The Arbalest, or Crossbow
MONGST the weapons used in early English times, there was hardly one so
deadly and effectual as the crossbow. It is not familiar to us now,
being different from the ordinary bow and arrow, which we still see
sometimes. It gets its name because it has the appearance of a cross,
and is a very interesting old weapon, for with its trigger and spring it
led to the invention of the musket.
Loading a Military Crossbow.
Crossbow and Arrows used for Sport.
The Normans used the crossbow, and had also a sort of machine, not
unlike it, that threw out showers of arrows, or even stones.
Another name for the crossbow was 'arbalist,' and its arrows were called
quarils, or bolts. These were made of various sorts of wood; about a
dozen trees were used for the purpose, but ash-wood was thought to be
the best. Generally the arrows had a tip of iron, shaped like a pyramid,
pointed, though for shooting at birds the top was sometimes blunt, so
that a bird might be struck down without being badly wounded. One old
writer says that a great difference between the long-bow and the
crossbow was, that success did not depend upon who pulled the lock—a
child might do this as well as a man—but with the long-bow strength was
everything. In fact, during the Tudor times, the kings specially
encouraged the archers to practise shooting with the long-bow, and
people were even forbidden to keep crossbows. The crossbow, however,
when it had reached perfection, carried much further than the ordinary
The crossbow is said to have been invented in Italy, but it seems that
the Saxons had this bow, though it was not used much until long after,
when the Normans came over. According to an old tradition, it was by a
bolt from a crossbow that King Harold received a fatal wound at the
Battle of Hastings, For some reason or other crossbows were condemned
by a Council in 1139, and Christians were forbidden to use them, but
during the wars with the Saracens they were again made serviceable, by
command of King Richard I. Strange to say, Richard himself was killed,
we are told, by a bolt shot from the ramparts of the Castle of Chaluz,
which he was besieging.
A Contest with the Longbow.
The pay of a crossbowman in the reign of Edward II. was sixpence a day,
probably equal to three or four shillings of our money. There are old
houses in England where crossbows are still to be seen; one among them
is said to have been Robin Hood's. During England's wars with France the
bow was an important weapon. At the famous Battle of Cressy the English
had about three thousand archers, mostly armed with long-bows; the
French had arbalists, or crossbows, and, on the whole, they were less
successful, as, again, at Agincourt. During the reign of Elizabeth,
however, the crossbow was once more popular, owing to an improved kind
being invented in Holland. It then became the chief weapon of the
Artillery Company of London, which still exists.