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Home > Books > An Essay on Archery > Chapter XII: On the Arbalest.
Chapter XII
On the Arbalest.
Part 3 of 4

It appears, that in England, Crofs-bow-men were very common in the reign of Henry III. Matthew Paris fays they attended the army, and generally preceded the main body of it, at the diftance of a mile.210

I perceive nothing remarkable with refpect to the Crofs-bow, from this time till the reign of Edward III.211 when in the year 1363, the king wrote to the fheriffs of London, on account of the decline of Archery; and ordered that " they fhould caufe public proclamation to be made ; that every citizen, at leifure times and holidays, ufe in their recreations Bows and Arrows, or Pellets, or Bolts, (thefe Bolts were the Arrows ufed for Crofs-bows, as will be fhewn hereafter) and learn the art of fhooting."

From the reign of this king, till the time of Richard II. nothing occurs worth relating, in regard to the Crofs-bow in this country. It was, however, made ufe of at Bofworth field, 1485; and there is an Arbaleft in the Lichfield Mufeum, which was found on the place of battle.

The fucceeding king, Henry VII. was more partial to the Long-bow than the Arbaleft; and in the nineteenth year of his reign, forbade the ufe of the latter, in order to encourage the practice of the former.212 It is from this period, we may date the decline of the Crofs-bow in this country, as in the following reigns it was but little in efteem. Henry VIII. indeed, inftituted a fociety of Archers, called the Fraternity of St. George, to encourage the practice of the Arbaleft and Long-bow; but the Arbaleft appears to have been very little ufed: that king alfo, made a law which tended very much to check the life of it. Stat. 33. Ch. 6. complains that divers murders had been perpetrated by means of Crofs-bows; and that malicious and evil-minded perfons carried them ready bent and charged with Quarrels, to the great annoyance of paffengers on the high-ways. The act therefore reftrains this cuftom, and ordains that thofe who are poffeffed of lands to the value of an hundred pounds per annum, fhall alone ufe the Crofs-bow ; and that they fhall not ride with them on the king's high-way, nor fhoot within a quarter of a mile of any city, or market town, under a penalty for fo doing.

The 25. Hen. VIII. Ch. 17. is nearly to the fame effect as the preceding, and there are feveral others of the fame import, made in this king's reign ; after which period, few or no laws have taken notice of the Arbaleft.

In France, Arbalefters feem to have been in ufe as early as the time of Louis le Gros. There is a paffage in Duchefne's Hiftory of France, which mentions both Archers fhooting by the hand, and Crofs-bow-men.213

This inftrument, during the beginning of the reign of Philip the Auguft, was fo far difufed, that not one was to be found among his troops. P. Daniel quotes the following paffage from William Britton, who wrote his Philippics,in the end of the twelfth century, and who fpeaking of the age of this king, has thefe words;—

" Francigenis noftris illis ignota diebus
" Res erat omnino quid Baliftarius arcus
" Quid Ballifta foret, nec habebat in agmine toto
" Rex quemquam fciret armis qui talibus uti."

The reafon given for the difcontinuance of the Arbaleft, during the time of Philip the Auguft, appears to be, that that weapon was prohibited, by a Canon of the fecond Lateran Counfil, holden in 1139, as hateful to God, and unfit to be made ufe of among Chriftians.214 But although the Canon was ftrictly obferved for fome years, and until the commencement of the reign of Philip; it was neverthelefs, foon after, revived among warlike inftruments by that king; and he is fuppofed to have taken example from the conduct and advice of our Richard I, who brought the weapon into great repute during his expeditions on the Continent, in the time of Philip, with whom he was intimate.215

At the fiege of Turin, in 1536, P. Daniel fays there was but one Arbalefter in the French army; but he was fo expert that he killed more perfons than any of thofe ufing the Harquebufs.

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