Near the close of the fourteenth century, the Continental crossbow had
become such a costly weapon, and one of such importance in warfare, that
in Spain the crossbowman was even granted the rank of a knight. The position
of ' Master of the Crossbowmen,' in France, Italy and Spain, was one of
great honour, and only bestowed on persons of high consequence and title.
A troop of mounted crossbowmen, of special skill and courage, usually formed
the bodyguard of the king, and attended him in battle. Mounted crossbowmen
were largely employed on the Continent in the fourteenth, and first half
of the fifteenth century, and these men were usually allowed one and sometimes
even two horses apiece, besides being supplied, when on the march, with
carts to carry their crossbows and quarrels.
Hand-guns commenced slowly to supersede crossbows in Continental armies
between 1460 and 1470, though the latter continued more or less in favour
till the close of the fifteenth century. Paolo Giovio1 writes
that 'at the entry of Charles VIII. into Rome, in 1494, there were 500
Gascons among the troops, almost all carrying crossbows with steel bows.'
Crossbowmen were employed in limited numbers (on the Continent only)
till about 1515, except in France, where, according to De Montluc, (p.
39) the crossbow was the popular weapon of the soldier, both mounted and
on foot, till 1518-20.
At the battle of Marignano, near Milan, September 1515, where Francis
I. defeated the Duke of Milan and the Swiss, this king had among his bodyguard
200 mounted crossbowmen who rendered signal service.2
In Spain, soldiers armed with crossbows were also retained till a later
date than was the case in other foreign countries and states, France excepted.
The famous General Cortes had a company of Spanish crossbowmen in his
army at the siege and capture of Mexico in 1521, and employed them
in defence and assault as freely as he did his soldiers armed with hand-guns.
The small band of about a hundred adventurous Spaniards who sailed from
Panama in 1524, under Pizarro, to explore Peru, consisted of crossbowmen
only. In the conquest of Peru, 1532-1533, Pizarro had, however, only about
a dozen crossbowmen among his followers.3
Crossbowmen were finally discarded in open warfare by all Continental
armies between 1522 and 1525, but were occasionally used on foreign ships
of war, and in the defence or attack of a besieged town or castle, till
1 Paolo Giovio - Italian historian, born 1483,
2 Guillaume de Bellay.
3 Prescott's Conquest of Mexico and Peru.