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Medieval Crossbows


Romance of Alexander MS Bodl 264 by the Flemish illuminator Jehan de Grise and his workshop 1338-44 88v, Bodleian Library, Oxford, England

Origins

The European Crossbow probably evolved as a portable form of ancient Greek and Roman war machines such as the arbalest or arcubalistae for shooting arrows, Josef Alm. European crossbows possibly for hunting are depicted in 4th century reliefs in France. In the Chukchi and Nicobar regions of Asia, and China crossbows were in use since ancient times, being recorded as used in the battle of May-ling, China in 341 BC, Gary G. Ball

In Europe the crossbow seems to have gone out of use from the 5th to the 9th century. Crossbows were used in the siege of Senlis in AD 947 and at Verdun in AD 985.

Payne-Gallwey speculates that the crossbow was brought to England with the Norman invasion of 1066. In AD 1099 crossbows were used at the siege of Jerusalem and Anna Comnena daughter of the Byzantium emperor Alexius I describes the use of tzagran (crossbows) where the user lay down on their backs with a foot on each of the bows arms and drawing the string back towards them, along the tiller into which a groove holds the arrow, which are very short, but thick with a heavy iron head. Anna describes the great power of these weapons in penetrating armour, and the invention of the devil.

Saracen opponents of the crusaders adopted the crossbow, the work of Mardi ibn 'Ali at-Tarsui written before 1190, describes making of crossbows of yew and olive and used with or without stirrups. Spanning was generally done with a two-hooked claw (khattaf) and a lock mechanism using a ut (jawzah).

Reconstructed Roman Ballistae from the Catalonia historical museum, Barcelona, Spain.

 

A note on UK Crossbow Law

 

crossbowman in the Maciejowski Bible 1250

From the mid 12th century horn bows were used, copied from the bows of Asia, this type of bow was made from a wooden core to which the back was attached a thick layer of sinews held together by fish glue, but generally lacking the horn on the belly, see Josef Alm. Goats horns and some ox horns were used in the lands of the Teutonic knights in the 14th century for the cores of composite bows. From the end of the 12th Century the stirrup was used to draw the crossbow, known as spanning..

Variants of crossbow existed such as those with stirrups to take two feet, and large crossbows spanned using a windlass with very large bolts, all these are mentioned to be purchased at Acre in 1239 and in 1269 at Piacenza. Crossbows that shot two bolts are also said to have existed. Mounted soldiers used crossbows and mentioned in mid 13th century Norway, and it was advised that they should not be so powerful that they could not be spanned on horseback.

In the 14th century these types of crossbow continued to be used and many fortified places contained crossbows in their inventories. The Genoese became known for good quality crossbows and in providing mercenaries with crossbows. In the mid 14th century the French employed large numbers of Genoses crossbowmen who were reported to take to the field with only 12 bolts each, see W. Boheim. In 1346 the Genoese crossbowmen were defeated by the English at Crecy using the longbow. The Genoese put their loss down to wet bowstrings, see below, wet bow strings fact or myth?

 

 

Reconstructed medieval rampart style crossbow at Caerphilly castle, Caerphilly, Wales

Rampart crossbows appeared in the 14th century, mentioned in England in 1301, Payne-Gallwey, and were fixed on stands or carts. The spans of the bows could be very large, for example one found at Freiburg, Germany, has a span of 13ft, and others were said to be up to 6m, G Kohler.

The use of the crossbow on the continent is shown in Germany where every city was required to employ a crossbowmaker, in Hamburg for instance he was required to annually produce 4 crossbows, and paid extra if he produced more.

Great crossbow, Romance of Alexander, MS 264, Bodleian library 1338-44, Bodleian Library, Oxford, England

 

Crossbow Strings

Crossbow strings were made of a single long yarn or cord of linen or hemp, see Payne-Gallwey. In Germany strings were made to a late date with well waxed cord of 150m length wound between pins 4-5m apart, and the hank folded several times to the correct length, making a string of 60-80 strands (possibly up to 200). The strings loops were wrapped with thread and then wound over with thread 4-5 times thicker than the threads of the string.

1382 German hunting ordinance instructs the hereditary master of the hunt to deliver to the Emperor on his visit, a crossbow with a bow of yew, a tiller of maple, a nut of ivory and a string of silk, G. Landau.

Flemish yarn was used for strings in the lands of the Teutonic knights in the 14th century, B. Rathgen. It is thought that the Burgundian records listing fil d'Anvers is the same, B. Rathgen.

Romance of Alexander MS Bodl 264 by the Flemish illuminator Jehan de Grise and his workshop 1338-44, Bodleian Library, Oxford, England

Wet bow strings fact or myth?

At the battle of Crecy the chronicler Jean de Vanette desribes a sudden downpour which soaked the Genoese crossbow strings. As a result of being wet the Genoese crossbows were said to have been ineffectual against the English longbows whereas the English removed theirs during the rainfall, W. Rose. A crossbow string is not easily removable. In his book European Crossbows Josef Alm thinks improbable that wet bowstrings affected the outcome, and may have been an excuse used by the Genoese to explain their defeat. He cites Payne-Gallwey who immersed for 24 hours, a bowstring impregnated with wax, and found it had not absorbed water and was perfectly able to be used.

However Payne-Gallwey does also mention two types of test carried out which he speculates on the loose strings of the crossbows used at Crecy and these looser strings did become less effective in his tests. However he speculates that the English longbow had a greater range and could shoot more arrows than that of the Genoese. The text of this is given below;

"Although much doubt has been thrown on the statement that the crossbows of Genoese failed to act on this occasion, owing to their strings being slackened by wet weather, it is possible that the incident occurred, without, however, in any measure influencing the result of the battle.

The string might easily have been rendered less effective than usual by the heavy rain that fell just before the battle, and by the bright sun which is known to have succeeded the rain.

This combination of water and heat would certainly relax in some degree the strings of the crossbows used at the time of Crecy, if they were uncovered, and would make the strings too loose to be of good service, till they could be removed from the bows in order to be shortened by twisting, and then replaced ; all of which would entail, of course, time and care.

It should be remembered that the bows of the Genoese crossbowmen at Crecy were doubtless composite ones, made of wood, horn, sinew and glue, bow of steel being of latter introduction.

The composite bow was straight, hence its bowstring was fixed to it in a necessarily rather slack condition ; for this reason the thread composing its string, being more or less detached, were liable to absorb moisture.

On the other hand, the threads that composed the tightly strained string of a steel crossbow, lay closely packed together, and a in this case the string was always thickly smeared, both inside and outside, with beeswax to preserve it, it was impervious to water.

To test the matter, I have sunk a steel crossbow in a tank of water for a day and a night and have found no appreciable alteration in the tightness of its string. I have also placed in water a crossbow with a comparatively loose string - such as those which I believe were used by the Genoese at Crecy - and found that after half an hour's submersion, the application of a lever to bend the bow caused the string subsequently to stretch down the stock an inch further than its proper position, its tautness, and consequent effectiveness, thus being lost."

The overall conclusion is that although water may have had an effect, the greater number of archers, the faster rate of shot of the longbow, the greater range of the longbow, and the lack of pavise for the crossbowmen to cover behind meant that the Genoese were defeated with wet bow stings having little impact.

 

Spanning the Crossbow

Spanning is the term used to describe pulling back the string on the crossbow. A locking mechanism was generally used so that the string could be pulled back by the users hands and the bolt could be loaded although in the 11th century it is described how the user lay down on their backs with a foot on each of the bows arms and drawing the string back towards them, along the tiller into which a groove holds short thick arrows.

As it took some time to span the crossbow, it was effective when there was hard cover such as in a building, elsewhere shields such as the Pavise were used to protect the user.

As the bows became stronger, more advanced mechanisms were developed to pull back the string. Stirrups may have been for one or two feet. One-foot and Two-foot stirrups are recorded as being made at the Tower of London in the late C13, and in 1301 3000 bolts for two-foot, 5,000 for one-foot crossbows were sent by Edward I to Linlithgow, and in 1307 Edward I ordered 100 one-foot and 40 two-foot stirrup crossbows, Gary G. Ball. In 1321 Marino Sanuto a Ventian known as Torsello delivered a list of weapons for a proposed crusade and lists crossbows with wooden bows two-foot stirrups, M. Jahns, G. Kohler. Inventories at Dover in 1344 and 1366 record one and two-foot stirrup crossbows,Gary G. Ball.

In the latter half of the twelth century the spanning or Samson belt was developed, which consists of a hook attached to a belt, where the crossbow is turned with the groove towards the user, one foot is placed in the stirrup, the user bends over or goes down on one knee, and the claws of the spanning hook are put over the string, the user straightens or stands up using their body to pull the string back. The Spanning belt was popular continued to be used into and throughout the 14th and 15th centuries.

Crossbow spanning hook from Soborg Castle, Denmark, National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark.

An adaption of the spanning belt and claw was to use a pully, so that the cord went from the spanning belt to a pully that was hooked onto the string and then was hooked to the end of the tiller. These types of crossbow were called Turni Balistarii and Arbalests a tour and mentioned in the 13th century. In 1301 Edward I requested crossbows a tour for the defence of Linlithgow.

Rabbits as crossbowmen, Romance of Alexander MS Bodl 264 by the Flemish illuminator Jehan de Grise and his workshop 1338-44 81v, Bodleian Library, Oxford, England.

In the 14th century, the goats-foot lever was developed with a wooden handle and iron claws, and evolved to be made entirely of iron. It works by hooking onto the string and a lever pulled to draw the string back. It was levered against an iron rod that passed through the tiller behind the lock.

Left and centre: crossbow goats-foot, right: spanning hook, Copenhagen National Museum, Denmark.

Crossbow goats-foot C15, Museum Adleturm, Dortmund, Germany.

Crossbowman using a goats-foot lever to span the bow whilst behind cover of a pavise, Upper Rhine Germany 1420-40 Zurich Zentralbibliothek ZBZ Rh hist 33b F 99v.

Windlass crossbows were mentioned at Acre in 1239 and Piacenza in 1269, a windlass crossbow, 'balista ad turnum' were listed as having been made at the Tower of London in the late C13, Gary G. Ball. In the 15th century a windlass with a winch was used in England and France. Payne-Gallwey gives a date of 1370 for the introduction of the steel bow crossbow and windlass.

The most powerful spanning device was the 'German winch' or cranequin with cog wheels and a rack of teeth. The earliest illustration of a cranequin is 1373, Gary G. Ball.

Left: Austria Vienna Armoury crossbow cranequin southern Germany C15.

Right: Austria Vienna Armoury crossbow cranequin start C16.

In the 14th Century spanning belts made of oxhide fitted with hooks and rings are mentioned at Frankfurt am Main, B. Rathgen.

Luttrell Psalter crossbowman spanning a crossbow

Left: C14 crossbowman, St Florent Saint Sepulcre, Niederhaslach, France.

Right: Crossbow man from Luttrell Psalter, 1325-35, British Library, England.

Crossbowmen with spanning hook from Queen Mary Psalter England 1310-20.

crossbowan loading, Romance of Alexander, 1338-1344, Bodleian Library, Oxford, England.

Crossbowmen using a single claw spanning hook, and pushes leg down to span crossbow. National library of the Czech Republic CNM XXIII C124 Velislavova Bible f118r 1325-1349.

Crossbowmen spanning with 2 claw spanning hook, 1275-99 Northern Franc, Morgan Library M969 Bible with prologues f150r-2.

Crossbowmen, one shown with raised leg spanning crossbow, Wurttembergische Landesbibliothek WLB HB XIII 6 Weltchronik & Marienleben 1300-50 Austria.

late C15 painting of the battle of Crecy 1346, Royal Armouries, Leeds, England. Note that it depicts armour, weapons and crossbows at the time it was painted rather than the time of the battle.

The use of these advanced spanning mechanisms made the crossbow a powerful but slow weapon. Payne-Gallwey decribes shooting a 15th century Siege bow of 3 foot 2 inches length, with a bolt 3 ounces in weight and 14 inches in length, a distance of 460 yards. At 60 yards he sent a bolt right through a deal plank 3/4 in. thick. The total weight required to draw the string of its bow 7 inches using its portable windlass was 1,200 pounds, or over half a ton.

Crossbow brooch found in Wenceslas square 2nd half C14-15 , city museum, Prague, Czech.

 

Second Lateran Council - 1139 A.D.

Pope Innocent II summoned in Lent 1139 II a general council, held in the and held in the Lateran basilica. At least five hundred, met in Rome. One of these came from the East, the patriarch of Antioch, but he was a Latin. With the pope presiding the council began on 2 April and it seems to have ended before 17 April. A series of Canons were enacted concerning the reform of the church, including banning jousts and the use of archers and crossbows against Christians.

"14. We entirely forbid, moreover, those abominable jousts and tournaments in which knights come together by agreement and rashly engage in showing off their physical prowess and daring, and which often result in human deaths and danger to souls. If any of them dies on these occasions, although penance and viaticum are not to be denied him when he requests them, he is to be deprived of a church burial."

"29. We prohibit under anathema that murderous art of crossbowmen and archers, which is hateful to God, to be employed against Christians and Catholics from now on." 

 

Crossbow trigger mechanism

The crossbow differs from a bow in the ability to retain the potential energy of the sprung bow until it is released by a trigger. The earliest bows had a notch cut into the tiller or stock and the string would be pulled back and pushed into the slot. To shoot the bow a trigger would push the string out of the slot.

 

Inlays with groove for holding the crossbow bolt, National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark.

The crossbow stocks shown above are for a crossbow and a childs crossbow. The bow would have sat in the notch on the left and the release mechanism was a pin which pushed the string up.

A more elaborate mechanism was developed with a nut that had a segment cut out of it to hold the string. The nut was made of wood, ivory, bone or metal. The nut is not permitted to move until the trigger allows its rotation and the release of the string to propel the bolt forwards.

crossbow internal parts, nuts, National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

 

Crossbow bows

Without a bow string, the bow arms usually arch forwards, so when strung the bow is under tension.

The bow of a crossbow was originally made of wood and from the mid 12th century horn bows were used, copied from the bows of Asia, with a wooden core and the back of a thick layer of sinews bonded by fish glue, generally they lacked the horn on the belly, see Josef Alm. Natural glues require a drying time of 6-12 months and may contribute to composite bows being twice the price of wood bows, Gary G. Ball.

In 1321 Marino Sanuto a Ventian known as Torsello delivered a list of weapons for a proposed crusade and lists crossbows with wooden bows two-foot stirrups, and that composite bows were better in dry areas than in countries with humid climates, M. Jahns, G. Kohler.

Gary G. Ball gives the first recorded date of a steel bow as 1314 and Payne-Gallwey gives a date of 1370 for the start of the use of steel bows in crossbows, but other authors seem to favour a later date for the steel bow, and they only seem to have become more common in the early C15.

1382 German hunting ordinance instructs the hereditary master of the hunt to deliver to the Emperor on his visit, a crossbow with a bow of yew, a tiller of maple, a nut of ivory and a string of silk, G. Landau.

From the start of the 15th century metal bows started to be used but wood and composite bows continued to be in the majority of bow types used.

A German wooden bow at the National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Crossbow with wooden bow, C14-15, National Museum, Zurich. Switzerland

Wooden bow crossbow late C14, Stadt Museum, Cologne, Germany

Composite bow crossbow, with whalebone, C16, Stadt Museum, Cologne, Germany

Steel bow crossbow, Bayerisch Museum, Munich, Germany

Steel bow crossbow, C16, Stadt Museum, Cologne, Germany

 

Crossbow Bolts and Quarrels

Crossbow bolts varied in form for different purposes. Bolts of 35 cm or shorter had their centre of gravity one third of the way along the shaft from the head. Longer bolts were a quarter of the way along, W. Boeheim. The rear of the shaft of the arrow was often made to be of the same thickness as the string, Payne-Gallwey. There is no evidence that bolts had nocks as arrows do. The term quarrel arose due to the four sides often in sharp and blunted heads.

Bayerisch Museum, Munich, Germany.

War bolts often had sockets and short heavy tips of rhomboidal cross section in the 14th century. Long dart like tips with tangs were also used. The heaviest crossbow bolts smay not have had flights, lighter ones could have two or three straight, ocassional spiral flights of bird feathers, parchment, wood slices, or thin sheet copper, W. Boeheim. Spiral flights were made in Frankfurt am Main in 1349, B. Rathgen.

Crossbow bolts from Prague 1430-60, Vienna Armoury, Austria

Commanders crossbow bolt from Prague 1430-60, Vienna Armoury, Austria.

Crossbow bolt heads from the Copenhagen National Museum, Denmark.

Bolts were transported in kegs, and in northern Germany and Denmark a keg was reckoned to contain 800 bolts, Historisk Tidsskrift. The Gascons under Edward I in 1283 brought with them 70,000 bolts in 29 barrels and 12 baskets, Gary G. Ball.

Crescent tipped arrows being made for transportation in barrel. Romance of Alexander MS Bodl 264 by the Flemish illuminator Jehan de Grise and his workshop 1338-44 123v.

Crescent shaped bolt heads

Cross bow bolts with crescent shaped heads and multi pronged were described by Payne-Gallwey as "bolts for killing large birds". Fox knife bolts, with very wide heads (15-27 cm wide) designed for traps are can be seen at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm Sweden. Josef Alm shows a picture from the hunting manual of Tantzern, 1686, printed in Copenhagen that shows a trap crossbow with a wide crescent head. It is thought that a narrow point may pass straight through a bird or small animal whereas a crescent shape would spread the impact. Blunt bolts were also used for small animals and birds. A crescent head may also prevent the bolt burying itself into soft ground and being lost. Other theories for crescent heads are for shooting rigging on ships, although the spin imparted into bolts may make this impossible.

 

Hunting bolts from the National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Fire bolt, crossbow bolt from Prague 1430-60, Vienna Armoury, Austria.

In the mid C13 John Malemont, Englands chief quarrel maker made 25,000 bolts a year, and was expected to make 100 bolts a day for which he was paid 7 1/2 d and 3d for fletching them, Gary G. Ball. Bolts were required in huge quantities, in 1277 150,000 crossbows were supplied to South Wales, 1282 Bristol supplied 14,000 crossbows to Rhuddlan, 10,00 to Chester and 10,000 to Camarthen, and 4,000 for the naval fleet, in 1283 English Army in Anglesey equipped with 170,000 bolts, Gary G. Ball.

 

Square faced bolt heads

Payne-Gallweystates that these bolts were used against armoured oppnents "Other bolts had square-faced heads with four small points, one at each corner of the head, so that they might not glance off armour, but give a straight and smashing blow to mounted men wearing breastplates and helmets, against which the end of a sharp projectile might break, bend, or turn aside."

 

Hunting bolts from the National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Hunting birds using a blunt bolt, (elsewhere in the manuscript sharp bolts can be seeen with sharp black heads with barbs). Romance of Alexander MS Bodl 264 by the Flemish illuminator Jehan de Grise and his workshop 1338-44 95r.

 

Blunt bolt used for crossbow hunting, Manesse Codex 1305-1340.

 

The Popinjay

Many countries in Europe encouraged their populations to shoot at archery ranges and in competitions. Shooting at the popinjay, a brightly coloured bird or parrot, was a popular competition, P. Sixl. The word popinjay comes from the French word for Parrot, papegai, Jim Bradbury.

Shooting the Popinjay probably dates back to at least the 13th century. The Grand Master of Prussia in 1354 setup in each city a tree or pole of 7-17m height at the top of which was placed the popinjay. Blunted bolts were shot at the popinjay, and who won would be called the 'shooting king', and received the prize of a silver chain to which was attached a gilded parrot which he could wear at festivals for a year, and if he won it three times in a row he could keep it, T. F. Troels-Lund.

Stadt Museum, Cologne, Germany

 

Quivers

crosssbow pouch and quarrels, St Florent Saint Sepulcre C14, Niederhaslach, France

Quivers hold the crossbow bolts for the operator, and were generally made of leather, some are depicted or exist in museums with fur. The crossbow bolts seem to have been placed point upwards although there are a number of images that show the bolts point down. The quivers are often wider at the base, probably to accomodate the bolts and the flights.

Crossbow bolt pouch C14-15, National Museum, Zurich. Switzerland

Crossbowman, Bibliotheque Municipal de Lyon BM PA 30 Cy commencent les grans croniques de la genealogie des roys de France f210v 1380 France

Left: crossbow bolt quiver Austria C15, Vienna Armoury, Austria

Right: crossbow bolt quiver southern Germany 1500, Vienna Armoury, Austria

Crossbows used in boar hunt Gaston Phoebus Book of the Hunt 1405 Bibliotheque Nationale France

Hussite warriors with crossbows and flail, C15, Prague city museum, Czech

 

Genoese Crossbowmen

The Genoese gained a reputation for crossbowmen and their skills which developed from the use of the crossbow in naval warfare on the Italian galleys. Genoese crossbowmen captured by the Milanese had one eye put out and one hand cut off, Gary G. Ball. The Genoese were allies of France and crossbowmenn were recruited and fought accross Europe, and as early as 1099 were said to have been at the siege of Jerusalem, Payne-Gallwey.

The crossbowmen were hired and paid by the Republic of Genoa and had to swear an alleigence to them. The Genoese crossbowmen were always under the control of the Republic of Genoa and could not be under an independant flag and so were not strictly mercenaries and were sometimes sent to fight for allies without receiving a fee, but the Republic of Genoa bearing the costs. When the crossbowmen were employed, they had strict contracts that would be adhered to, but also those that they employed had strict terms that dictated their sponser should pay for anyone who refused to do his job or deserted. Each Genoese crossbowmen was also equipped in addition to their crossbow and 20 bolts, with a helm, body armour, mail armour, a dagger, and a Pavise held by their squire for defence. The crossbow bolts were made by Both bullets were a guild of craftsmen called quarellari.

At the naval battle of Sluys in 1340, the French were said to have had 20,000 Genoese crossbowmen, but were defeated by the Enlish longbows of Edward III.

Crossbowman on board ship, Luttrell Psalter, 1325-35, British Library, England

Siege of Acre shows crossbowmen and Pavise, from Chroniques de France ou de St. Denis end C14

At the battle of Crecy in 1346, the Genoese led by Ottone Doria, is given variously as 2-6,000, but they lacked their protective shields which were in the baggage train that was still on route. The pavesarii held shields, and there were around three crossbowmen to each pavesarii, so they would probably take turns to shoot from behind the shields, whilst being protected when spanning the crossbow, David Nicolle. Lacking this protective cover they were outshot by the English longbowmen of Edward III. Payne-Gallwey speculates that the Genoese crossbows did not have the range of the English longbows, regardless of the impact of the rain on the crossbow strings, and took a heavy toll from the greater rate that arrows could be shot. The Genoese crossbowmen retreated, and were run down by the advancing French cavalry. Ottone Doria was killed but it is unknown if he died from an English arrow or a French knight.

 

Crossbowmen shields

Whilst spanning the crossbow the crossbowmen was vulnerab;e to return missiles, and so often a shields or Pavise was used. This were large enough for the crossbowmen to shelter behind, then to emerge from behind to shoot. As well as being used in large battles, they also allowed crossbowmen to attempt to approach fortifications that were under siege.

In the 15th Century the pavise was built with a central ridge that stengthened the whole shield.

A 'Storm Shield' thought to be from Southern Germany, from National Museum, Copenhagen Denmark.

A 'Storm Shield' showing a hole through which bolts could be shot, from National Museum, Copenhagen Denmark.

A 'Storm Shield' allowing viewing, from National Museum, Copenhagen Denmark.

A 'Storm Shield' with two metal spikes allowing it to be planted into the ground, from National Museum, Copenhagen Denmark.

 

 

Crossbow Timeline

Ancient Greek and Roman war machines such as the arbalest or arcubalistae for shooting arrows.

341 BC battle of May-ling, China, first recorded use of the crossbow, Gary G. Ball.

228 BC bronze Chinese crossbow mechanism is the earliest artefact, Gary G. Ball.

European crossbows possibly for hunting are depicted in 4th century reliefs in France.

Crossbows were used in the siege of Senlis AD 947 and at Verdun AD 985, Gary G. Ball.

The Jomsvikingasaga describes lock-bows at the battle of Hjorungsvag AD 986.

1060 August 4 charter of William I in donation by Richard de Redvers to Abbey of St Pere de Chartres is witnessed by Fulcher the crossbowman (arcibalister), Jim Bradbury.

1085 Doomsday book records some lands in Yorkshire held for the rent of a crossbow and tennants in chief were called 'arcuballistari', Gary G. Ball.

1099 crossbows were used at the siege of Jerusalem.

11th century Anna Comnena daughter of the Byzantium emperor Alexius I describes the use of tzagran (crossbows) where the user lay down on their backs with a foot on each of the bows arms and drawing the string back towards them, along the tiller into which a groove holds short thick arrows.

1100 king William II 'Rufus' killed by a crossbow bolt whilst hunting.

1100-1123 King of Norway, Sigurd Jorsalafar, said to his brother Osten "You could not span my bow, even were you to brace yourself against it with both feet", sugesting a crossbow.

1100-1135 Henry I employed crossbowmen, Payne-Gallwey, Jim Bradbury.

1081-1137 under Louis VI the use of the crossbow was widespread in France.

1139 in Rome the Lateran Council commanded that bows and crossbows were only to be used against pagans and heretics and not Christians. The Lateran council declares: "We prohibit under anathema that murderous art of crossbowmen and archers, which is hateful to God, to be employed against Christians and Catholics from now on". They also banned jousting.

1138-1152 Emperor Conrad III decrees crossbows are not to be used in his realm, Payne-Gallwey.

1170 In Oland, Sweden, Esbjorn Snare in a battle with Esthonians and Courlanders, misses with three bolts from his crossbow and smashes it in a fit of rage, Jorgen Olrik.

1170 At Julin, now Eastern Germany Sune Ebbeson used a crossbow against the Wends, Jorgen Olrik.

1180-1223 Philip Augustus of France employs foot and mounted crossbowmen, W. Boeheim.

Before 1190 the Saracens made of crossbows of yew and olive and used with or without stirrups. Spanning was generally done with a two-hooked claw (khattaf) and a lock mechanism using a ut (jawzah).

1199 Richard II killed by crossbow bolt at siege of Chalus, France, Payne-Gallwey.

1199 Battle of Trondheim Fjord, crossbows were used.

End 12th century Pope Innocent III repeats that the crossbow was only to be used against pagans and heretics and not Christians, Payne-Gallwey.

1205 Peter the Saracen is recorded as making crossbows for king John.

1212 King John had an armed guard of crossbowmen, Danny Danzinger and John Gillingham

1219 Damietta is captured by crusaders and many crossbows with composite bows and other types were found, G. Kohler.

1224 Genoese crossbowmen are said to have had crossbows with composite bows.

1231 Valdemar, king-elect of Denmark accidentally killed by a crossbow bolt, Historisk Tidsskrift.

1237 Battle of Damietta 1237 as recorded in the Chronicles of Matthew Paris state the death of 300 crossbowmen, Gary G. Ball.

1239 Emperor Frederick II orders a sea captain at Acre to buy as many two-foot stirrup crossbows and windlass crossbows as he can, G. Kohler.

1240 Siege of Carccassone accounts tell of extensive use of crossbows, Gary G. Ball.

1240-5 Tower of London, Phillip le Convers paid 4 1/2d a day to repair crossbows, Gary G. Ball.

1241 Jutland law decrees that on all naval vessels, evey helmsman should have in addition to other weapons a crossbow with 36 bolts and a person able to shoot if the helmsman could not do so themselves, Historisk Tidsskrift.

1242 battle of Taillebourg, 700 crossbowmen in army of Louis Iv defeat Henry III, Gary G. Ball.

1242 60 crossbowmen sent to Dover Castle, Gary G. Ball.

1245 Constable of Winchester castle required to send 8 crossbows and 50,000 quarrels to Portsmouth.

1246 Captured Genoese crossbowmen had one eye put out and one hand cut off by the soldiers of Milan.

Mid 13th century Norway, mounted soldiers used crossbows and mentioned in , and it was advised that they should not be so powerful that they could not be spanned on horseback.

1250 Sheriff of Northumberland ordered to repair crossbows at Bamburgh and Newcastle, Gary G. Ball.

1264 Patent Rolls mention archers and crossbowmen were to be gathered in East Anglia against an expected invasion, Jim Bradbury.

1269 At Piacenza one and two foot stirrup and windlass crossbows are mentioned, G. Kohler.

1270 kings forces sieging Kenilworth castle request 6 crossbows from Windsor at 7s each, Gary G. Ball.

1277 Gascony supplies Edward I with 120 mounted and foot crossbowmen, Gary G. Ball.

1277 150,000 one foot crossbows and 50,000 two foot crossbows ordered for South Wales, Gary G. Ball.

1278 Army of Edward I has 100 crossbowmen from Gascony, 100 from London and 50 from other parts of England, Gary G. Ball.

1282 Bristol supplied 14,000 crossbows to Rhuddlan, 10,00 to Chester and 10,000 to Camarthen, and 4,000 for the naval fleet, Gary G. Ball.

1283 English Army in Anglesey equipped with 170,000 bolts, Gary G. Ball.

1286 At Schweidnitz, now part of Poland, for the first time a shooting competition with the crossbow took place.

1295 Earl of Warwick defeats Welsh at Maes Moydog and places in a defensive position one crossbowmen between two cavalrymen, Jim Bradbury.

1296 Copenhagen, Revolting peasants shoot bolts into the castle where Bishop Jens Krag of Roskilde was staying, Historisk Tidsskrift.

1297 Roxborough Castle lists 20 crossbowmen, Jim Bradbury.

1298 Berwick Castle inventory lists 7 crossbows with winches, 6 crossbows for two feet, one without a nut, 8 crossbows for one foot, 189 geese wings for bolts, Jim Bradbury.

1298 July 22, Battle of Falkirk, English use crossbowmen, Jim Bradbury.

1301 Rampart crossbows were mentioned in England, Payne-Gallwey.

1301 Edward I orders for the town of Linlithgow, 12 crossbows with two-foot stirrups and 3000 bolts and 5000 bolts for one-foot stirrups, Payne-Gallwey.

1301 Mutiny by household knight Walter de Teye with archers and crossbowmen after late payment, Jim Bradbury.

1307 Aranas castle, Vastergotland, Sweden was thought to have been destroyed, and from excavations a crossbow nut of horn was found with a two clawed spanning hook, another single claw spanning hook which had been broken off.

1307 Edward I for the Scottish war, orders 100 one-foot stirrup crossbows and 40 two-foot stirrup crossbows. Payne-Gallwey.

1307 and 1308 city of Hamburg, Germany, orders 10 back crossbows and 10 foot loop crossbows and rampart crossbows, Historisk Tidsskrift.

1319 Crossbowmen are listed among the soldiers for the siege of Berwick, Payne-Gallwey.

1320 The quote "a fool’s bolt is soon shot" was used in 'Proverbs of Alfred', Martin H. Manser, (also cited as used as early as 1225).

1321 Marino Sanuto a Ventian known as Torsello delivered a list of weapons for a proposed crusade and lists crossbows with wooden bows two-foot stirrups, and that composite bows were better in dry areas than in countries with humid climates, M. Jahns, G. Kohler.

1327 Swedish Sodermanland laws decree every man liable for military service was to have among other weapons a handbow with 36 arrows, C.J. Schlyter

1328 Edward III orders 100 crossbows for the defence of the Channel Islands. Payne-Gallwey.

1328 Back crossbows listed at Copenhagen castle, Historisk Tidsskrift.

1340's pavesarii are listed as shield bearers for crossbowmen

1340 June 24 English longbowmen defeat the Genoese mercenaries at the naval battle of Sluys.

1344 and 1366 Dover inventories show 126 crossbows, 34 of which had composite bows with two-foot stirrups and 9 composite bows with one-foot stirrup, and 3 large windlass crossbows, G. Kohler.

1346 August 26 French army with Genoese crossbowmen defeated at Crecy.

1351 French ordinance lists all crossbowmen to have a good quality crossbow to match his strength and a good spanning belt. G. Kohler.

1354 Popinjay shooting competition in Prussian cities, P. Sixl.

1361 Battle of Wisby bolt heads 4-6cm long found with sockets. Wounds show a number of cases where bolt has gone straight through skulls, B. Thordeman.

1361-1363 town of Greifswald, Germany orders back crossbows, foot loop crossbows and rampart crossbows, Historisk Tidsskrift.

1362 Burgundian accounts list 189 light and heavy crossbows with composite bows, and 382 light crossbows with wooden bows. Additionally crossbows with one-foot stirrups, two-foot stirrups and windlasses are listed, and rampart crossbows, B. Rathgen.

1369 Soldiers of Florence were equipped with crossbows and spanning hooks, G Kohler.

1372 Hamburg Germany, lists Spanning Hooks, Historisk Tidsskrift.

1372-4 English army accounts show 49 crossbows, 8 with composite bows and the rest with wooden bows. G. Kohler.

1377 Gorlitz, Germany, a shooting range is mentioned, B. Rathgen.

1378 Trier, Germany a large crossbow was purchased from Luxembourg costing four times that of an ordinary hand crossbow, B. Rathgen.

1379 Trier, Germany, lists spanning belts with hooks, B. Rathgen.

1382 German hunting ordinance instructs the hereditary master of the hunt to deliver to the Emperor on his visit, a crossbow with a bow of yew, a tiller of maple, a nut of ivory and a string of silk, G. Landau.

1384 Burgundy, a contract lists for 20 gros tournais of silver a Genoese style crossbow with iron bands (probably to reinforce the stock). A crossbow with a two-foot stirrup cost the same. A one-foot stirrup crossbow with string, and accessories cost 15 gros in silver.The strings were made of thread or yarn from Antwerp, B. Rathgen.

1390 Teutonic knights list the majority of their crossbows as back crossbows, B. Rathgen.

1395 In a siege of Stockholm, the city of Thorn, Poland, was to supply a crossbow maker and with Elbing, Poland, and Danzig (Gdansk), Poland, to supply a crossbow windlass, goats-foot levers, 3 strings, two kegs of bolts, and 10 windlass crossbows and also 10 crossbowmen, each equipped with a small and medium sized crossbow and a shock (sixty) bolts, C. G. Styffe.

1399 In the lands of the Teutonic Knights are listed spanning belts with hooks and quivers, B. Engel.

1405 French army supporting Owain Glyndwr includes 600 crossbowmen, Gary G. Ball.

1415 August Henry V has about 100 crossbowmen in his army. Payne-Gallwey.

1415 October 25 Rymer's muster-roll of the army of Henry V lists 38 crossbowmen. Payne-Gallwey.

 

 

Bibliography

1215 The Year of Magna Carta Danny Danzinger and John Gillingham, 2003

Armour from the Battle of Wisby, 1361, B. Thordeman, Uppsala, 1939

Beitrage zur Geschichte der Jagd und der Falknerei in Deutschland, G. Landau, Kassel, 1849. (Contributions to the history of hunting and falconry in Germany).

Blidemestere, Ballistarii og Vaerkmestere i Kjobenhavn ca 1375-1550, Historisk Tidsskrift, Femte Raekke, Femte Bind, Copenhagen, 1885. (Catapault makers, crossbow-makers, and master artisans in Copenhagen about 1375-1550).

Bodeleian Library, Oxford, (Huntington Ms 264) translated work of Mardi ibn 'Ali at-Tarsui written before 1190, by the French scholar Claude Cahen in Un Traite d'Armurerie Compose pour Saladin, Bulletin d'Etudes Orientales, Vol XII, 1947-8 pp 103-163

The Crossbow, R. Payne-Gallwey, London 1903

Dagligt liv i Norden pa 1500-talet, Del 7, T. F. Troels-Lund, Stockholm, 1932. (Daily life in the North in the 16th Century).

The Devills Enginne, Early Medieval Crossbows 1066-1400, Gary G. Ball, 2000

Die Entwickelung des Kriegswesens und der Kriegfuhrung in der Ritterzeit, G Kohler, 1887 (The development of warfare in the knightly period).

European Crossbows: A survey by Josef Alm, Translated by H Bartlett, Edited by G M Wilson, Royal Armouries Monograph 3. First published 1947, first translated 1994.

Failure of an Elite - The Genoese at Crecy, David Nicolle, 2000, Osprey Publishing

Geschichte des Schiesswesens der Infanterie, Zeitschrift fur Historische Waffenkunde, Band 2, P. Sixl, Dresden, 1900. (History of missile weapons used by infantry).

Das Geschutz im Mittelalter, B. Rathgen, Berlin, 1928. ( Shooting in the Middle Ages).

Handbuch der Waffenkunde, W. Boheim, Leipzig, 1890. (Handbook for the study of weapons).

Handbuch einer Geschichte des Kriegeswesens von der Urzeit bis zur Renaissance, M. Jahns, Lepzig 1880. (Manual on the history of warfarefrom the earliest times to the Renaissance).

Konig Johann der Blinde von Bohmen und der Schlacht bei Crezy, W. Rose, Dresden 1915-17. (King John the Blind of Bohemia and the Battle of Crecy)

The Medieval Archer, Jim Bradbury, 1985

Nachrichten uber Waffen aus dem Tresslerbuche des Deutschen Ordens, B. Engel, Dresden, 1897-1899. (Data on weapons from the record books of the Teutonic Order).

Preussika hansestadernas beslut av den 12 Juli 1395, Bildrag till Skandinaviens historia ur utlandska arkiver, Band 2, C. G. Styffe, Stockholm 1864. (Prussian Hanse Towns Decree of 12 July 1395).

Proverbs, Martin H. Manser, 2002

Saxes Danasage, oversat af Jorgen Olrik, Bind 4, Copenhagen, 1909. (The history of the Danes by Saxo Grammaticus).

Sodermannalagen, udgiven av, C.J. Schlyter, Lund 1844. (The laws of Sodermannalagen).

 

Glossary

Arbalest or arcubalistae, Latin for Roman war machine devised for shooting arrows.

Arbalestes a tour, a large crossbow spanned by the use of a windlass.

Arbalestre or Arbaleste, Medieval French derived from the latin Arbalest.

Arbaleste gemelle, old French for crossbow that shoots two bolts.

Arbalests a tour, crossbows that use a spanning belt with a pulley, see also Turni Balistarii.

Arbalista ad duos pedes, two-foot crossbow.

Arbalista ad unm Pedem, one-foot crossbow.

Arborst, North German term for crossbow.

Armborstmakere, German term for 14th century maker of crossbows.

Armbrost or Armbrust, Medieval High German for crossbow.

Artillery from the old French word atellier meaning, to arrange, and attillement meant apparatus or equipment.

Artillier, a builder of war machines, Etienne Boileau (c.1268).

Back crossbow, the English translation of the German Ruckarmburst. It is not clear what the difference is between a back crossbow and a stirrup or foot-loop crossbow, and could indicate that spanned with two-feet, a spanning hook or a goats-foot lever.

Balcanelle, blunt bolts.

Balista or ballista - medieval Latin for crossbow.

Balista sine nuce, quae duos projicul quarelos, double crossbow capable of shooting two bolts.

Balistae lignea ad duos pedes, wooden bow.

Balistae de cornu ad duos pedes, composite bow.

Balistarius, German term for 14th century maker of crossbows.

Balistas de torno, a large crossbow spanned by the use of a windlass.

Balistas dorsales, back crossbows.

Balistas stegerepas, foot loop crossbows.

Balistifex, German term for 14th century maker of crossbows.

Bankarmbrost, from the lands of the Teutonic Knights, rampart crossbow, named after the bank on which it stood

Baudrier or Baudre, French term for spanning belt.

Bender, (vippa), literal translation is pump handle or lever, and is used to describe the goats-foot lever.

Bolt, the wooden shaft shot from crossbows, see also quarrel.

Bow, the part of the crossbow to which the string is attached at each end and pulled back under tension.

Crannequin, French name derived from Dutch or German Kraeneke, also known as the German winch, a crossbow winding mechanism involving cogs and a rack with teeth.

de torno vel de lena, spanned with natural strength.

Espignol, Espingales, a rampart crossbow.

Getfoten, Goats-foot lever.

Goats-foot lever, a mechanism for spanning a crossbow involving the use of a lever.

Grosses arbaletes, rampart crossbows.

Jawzah, arabic term for the crossbow lock mechanism using a nut.

Khattaf, arabic term for two-hooked claw for drawing the crossbow.

Latchets, northern England and Scottish term for crossbow.

Lath, see bow.

Limbs, see bow.

Lock, the mechanism for holding the string of a strung crossbow.

Lockbows, northern European term for crossbow.

Magnas balistas, rampart crossbow.

Magnae arbalista ad turno, large rampart crossbow with windlass.

Nut, the mechanism that holds the crossbow string under tension.

Pavesarii - soldiers who wielded shields to protect the crossbowmen.

Pfilzeine, Medieval German term for a crossbow bolt shaft, evolving ito the modern German zaine.

Pilsticker, northern and western German term for the craftsman who of fitting shafts.

Piltenar, medieval term used in Sweden, for a crossbow bolt shaft.

Prod, see bow.

Quarrel, the wooden shaft shot from a crossbow, so called because of the 4 sided head used in sharp and blunt heads, see alos bolt.

Quarellari, Genoese craftsman who made crossbow quarrels and bolts.

Ribald, a rampart crossbow.

Ruckarmburst, German term meaning back crossbow. It is not clear what the difference is between a back crossbow and a stirrup or foot-loop crossbow, and could indicate that spanned with two-feet, a spanning hook or a goats-foot lever.

Samson belt, a rope running from the spaning belt through a pulley pulley with hook that attached to the string, the end of the rope attaching to the rear of the tiller, allowing spanning of the crossbow.

Schtzenmeister, German term for 14th century maker of crossbows, used in Naumburg.

Selfbow, a bow made of one piece of wood.

Spanning, the process of pulling back the crossbow string.

Springal, springol, or springarde, a rampart crossbow.

Steigreifarmbrust, German term for stirrup crossbow.

Sticken, northern and western German term for the process of fitting shafts.

Stock, the piece of woof perpindicular to the bow.

Thene, Low German Medieval term, also used in Denmark, for a crossbow bolt shaft.

Tiller, the stock of the crossbow.

Trigger, the mechanism that releases the nut which holds the crossbow string.

Turni Balistarii, crossbows that use a spanning belt with a pulley, see also Arbalests a tour.

Tzagran or tzangran, Byzantium Greek for crossbow.

Windlass crossbow, a large crossbow spanned by the use of a windlass.

Wintarmbruste or wintarmborst, rampart crossbow.

Zeyne, High German medieval term for a crossbow bolt shaft.

UK Crossbow Law

 

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