The Tudor Livery Arrow

The English Warbow Society has introduced its own war arrow for distance shooting called The EWBS ‘Livery Arrow’. The idea behind its creation was to create a faithful a representation of a typical arrow found on the Mary Rose (MR).  Around 3,500 shafts have survived almost 500 years of immersion in the murky waters of the Solent. Due to the variation of arrows, it was decided that the most common design and materials would be adopted for the specification. In order to work out the detail an exemplar arrow was made by Steve Stratton and Mark Stretton.  Where detail was missing the blanks where filled by extrapolating information from secondary sources such as Roger Ascham’s ‘Toxophilus’ and the contemporary portrayals of war arrows.  The arrows found on the Tudor time capsule, the Mary Rose, were for use in a marine setting and how much this affected design is difficult to say.  The ‘Brown Bess’ musket of the Napoleonic era was slightly different in its naval variation with brass replacing iron in some areas, however the fundamentals remain the same.
The Shaft
Although many types of wood where employed to make MR arrow shafts, aspen or poplar were the most common (much to Ascham’s chagrin as he preferred ash for war arrows). Therefore, poplar was used for the exemplar. However, a variety of indigenous hardwoods were obviously acceptable, as shown by the wide range found onboard.  
The arrowhead
As mentioned, the standardisation of the external diameter of the arrowhead socket (as revealed via the shaft) is 1/2”. Therefore, the Livery Arrow must be armed with a 1/2” socket diameter hand-forged head. The style of the original heads used to arm the arrows is difficult to define with any degree of certainty as they have decayed over their lengthy emersion.  Lacking this primary evidence the exemplar arrow was armed with a contemporary Tudor bodkin style head, which seems apt. This style of head would have also fitted through the holes in the leather arrow bag spacers found on the MR. It is also the style of arrowhead depicted on a stunning carving of a sheaf of livery arrows on the Chantry Chapel of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales (
1486 - 1502) in Worcester cathedral.  It is unlikely that sailors of enemy ships would have been wearing armour so a heavy arrowhead would not have been necessary.  When sailors on rigging are removed, ships mobility is severely reduced and it becomes a sitting duck for either boarding or a racking from the cannon.
The bindings
As with the originals, the fletches must be bound to the shaft at a minimum of 4 turns per 1”, again defined via witness marks on the verdigris compound on the shaftment.  There has been much speculation as to the constituent ingredients of the compound but the copper does suggest an anti-herbicide and insecticide element.  As arrows were usually stockpiled for sometime before an imminent campaign or battle the nature of this becomes apparent, as does the extra longevity the binding would add.  The nock does not need to be reinforced with binding but is good practice. Silk was used on the MR arrows but linen is acceptable.  Interestingly records survive of Henry V ordering silk for this purpose for his Agincourt campaign.


Whether the verdigris compound is used is left to the discretion of the archer but beeswax, verdigris scraped from corroded copper and dammar resin dissolved in turpentine has been shown to work well.  The compound protected the bindings and may make the arrow more aerodynamic. The overall weight of the exemplar arrow was 62.3grams. This was arrived at using the most common dimensions and materials.

That's the rationale, no dogma or agenda but a design based on collected data.   Where unknown factors existed we used experimental archaeology and solid secondary evidence to provide an informed speculation. It should be noted that the exemplar Livery Arrow is a minimum specification and if the archer wishes to go longer, heavier or larger fletched etc. he/she is at liberty to do so.  The Livery Arrow has been shot from self-yew bows at our shoots, for the Tudor statutory distance of a furlong, on a number of occasions.  Why not make a couple and let us know how they perform?  Viewing a well-made arrow to this design ‘in the flesh’ one cannot fail to be struck by just how aesthetically ‘right’ they look.  It really is quite an evocative sight seeing these projectiles leaving a heavy yew bow at high velocities as they arc through their trajectories.

The Fletching

The length of the fletchings can be defined with some level of accuracy due to witness marks left on the verdigris compound of the shaftment. This was around 7 3/8” in length. Practical experimentation has also underpinned this dimension as it was found that this measurement provides usable fletches from most goose pinions. The height of the fletches are harder to quantify, again due to no originals surviving.   However, practical experimentation has shown 5/8” at the highest point provides adequate steerage and good arrow flight yet allows decent range. Contemporary (or near contemporary) secondary source data such as the Beauchamp Pageant illustrations, and again, Prince Arthur’s Chapel, show a triangular fletch with a square cut end rather than a trailing edge.  Ascham also refers to a similar shape. Practical experimentation found that an angled rear edge created unnecessary drag due to flapping and this action reduces range. The carvings on Prince Arthur’s Chapel clearly portray a sheaf of Tudor war arrows with small radiuses cut onto the feather. As such, this is also acceptable as long as the fletch is a minimum of 5/8” at the highest point. Turkey feathers are satisfactory for expediency although the originals are likely to have been largely from goose and swan.  It is possible that some peacock, heron or crane (still common at this time) feathers found their way onto a few arrows.  One can imagine feathers from a small number of these other species lurking around the fletchers workshop that were not allowed to go to waste.
Due to copyright restrictions it is difficult to show an image of these carvings but they are well worth a visit or can be viewed on-line here

Aspen was also extensively used for clog production during the Middle Ages but Henry V issued a proclamation restricting its use for military arrow production due to concerns about its supply.  Any modern archer trying to obtain a well known Kevlar based string will no doubt empathise with a medieval clog maker and his tribulations with military requisition!   The length between the shoulder and nock also varied but 30 ½” is typical. Enigmatically, arrows of differing lengths were found in the same sheaf and this has been the cause of much speculation and theorising.
Again, further design variation is shown in the shaft profiles, from the ‘torpedo’ or 2/3rd parallel to the slightly bizarre ‘saddle-back’ whereby a slight hourglass shape is in evidence. Nevertheless, 1/2” and 3/8” diameters for the shoulder and nock respectively are a common denominator. An even bobtail design was used to characterise the Livery Arrow pattern, as this was most commonly found. Like the originals, the nock must be reinforced with a sliver of horn 2’’ into the shaft. Cow horn is best as it’s less likely to split than buffalo, which has a grain, like wood.  Modern adhesives are recommended for this job as a split nock effectively ‘dry-looses’ the bow, which can destroy it.  The MR arrows show no sign of binding below the nock to reinforce the area.  However, they were unlikely to have been shot more than once in an engagement. You will want to use your arrows repeatedly, so this may well be something you will want to consider.   
Construction and specifications by Jeremy Spencer

The EWBS Livery Arrow is a faithful representation of a typical military arrow found onboard the wreck of the Mary Rose.
Minimum weight 980grains (63.5g)


A horn reinforced self-nock (reinforcement approximately 2”) must be used. A slot depth of around ¼" is suggested. The nock does not need to be further reinforced with bindings but this may be advisable for longevity and safety.


Any shaft wood found on board the Mary Rose is acceptable. These include ash, birch, oak and most commonly aspen or poplar. Either a torpedo or bob-tailed shaft profile is acceptable.
Minimum shaft diameter at the shoulder 1/2”
Minimum shaft diameter at the nock 3/8”
Minimum Shaft length (bottom of nock to shoulder) 30 ½”


Fletchings must be cut in a triangular pattern. The rear edge must be cut at an angle of (or near) 90 degrees to the shaft. The corner may be radiused. Turkey is acceptable.
Minimum length 7 3/8”
Minimum height 5/8”


The fletchings must be bound on at a minimum of 4 turns per inch. Red silk is preferred but linen is acceptable. Verdigris compound is not required over the bindings but may be used.


A Hand forged Tudor bodkin must be used.
The EWBS Tudor Livery Arrow
Text and images © Jeremy Spencer