This book is handsome enough to adorn any coffee table, but it's much more than a glossy tribute to one of history's most feared and famous weapons - the longbow. Actor Robert Hardy - a key player behind the important, and controversial, technical analysis of the powerful bow staves recovered from the wreck of the Tudor warship Mary Rose - contributes several feisty chapters, but the bulk of this substantial book is the work of Dr Matthew Strickland, a lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Glasgow.
Dr Strickland is a leading authority on Medieval warfare, and he uses his knowledge to place the longbow squarely within its broad historical context. He provides a scholarly but readable account of the role of archery (including the crossbow and composite bows) from Hastings to the Armada. En route, 'The Great Warbow' tackles not only the epic set-piece encounters of the Hundred Years War, but all manner of lesser battles and skirmishes fought from Scotland to Portugal. In addition, it includes coverage of such relevant themes as hunting, armour, castles and the rise of gunpowder weapons.
From start to finish, the combination of narrative and analysis is based upon an intimate acquaintance with the sources, including many chronicles that have never been published in English. This is bolstered by a generous selection of well-reproduced and thoughtfully-captioned illustrations. There is also enough technical data to support the book's conclusions, although this is not stretched beyond its limits simply to prove a point.
The end result is not only a comprehensive account of the capabilities and limitations of the longbow, and the armies who both used it and faced it, but also what is now perhaps the best English-language overview of Medieval European warfare in general.