Jonas Armstrong and his Bow

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?


Clement Glen said...

Jonas Armstrong
BBC's Robin Hood

WoodsyLadyM said...

So why would he use a Hungarian bow, even if it is authentic? He's still supposed to be in England even if the series is filmed in Hungary. Among the many plot holes this series has this is one of the ones that's irked me most.

Also isn't there a scene in one of the earlier episodes where a local blacksmith is making his bows? Would it be historically realistic that a "blacksmith" would make any kind of bow, much less a Hungarian one? The rapid fire arrows and sound effects also bug me no end.

All that being said, I've been rewatching the 1st season and if you don't take it too seriously it's ok to watch.

Mike Giddens said...

Nothing seems right with this new look Robin Hood, compere this sheriff with the marvelous Nicolas Grace from Robin of Sherwood, he was so much better , Lady Marion (Judy Trot)she too was wonderfull, the new Tuck dose not work for me either . Robin Hood and the traditional longbow, this is how it should be. I for one would not want to follow Jonas Armstrong into battle or anywhere else for that matter.with all the high production vallues at their fingertips they still cant get it right, i hope and pey that Ridley Scotts "Robin Hood" will be great, they have the chance to do it right . Lets hope they dont waste it.

WoodsyLadyM said...

It does pale in comparison to Robin of Sherwood and almost any other version of Robin Hood out there, including Costner's version. The trick is not to take it too seriously. What can you expect from a version that kills off one of the most central characters to the legend?

Jonas Armstrong is also planning to leave at the end of the 3rd season but in spite of that the producers are planning a 4th season. Not much point in watching a Robin Hood series with no Robin Hood. My pet theory is that the Gisbourne character, played by Richard Armitage, will reform and replace RH. Armitage is the most attractive thing about the whole sorry mess.

I also have high hopes for Ridley Scott's version. With Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, and Vanessa Redgrave it will be hard to go wrong. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Clement Glen said...

I think you both know my thoughts on this series WoodsyLadyM and Herns son.

The BBC went out of there way to make the series PC and appeal to the younger generation. But in the final analysis it turned into what can only be described as looking like a cheap computer game, with some of the levels missing!

Earlier productions; the magnificent Robin of Sherwood, Adventures of Robin Hood, Story of Robin Hood all had something in common. The writers and producers respected the legend and took the ancient tales seriously.

The BBC in their eagerness to modernise the tales have not and jetissoned vital ingrediants, leaving the series a shadow of what they could have achieved.

WoodsyLadyM said...

Clement, I'm still amazed at some of the dreck recently put out by the BBC. I grew up watching such wonderful BBC productions on Masterpiece Theatre so I was astounded when I first watched the current version of RH. At least we can watch the older versions on DVD.

Wonderful blog by the way. I didn't realize until recently that you also wrote on other aspects of the legend besides the Disney movie. I'll come by more often.

Clement Glen said...

Please do WoodsyLadyM....

You are more-than welcome!

Neil said...

I do agree with WoodsyLadyM with the hope of the Ridley Scott Robin Hood film with Russell Crowe which is reportedly scheduled to be made being a really good film although I think that Russell Crowe may well be too old for the part - and dare I say it - maybe too heavy. This Blog does focus on the 1952 Disney film because it seemed to perfectly fit the sets and stories. I dont know of a later film that came anywhere near it.

WoodsyLadyM said...

As far as Crowe being out of shape I guess you haven't seen recent videos of him. Let me tell you he is fine shape. He's lost weight and cut his hair.

As far as being too old, well why not have an older Robin Hood? Is Cate Blanchet too old to play Marian. In the upcoming film I believe she will play a widow. We all get old and die so again why not an older Robin Hood? Life and movies are not just for the young.

Mike Giddens said...

I agree WoodsyLady, i think Crow will do the legend justice, he throws himself wholehartedly into every part he plays, he is very intence , rather like Brando, if he feels its not right he will say so.he loves working with Ridly Scott i know that.

Clement Glen said...

It will be interesting to see if they use the familiar story of 'Richard on Crusade-John cruely takes over the country-Robin fights for the King etc.

I have heard there is a twist in the new film, but how much of a new angle will they put on it??

WoodsyLadyM said...

Well they had originally planned to have Crowe play the Sheriff of Nottingham as a good guy but they nixed that. He's playing Robin Hood, perhaps along traditional lines, just a little older.

At this point, I don't care how they do it, as long as the final product is a good, solid movie that RH devotees will like. If it's a blockbuster, even better.

Anonymous said...

I for one love the show.. I found this Thread by trying to find out what kind of bow Jonas Armstrong uses in the show so I myself can buy one..I've always wanted a bow and I really like the one he uses.

Anna Moore said...

Personally, I love this show, but I'm not obsessed with the details of it so I don't care that much. I know that a Hungarian of Saracen bow may been unrealistic in Robin Hoods conditions, but it is still a gorgeous bow. My dad makes these sort of things for a hobby, and I've already commissioned one.
But really? Its just television, its not really supposed to be historically accurate every inch of the way. And also, I don't really thing the average person in the "younger generation" is going to care what type of bow he uses, simply because they wouldn't know the difference. I would just say to let it be, and be happy that it is what it is.

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Anonymous said...

I personally like the bow and I think its an interesting twist on the legend

Anonymous said...

Robin's bow IS a Grozer's bow (you can see clearly his trademark on a bow on "Lardner's Ring" episode)as well as the bow used by Gisborne to shoot at the King in the Holy Land.
I think BBC choose to use this different bow instead the classic English longbow, with the "excuse" that Robin finds his bow during the Crusade, if they would like to follow the legends being in Hungary for filming would not be a problem, Grozer is making amazing longbows as well. Still, this is a great bow and very less expensive than many others!

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