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The Westminster Abbey Arrow 

The first phase of most medieval battles was a missile bombardment from both sides in order to soften-up or provoke the enemy to attack.  These arrowstorms could be devastating as at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 where many of indentured Welsh archers would have fought.  

A contemporary chronicler wrote of the arrowstorm from Hotspur’s archers...


“The men on the King’s (Henry IV) side fell as fast as leaves fall in autumn after a hoar-frost”


Initially arrows designed to travel as far as possible (whilst still being effective) were shot, these were called bearing arrows. An arrow that was discovered in the roof of Westminster Abbey during maintenance over a century ago was likely to have been of this type.  This arrow is medieval, not Tudor (as the Mary Rose arrows are but share many similarities).  The nock is reinforced with a delicate sliver of horn and a similar compound has been applied over the feather bindings like so many of the Mary Rose arrows.  The 29” (approx) shaft has been tapered to a slim nock and perhaps made of aspen although Dr. Hardy and Dr. Pratt were unable to definitively identify the wood when they carried out the most in-depth investigation of the arrow to date.  Warbow Wales' first-hand observation of the arrow showed that no discernible annual growth rings are apparent, as with ash (which is surprising as Hardy and Strickland, in The Great Warbow, suggest it is indeed of ash?).  This made birch another a possible candidate. To ensure enough forward of centre the widest part of the shaft, 11.2mm starts 1/3rd of the way back from the base of the arrowhead. This tapers to a little over 7.5 mm at the base of the nock. The arrow head socket is 11 mm in diameter.  The witness marks on the shaft shows the feathers were a little over 7" and bound on by fine tread, likely to have been silk, at around 1/4" a turn.  The overall weight is a tad over 43g but an amount must be added for the feathers, damaged arrowhead and possible desiccation over time.

                                                                         Images Copyright of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey


The Westminster Abbey arrowhead.  At some point it has hit something hard and judging by the chipped rather than deformed, point is fitted with hardened barbs.  It was found placed up in the turret of Henry V's Chantry over a century ago during renovation work.  It precise date is unknown but it cannot be later than 1437 as that was the completion date of its location.  Hector Cole has stated the head was made without quickly, resulting in un-even barbs that are, no doubt just as effective.

Traces of the thick compound on the shaftment can be seen with it's distinctive ox-blood colour that may be from iron oxide in the compound.  The horn sliver is gone and the shaft has started to split along the grain.  This may indicate that the place for the horn sliver was cut and not sawn in manufacture.  

The precise age of the arrow is not known as no carbon dating has been undertaken to date.  

War Arrows - The Westminster Abbey Arrow

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