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where pavise shields were originally made.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
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
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