CROSSBOWMAN, 15th CENTURY

An extract from Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 1
by Ian Heath



48.      CROSSBOWMAN, 15th CENTURY

It is clear from the sources that many pavises were considerably lighter and smaller than those described above. The figure depicted here, based largely on illustrations in a 15th century edition of Froissart, carries one such on his back, ending support to the theory first put forward by Viollet-le-Duc that crossbowmen carried their pavises thus and turned their backs on the enemy for protection while they reloaded; in fact one figure in the 1398 ‘Grandes Chroniques’ can actually be seen doing just this. It was probably pavises of this kind that are claimed to have been left behind in the baggage train by the Genoese crossbowmen at Crécy, this being one of the various reasons cited to explain their discomfiture by the English longbowmen on that occasion.

Note the open helmet that is worn here; one of Louis XI’s ordinances actually specifies that crossbowmen should have the brims and visors of their helmets cut away near the cheek on the right side in order for them not to interfere with the aiming of the crossbow. Body armour comprises a brigandine over a mail haubergeon. Most brigandines were apparently sleeveless, but some had fabric or even plate-harness sleeves. It should be noted that throughout this book I have used the same stylised technique to portray the brigandine as was used by contemporary artists, who limited the number of rivet heads depicted to a bare minimum; in fact, each single dot in the illustrations would have actually been comprised of a cluster of up to 6 or more individual rivets, often arranged rosette-fashion.

The handgun was in use in France by the 1380s, though it was slow to replace the immensely popular crossbow. Even in 1520 a future Marshal of France could complain that ‘only crossbowmen were in the French army, and not one soldier with a handgun.’ Nevertheless, one source claims, rather improbably, that in 1411 Charles, Duc d’Orleans, had as many as 4,000 men with handguns at the blockade of Paris.

[The pavise is based on the Siege of Duras (1377), in Chroniques by Jean Froissart, copy from Bruges, Belgium, c.1470-1475AD, BnF Français 2644]
[A dagged mail shirt can be seen in the Capture of Caen (1346), in Chroniques by Jean Froissart, copy from Bruges, Belgium, c.1470-1475AD, BnF Français 2643]



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