The Primitive Crossbow with a Bow of Solid Wood,
which was Bent by Manual Power Only
The earliest crossbow doubtless had its bow formed of one stout piece
of tough wood, such as ash or yew. It was bent by drawing its string to
the catch of the lock by means of the hands alone.
The feet were pressed against the centre of the bow to gain a leverage,
one foot on each side of the stock. As the primitive crossbow had no stirrup,
the back of its bow could be placed close to the ground, for the purpose
of placing the feet upon it preparatory to drawing its bow-string.
Fig. 24, next page, shows a crossbowman bending his weapon in this manner.
These simply constructed crossbows may be recognised in illuminated
missals by the absence of a stirrup, and by the length, thickness and roughness
of their bows (as if wrapped outside with cord to strengthen them). This
thickness, their size and rough outline, and especially the absence of
the stirrup, plainly show that their bows could not have been of steel,
or even of composite construction.
It will here be interesting to give the description of the crossbow
of about the time of the first Crusade, as written by Anna Comnena, who
attributes its invention to the French.1 This authoress not
only gives us an accurate account of the weapon, but also tells us when
it was first seen (in reality re-introduced) in warfare. She writes : '
It is a bow of a kind unknown to the Greeks and to the Barbarians. This
terrible weapon is not worked by drawing its cord
1 Princess Anna Comnena, b. 1083, d. 1148,
daughter of Emperor Alexis I., wrote the Alexiad (the history of her father,
in fifteen books). As Anna Comnena was only sixteen years of age in 1099,
she could not, prodigy though we know she was, have been the authoress
of the Alexiad if it was finished in 1099, as stated in works of reference.
In 1118, Anna was banished from court by her brother for
intriguing against him. The history of her father, she tells us in her
preface, was compiled to console and occupy her during her banishment.
The Alexiad must, therefore, have been produced between 1118 and 1148.
The fact that Anna refers to the crossbow as a novelty,
shows us, from our knowledge of its antiquity, that its common use in warfare
had been discontinued for many years previous to the first Crusade. There
is, however, sufficient evidence to prove that crossbows were carried by
the Normans at the invasion of England in 1066, p. 45.