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

The fame the Genoefe have acquired by their fkilful management of the Crofs-bow, induced me to fearch the hiftories of that ftate, in order to difcover the period in which it became fo much in favour among them. Thefe people are celebrated very early, for their ingenuity in contriving warlike engines, and for their matchlefs fkill in managing them. The fuccefs which attended the Chriftians, at the fiege of Jerufalem, in 1100, is attributed principally to the mechanical talents of the Genoefe; but although a variety of arms and engines of war, fuch as battering-rams, towers of wood to mount the walls of cities, balliftae,&c. are enumerated by fome Italian writers, I have not, however, difcovered that the Arbaleft is any where exprefsly named. But it is reafonable to fuppofe this inftrument was then in ufe among them, asthey are faid to have had all kinds of miffive weapons.216

In the beginning of the thirteenth and until the middle of the fifteenth century, Crofs-bow-men are uniformly made mention of among the Genoefe troops. From Juftiniano we learn, that in the year 1225, twenty Arbalefters mounted on horfeback, and one hundred on foot, having Bows of horn, were then employed in the army of the ftate.217 Five hundred were fent againft the Milanefe, in 1245, and thefe unfortunate men being placed in the front of the lines, were taken prifoners by the enemy ; who, to revenge the havock done by their Bows, cruelly punifhed each with the lofs of an eye, and the amputation of an arm; after which they were liberated and fent back to their native country, where they received a penfion from their fellow citizens.218

The greateft number of thefe troops which appears to have been ever introduced into the field, was at the battle of Crecy, in 1346, in which engagement the foremoft rank of the French army was compofed of fifteen thoufand Genoefe Crofs-bow-men.219

For the fpace of more than a century. no anecdote worthy of notice occurs, till the period in which the Byzantine court was finally fubverted by the Turks, in 1453, at which time three hundred Arbalefters, among a number of other armed men, were fent from Genoa to affift the befieged.

I fhall here clofe my account:—And although I have with fome diligence looked over the hiftories of the Republic, and the works relating to Genoa, which are inferted in the collections of Muratori, Graevius and Burman, I have not been able to difcover either the time in which the Crofs-bow was introduced into the Italian armies, or the period of its entire banifhment; the two principal aeras, the moft valuable to record.

Arbalefts were made on different principles, but the more modern form was that reprefented Fig. 5. Pl. 4. and which is copied from a very old book on French tactics.

In the middle of the Bow-ftock at A. was inferted a fmall round piece of iron, Fig. 6. It was on this nut (as they termed it) that the ftring was held when they charged the Bow. This nut was fixed in the flock by a fcrew paffing through its center, and on which it freely turned. The notch L. arofe above the furface of the flock on its upper fide, and the ftring was received into it when drawn up. B. Fig. 5. reprefents a trigger, the end of which was inferted into the notch G. Fig. 6. and prevented it from moving while the nut held the ftring; but on being preffed (as it turned on a pin) the end was difplaced from the notch, and the nut turned round by the force of the ftring, which it fet at liberty and projected the Arrow.

The Scorpion was made in a very different method, but as it was a complex inftrument, a verbal defcription would be but indiftinct. I fhall refer thofe, therefore, who have a defire to examine its conftruction, to Mr. Grofe's Hiftory of the Army, Vol. II. Pg. 286, where the parts are all delineated feparately, and alfo to Montfaucon, Antiq. Expliq. Vol. IV. Pl. 79.220

The Arrows fhot from Crofs-bows were called Quarrels, or Bolts.221 They were ufually headed with a large fquare pyramid of iron, but had fometimes other forms given to them: Sec Pl. 3, in which the figures on the lower parts of the plate, are of Arrows for the ufe of the Crofs-bow. Thefe, as well as thofe for Long-bows, had heads which fitted on to them occafionally, and which, when carried into the flefh, remained there. Figures 1 and 3, are the fhafts of Arrows; and Figures 2 and 4, the heads to be applied to them,

Inftead of feathers, the Quarrels were fometimes trimmed with plates of brafs, or iron.

One fpecies of Quarrel, which was called in French the Vireton, from its fpinning round as it paffed through the air, was made as our common Arrows are at prefent,—with the feathers fet on a little curved; but it is probable that that method of placing the feathers was not in general ufed in the fifteenth century, the period in which the Vireton is moft fpoken of, or a particular name would have been unneceffary.

An Englifh phrafe, (as Mr. Barrington obferves) originated from the ufe of the Bolt.—I have fhot my Bolt, is a faying which intimates an attempt having been made in fome way. An example of this expreffion occurs in Langtoft's Chronicle,222 where an Effay on Stonehenge is entitled, "A Fool's Bolt foon fhot at Stonage"

It was cuftomary among thofe who practifed with the Crofs-bow to have a mark, which they called a Popingay, formed like a Parrot, as we may fuppofe, and which was fufpended in the air. Stow in his " Survey of London," fays, the. Crofs-bow makers rented Tazel-Clofe, a place near Moorfields, for the purpofe of exercifing themfelves with that weapon, at the Popingay.223 The practice has been very ancient in France, and appears from P. Daniel, to have been inftituted as early as the reign of Philip I.224

The Crofs-bow, as it is capable of being managed with greater accuracy than the Long-bow, has been in all times ufed in the chafe; and even long after the conftruction of the mufket was highly improved, the filent difcharge of the Arbaleft, rendered it more valuable in the purfuit of timorous animals, than any other weapon.225 It was formerly, and perhaps is at prefent in ufe, for the purpofe of killing deer; and gentlemen often amufe themfelves by fhooting bullets at rooks and rabits, which fome can ftrike with wonderful dexterity.226 For killing birds, there was a particular kind of Arrow, having a ball of wood at the end of it, and which was named the "Bird-bolt" This Arrow had often, befides the ball, an iron point which projected before it, and with which the fmaller animals were transfixed.

At prefent the Crofs-bow is but little in ufe in England, but there are many places on the Continent, in which focieties practife with it.

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