Nursery Rhymes

Crossbow

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Facts and information about the Medieval Crossbow
The weapons used during the Middle Ages included the Crossbow. The correct term for a crossbow is an Arbalest. The crossbow applied engineering to the short bow. The crossbow bolt, unlike a light flying arrow, was short with a deadly point. The 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. The description of the Crossbow which provides basic facts and information about the weapon is as follows:

  • A 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 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 crossbow
    • By this mechanical method of 'drawing' the string far more tension could be gained than be muscle power alone. The crossbow was therefore an ideal weapon for a young boy, an old man or a sick soldier!
  • The 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 crossbow sight
  • An untrained soldier could operate a crossbow
  • The 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 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 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 Crossbow versus the Longbow
The Crossbow was supplanted by the longbow. The 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 longbowman could release between 10 - 12 arrows per minute - but required considerable training.

Middle Ages Weapons
Middle Ages Index

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