I haven't posted a journal here in ages. Might as well!
This is basically transcribed from my FA page, but I wanted to see how a DA audience reacts to the points.
Let's face it. We've been misled.
This isn't to say we've been lied to, per se. It's just that most English speaking people who have examined or been shown military history have been shown a very specific perspective-- namely, that of curly haired geeks from Sandhurst.
There is an idea that seems to have set in, a perception that has been almost universally accepted as fact, and a key consideration in the strange, arcane transition of militaries from Archery to Musketry. Anyone examining the late renaissance to the early modern period has to factor in the transformation from medieval military structures and technologies to what we usually envision when thinking of the early modern-- muskets, bayonets, and uniforms instead of armor. Explaining this transition is tricky, but because audiences are 'stupid', we're spoon-fed really ridiculous reasons that this change took place. I'm going to try and take these apart right now, to challenge this popular/conventional 'wisdom'. I may not be precisely correct, but by God this idiotic death spiral of ignorance must be contested.
Myth #1: Archery fell by the wayside because it took 10 years to train an archer.
Wrong. Where does it say in any actual military documentation that even a professional archer requires 10 years of experience to make a decent showing in combat? The fact of the matter is, the longbow is a weapon with two operational requirements: Strength and Endurance. Precision and speed are completely secondary considerations, especially when you remember that formations of archers would fire volleys to saturate an area with fire, something not requiring years of practice. To be an archer on a battlefield, the key qualities of a soldier were the upper body strength to draw the bow as well as the endurance to possibly draw and hold for a minute or minutes at a time. Developing these qualities does require some conditioning, but many men of the medieval and renaissance eras were already conditioned by the hardship of their lives.
Additionally, this idea that it takes 10 years to develop precision and speed in archery seems completely bogus. An effective trainer and a trainee working with a man-sized target can develop the precision to hit that target at 100 yards with regularity after a week. One week. Combining this skill with rapid and effective reloading takes longer, but if precision is an issue, one week of training is sufficient. Not 10 years. When you consider this, the only real disadvantage of archery over musketry and crossbows is that it takes two weeks to a month to train a group of archers to a degree of competency whereas it might only take 1-2 weeks to train soldiers to become competent crossbowmen or musketeers. This disparity of 1-2 weeks can add up, but it alone doesn't explain the transition from archery to musketry.
Myth #2: Bows are better than muskets because they reload more rapidly.
It is absolutely true that bows are faster and easier to reload than muskets, but to suggest that raw rate of fire translates directly to combat effectiveness is quite iffy. History shows that changes in weapon technology occur for highly practical and common-sense reasons. That being the case, there must be a reason that armies began deploying crossbows and muskets in lieu of bows. While part of the embrace of musketry in Europe is attributed to advertising and 'keeping up with the Joneses', at its heart the transformation has practical roots.
A skilled individual archer can fire more rapidly and accurately than a skilled musketeer. However, individual talent tends to be eclipsed by formations in large battles, during which archers and musketeers alike focus on volley fire-- flinging the highest density of fire toward the enemy as possible with limited regard for accuracy. Supposing that a competent formation of archers can loose 17-20 arrows a minute and a competent formation of musketeers can fire 3 shots a minute, the advantage seems to go with the archers.
Then you run into a serious problem: Lethality. These men are here to kill each other, not just to hit each other. A single strike with an arrow through the arm or even the torso can be very painful, but seldom lethal. A strike to the arm or torso by a musket ball, however, is generally fatal. These were big bullets, considerably bigger than those we use today, and they shattered bones and tore apart flesh on impact. Thus, you start to see that the musketeers are not at such a disadvantage after all- they may only be able to fire 3 times a minute and their range may be comparatively short, but they only have to hit their target once to kill them. By contrast, an archer would have to be very lucky or skilled in order to kill their target in one hit. A musketeer wearing armor on his center of mass and head had an even greater chance of closing with a group of archers, and many musketeers of the late renaissance were equipped with armor for this very reason.
Myth 3: Guns Killed Chivalry
There's a prevailing myth, particularly among fantasy aficionados, that guns are ugly things that destroyed the age of knights and chivalry in a puff of black powder. To say that muskets did not play a role in the demise of the feudal aristocracy is incorrect, but to exclusively blame the gun misses the point.
So if guns didn't kill chivalry, what did? The answer, and this sounds crazy at first, is the printing press.
Prior to the printing press, everyone in Europe lived and died within 50 miles of where they were born. They thought of themselves as part of a village and they thought of their feudal lords as the source of all worldly power and they thought of the Church as the source of all spiritual power. The transmission of information through literature was closely guarded because books were so precious and expensive. As a result, people were completely oblivious to the concept of a greater world or a nation-state. Their world was a very small place.
The printing press changed that fundamentally. It was first used to disseminate the word of God, but the technology soon found its way into a new role: Defining social groups. Suddenly, everyone was part of this new idea: We're not citizens of the town of Fluffenburg, we are Germans-- part of a vast community that didn't previously exist. By making individuals feel like part of a grand cultural community, you see the rise of a new government concept: the Nation State.
Every indication is that the Nation State is what killed chivalry. People could imagine themselves as part of a massive community, a nation, and they could also imagine this community led by a single powerful monarchy much more potent than their local lords. This simple concept transformed Europe, and eventually led to the demise of the old aristocracy. Muskets could kill armored knights, it's true, but what really killed them was a fall from power brought about by words on paper, and this story echoes everywhere that an information revolution occurred, not just lands with muskets.
Myth #4: Longbows trump Crossbows
Much of our contemporary understanding of the longbow's abilities come from two chosen glories: The battles of Crecy and Agincourt, during which English and Welsh longbowmen distinguished themselves against larger numbers of professional French and allied troops. One of those battles, Crecy, involved a duel between Genoese mercenary crossbowmen and the famed longbowmen. The longbowmen won.
These two battles are widely known and contribute towards the 'legend' of the longbow-- namely, the supposed supernatural qualities of the weapon. However, there is no actual evidence to be gained from either battle that the crossbows employed by the French and Genoese were actually inferior to the longbows used by the English. The idea that longbows deliver better range than crossbows is largely myth brought about by the longbow 'legend'. In reality, the draw weight and ballistic performance of Genoese crossbows and English/Welsh longbows was quite close. The Genoese crossbowmen also had a clever defense against enemy archers- a thick wooden shield worn on the back called a Pavise. This protected them as they reloaded and offered cover against the superior rate of fire of the longbow.
The details of these two battles are widely discussed, but it's what happens after these battles that is generally missed. The English lost the 100 years war because the French figured out the weaknesses of the longbow while the Genoese crossbowmen that met with such terrible disaster at Crecy would continue to fight with distinction and skill up until the 1500s, well after black powder weapons became in vogue. This longer view of history indicates that the crossbow, not the longbow played a greater part in military supremacy in continental Europe, but we seldom hear about it because of the British telling of events.
Myth #5: (I'm throwing this in for kicks to see how many people make it this far) Guns do not belong in a fantasy universe because of the presence of Magic.
The chief argument is that the power of magic sabotages technological progress. In theory, magic provides a readily available and direct source of power, reducing or eliminating the limitations that force people to innovate and create new technology.
Yet even within this argument there is a ridiculous lapse of logic. If magic exists, why should swords and armor exist? Those are technologies too, right? If magic exists, why are there castles? Shouldn't magic be able to blast castles into molten blobs? Castles are technology too.
Beyond military considerations, what about governments and social structures? What about agriculture? What about commerce? All of those things are technologies. If magic exists as a direct source of power, would it destroy those technologies too?
Every well-regarded fantasy universe makes the limitations of magic clear from the onset for the simple reason that it forces characters and cultures to innovate. This fits neatly into basic concepts of good storytelling: that obstacles will exist or arise that must be overcome with effort. Because magic precludes exertion, it must be limited.
It boggles my mind that many people believe that people continue to use the excuse that the existence of magic denies the existence of technology. It is almost universally used not as a scholarly argument, but as a justification for a personal prejudice against a specific technology. Long story short, if you don't want pocket watches or airships or crossbows or plate armor or guns or any kind of technology, for God's sake stop using this ridiculous excuse to justify your sentiment. Come up with a real, original explanation why these technologies do not exist and at least make an effort to not look like a prejudicial idiot.