Crossbow > Chapter 5
> Range of the Medieval Crossbow
least six shafts to every bullet fired by their opponents, and they
would also, I believe, shoot with greater accuracy and effect.1
In connection with long-distance shooting with the bow, I append a letter
written by one of my ancestors to another, who were both skilled and enthusiastic
archers in their day. This letter, and the paper that follows it, describe
the extraordinary distances said to have been achieved by the Turks
with their bows, when shooting to attain a long range with a miniature
I must explain, however, (and this goes a long way to account for the
distances recorded in the letter and paper quoted,) that the flight arrows
of the Turks and Persians were lighter and shorter than an English flight
arrow. These Turkish and Persian arrows
were only 2 ft. to 2 ft. 2 in. in length, and those which I have seen and
owned, were made of bamboo. A small cap of steel or ivory acted as a head,
and a little piece of hard wood as the nock, the feathering being formed
of two strips of thin paper, varnished to keep it hard and upright. The
arrow being so short, its head was drawn several inches inside the belly
of the bow; for this reason, the forepart of the arrow was laid on a flat
piece of horn about 8 in. long, with a straight groove down its centre.
This horn piece was buckled in a level position along the wrist of the
bow-arm of the archer, so that the arrow could be discharged without striking
his wrist or the inside of the bow. In fact, the archer turned himself
into a great crossbow, and in this way he discharged
a short light arrow from a very powerful bow, and hence of course attained
an immense range with it.
I need scarcely add that an arrow of this description was useless for
1 As an example of what was considered a good
shot with the 'Brown Bess' at about the time of Waterloo, I give the following
The original MS. in which the occurrence is recorded,
is in the possession of my friend - the diarist's nephew - Sir Henry Ingilby,
of Ripley Castle, Yorkshire.
Extract from tlie Diary of Lieutenant Ingilby, R.H.A.
(afterwards General Sir William Ingilby}, in the Peninsular and Waterloo
'May 10, 1811. - A Spanish officer of Don Juliano's Guerillas
was killed to-day through his own imprudence. An uncommon thick fog obscured
the morning, and, as the sun dissipated it, this officer made his appearance
between the lines of vedettes, brandishing his sabre and making most extravagant
gestures. He was as near the French vedettes as our own. Lord Wellington
mistook him for a French dragoon and instantly ordered a soldier of the
guard to fire at him, who, resting his musket on one of our gun-wheels,
fired, and the ball passing through the head of the person, he fell dead
to the ground. I witnessed myself this singular shot. The distance of it
was afterwards measured and found to be 80 yards!'
NOTE ON THE ' BROWN BESS.' - The flint-lock arquebus was
introduced into England from the Netherlands by William III. The last syllable
of the name ' arquebus' was detached in England, and anglicised into '
Bess ;' the weapon being called ' Brown Bess ' either from the colour of
its barrel, or of its dark walnut stock. ' Bess,' as pointed out, was an
English corruption of the Dutch ' Bus,' a barrel. The word ' Bus' was formerly
applied indifferently to a barrel or a gun. For example, ' Donner-bus '
in Dutch meant the ' thundering barrel,' but was changed in England to
Again, ' Handbus' was a pistol,
literally a hand-gun, and' Bus-scbieter' a gunner or barrel-shooter. The
transition of the name from Arquebus to Brown Bess may be taken as : -
The Brown Arquebus - Brown Bus (i.e. brown barrel or gun) - Brown Bess.
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