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The Crossbow   >  Chapter 1   >   Military Crossbow   >  p.5

Table of Contents List of Illustrations Index Appendix

The Military Crossbow

ground at Crecy was so boggy that the crossbowmen could not stand firm when they endevoured to stretch the strings of their weapons ; but as the field of Crecy consists of rather steep downs, and not of lowland, it is not probable that the state of the ground impeded the crossbowmen.

Although much doubt has been thrown on the statement that the crossbows of Genoese failed to act on this occasion, owing to their strings being slackened by wet weather, it is possible that the incident occurred, without, however, in any measure influencing the result of the battle.

The string might easily have been rendered less effective than usual by the heavy rain that fell just before the battle, and by the bright sun which is known to have succeeded the rain.

This combination of water and heat would certainly relax in some degree the strings of the crossbows used at the time of Crecy, if they were uncovered, and would make the strings too loose to be of good service, till they could be removed from the bows in order to be shortened by twisting, and then replaced ; all of which would entail, of course, time and care.

It should be remembered that the bows of the Genoese crossbowmen at Crecy were doubtless composite ones, made of wood, horn, sinew and glue, bow of steel being of latter introduction.

The composite bow was straight, hence its bowstring was fixed to it in a necessarily rather slack condition ; for this reason the thread composing its string, being more or less detached, were liable to absorb moisture.

On the other hand, the threads that composed the tightly strained string of a steel crossbow, lay closely packed together, and a in this case the string was always thickly smeared, both inside and outside, with beeswax to preserve it, it was impervious to water.

To test the matter, I have sunk a steel crossbow in a tank of water for a day and a night and have found no appreciable alteration in the tightness of its string. I have also placed in water a crossbow with a comparatively loose string - such as those which I believe were used by the Genoese at Crecy - and found that after half an hour's submersion, the application of a lever to bend the bow caused the string subsequently to stretch down the stock an inch further than its proper position, its tautness, and consequent effectiveness, thus being lost.

The supposition that the crossbow of the Genoese at Crecy had bows of wood, or of wood and horn, is confirmed in a curious way by David-ap-Gwilyn, the famous Welsh bard and archer of the fourteenth century. In one of his poems, the bard refers to a soldier who had sailed with Edward III to fight at Crecy, and whom he had cause to hate, as he had supplanted the poet in the affections of his mistress. 

The poet calls upon the enemy to shoot his more

The Crossbow   >  Chapter 1   >   Military Crossbow   >  p.5


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