On the one hand, Crecy, Neville's Cross and La Roche-Derrien were all almost exclusively victories won by longbowmen. On the other hand, it must be very annoying to have a peasant kill you, and from 200 yards away at that, not to mention that you probably owe to him the victory and that you aren't dead/captured by the French.

So how did the English nobility feel about their longbowmen?

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    Also, most bowmen were yeomen (land owners), not peasants. Aug 7, 2014 at 15:59
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    I'm sure they didn't think of them as social equals. I'm sure they also thought of them as valuable military assets and good comrades in the field, as evidenced by the care taken to preserve them in battles. They were not expendable.
    – Oldcat
    Aug 7, 2014 at 18:02
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    The English Army was not broken into Knights and Longbow men but a collection of various bands each made of Knights and longbow men I think the question somewhat makes an arbitrary breakdown which it's at odds with the Actual organisation, the army was a collection of companies,retinues, ("teams" if you will) were there was somewhat of a bond between the Knights and the Longbow men.
    – pugsville
    Aug 8, 2014 at 6:46
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    It got kind of overwhelming, so I've deleted the comments not directly discussing this specific question. If people still want to discuss the topicality of this kind of question, please bring it up in meta.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 8, 2014 at 7:31
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    @FelixGoldberg: As I have learned from similar experience, you must take seriously the guidance on all sites that comments are temporary - anything intended to add permanent value to question must be in an answer or an edit to the question, as appropriate. Aug 8, 2014 at 22:47

2 Answers 2


Short Answer

How the English nobility felt about their longbowmen can mostly only be inferred from how they were treated rather than specific statements made about them by nobles. Ultimately, military commanders want to win battles: longbowmen were, for several hundred years, an effective means of achieving this. Social equals they were not, but valued comrades they certainly were. The evidence we have for the way they were treated bears this out.

The actions of both King Edward III and his son Edward the Black Prince would indicate that longbowmen were highly valued, though this does not automatically mean respect. During his reign, Edward III pardoned thousands of longbowmen for often violent crimes. Significantly, many of these pardons were at the request of senior nobles, making use of the king's patronage.


In his 2015 master's thesis The Archer’s Tale: An Examination of English Archers during the Hundred Years War and their Impact on Warfare and Society (pdf), Stephen Scott Taliaferro notes that:

The 1360 pardons list also records the names of the captains who requested the pardon on behalf of their retainers. These men represented the military elite of England and included the Prince of Wales, John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, the Earl of Northampton, and the Earl of Warwick among others. That such powerful men would request pardons from the king on behalf of archers, demonstrates the respect, or at least the desperation at the time to obtain that skill set...

This does not mean, of course, that these nobles suddenly regarded all archers as their social equals, but it does mean that longbowmen were a long way from being nameless cannon-fodder.

The Black Prince had his own elite guard of archers, and the Prince went to the time and trouble to sign a special pass for an archer by the name of William Jauderel, a descendant of Peter Jauderel who had served under Edward I. The pass reads:

Know all that we, the Prince of Wales, have given leave on the day of the date of this instrument, to William Jauderel, one of our archers, to go to England. In witness of this we have caused our seal to be placed on this bill. Given at Bordeaux 16th of December, in the year of grace 1355.

Source: Robert Hardy, Longbow: A Social and Military History

For a soldier to be named is a step up; to merit the personal attention of the then heir to throne signifies a not insignificant degree of regard. Also worth noting are the careers of the likes of Robert Knolles and John Hawkwood; both were archers who were knighted. Hawkwood even took as his second wife the illegitimate daughter Bernabò Visconti, Lord of Milan.

Perhaps the closest we have to contemporary spoken opinion (as suggested by Mark C. Wallace's comment) comes from Geoffrey the Baker's Chronicon Angliae temporibus Edwardi II et Edwardi III which records a speech supposedly given by the Black Prince to his archers before the Battle of Poitiers in September 1356.

Geoffrey the Baker was not actually at Poitiers but he was "able to describe [it] in great detail, apparently from what he was told by the prince's commanders."

You have often given me good proof of your courage and your loyalty. In many fierce tempests of war you have shown that you are not degenerate sons, but of the same blood as those men under the leadership of my father and my ancestors as kings of England found no task impossible, no place forbiddingly impassable, no mountain too high to climb, no tower too strong to capture, no army unbeatable, no armed enemy formidable.

Source: The Chronicle of Geoffrey Le Baker of Swinbrook (trans: David Preest)

There is undoubtedly a certain amount of pre-battle hype here, and Geoffrey continues with the inevitable appeal to "honor and love of your country" and the prospect of "spoils", and then

So follow the standards, with mind and body concentrated on the commands of your leaders, so that, if life and triumph comes our way, we may continue in that firm friendship which always wants the same and scorns the same. But if jealous fortune, which God forbid, should propel us down the final road of all flesh during the task which lies before us, it is not imprisonments awaiting the wicked which will dishonor your names. No, all of you together with me and with these noblemen, my companions, would drink from the same cup.

This passage is quoted by Taliaferro. He prefaces the cited text with

Despite the obvious threat to the military supremacy of the aristocracy that archers posed, the English military community evolved out of necessity to include archers. As archers became the lynchpin of the English tactical system, the attitudes of the English aristocracy toward archers softened.

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    This is a great answer with an excellent paper to boot, thank you. Off topic but I always found it so interesting that US military academy candidates have to write papers on historical investigations and that these papers are available online. Do other countries do the same? Mar 1, 2019 at 20:04
  • @EvilWashingMachine I've seen quite a few of these papers (usually master's) from US military academies on a wide range of historical periods and topics (not just military) - but never any non-US ones. I might do some googling on that, out of curiosity... Mar 2, 2019 at 0:31

The longbow-men of England were actually yeomen, that is they were landowning men belonging to the broader social class of the peasantry. The yeoman class had been created to fix a problem in the feudal system that stated that a peasant could not bear arms. In medieval England all land was in fact owned by the Crown. The king or queen then allowed the heraldic nobility(i.e. those that had papers or patents of nobility and a crest) to get the income from a certain tract of land and live in the castle or keep on that land. These castles were supported by villages of peasants (serfs) that could not own land, horses, or housing, but which were required to work the lord's land and give over in rent what could amount to 95% of their harvest. Rent was at this time not commonly paid in coin but in foodstuffs and livestock. Some of the knights actually thought they owned those yeomen that they brought with them which in fact they did not. Yeomen were, and are, freemen and this fact made them hard to take on the battlefield. Most knights barely tolerated these men considering them "cannon fodder" or expendable and beneath their notice. Since a yeoman longbow-man could not become a squire or a knight. the knights of England considered them to be "base, uncouth, and beneath notice" as one article I read online stated.As for the English army being in various bands this was in fact the case as the knights actually brought men-at-arms with them. These men were of the "common" class and although valued were angrily punished if a knight thought one of the men at arms was getting glory that should be his. Most knights did not know the longbow-man's names or families, nor did they wish to as longbow-men sat "below the salt" a term of the day that meant the man was a peasant. Though in later wars the longbow-men were protected at first the nobles of England considered them little more than a way to take out an enemy knight without risking their own noble skins.

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    Sources would significantly improve this answer - along with details such as when events happened.
    – MCW
    Feb 25, 2015 at 18:13
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    Have mercy on our eyes and give us some paragraph breaks too :)
    – two sheds
    Feb 25, 2015 at 18:31
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    "one article I read online" ... which article was that. Welcome to History, but you'll find that this exchange has some 'requirements' not seen on some of the others. One is sources. Have them, and list them.
    – CGCampbell
    Feb 25, 2015 at 18:36
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    I wouldn't go so far as a "requirement", but you'll find your haul of upvotes much greater when you provide links (and formatting).
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 25, 2015 at 19:42
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    Sorry about the formatting problems I am new at this I'll keep all this in mind thanks.--Chris Mar 4, 2015 at 5:50

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