The reader may see the manner in which the cross-bow was formerly used, upon the representation taken from a manuscript of the fourteenth century in the Royal Library.
Here we find exhibited a school for practice; and the manner in which the archers shot at the butts, or dead marks, a pastime frequently alluded to by the authors of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
In the reign of Henry VII. the cross-bow was forbidden by law to be used; and, soon after his son ascended the throne, it was found necessary to renew the prohibition; yet, notwithstanding the interference of the legislature, in less than twenty years afterwards, the usage of cross-bows and hand-guns was so prevalent, that a new statute was judged necessary, which forbad the use of both, and inflicted a penalty of ten pounds for keeping a cross-bow in the house.
The Cornish men are spoken of as good archers, and shot their arrows to a great length; they are also, says Carew, "well skilled in near shooting, and in well aimed shooting;—the butts made them perfect in the one, and the roaving in the other, for the prickes, the first corrupters of archery, through too much preciseness, were formerly scarcely known, and little practised."
Other marks are occasionally mentioned, as the standard, the target, hazel wands, rose garlands, and the popinjay, which, we are told, was an artificial parrot.
I have not met with such a mark in any manuscript delineation; but, in the following engraving, the reader will find a cock substituted for the parrot, and the archer has discharged his arrow very skilfully.
Two Saxon Archers
The one accompanied by his dog, is in search of the wild deer; the other has no companion, but is depicted in the act of shooting at a bird; and from the adornment of his girdle, appears to have been no bad marksman.
The first represents Esau going to seek venison for his father, and the second, Ishmael, after his expulsion from the house of Abraham, and residing in the desert.
Of physical games archery was the most practised. This was the national physical exercise, one which had helped the English soldiers to gain a great reputation for themselves, as at Agincourt (1415). At York the "butts," where men practised archery, were outside the city walls.
From the François Vase
In the middle of the picture is a castle with a bridge, protected by an advanced tower, and a postern with a drawbridge drawn up. Archers, cross-bowmen, and men-at-arms man the battlements. In front is a group of men-at-arms and tents, with archers and cross-bowmen shooting up at the defenders. On the right is a group of men-at-arms who seem to be meditating an attack by surprise upon the postern. On the left, opposed to the principal gate, is the timber fort shown in the woodcut. Its construction, of great posts and thick slabs of timber strengthened with stays and cross-beams, is well indicated. There seem to be two separate works: one is a battery of two cannon, the cannon having wheeled carriages; the other is manned by archers. It is curious to see the mixture of arms—long-bow, cross-bow, portable fire-arm, and wheeled cannon, all used at the same time; indeed, it may be questioned whether the earlier fire-arms were very much superior in effect to the more ancient weapons which they supplanted.
Man-at-Arms and Archer of the Fifteenth Century
We have specially to call attention to the two men who are throwing shells, which are probably charged with Greek fire. This invention, which inspired such terror in the Middle Ages, seems to have been discovered in the east of Europe, and to have been employed as early as the seventh century. We hear much of its use in the Crusades, by the Greeks, who early possessed the secret of its fabrication. They used it either by ejecting it through pipes to set fire to the shipping or military engines, or to annoy and kill the soldiers of the enemy; or they cast it to a distance by means of vessels charged with it affixed to javelins; or they hurled larger vessels by means of the great engines for casting stones; or they threw the fire by hand in a hand-to-hand conflict; or used hollow maces charged with it, which were broken over the person of the enemy, and the liquid fire poured down, finding its way through the crevices of his armour.
The cross-bowman is winding up his weapon with a winch, his shield is slung at his back.
The man on the right of the cut wears a visored helmet, but it has no amail; his body is protected by a skirt of mail, which appears at the shoulders and hips, and at the openings of his blue surcoat; the legs are in brown hose, and the feet in brown shoes. The centre figure has a helmet and camail, sleeves of mail, and iron breastplate of overlapping plates; the upper plate and the skirt are of red spotted with gold; his hose and shoes are of dark grey. The third man has a helmet with camail, and the body protected by mail, which shows under the arm, but he has also shoulder-pieces and elbow-pieces of plate; his surcoat is yellow, and his hose red. The artist has here admirably illustrated the use of the crossbow. In one case we see the archer stringing it by help of a little winch; in the next he is taking a bolt out of the quiver at his side with which to load his weapon; in the third we have the attitude in which it was discharged.
The illustration, from a fourteenth-century manuscript, represents a siege. A walled town is on the right, and in front of the wall, acting on the part of the town, are the cross-bowmen in the cut, protected by great shields which are kept upright by a rest. The men seem to be preparing to fire, and the uniformity of their attitude, compared with the studied variety of attitude of groups of bowmen in other illustrations, suggests that they are preparing to fire a volley.
Assyrian Warrior (temp. Sargon II)
The original weapon of the Chinese, which by the way seems to be the offensive arms of most savages, is the bow. It is still preferred by them to the matchlock; and the Tartars are so fond of it, that it forms an essential part of the education of the young princes of the blood. Their bows are large, and require a considerable degree of strength, as well as a peculiar knack to string them. Even the Emperor wears a ring of agate on the right thumb for the string to press against in drawing the bow, which is the weapon he uses every summer in hunting tigers and other wild beasts in the forests of Tartary.
Of the Tartar horse another specimen has been given in this work. This represents a Tartar dragoon armed with the common instruments, the bow, and a short sabre. This corps is probably of little use beyond that of carrying dispatches, and assisting in the imperial hunts in the forests of Tartary. All the cavalry that were seen by the British Embassy had a mean, irregular, and most unsoldierlike appearance.
Staff slings, Longbows, Crossbows and Flail