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Medieval life and Times

Definition of a Crossbow
The Crossbow was a weapon consisting of a bow mounted on a stock that shoots projectiles called bolts and used by an untrained Medieval archer.

Medieval Archer

Facts and information about the MedievalCrossbow
The weapons used the Medieval times included the Crossbow. The correct term for a Medieval Crossbow is an Arbalest. The Medieval Crossbow applied engineering to the short bow. The Medieval Crossbow bolt, unlike a light flying arrow, was short with a deadly point. The Crossbow range was between 350 400 yards but could only be shot at a rate of 2 bolts per minute. The Medieval Crossbow was easy to use, requiring minimal training and required little strength to operate. The description of the Medieval Crossbow which provides basic facts and information about the weapon is as follows:

  • A Medieval Crossbow had a wooden stock generally made from yew ash, hazel or elm and coated with glue or varnish
  • The 'bow' was made of made of wood, iron or steel
  • The bow had a span of two to three feet
  • The Medieval Crossbow string was made from hemp as it was the strongest and least elastic fibre available. The string was then soaked in glue as some protection against moisture
  • The string was pulled back by using a lever or winding a crank on a ratchet - a windlass Medieval Crossbow
    • By this mechanical method of 'drawing' the string far more tension could be gained than be muscle power alone. The Medieval Crossbow was therefore an ideal weapon for a young boy, an old man or a sick soldier!
  • The Medieval Crossbow bolt or quarrel was laid in a groove on the top of the stock and the trigger pulled
  • There were two or three notches to rest the thumb which could then be lined up with the bolt forming the Medieval Crossbow sight
  • An untrained soldier could operate a Medieval Crossbow
  • The Medieval Crossbow could be carried ready loaded with a bolt (unlike a Short or Longbow)
  • A crossbowman could kill a Knight in full armour
  • Crossbows were easier to aim than short bows or longbows
  • Crossbowmen required less upper body strength to operate the weapon
  • Medieval Crossbow men were little more than peasants. They wore ordinary clothes which were reinforced with leather patches, strips of metal or quilted cloth.
  • The main disadvantages of the Medieval Crossbow were the expense and time to manufacture and the slow firing rate.
  • From the crossbowman's point of view its main disadvantage was his vulnerability whilst reloading the Medieval Crossbow. He needed protection and a tall shields called a Pavise was developed for this purpose
  • The weapon was particularly effective against opponents wearing plate armor
  • Type or group of weapons - Ranged Weapon which caused a projectile to leave the soldier and  strike a target

A maker of bows, arrows, and other archery goods was called an Artillator.

The Medieval Crossbow versus the Longbow
The Medieval Crossbow was supplanted by the longbow. The Medieval Crossbow range was 350 400 yards but could only be shot at a rate of 2 bolts per minute. The crossbow was easy to use, requiring minimal training and required little strength to operate. But it shot too few bolts! The longbow launched arrows faster than any previous bows. A skilled longbow man could release between 10 - 12 arrows per minute - but required considerable training.

History of the Crossbow
The History of the Crossbow dates back to 600BC in Ancient China. The Greeks and the Romans were also known to use this weapon. The Medieval Crossbow was introduced to England by William the Conqueror  in 1066.  The medieval Knight was the most powerful and effective warrior and said to be worth 10 foot soldiers, who were often just peasants who were regarded with the lowest esteem and considered expendable. The Medieval Crossbow could be used by an untrained soldier to injure or kill a knight in plate armor. The crossbow was therefore viewed as an inhuman weapon which required no skill and had no honor. It was even banned by the Pope. The Crossbow was used throughout Medieval times. Richard the Lionheart's army had both crossbows and longbows. Richard the Lionheart died as a result of gangrene after being shot by a crossbow bolt at Chalus-Charbrol near Limousin, France, on 26 March 1199. The threat of Mercenaries flooding England from the continent, willing to fight for the highest bidder, led to one of the clauses in the Magna Carta (1215) seeking to banish all foreign crossbow men. All attempts to apply a weapon ban on crossbows failed and all such requests were ignored.

Medieval Crossbow Windlass
A Medieval Crossbow windlass was a mechanism used to span a Medieval Crossbow utilizing a hook and a hand crank, sometimes utilizing a pulley system. The picture at the top of the page features a Medieval Crossbow windlass used during the Medieval times and era.

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