The golden era of the medieval crossbow was around the 14th and 15th century, there were particularly admired weapons in continental europe amongst the nations of France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Medieval foot soldiers called crossbowmen used crossbows. The crossbow could be used by crossbowmen in advanced positions under the cover of a large shield known as a Pavise. The crossbow fired a short thick bolt also known as a quarrel instead of an arrow.
Earlier crossbows were loaded manual using the hands and feet, later crossbows used loading mechanism that over time were improved upon, making the crossbow easier to load and use compared to the another famous weapon called the longbow, which required great strength and skill.
While medieval crossbowmen were an essential part of medieval warfare, the use of crossbows was also common in the ancient world.
According to historian Sir Joseph Needham, the crossbow was invented in ancient China and its use soon spread to other parts of the world such as India, Persia, Greece, and Rome. All these ancient kingdoms made extensive use of crossbows.
Various weapons and accessories were used by medieval crossbowmen. The crossbow itself had wooden stock made from a variety of materials such as yew ash, hazel, or elm, and in later medieval times a metal bow of iron or steel was added which made the crossbow even more deadly.
The Range of the earlier wooden crossbow was around 300-400 yards. Later versions with added steel bows had a range of 400-500 yards.
Medieval crossbowmen used the large shield called Pavise which provided them the cover to load the weapons during combat.
Various types of medieval crossbowmen were experts in a variety of different crossbow variants. One such variant was called the recurve crossbow which consisted of tips curving away from the archer.
This resulted in less hand shock and more acceleration of the arrow. Other types of crossbows used by medieval crossbowmen included the stirrup, pull lever, push lever, and cranequin versions.
A medieval crossbow, compared to a longbow, was easier to use and thus did not require extensive training. It could be operated successfully and accurately after a week of training and thus a lot of medieval crossbowmen were simple peasants and not expert soldiers.
Medieval crossbowmen had important positions in the battle formations. This included mounted as well as un-mounted medieval crossbowmen. Their primary purposes were to indulge in offensive skirmishes before the actual assault by the mounted knights and to launch counter-attacks in order to protect the infantry.
Medieval crossbowmen were also effectively used with formations of pikemen which proved to be lethal against the mounted knights since the crossbows bolt could penetrate a knights’ armour.
Medieval crossbowmen were extensively used by medieval armies during battles because it was easier to train crossbowmen compared to longbowmen. One of the most important battles employing crossbowmen was the Battle of Hastings.
In medieval China, crossbowmen played a decisive role in the Battle of Shanzhou in 1004.
During the medieval times, the use of medieval crossbowmen became increasingly common in Europe, although crossbows had a long history that extended to ancient China. A central advantage of the crossbow was that it was powerful enough to penetrate the armour of the knight and thus could be very successfully used against the cavalry.
Besides, compared to the longbow, it required very little training and medieval crossbowmen could be procured at a short notice. These advantages made the use of crossbows increasingly common during the late medieval times.