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> Range of the Medieval Crossbow
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
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
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
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
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of the Medieval Crossbow > p.25
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