How did armies keep their archers supplied with arrows while fighting?

How Did Armies Keep Archers Supplied With Arrows While Fighting?

How Did Armies Keep Archers Supplied With Arrows While Fighting?

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July 27 2015 7:04 AM

How Did Armies Keep Archers Supplied With Arrows While Fighting?

qur_150728_battleofcrecy
Battle of Crécy between the English and French in the Hundred Years’ War. From a illuminated manuscript of Jean Froissart’s Chronicles, 15th century.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Answer by Stephen Tempest, qualified amateur historian:

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During the Hundred Years' War, England had a centralized, state-controlled organization for manufacturing arrows in bulk. These were then issued as required to the soldiers on campaign.

In June 1413, for example, Henry V appointed Nicholas Mynot to be “keeper of the king's arrows,” based in the Tower of London. Mynot was responsible for making arrows, but the royal fletchers alone could not supply the total need, so additional orders were placed with outside suppliers. In August 1413, for example, London-based fletcher Stephen Seler was paid for 12,000 arrows.

We have some total figures available. In 1418, Henry V's government purchased 150,000 arrows; in 1421, it acquired nearly 500,000. Several years' supply would be stockpiled for a major campaign. Half a century earlier in 1360, Edward III's accounts reveal that 566,400 arrows (and 11,000 bows) were stored in the Tower of London alone.

Arrows were fletched with goose feathers, which were collected from the peasantry as a form of tax. In 1418-9 Henry V ordered his sheriffs (the royal officials in each county) to collect a total of 1.19 million goose feathers over the course of 10 months, to be delivered to the Tower of London by Michaelmas (on Sept. 29). A similar though smaller order, two years earlier, specified that six feathers should be taken from each goose.

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On campaign, arrows were bulk-packed in barrels and transported in wagons. Longbowmen might be issued with three sheaves of 24 arrows each to carry into combat, and during a long battle runners would be sent to bring more arrows from the wagons.

It's possible some archers brought their own arrows. People who were foresters or hunters (or bandits) in civilian life would be accustomed to supplying their own needs and might prefer arrows whose length and weight was better suited to the draw weight of their bow than the standard government-issue arrows. However, on a long campaign overseas it's unlikely they'd want to lug around huge numbers of arrows themselves.

It's possible arrows were salvaged after a battle. In 1343, the accounts of the Tower of London record that Robert Mildenhall “brought back” 7,000 arrows from a campaign in Brittany that had to be cleaned and re-bound into sheaves, taking 10 workers six days.

This centralized system was an innovation of the 14th century. Before then, soldiers were simply ordered to arrive at the feudal muster bringing their own weapons and equipment, at their own expense (or that of their lord).

I'm not familiar with how the Mongols arranged things, and accurate information seems difficult to find online.