The Bodkin question

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The Bodkin question

Postby Dai D » 04 Sep 2006 12:57

Could they pierce plate armour or not? Juliet Barker says they could, but I think they look to thin to pierce plate. Was there a more suitable anti-armour arrow head?
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Postby admin » 04 Sep 2006 13:38

The long-thin bodkins were for penetrating mail and padded armour probably - they are more common in the 13th to early-14thC. In the later 14th and 15thC the shorter bodkin became more prevalent.
There are also records to the purchase of well hardened steel bodkins.
This suggests something: that bodkins changed as armour did, and that they needed to be hardened to penetrate something.
It is a subject that is massively debated on numerous forums and by many historians and military people. They have even done lots of tests at the Royal Armouries and elsewhere, all with controversial and varying results!
My current view, is that generally a longbow arrow (from a 140lb draw weight Mary Rose longbow, with a heavy arrow with hardened bodkin) will not generally go through a piece of armour like a breastplate or a helmet. However, there was a lot of variation in the composition of plate armour - some being pig iron, some being hardened carbon steel and everything in between. In addition to this, there is a lot of variation in thickness between individual pieces - a helmet might be 4mm thick at the top, but a vambrace or greave might only be 0.8mm in places...
I think that at long range (175yards+) men-at-arms were pretty safe. The closer they got the more danger they would be in from arrows, and at medium and close range there was a reasonably chance that an arrow might pass between plates, go into mail or possible penetrate thinner plates of the harness. With the shear volume of arrows, due to the longbow's high rate of fire, the chances of getting wounded somehow would have increased.
So I think a longbowman can wound a man in full plate, if the conditions are favourable, but lots of men-at-arms probably got hit by several arrows while advancing and were perfectly unscathed.

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