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Crossbows - Everything about Building, Modding, and Using your Crossbow Gear

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4 posters

    Crossbows in Europe, Asia Minor or North Africa c 1000 AD

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    crab9
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    Post by crab9 Sun Jun 22, 2014 2:53 am

    I am attempting to write a novel set in England in the early years of the 11th century AD and am thinking of including a crossbowman as a character.

    I'm aware that in western Europe crossbows were not generally used in battle at that time, although it appears that William the Bastard used crossbowmen at the Battle of Hastings not much later. Perhaps the Normans - or the French or the Spaniards - were already experimenting with them during my period. Or the Arabs of southern Spain and North Africa. My character could be an itinerant mercenary from anywhere within reasonable reach of Western Europe.

    Any pointers anybody can offer would be very gratefully received.
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    Post by kenh Sun Jun 22, 2014 10:52 pm

    Crossbows were used militarily in Western Europe in the 11th century in battle.  However the crossbow apparently left England with the Romans and did not as a military weapon until after the Norman Conquest. In the two class societies you had then, the poor would not have owned a crossbow.  The upperclass, whether simple knight or royalty might have owned, and used a crossbow for hunting, would not have used a crossbow for military purposes.  Having the character "save the day" in battle, with some fantastic feat of crossbow marksmanship just wouldn't really work.  Saving some highborn woman from a brigand, while out hunting, perhaps....
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    Crossbows in Europe, Asia Minor or North Africa c 1000 AD Empty Re: Crossbows in Europe, Asia Minor or North Africa c 1000 AD

    Post by hullutiedemies Mon Jun 23, 2014 6:49 am

    What is the "business plan" of your mercenary ?
    A VIP-security guard could have exotic equipment, even sophisticated "007 gadgets".
    But a rank and file mercenary trying to enlist in a local army would need "standardized" weapons that fit to the tactics and doctrine of his customers.


    edit:

    You could try collector/historian forums like myArmoury
    http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/index.php

    Here at AG we are not really historians, more like craftsmen and engineers.


    Last edited by Nerd Flintstone on Mon Jun 23, 2014 7:02 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : addition)
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    Crossbows in Europe, Asia Minor or North Africa c 1000 AD Empty Re: Crossbows in Europe, Asia Minor or North Africa c 1000 AD

    Post by Geezer Mon Jun 23, 2014 7:55 am

    Okay, the question concerned crossbows in England @ 1000 AD.  In fact, we don't know much about that era in Northern Europe.  The historical record is pretty sketchy.  However, archaeologists found parts of a crossbow in Scotland at a place called Buiston Crannog. (search crossbow, buiston crannog) They've been dated @ 550-700 AD, which would be After the Romans left, so it seems they didn't take all the crossbows with them.    There are some historical references to crossbow bolts in city inventories from northern France in the 10th century or thereabouts.  So it's not impossible that a fictional character would be carrying a 'latch' or 'lock-bow' and even employing it as a military weapon, particularly if he mostly worked on the continent.  Such a bow could even have a bone roller-lock, like the one on the Buiston Crannog bow.  The prod would likely be made of yew, possibly with some sinew backing for extra power, but it probably wouldn't have an iron stirrup for use with belt-hook.  Maybe a strong leather foot loop to aid spanning?  The simple notch-bows from Skane Castle have a hole in the fore-end suitable for a hanging-loop or maybe for a foot.  It would certainly be easier on bow-bridle than standing on the prod.  You'd think such an improvement would occur to the shooter after the first time he had to rebind the whole thing.  If the bow was strong enough, it's possible the shooter would have to sit down and put both feet in the prod to span it, but a lighter bow could be drawn against one foot, by a strong man.     If I was writing your story, I'd make the guy a mercenary... maybe from Norman France, seeking employment as a specialist-sniper for one of the Saxon kings.  That oughta work. Geezer.
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    Post by crab9 Mon Jun 23, 2014 10:24 pm

    Thank you, all three of you for thoughtful and helpful answers. I should have given more detail in my original question.

    This character is no rescuer of maidens. He is a villain - possibly psychopathic - and an assassin. His most notable victim was the last fully Saxon king of England, Edmund 'Ironside'.

    Historically, Edmund's death is a mystery, but there have been suggestions that he was murdered in a privy, perhaps by an arrow. The "French chronicler Gaimar, reports that the murder was carried out by the diabolical contrivance of a ‘spring-bow’ – a deadly sort of booby trap consisting of a loaded crossbow that could be triggered by pressure and was known to the French as li ars qui ne fault, or ‘the bow that does not fail.’ According to this account (it is a late one, dating to about 1137), Edmund was shown into a privy rigged with ‘a drawn bow with the string attached to the seat, so that when the king sat on it the arrow was released and entered his fundament.’"

    I do not have to go with Gaimar's account, but I quite like it. I also like the particularity of the fellow being a military crossbowman in a non-crossbow society. This seems more interesting than making him a Welsh longbowman - another possible approach. So, Geezer, it looks like you've pretty much hit the nail on the head. And your technical details are very interesting. You've given me some good pointers for further research - I know nothing of crossbows - and I hope you will permit me to throw you some more detailed questions, if necessary, at a later date.

    Again, big thanks to all of you. And the topic remains open for any further ideas that may spring to mind.
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    Crossbows in Europe, Asia Minor or North Africa c 1000 AD Empty Re: Crossbows in Europe, Asia Minor or North Africa c 1000 AD

    Post by Geezer Tue Jun 24, 2014 6:38 am

    Geezer here:  Crossbow traps show up pretty commonly in medieval literature and there are a fair number still around.  They show up occasionally on auction lists or in collections.  Game-trap bows often used very broad headed bolts that might not have been expected to fly accurately to great distances, but would have a better chance wounding or killing either game or poachers at close range.  Similarly, your assassin woud probably choose a very large broadhead if the trap is set beneath the seat in a toilet.  The bow wouldn't have to shoot more than a few feet, and you'd only get one chance, so you would want that chance to do maximum damage.
    And as a parallel, there's a story about a Japanese ninja, who is reputed to have hidden in the toilet-pit with a spear, waiting to impale his victim.  So yeah, this will work!
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    Post by crab9 Tue Jun 24, 2014 9:38 am

    Many thanks, Geezer. It'll be a while - 17 years of story-time - before I get around to writing the assassination scene, but you've already been very helpful. In the opening chapter - much more immediate - this character will appear, probably carrying an exquisite hunting crossbow as a gift from his master to the king. His own war-bow and the gift will differ considerably. Pointers on both would be much appreciated.

    Incidentally, other medieval narratives do have someone with a spear doing the dirty on Edmund, just like your ninja. But I still like the crossbow idea.

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