Medieval Crossbow

When the crossbow first began to be used, it was hated by a number of people. In fact, the Pope declared that if a person used a crossbow, that person could be excommunicated and demanded that the weapon be banned. People viewed crossbowmen as having no honor so people were hesitant to use the weapon. As a result, crossbowmen were paid almost double the pay of other soldiers.

medieval crossbow


Medieval Crossbow Facts for Kids

  • Medieval crossbows shot bolts, not arrows.
  • They were made from wood, iron, and animal gut.
  • A crossbow’s power comes from its prod or bow.
  • Crossbows were used in war and hunting.
  • Bolts fired from crossbows could penetrate armor.
  • Crossbowmen often carried shields for protection.
  • Using a crossbow required less training than a longbow.
  • The first crossbows appeared around the 9th century.
  • Crossbows could be loaded and fired while lying down.
  • Crossbowmen were both feared and respected in battle.

Medieval Warfare

The crossbow is recognized for its pivotal role in redefining the dynamics of medieval warfare, offering distinct advantages over traditional weaponry such as the longbow.

Its operation demanded less physical strength, broadening its usability among soldiers of varying physical capabilities. The crossbow’s design also facilitated a shorter training duration, making it a more readily accessible weapon for medieval armies.

It was particularly instrumental in sieges, owing to its high power and precision, which allowed soldiers to pierce through armor and fortifications from a safe distance. While its slower reload time presented a challenge in swift combat situations, the crossbow’s advantages outweighed this drawback.

Ultimately, its introduction significantly shaped the strategies employed and determined the outcomes of numerous medieval battles.

Siege Engines

During the Middle Ages, the medieval crossbow played a pivotal role in the functioning of siege engines, significantly enhancing their range and destructive potential. Its incorporation into siege engines such as the ballista and mangonel allowed for a more focused and regulated release of bolts, heightening the efficacy of attacks on fortified buildings.

The mechanical advantage of the crossbow, enabling the storing of energy over time, revolutionized siege warfare. Thus, the medieval crossbow was not just an independent weapon but also an integral component in the operation of various siege engines.

Hundred Years War

The Hundred Years’ War saw a transformation in the dynamics of warfare, largely due to the impactful role of the medieval crossbow. This powerful weapon, known for its precision and ability to challenge heavily-armored knights from a distance, revolutionized the battlefield, making tasks that were once considered daunting feasible for foot soldiers.

Its ability to penetrate armor was a game-changer, leading to substantial casualties among knights and horses, and thus turning the tide in numerous battles. Furthermore, the introduction of the crossbow led to a significant shift in warfare strategies, prompting the creation of new defensive formations and tactics.

Although the crossbow had a notable drawback of slow reload time, the immense damage it could inflict outweighed this limitation, making it a formidable weapon for both English and French forces during the Hundred Years War and underscoring its profound influence on medieval warfare.

Armored Knight Tactics

The medieval crossbow significantly influenced the evolution of armored knight tactics in the Middle Ages. As a weapon capable of piercing heavy knight armor, the crossbow fundamentally changed the landscape of medieval warfare.

This necessitated a shift in the strategies and tactics used by knights, who were forced to counter this new threat. Instead of the traditional head-on charge into battle, knights began utilizing more defensive tactics.

These involved leveraging terrain and obstacles for cover and advancing towards enemy lines under the protection of pavise shields. In this way, the advent of the crossbow not only revolutionized weaponry but also catalyzed significant changes in armored knight tactics.

The Battle of Crécy

The medieval crossbow played a pivotal role in the English victory at the Battle of Crécy in 1346, a significant conflict during the Hundred Years’ War. The English army’s expert use of the crossbow, a weapon potent enough to penetrate the heavy armor of French knights, proved devastating to the French forces.

Despite the weapon’s traditionally long reload time, the English mitigated this by deploying crossbowmen in rotating ranks, ensuring an unending volley of bolts.

The effective adoption and use of this technology were instrumental in the English forces’ resounding victory, underscoring the impact of technological advancements in shaping the outcomes of medieval warfare.


During the Crusades, a series of religious wars waged largely by the Latin Church between the 11th and 15th centuries, the medieval crossbow emerged as a potent military tool, serving a pivotal role. The crossbow’s capacity to penetrate chain mail from a long-range revolutionized warfare, especially during the frequent sieges of the Crusades.

However, its usage provoked controversy among the Crusaders, leading to its condemnation by the Second Lateran Council in 1139, which deemed it an inappropriate weapon for Christian warfare.

Regardless of this censure, the crossbow’s battlefield efficacy ensured its enduring utilization throughout the Crusades and beyond.

Weaponry in the Middle Ages

The introduction of the medieval crossbow during the Middle Ages drastically transformed warfare, elevating weaponry and tactics to a new level.

The crossbow’s groundbreaking design, which featured a horizontal bow mounted on a stock, enabled it to exert more force upon firing, resulting in heightened accuracy and impact. This innovative weapon was particularly impactful due to its unique capability to pierce a knight’s plate armor, a feat that traditional longbows found challenging.

Furthermore, the crossbow required less physical strength and training to operate, making it a favored choice among the infantry, despite its slower reloading time. Thus, the power and effectiveness of the medieval crossbow marked it as a game-changing addition to the battlefield.

Archery vs. Crossbow

The medieval crossbow, a significant element in the comparison between archery and crossbow, played a crucial role in shaping the strategies and outcomes of numerous historical battles. Despite both being integral to medieval warfare, their usage and efficacy were markedly different.

The crossbow, favored by infantry forces, was easier to handle and required lesser training than a traditional bow. Owing to its mechanical advantage, it was more powerful and could penetrate armor effectively.

However, it was disadvantaged by slower reloading times compared to the rapid-fire capabilities of skilled longbowmen.

Even so, its capacity to remain loaded for extended periods made it an influential weapon in siege warfare. Thus, the medieval crossbow represented an important evolution in projectile warfare.

Castle Defenses

The introduction of the medieval crossbow during the Middle Ages was a game-changer in castle defenses, revolutionizing warfare by significantly enhancing the defensive strength of fortresses.

The crossbow’s distinct advantages over traditional bows – its operation required less training and physical strength – allowed for more effective utilization by castle defenders. The weapon’s high penetration power, capable of piercing a knight’s armor, along with its extended range, facilitated strikes from the secure confines of castle walls.

This, coupled with its ability to be loaded and ready for rapid firing, made it indispensable during lengthy sieges, maintaining relentless pressure on besiegers.

The advent of the crossbow, therefore, transformed siege warfare strategies, contributing significantly to the seemingly impenetrable nature of many medieval castles.

Military Technology Advances in the Middle Ages

The crossbow’s introduction during the Middle Ages significantly revolutionized military technology, transforming the dynamics of warfare. This weapon, known for its deadly precision and force in launching projectiles, offered a significant advantage due to its relative ease of use.

This reduced the training time traditionally required for longbows, enabling even relatively untrained soldiers to wield it effectively. This feature further amplified its relevance in armies. More significantly, the crossbow introduced a new strategic element in medieval warfare, as it could penetrate the previously impregnable armor of knights, thereby leveling the battlefield.

Thus, the crossbow’s advent and subsequent proliferation marked a pivotal turning point in medieval military technology.

European crossbows

The Medieval crossbow, prominent from the 9th to the 15th century in Europe, revolutionized warfare and hunting practices. This weapon was crafted from wood, iron, and animal gut, and it was admired for its ability to launch bolts with enough force to penetrate armor.

While using a crossbow required less training than a longbow, its real advantage lay in the fact that it could be loaded and fired even from a prone position. This tactical versatility made crossbowmen a formidable presence on European battlefields.

Double Bow Crossbow

The double-bow crossbow, a variant of the medieval crossbow, was an ingenious design advancement. Featuring two bows instead of one, it delivered increased power and range. This formidable weapon, while more complex to construct and heavier to handle, could propel bolts with devastating force.

The double bow design heightened the tactical advantage of crossbowmen on the battlefield. Despite the added difficulty in reloading and the increased weight, its ability to pierce through even heavier armor made the double-bow crossbow a respected weapon in the medieval period.

Crossbow Bolts

Medieval crossbow bolts, also known as quarrels, were a vital part of this formidable weapon’s success. Shorter and heavier than traditional arrows, these bolts were designed to penetrate armor, thanks to their metal tips.

The bolt’s weight provided it with the momentum necessary to pierce targets, making it highly effective in both hunting and warfare. While the bolts lacked the range of traditional arrows, their power, and accuracy when fired from a crossbow became a key factor in the dominance of crossbowmen on the medieval battlefield.

Different Crossbows

The Medieval period saw the development of a variety of crossbows, each with unique features catering to different situations. The simple crossbow, made from wood and iron, was the most common. For more power, the composite crossbow utilized horn, sinew, and wood in its prod. The arbalest, a later version, had a steel prod, delivering greater force. The double-bow crossbow offered even more power and range. Lastly, there was the repeating crossbow, capable of firing multiple bolts without reloading. Each type added versatility and tactical advantage to medieval warfare and hunting.

Crossbow Locks

The lock mechanism of a medieval crossbow, where the string was held and released, played a crucial role in the weapon’s efficiency. The simplest form was the roller nut lock, made from bone or ivory and well-suited to wooden crossbows. The more advanced pin lock, often used in steel crossbows, was more complex but offered a quicker release. The most sophisticated was the trigger lock, which provided the easiest and most reliable release of the bolt. These varying lock types represented the evolving technology and craftsmanship of medieval crossbow design.

Military crossbows

In the military context, the medieval crossbow was a weapon of significant impact. It provided a tactical advantage, as it required less training and physical strength than traditional longbows, thus enabling more soldiers to use it. These military crossbows were often more robust, built to withstand the rigors of warfare, and capable of penetrating enemy armor. Larger versions, sometimes mounted on stands or trestles, were used in sieges for their range and power. The crossbow’s efficiency and versatility made it a crucial part of medieval military arsenals.

How It Was Made

The crossbow was a bow that was turned on its side and attached to a wooden body. This body is called the stock or the tiller and had a trigger. The stock also had a groove on the top where the arrow would be placed. This stock was made from a variety of wood such as yew, elm, ash, or hazel. Once the stock was formed, it would be covered in glue.

The bow part of the crossbow was made of either wood, steel, or iron. The string was made from a number of materials such as sinew, hemp, or whipcord. Sinew comes from the tendons of animals and is pounded with a smooth rock or stick until the tendons start to separate into individual threads which were then woven into a bowstring. Whipcord is made by taking four lengths of fabric and weaving them together.

The crossbow could be shot just like a rifle—held up to your shoulder, aimed, and then the trigger pulled. A hand-held crossbow was 60 to 65 centimeters wide and the stock was around 45 centimeters long. The quarrels were typically shorter and had a sharp point at the end.

Draw Weight and Draw Length

The draw weight is the amount of force the crossbowman needed to exert to pull back the crossbow string. The draw length was how far the string needs to be pulled back.

The draw weight of a crossbow was very high. If a crossbowman wanted to pull the string back just ten centimeters, it would take a force of around 180 kilograms. As a result, it was impossible for a crossbowman to pull the string back by simply using his strength, and he needed some other mechanism to pull the string back.

One mechanism that a crossbowman used was a hook attached to the archer’s belt. To use the hook, the crossbowman would bend over and attach the hook to the string. He would then straighten up causing the string to be pulled back. Another mechanism that was used to draw the crossbow string was a lever. The archer would pull back the lever which in turn would draw back the string. Later, a winch was added to the crossbow to help pull back the string on bigger crossbows. The crossbow arrow (called a bolt or quarrel) was then laid in the groove on top of the stock. The crossbow was then aimed and the trigger pulled.

Skill Required

It did not take a lot of skill to use a crossbow and did not require the years of training that a person needed to use the longbow. The crossbow was also a lot easier to aim than a longbow and could even be used by young boys or injured soldiers. This was one of the moral problems people saw with the crossbow. It could be used by an untrained soldier to injure a knight in plate mail. The nobility felt that commoners should not have a weapon that could injure the commoner’s betters.

Rate of Fire

The crossbow was a fairly slow weapon when compared to a longbow. A crossbowman would average about two to three shots per minute and the range was around 320 to 360 meters. This was a lot slower than the rate of fire of a longbow. An archer could should around ten to twelve shots per minute with a longbow.

Problems with Crossbows

The biggest problem with crossbows were that they were slow. A longbowman could shoot three to four arrows (or more) during the time it would take for a crossbowman to shoot one arrow. The crossbow was very heavy to carry around and it could be damaged by the weather. The crossbow was made up of wood, glue, and iron and did not work well in the rain. Also, the width of the crossbow required that there be a fairly large gap between the crossbowmen. Another problem with the crossbow was that it cost a lot of money and time to make one.

The crossbow was an effective weapon and helped win a number of battles. Although slow, it could be used by an untrained or injured soldier which made it very valuable on the battlefield.