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An extract from Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066
by Ian Heath
130. FRENCH CROSSBOWMAN
[Based on the Commentaries of Hayman on Ezekiel]
The first written record of the crossbow in post-Roman Europe is in the 10th century chronicler Richer's 'History of France'.
He records it in use at the siege of Senlis in 949 and at Verdun in 985. This figure from a French ms. dates to c. 1000 though he may be late-10th century.
Crossbowmen also appear in 2 Spanish mss. of c. 1050
and c. 1060; see also figure 36.
Early crossbows were loaded by putting both feet on the inside curves of the bow and pulling back the string until it locked on a catch.
The short, thick arrow, called a bolt or later a quarrel (from its 4-sided head), was placed in a groove on the stock.
It was fired with the stock against the shoulder by a lever-operated metal trigger mechanism and easily outranged self or composite bows.
The bolts discharged with tremendous force, could pass through shield, armour and body without being stopped;
Anna Comnena relates how a crossbow bolt passed clean through a bronze statue, or could disappear out of sight into a city wall!
Although crossbows are not shown in the Tapestry William of Poitiers records their use at Hastings.
See also a crossbow in 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' in Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liébana, Spain, 1086AD. Cathedral of El Burgo de Osma (Soria). Archives. Cod. 1
and a crossbow in 'The Army of Antiochus V' in the Roda Bible, Spain, c.1050-1100AD. Biblia Sancti Petri Rodensis. Bibliothèque Nationale de France Ms Latin 6.
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