20 Things Everybody Gets Wrong About the Middle Ages

The Battle of Agincourt (1415), from the Chroniques d’Enguerrand de Monstrelet (c. early 15th century). Wikimedia Commons.

20. Medieval archers did not draw their arrows from a quiver on their backs and would often not wear shoes whilst shooting.

Despite the frequent appearance of archers in modern media – from Hawkeye in The Avengers to Legolas in The Lord of the Rings – the commonplace positioning of the quiver is widely incorrect. Contrary to popular belief, archers on foot rarely, if ever, drew arrows from their back. The movement was clumsy, only suitable for shooting from horseback, with medieval archers instead preferring to draw from a quiver attached to their belts. Medieval archers were also known to often fire barefoot. Without the rubber grip afforded by modern shoes, the approximately 100 lbs draw weight of a longbow required the active use of one’s toes to ensure a firm, stable footing.

Another Middle Age myth stemming from archery is the origin of the “V” sign, with the so-called “two-fingered salute” widely believed to originate from French practice of removing the index and middle fingers of captured English archers to prevent them from using longbows. There is no evidence to support this claim whatsoever, whilst operating a medieval longbow actually only demands three fingers hence making the removal of two inconsequential and counterproductive. In fact, captured common soldiers were typically executed, possessing no ransom value, and the first recorded use of the sign dates to just 1901.