For at least 800 years the legend of Robin Hood has been enhanced and embellished by minstrels and story-tellers. With the start of the recent BBC TV series; it came as no surprise to critics; that to appeal to a modern young audience, today’s writers had to come-up with a few new twists for their version of the ancient tale.
But as the new series unfolded, it soon became apparent that no element of the legend was safe. In particular, the BBC’s Robin Hood chose not to use a traditional English bow made from the finest Yew, but what appeared initially to be a Middle Eastern recurved bow constructed from composite materials.
This of course sent shock-waves through the English archery clubs and federations up and down the country who look upon Robin Hood as their ‘patron saint.’
The directors have certainly made the archery shots completely unrealistic and in some cases spectacularly ridiculous. But what followed on many web sites and forums was an interesting debate on Jonas Armstrong’s choice of bow. Initially it was believed that Jonas; as Robin Hood, carried this type of bow, as a respect for his former Saracen enemy during the third Crusade with King Richard the Lionheart. In the first series he explains to Luke Scarlet, the younger brother of Will, that the Saracen bow is curved that way to give more power to a smaller weapon. But was it a Saracen bow?
A recurve bow is defined as having tips curving away from the archer. The recurve bow's bent limbs have a longer draw length than an equivalent straight-limbed bow, giving a more acceleration to the projectile and less hand shock. But Recurved limbs also put greater strain on the materials used to make the bow and this is what started quite an interesting internet debate.
Below is just a small sample:
“The composite bow that Robin uses in the TV show requires the use of very strong glues. The strongest glues at that time were made from collagen which is a main protein of connective tissue in animals. The collagen in our own skin, for example, helps bind it and keep it supple. If you boil up animal hide, sinew or parts of certain fish you can scoop of the collagen and get different types of hide glue, sinew glue and fish glue respectively. Although as strong as modern synthetic glues the biggest weakness for this type of glue is that it takes a long time to dry because any moisture in the glue will break down the bonds that hold it. And worse, once dry, if it gets wet the glue will begin to dissolve again. This is why composite bows were common in warm, dry climates but weren't used in wetter climates, like England. So no, if Robin Hood were real he wouldn't have used a composite "Saracen" bow. Or at least not for very long.”
“It's not a Saracen bow. It's an ancient Hungarian recurved bow.The Hungarian fighters used it 1500 years ago."Ab saggittae ungarorum, libera nos Domine"- God save us from the Hungarian's bows- said the prayer of the Middle Ages, which is familiar to everyone, who ever studied the tactics of the "raider" Hungarians.
This new version filmed in Hungary. That's why this bow is in the series.”
“It is indeed a Hungarian bow, and looks like it was made by either Kassai or Grozer, both fine Hungarian bowyers making traditional style bows. Of the two, Grozer is, I think, the best - his finest bows are made using authentic materials and designs. They are incredible testaments to engineering knowledge that dates back more than 2 millennia. I too saw the article on the web stating that the wet climate would cause the glue used to construct the bow would fail - This is not a logical argument. Firstly, the weak point of any medieval bow is the bow string - contemporary English bow strings were made from nettle or flax fiber, and would stretch when wet. Secondly, the glue (made from the swim bladders of freshwater fish) unlike hide or sinew glue, cures as it dries. This makes it far less susceptible to moisture, but for added protection the bow limbs were covered with fish/snake skin or birch bark. Thirdly, and probably most convincingly, the horn/wood/sinew composite bow was used to great effect by Ghengis Kahn across a vast and climatically diverse area - it was never a weapon limited to arid regions.”
“This type of bow is often called a "horse bow”. Developed by the Mongols, it was used on horseback (hence the smaller size). Despite its small size it packs incredible power. This is because of its shape, and materials used in its construction. Wet weather is not a problem; ancient archers (much more ancient than the middle ages) covered these bows with a layer of birch bark to protect them from the elements. These bow easily pierced the plate armor of Roman or Chinese soldiers. This weapon was the reason Genghis Kahn was able to rule the largest empire known to man.”
The opening titles of the BBC’s Robin Hood series declares that deep in the heart of England lies the legend of Robin Hood.
But at the heart of the ancient legend of Robin Hood, is his traditional prowess with an English bow; perhaps it would have been better if the BBC had left this vital element of the story alone.
What do you think?