Open main menu

Page:Notes and Queries - Series 9 - Volume 11.djvu/427

This page needs to be proofread.

8*8. XL MAY 23, 1903.] NOTES AND QUERIES.


Nominally that subject is the crossbow. Incident- ally, however, the work deals with bows generally as implements of war and the chase ; with the long- bow, to which in^ mediaeval times the incontestable superiority of English marksmanship, and conse- quently of English arms generally, was due; the short bow, the hand-gun, and other missiles. By extension, too, it is occupied with the balista and catapult of the ancients, mentioned in Biblical annals " Et fecit in Jerusalem diversi generis machinas, quas in turribus collocavit, et in angulis murorum, ut mitterent sagittas et saxa grandia" (2 Paralip., xxvi. 15) and with the trebuchet of mediaeval times. Possessor of a fine we should suppose unrivalled collection of crossbows, Sir Ralph is able to supply, in addition to designs of the bows themselves, illustrations of the method of workmanship, not a few of them the result of his own experiments. Besides these sources, Sir Ralph has had carefully copied designs from Viollet - le Due, Vegetius, Strutt, the Bayeux Tapestry, and other authorities, ancient and modern, printed or MS., while the projectile im- plements of early warfare he has had reconstructed by modern workmen. It is a curious fact, which we accept on the authority of the writer, that there are but one or two old English longbows in existence, the bow itself being but " a hewn stick of foreign yew of no intrinsic value." On the other hand, numbers of beautifully constructed mediaeval crossbows are forthcoming, and on some of these the artist, the engraver, the inlayer, and the mechanic have exercised their talents. While books on the longbow, the use of which was prac- tically confined to the English, are abundant, no work devoted exclusively to the crossbow is known in any language, though this arm, as Sir Ralph says, " was carried by hundreds of thousands of soldiers in mediaeval warfare, and has ever since been popular on the Continent for sporting or target use."

The introduction into England of the crossbow as a military and sporting arm Sir Ralph assigns con- jecturally to the Norman invaders of 1066. But no picture of the crossbow is shown on the Bayeux Tapestry, nor is it until the fourteenth century that illustrations of its use are of pretty frequent occurrence. Long before that time, how- ever, the crossbow, though still primitive in shape, had sprung into popularity in English and conti- nental armies. In the twelfth century its use, on account of the dreadful wounds it inflicted, was forbidden by the more enlightened monarchs ; and its employment, except against infidels, was inter- dicted, as a weapon hateful to God and unfit for Christians, by the second Lateran Council in 1139 under pain of an anathema. Richard Cceur de Lion, an expert with the weapon, was, while pros- trate with fever, carried on a mattress in order to shoot bolts at the paynim defenders of Acre ; and his death at the siege of the castle of Chaluz, near Limoges, in 1199, by a wound inflicted by a crossbow, was regarded as a " visitation " for the employment of these prohibited weapons. These and other statements of the kind we take from Sir Ralph. Under the word ' Crossbow ' the first use traceable in the 'H.E.D.' is by Higden in the fifteenth century ; under ' Arbalest '=arblast, men- tion is made in the ' Old English Chronicle ' under the year 1079. The Genoese were the chief users of the crossbow, and are said to have employed it so early as 1099 at the siege of

Jerusalem. Froissart gives an animated account of jthe behaviour of the Genoese crossbow men at the battle of Cre"cy: "When the Genoese had assembled, and began to advance, they made a great leap and cry, to affright the English ; but they [the English] stood firm for all that : then the Genoese made another leap, and a fierce cry, and stepped forward a little, and the Englishmen retreated not a foot: thirdly, again they leaped and cried, and marched forward till they came within shot : then they shot fiercely with their crossbows ; when the English archers stepped for- ward one pace, and let fly their arrows so regularly, and so thick, that it appeared like snow. When the Genoese felt the arrows piercing through their heads, arms, and breasts, many of them cast down their crossbows, and cut their strings, and returned discomfited. When the French King saw them fly, he said 'Slay these rascals, for they will hinder and trouble us without reason ' : then the men of arms rushed among them, and killed a great number of them ; and the English still shot their arrows wherever they saw the greatest number " (Berners's 'Froissart,' vol. i. chap. cxxx.). It was urged that at Cre"cy the bowstrings of the Genoese were wet and failed to act. Sir Ralph has, how- ever, tested the matter by soaking a steel crossbow in a tank of water without finding any appreciable alteration in the tightness of the string. The development of the crossbow as described consists in the addition of windlasses and other substitutes for manual labour in tightening the string. Mon- dragon, in Spain, where, it may be said, a curious collection of ancient arms is still on view, was as famous for the manufacture of crossbows as was Toledo for that of sword-blades. Pyrmont, in Germany, was another famous source. It was celebrated by Sir John Harington in his translation of Ariosto :

But as a strong and justly tempered bow Of Pyrmont steel, the more you do it bend, Upon recoil doth give the bigger blow And doth with greater force the quarrel send.

No less interesting than the designs of crossbows in warfare are those of the same weapon for the chase. Many of these are very striking. The disappear- ance of the English longbow is fixed by Sir Ralph at between 1580 and 1590. At a period even later, we fancy, practice with the longbow was com- pulsory in England, and the practice of other games was punished. The primitive crossbow dis- patched its bolt with considerable force, was, Sir Ralph holds, a more accurate arm than the ordinary bow of its period, and was probably capable of piercing, on emergency, a coat of mail. What is said concerning the warlike weapons of antiquity adds greatly to our knowledge of the subject, and demands an amount of attention which, for reasons of space, we are unable to bestow. The volume is finely illustrated, and is a work of exem- plary labour. Exactly the kind of work is it to gladden the soul of the antiquary and to form a welcome feature in every carefully selected library beside such works as Burton's unfinished ' History of the Sword,' the Duke of Newcastle's work on the art of the manege, books on fencing, and the like, which have a peculiar fascination for a large class of readers. In French may be found one or two descriptions of local collections of cross- bows which Sir Ralph might with advantage consult.