder and bullet, and discharged at point blanck by any reasonable shot, will, at that distance, performe afar better execution, yea, to passe any armour, except it be of prooffe, & much more neare the marke then your Archer shal: And the said Calliuer at randon will reach & performe twentie, or foure and twentie score off, whereunto you haue few archers will come neare. And if you reply, that a good archer will shoot many shots to one; Truly no, your archer shall hardly get one in fiue of a ready shot, nay happely scarce one; besides, considering the execution of the one and the other, there is great oddes, and no comparison at all.


But our bowmen may shoot by vollies, as thicke as hayle in the ayre.


They may shoot thicke, but to small performance, except (as I said) vpon naked men or horse. But should there be led but eight hundred perfect hargubu∣ziers, or sixe hundred good musketiers against your thousand bowmen, I thinke your bowmen would be forced to forsake their ground, all premisses considered: and moreouer a vollie of musket or hargubuze goeth with more terrour, fury, and execution, then doth your vollie of arrowes. And againe, against a resolute troupe of horse, either Pistoletiers, Hargulatiers or Lanciers, they will stand lesse time (except they be well fronted with hedge, ditch or trench; or seconded with a strong stand of pikes,) then either Hargubuze or Musket, considering the execution of the one & the other. And what souldier is he, that commeth against a weapon wherein there is little hazard of life, which will not more resolutely charge, then against a weapon, whose execution he knoweth to be present death? Many more reasons might be alledged for the sufficiencie of the one, and the insufficiencie of the other, but others haue answered the same already, besides the proofe which dayly experience bringeth: and thus you heare mine opinion of your Bowes; desiring you (Gentlemen and others) not to conceiue sinisterly of me for this mine opinion, as not held of me for any dislike I haue of our old Archery of England: but that common experience hath made it most manifest in these our later warres: well wishing in my hart (had it bene Gods good will) that this infernall fierie engine had neuer bin found out. Then might we boldly haue compared (as our auncestors did) with the proudest Archers in the world.

But you must note this by the way, that the fierie shot, either on horsebacke, or foote, being not in hands of the skilfull, may do vnto themselues more hurt then good: wherefore the same is often to be practised, that men may grow perfect and skilfull therein.

Pages 4-5

Your proportion I like well, but our countrey people are loth to be at the charges of so many costly weapons, although her Maiestie and her honorable priuie Counsell, haue giuen orders and directions for the same.


I perceiue it to be so, whereat I grieue not a litle, considering, how dangerous is the time; how malicious, strong, & politike is the enimie; how carelesse, yea senslesse are we; and how vnwilling to our owne weale? But should these your secure men once heare the Alarme of the enemie, (from the which God defend vs,) then should you soone see them alter their copies, chaunge their colours, forget their great bragges of blacke Bills and Bowes, and stand at their wittes ende what course to take; and should they yet recall their courage, and plucke vp their spirites, and dare to looke the enimie in the face, what guides (I pray) haue they? It is not enough to say downe with them, downe with them, Lay on Billes and Bowes: they should encounter strong squares of armed Pikes, gallant squadrons of Muskets, braue troupes of shot, conducted by skilfull Leaders: then should they soone see the difference of weapons; the danger of the one, the litle doubt of the other, with repentance (perhaps) for not taking them to other weapons in time. Thus much I speak to our inueterate conceirers of bowes and blacke billes.

Sir Roger William’s Briefe Discourse of VVarre: To prooue Bow-men the worst shot vsed in these days.

Sir Roger Williams was a celebrated veteran of the 16th century wars in the Low Countries. In his book Briefe Discourse of Warre, published 1590, one discourse is titled “To prooue Bow-men the worst shot vsed in these days.” In an earlier discourse, Williams details why he considers the musket to be the best shot, superior to the smaller caliver and arquebus. In that earlier discourse, Williams said that a musket was twice as good as a caliver. Williams begins this discourse by saying that he would prefer 500 musketeers to 1,500 archers.

William’s reasons for maligning archery are these:
1. After a few months in the field, archers lose the strength to draw their bows
2. Archers must step out from behind cover to shoot properly
3. Arrows shot at their maximum range of 240-280 yards are not very dangerous (in his earlier discourse Williams puts the maximum lethal range of a musket at 600 yards)

Just as important as what William’s objections are is what they are not. Williams does not make economic arguments, that bows and arrows are more expensive, or that quality bows were becoming rare, or that bowmen are more difficult to train, or any of the other dubious arguments put forth by the modern scholars who consider the bow technically superior to early-modern firearms.

Williams admits that bows can be effective against horses. This concurs with William Garrad’s The Arte of VVarre published 1591: “Our English bowes for want of shot and for necessitie, to gall and disorder a troope of horsemen, drawing neere to them, may serve to verie good purpose, but they must be garded with Pikes or shadowed with shot.” Garrad is not so hostile to archery, but neither soldier can name a use for archers but to injure the mounts of attacking cavalry. Williams points out how even this isn’t very useful. The archers would need to be in an entrenched position, which cavalry would be reluctant to charge, and the archers could be frightened away from their position by the superior firepower of musketeers.

Touching Bow men, I persuade my selfe fiue hundred musketers are more seruicable than fifteene hundred bow-men; from that rate to the greater numbers in all manner of seruices : my reasons are thus, among 5000. Bowmen, you shall not find 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. In defending or assayling any trenches, lightly they must discouer themselues to make faire shoots, where the others shot spoile them, by reason they discouer nothing of themselues vnlesse it be a litle through small holes. Few or none do any great hurt 12. or 14. score off, they are not to be compared vnto the other shoots to line battels, or to march, either in the wings of any battailes, or before, as we terme them from the Almaine phrase forlorne hope. Diuers wil say, they are good to spoile the horsmen; I do confesse it, if the horsemen come within their shootes, and can not charge them by reason of their trenches or guards of pikes. Lightly when the horsemen approach within twelue score, the trumpets sound the charge; if it be on shot, that lies where they cannot charge, they are ill conducted that leade any great troup of horsmen to charge trenches. Commonly the Cornets or Guydons charge one an other if there be any of both sides: if not, few horsemen well conducted, will charge either trenches, or battailes of footmen, vnlesse they see a faire entrie, or the footmen begin to shake, as good Captains wil soone perceiue. If they do charge, they will be sure to be well accompanied with small shot, which soone terrifieth bowmen, especially the musketters : besides the horsemen are all well armed, in such sort that Bowmen cannot hurt the men, let them say what they list, when the men are sure the arrowes will not pierce them, they wil be the valianter: although the horses be killed, and the Masters seruice be lost for that day, notwithstanding they thinke it better to be taken prisoner sixe times, than killed once, beside the munition that belongs vnto Bow-men, are not so commonly found in al places, especially arrowes: as powder is vnto the other shot. Also time and ill weather weakneth the bowes aswell as the men. in our ancient wars, our enemies vsed Crossebows, and such shoots; few, or any at all had the vfe of long bowes as we had; wherefore none could compare with vs for shot: but GOD forbid we should trie our bowes with their Muskets and Caliuers, without the like shot to answere them. I do not doubt but al, honorable and others, which haue serued in the Low Countries will say as I doo: notwithstanding some will contrarie it, although they neuer sawe the true triall of any of those weapons belonging eyther to horse or foote, alledging antiquitie without other reasons, saying, we carried armes before they were borne. Little do they think how Caesar ended all his great actions in lesse than twelve yeeres, by their reckoning none could prooue great Captaines that followed him, which began and ended in that time, as Duke D’alua said, the longer experted, the more perfect. True it is, long experience requires age, age without experience requires small Discipline. Therfore we are deceiued, to iudge men expert because they carried armes fortie yeeres, and neuer in action three yeeres, during their liues counting all together.

Some wil say, what discipline could there be seen in the actions of the Ntherlanders and France, counting them ciuil wars: touching the Ntherlanders, the worlde doth know their warres dured 23. yeeres, whithout anie peace, putting all together not 15 months. The wars of France dured 30 yeres: true it is they had often peace, & a long time together: wherefore it cannot be compared vnto the other; notwithstanding, in these actions were imployed all the brauest Nations of Europe, their greatest Captaines, enginers, and counsellors for warre.