The Fifteenth Century Military and Sporting Crossbow
with a Thick Steel Bow which was Bent by a Windlass
and Ropes and Discharged a Bolt
GROSSE ARBALESTE - ARBALESTE A MOULINET - ROLLING PURCHASE CROSSBOW
There is no evidence to show the exact period when the perfected military
crossbow - which was so popular on the Continent in the fifteenth century
- was first used in warfare.
This powerful crossbow, with its thick and broad steel bow and its windlass1,
is first alluded to in contemporary accounts of battles and sieges which
occurred shortly before the last quarter of the fourteenth century 2
. It is, however, probable that crossbows with steel bows were in use soon
after Crecy, their bows being comparatively small and weak, and bent by
the thong and pulley, claw to the waist-belt, or by goat's-foot levers.
The smaller steel crossbow was either slung upon the back of the foot
soldier, or suspended from the saddle of the mounted man.
The large military crossbow was far too ponderous to be carried by a
man on horseback, nor could its bow be bent by any apparatus except its
heavy windlass, a method of winding up the bowstring which would have been
impossible in the case of horsemen.
1 Windlass or moulinet. In one form or other,
the windlass had been used for bending the bow of the Roman Balista for
centuries before it was applied to the crossbow carried by hand. See Balista,
2 In the illustrations appended to Froissart's
chronicles, this crossbow is frequently shown as being used in the battles
and sieges of the first half of the fourteenth century, as at Crecy for
instance. The illustrations to the chronicles were drawn, however, by artists
of the fifteenth century, who no doubt pictured the weapon they were then
acquainted with. For instance, the illustrations showing windlass crossbows,
pp. 4, 7, 20, are from fifteenth century MSS. of Froissart's chronicles.
This, and the other drawings in his translation, were reproduced by Colonel
Johnes, 1803-5, chiefly from the MS. of Froissart in the library of St.
Elizabeth at Breslau in Prussia. Colonel Thomas Johnes was a Welsh squire,
and at one time Lord Lieutenant of Cardiganshire : he established a private
printing press at his residence, Hafod, where he issued his fine edition
of Froissart, 1803-5. Colonel Johnes was also celebrated for his philanthropy,
and especially for his zeal in forming plantations to cover the barren
wastes of the district in which he lived. In four years, 1796-1800, he
is said to have planted over two million trees. There is no evidence to
prove that the great military crossbow of the fifteenth century, with its
windlass, was in use at the time of Crecy (see remarks on crossbows at
Crecy, pages 5, 6).