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The Crossbow   >  Chapter 5   >  Range of the Medieval Crossbow   > p.25

Table of Contents List of Illustrations Index Appendix

The Range of the Medieval Crossbow

In his clever novel ' The White Company ' Sir Conan Doyle describes a contest between the crossbow and the longbow which is simply amazing in its details, the archer finally shooting an arrow to a distance of over 600 paces!1

The author of ' The White Company ' incorrectly describes the crossbow in several details ; he even alludes to its double string.

No bolt shooting crossbow, such as the one described in ' The White Company,' had anything but a single string. The double stringed crossbows merely discharged stone pebbles, or else pellets of baked clay, never bolts ; the smaller kind were used by ladies and pages, and the larger by shooters of small game, such as rabbits, partridges on the ground, or, by means of a lantern, pigeons roosting in the trees at night. Yet there is a modern picture of Queen Elizabeth knocking a stag head over heels, at some hundred yards or more, with a double-stringed stonebow which, at its best, would scarce have killed a thrush at twenty paces. This is an example of how little is known of the crossbow at the present day. It is from the primitive double-stringed stone-bow of the sixteenth century that our comparatively modern, and far more powerful, rook-shooting bullet crossbow was adapted.

The feats achieved with the longbow were proverbially enlarged upon in England as soon as the weapon became obsolete, and when the gossip of ancient archers was no doubt listened to with interest by a rising generation who could not contradict the stories they were told, and who had but slight acquaintance with the weapon. The phrase ' drawing the longbow ' soon passed into a proverb, which suggested an exaggeration of the truth of any unusual performance ; yet it was, probably, pleasant enough to sit in the chimney corner of a village inn, and to listen, over tankards of ale, to the highly-coloured reminiscences of John, the archer and old soldier, or to those of Will, the tall yeoman, both of whom, maybe, had carried their bows on the fateful field of Flodden.

Whatever its extreme range may have been, there is small reason to doubt that at a distance of 150 yards the old English longbow quite equalled, if it was not indeed superior to, the flint-lock musket or ' Brown Bess' which was carried by our soldiers till about 1840.

If a hundred good marksmen armed with the ' Brown Bess ' as used at Waterloo, and a hundred of the best archers of the days of Crecy and Agincourt, could be opposed to one another in line at 120 yards, the archers would, in my opinion, gain an easy victory.

The archers could discharge at

1 We read in the same chapter of The White Company that two other bowmen severed in eight shots the hempen cable of a large vessel moored 200 paces from the shore. Marvellous aiming this, when we consider that to cut the cable through, the eight arrows must have struck it within some quarter of an inch of each other! - and this at 200 paces!

The Crossbow   >  Chapter 5   >  Range of the Medieval Crossbow   > p.25


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