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The Military Crossbow
the approach to its gateway. A crossbow could be strung in , and discharged
from, a room not 6 feet high to the ceiling, whilst a longbowman required
a height of at least 7 feet in order to shoot an arrow with effect.
Nor did the crossbow require the strength,
skill and practice to manipulate it that were so necessary in the case
of the longbow.
The narrow cruciform loophole, called by architects "Arbalestina," which
is usually to be seen in the masonry of a mediaeval fortress, was designed
for the special use of crossbowmen in repelling an assault.
Fig 5. - Arbalestina
From the Glossary of Terms of Architechure, 1840
To enable the crossbow, or longbow, to be aimed
to the right or left through a loophole, the aperture was greatly widened
out on the inside face of the perforated wall.
The perpendicular loopholes, also common in ancient castles, were intended
for the archer with his longbow, hence they were not cruciform in outline1.
The perfected military crossbow of the fifteenth
century, with its steel bow and appendages, being heavy, and slow in action,
could not be utilised so readily for shooting quickly at single combatants,
or at small bodies of men and horse on the open field of battle, as could
the longbow. Its weight alone precluded it from being aimed with success
against rapidly moving objects, nor could its bolt be directed with precision
if a hurried aim was taken.
Fig 6 - Crossbowmen
They represent French soldiers at the defence of Rouen,
1419, shooting from behind the shelter of shields propped up in front of
On the other hand, a skilful archer with his longbow might quite possibly
pierce a galloping stag with an arrow at a distance of 70 yards, and, if
he failed to strike his mark, send another shaft at his quarry before it
was out of bow-shot.2
This advantage of rapid aiming and shooting, the longbowman could apply
1 ' Our Chateau de Cheeignee we have assigned
to the Earl of Montfort in such wise that he is to understand we cannot
allow in it any perpendicular loophole for archers, nor any cruciform loophole
for crossbow-men.' - From a Royal Charter of France dated 1239 and quoted
in Sir S. Meyrick's work on Ancient Armour.
2 If an archer expected to use two arrows in
rapid succession, he held his second arrow against the back of his bow
with his left hand, or else pressed into the palm of the right hand by
the thumb, so that he could instantly seize it and fit it to his bow-string,
and thus save the time that would otherwise be spent in extracting it from
a quiver. On the other hand the crossbowman, when bending his bow, held
a bolt between his teeth, so that it might be ready to fit to his weapon
without any delay. Pages 49, 124.
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