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Home > Books > An Essay on Archery > Chapter XII: On the Arbalest.
Chapter XII
On the Arbalest.
Part 2 of 4

In order to underftand this fentence clearly, it will be neceffary to fay a few words on the conftrudtion of Crofs-bows.

Thefe inftruments being of wood, horn, or fteel, were of various degrees of power; the weaker ones were bent by the hands alone; but to draw the larger and more powerful, there was a kind of ftirrup affixed, into which one foot, and fometimes both feet were placed, in order to affift in moving the ftring. P. Daniel quotes a line from Britton, which fhews that the feet were ufed in the manner fpoken of.202

We have only to conceive, therefore, that William had a Crofs-bow of this kind ; and that he could, even on horfe-back, bend this ftrong weapon, with his foot placed in the ftirrup affixed to it.

An expreffion made ufe of by our old hiftorian, Thorn, feems to imply the ufe of the Arbaleft among the troops, at the battle of Haftings. He fays, the Normans entered the field with drawn Bows, "arcubus tenfis"203 It is well known that Arbalefters frequently carried their weapons with the ftring drawn, and the Arrow placed ready to fhoot; and indeed it became neceffary in more recent times to make a law prohibiting perfons from travelling on the highways with loaded Crofs-bows, as paffengers were much annoyed by the danger of an accidental difcharge. The expreffion, therefore, "with drawn Bows" applies with propriety to the Arbaleft, and cannot be interpreted of the Long-bow.204

I have not been able to difcover the leaft hint, which enables us to judge of the kind of Bow from which the Arrow iffued, that gave the fatal wound to William Rufus, while hunting on New Foreft.

In the time of Henry II. we find feveral fads fpoken of, which fhew the Crofs-bow to have been very common in that reign. In 1172, the conqueft of Ireland was undertaken by the troops of this king; and feveral detachments were fent forth, in each of which Archers are particularly mentioned. The party commanded by Fitz-Stephens was firft landed in Ireland, and confifted of thirty knights, fixty 'fquires, and three hundred Archers,205 The Englifh armies drove all before them; and Rapin explains this circumftance by obferving, "that it is almoft incredible, that the Irifh, who were exceedingly numerous, fhould fuffer themfelves to be overrun by an handful of Englifhmen. The reafon is imputed to their great dread of the Englifh Crofs-bow, the ufe of which, till then, was unknown to them."206

Little is faid of the inftrument in our hiftory from this period till about fixtyyears afterwards; when Richard 1. was killed by an Arrow from one of them, at the fiege of Chaluz.

This fact is mentioned by almoft all our hiftorians. Speed fays, "that when Richard was at the fiege of this caftle, an Arbalefter (landing on the wall, and feeing his time, charged his fteel Bow with a fquare Arrow, or Quarrel, making firft prayer to God that he would direct the fhot, and deliver the innocency of the befieged from oppreffion. Whereupon difcharging it, as the king was viewing the caftle, within the diftance of fuch an engine ; and the king, (upon hearing the Bow go off) ftooping with his head, was mortally wounded in the left fhoulder. "207

When the king lay ill of his wound, fays the fame author, he defired the perfon who had fhot him to be fent for. Bertram Gurdan, or Bertram de Gurdom, for that was his name, was accordingly brought before him; and being afked by Richard, What could induce him to do fo unprovoked an injury ? Bertram replied, " Thou haft killed with thy own hand, my father and my two brothers, and now thou wifheft to kill me, therefore take thy revenge, whatever it bet"208 Richard, however, did not fhew any refentment againft Bertram on this occafion, but behaved in a manner fomewhat heroical. He pardoned his offence, fet him at liberty, and made him a prefent of an hundred fhillings fterling. But as foon as the king was dead, one Markadey, an officer in the king's confidence, apprehended him again, and put him to death in a moft cruel manner.

It is well known that Richard was expert in the management of the Crofs-bow, and that he killed many perfons with his own hand. Brompton, when fpeaking of the king's death, feems to rejoice that he met with fo deferved a fate.209

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