The longbow was the type of bow said to have been used by Robin Hood; that is, a bow about the length of a man, as distinguished from the old short bow used at the Battle of Hastings, or from the crossbow.
The longbow, as compared with either of the others, was greatly superior in range and in accuracy. Famous archers vied with one another in using the longbow, and great tales were told of their prowess.
One archer, according to an old ballad, was so skilled that, in an exhibition before the king, he split a slender wand at a distance of 400 yards (almost a quarter of a mile), then to impress the king still more, he tied his own seven year old son to a stake, balanced an apple upon the lad’s head, and, from a distance of 120 yards, split the apple.
Great tales were told of the remarkable shots these English bowmen made, and the tales lost nothing in the telling. They became as discredited as the modern fish story. Hence, anyone believed to be telling a fantastic story was said to draw the longbow.
Probably the saying came into use long before the seventeenth century, though the first literary record appeared late in that century.