The Pavise - the Shield of the Crossbow men
On the battlefield the Medieval crossbowman was particularly vulnerable while reloading his crossbow. Crossbowmen therefore protected themselves with a tall shield which was known as a pavise. The crossbowman would duck behind the pavise to re-load his crossbow during a battle.The pavise was a a large convex shield, some 4 to 5 ft. high and sufficiently broad to cover the entire body. The word 'pavise' originates from Pavia, in Italy, where pavise shields were originally made. A pavise would be carried slung on the back of the crossbowman. It was then propped up in front of him, in a permanent position, before the battle commenced. The pavise of the crossbowman could also be used as defensive screen formed by linking pavises together. Such a defensive screen was known as a 'Pavisade'. The Medieval era was strongly religious. Crossbowman would have fought in crusades, as well as battles in England. Many Pavises were therefore painted with religious scenes. The Medieval crossbow men hoped that the enemy would believe that they were committing a sacrilegious act if the Holy image was damaged.
The Medieval Crossbow is Banned!
The Magna Carta sought to ban foreign crossbowmen in order to defend the realm but a Pope had tried to ban this weapon even before this time! The devastating effect of the crossbow and the wounds it could inflict were reflected by these Medieval weapon bans. Article 51 of the Magna Carta stated the following:
" As soon as peace is restored, we will banish from the kingdom all foreign born knights, crossbow men, sergeants and mercenary soldiers who have come with horses and arms to the kingdom's hurt."
In 1139 Pope Innocent II and the Church of the Lateran Council issued a judgement against the use of the crossbow by Christians against Christians. The Medieval crossbow was referred to as "the deadly art, hated by God, of crossbowmen..."
The Medieval crossbow was viewed as an abomination but the weapon bans failed to stop the rise of crossbows, they were simply ignored, and the crossbow continued to remain a favoured weapon across both Europe and England.
The Medieval Crossbow is used for Sport
The Medieval crossbow is strongly associated with Medieval warfare however use of this weapon was a very popular sport. The crossbow was used for target shooting and hunting. Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) and King James I (1603-1625) were expert hunters with the crossbow!
Medieval Crossbow - The Crossbow and the Longbow
The Medieval Crossbow was supplanted by the longbow. The crossbow range was 350 – 400 yards but could only be shot at a rate of 2 bolts per minute. The crossbow was easy to use, requiring minimal training and required little strength to operate. But it shot too few bolts! The longbow launched arrows faster than any previous bows. A skilled longbowman could release between 10 - 12 arrows per minute - but required considerable training.
In Europe, the Medieval crossbow persisted as the favoured weapon until the end of the 15th century. We are reminded of the crossbow even today whenever the phrase "a bolt out of the blue" is repeated. This meaning of this saying implies a sudden event and is derived from a fast crossbow bolt arriving without being seen.