Medieval Crossbow

Medieval Crossbow *Discover how the Medieval Crossbow was used so effectively in Warfare by Medieval Crossbowmen

The golden era of the medieval crossbow was around the 14th and 15th centuries, there were particularly admired weapons in continental Europe amongst the nations of France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.


The Medieval Crossbow was the first type of Medieval Bow that had a mechanized loading system and it was designed in a cross shape, hence the name Crossbow.

Foot soldiers *Infantry used the Medieval Crossbow weapon to great effect, it was much easier to load than conventional longbows which needed to be drawn back manually and required great strength and skill.


Loading a Medieval Crossbow

Crossbowmen used a winding mechanism to draw back the Crossbow string over a nut on the stock of the Crossbow.


Crossbow Trigger used to fire bolts

The string was released by a trigger on the Crossbow, this trigger when retracted the nut that was holding the string in place when pulled and in turn, fired the bolt.


The Medieval Crossbow is fairly small compared to longbows but the design is thicker and more solid, they had a small wooden stock which the Crossbowmen could hold comfortably, because they were fairly small they were easy to handle.

Early Medieval Crossbows

Medieval Crossbows existed before the Medieval period and there is historical evidence of them being used in the ancient world by Chinese and Roman warriors.

Early crossbows were not as advanced as the later medieval crossbows and had to be drawn back by using the foot to hold the bow in place whilst drawing back the string with the hands.


Advancements in the Design of Medieval Crossbows

Different mechanical devices were invented to make the loading of bolts into the Crossbow much easier by drawing back the string, these advancements continued throughout history.

Mechanical devices such as the goat’s lever which was a type of pulley, the windlass which was a winding device, and the cranequin were invented.

Later in the medieval period, steel crossbows were made and this was one of the best advancements because it increased the firing range of the crossbow to around 400 to 500 yards and increased the power of the bolt fired, during this period the Crossbow came into its own as a Medieval weapon.


Crossbow Windlass Winding Mechanism

What were Medieval Crossbows Made From?

Early medieval crossbows were made from wood, however by the 13th century crossbows were made out of a mixture of materials using Wood, Horn, and sinew to make a composite material that was ideal for the purpose of the Crossbow design.

From around the 15th century, a metal Crossbow started to be introduced however the composite material used before was still popular. The nut part of the Crossbow was usually made from animal horns.


Different sections of the crossbow are labelled in this image

How were Medieval Crossbows used in Battle?

Medieval crossbows were used by foot soldiers (infantry), they were excellent weapons against medieval pikemen and knights, crossbowmen usually took forward positions and fired their bolts from behind the cover of a large Pavise Shield.


Large Pavise Shield used by Crossbowmen

The Normans used crossbows in the Battle of Hastings and they were often used by mercenaries who could be hired by medieval armies as Medieval longbowmen were. The French for example hired Genoese Crossbowmen in various medieval battles including the Battle of Crécy.


The Crossbow was not commonly used in England in the early medieval period but it was used in later periods, in battle Medieval Crossbowmen would load and fire off a bolt or quarrel that fitted into the groove on the stock of the Crossbow at the enemy.

Medieval Crossbow Facts:

  • The Crossbow used a winding mechanism to draw back the string.
  • The hands and feet were used to load earlier medieval crossbows.
  • Early crossbows were used by the T’ang dynasty in China and the Romans.
  • As the medieval period progressed many advancements were made to the Crossbow.
  • The Crossbow was also known as the Arbalest and the Balista (Latin).
  • The winding mechanism used on a Crossbow was called a windlass.
  • Early medieval crossbows were usually made from wood.
  • From the 13th century, medieval crossbows were made of a composite material of wood, horn, and sinew.


  • The Crossbow fired a bolt or quarrel.
  • A throwing engine was similar to a Crossbow but much larger and confused with the crossbow
  • The Normans used crossbows at the Battle of Hastings.
  • Two famous kings were killed by crossbow bolts, William Rufus and Richard the Lionheart.
  • The Pope banned Crossbow use against Christians although no one took any notice.
  • The Crossbow was widely used by mercenaries since the 13th century.


  • The French regularly hired mercenary Crossbowmen in their battles.
  • The steel crossbow increases the firing range of the Crossbow from 400 to 500 yards.
  • Medieval Crossbowmen found it easier to learn how to use a Crossbow than the longbow.
  • Crossbows were easier to load than longbows although the longbow was more effective.
  • It was much quicker and easier to train foot soldiers to use the Crossbow than the longbow.