L’Art d’archerie divides arrows into two types, waxed and glued. The arrows from the Mary Rose seem to be examples of the first type. At the shaftment, where the fletchings would be attached, archaeologists have identified traces of wax, tallow, copper, and the imprints of thread wound in a spiral around the shaft that they believe to be silk. The copper was probably in the form of verdigris.
The Westminster Abbey arrow, from sometime after 1420, also shows the traces of spiral wound thread. In both cases the thread has almost entirely perished, but enough survives to identify the color as dark red.
Wax, red silk and "verdegresse" were mentioned for the making and repair of arrows for the king of Scotland in 1456.
Speaking of waxed arrows, L’Art d’archerie says: "The harder the silk is on the wax, the better the arrow will fly and the stiffer it will be." (Plus est dure la soye sur la cyre et plus est le trait errant et plus dure.) Submerging the thread in a coating of wax would both help lock it in place and protect it from wear as it shot down the bow.
L’Art d’archerie identifies a different approach, the glued arrow. Animal glue can provide an acceptable bond without thread. Surviving arrows made by Turks and Romans seem to have relied entirely on glue, and at some point before modern adhesives the English longbow tradition came to do so as well. Hugh Soar reports that an English fletcher was still being taught to fletch with hoof glue in the early 20th c.
Some fairly detailed medieval paintings show no sign of spiral bindings:
Above: Portrait of Antoine, 'Grand Bâtard' of Burgundy, c. 1460 Rogier van der Weyden, Portrait of a Man with an Arrow c. 1470 Hans Memling, Portrait of a Youth Holding an Arrow, c. 1500-10 Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio,
While the Mary Rose arrows were almost certainly waxed, and the Westminster Abbey arrow probably was, L’Art d’archerie tells us: "There are two sorts of glued arrows, sheaf (tacle) and flight. The sheaf arrows are usually thick, with high swan feathers, cut large, in the same shape as those of flight arrows, and have round iron heads. They are the regular arrows which the English use for butt and target shooting (au chapperons i.e. clout shooting), for they find them, as they are, truer than any waxed arrow.
We find further evidence that the even the English didn't always use the waterproof Mary Rose style waxed arrow with spiral thread winding in this report from Ireland by Sir William Skeffington in 1535.
"...there did fall suche a rayne as hath not been seene in thes parties; so that the fotemen wadid by the way to the middels in waters, which was pite to see,....the sayd fotemen that coulde not have defended themselfes with ther bowes, for ther stringes wer so weate, and moost of the fethers of ther arrowes fallen of."
Robert MacPherson has kindly provided me to a reference to an incident in 1594 when a serving-man in Yldre managed to burn down a farmhouse while fletching bolts with his gluepot. This was probably a good example of fletching with hot animal glue.