At the beginning of the medieval era, the ranged weapon of choice was the longbow due to the power and great number of shots per minute that could be achieved by skilled archers. As time progressed, crossbows started to become favored because of their ease and enormous force that could be produced from the weapon.
The longbow was an easy weapon to produce; it was made from a single piece of wood made in the shape of a D. The height of the bow was similar to the archer using it. These men needed to be strong because longbows designed for war required 200 pounds of force to draw the string back to their chin. (Castle & Manorhouses 2010) Accuracy wasn’t an easy feat for these men to achieve either, it required many years of practice. The majority of these archer started practicing when they were young, so when they were older, they were able to easily take out their targets.
As the crossbow was introduced into the armies, it became a widely used weapon. It enabled common men with the ability of shooting very accurately with a large amount of power. (Claydon 1993) Also they had the great advantage of being able to teach new recruits how to properly use a crossbow within weeks instead of taking a lifetime to perfect the art of the longbow. Due to the drawing system on crossbows, they were able to pull the string farther back and out shoot a longbow. The first type of crossbow had a notch at the end the archer was able to stick his foot in and push to draw the string back. (Wikipedia 2012) This type did allow the user to draw a considerable amount of power from the crossbow, but users still wanted more power and range; therefore, new drawing mechanisms came about. As time progressed, a windlass system and a crank system were introduced to the crossbow. The windlass allowed the user to turn a mechanism similar to a bicycle wheel, which then drew the string back; while the crank system used a handle to slowly pull the string back through a series of ratchets. Although users were able to gain a considerable amount of power through these devices, it was also extremely time consuming. (Claydon 1993) This did give the user an advantage though because once the bow was drawn, it was locked in place. They could then be ready to fire in a moments notice by simply pulling a steel trigger to release the string.
In the picture to the right, it is shown how easily a crossbow could be used by a common infantryman. It required a small amount of effort to produce a high powered shot able to piece the armor of knights. It also greatly increased the accuracy of these men because it used sights similar to that of a gun; which wasn’t an option with a longbow.
Castle & Manorhouses. (2010). Medieval warfare. Retrieved from http://www.medievalwarfare.info/weapons.htm
Claydon, S. M. (1993). A bolt from the blue. Medicine, Science, and the Law, 33(4), 349-350.
Crossbow. In (2012). Medieval Europe Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossbow
Gun Powder Ma. (Producer). (2009). The martyrdom of st. sebastian. [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Martyrdom_of_St_Sebastian_(detail).jpg
Verbruggen, J. F. (1997). The art of warfare in western europe during the middle ages. (2 ed.). Boydell & Brewer.