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Sunday, September 26, 2021

How Effective Were English Longbowmen Versus Genoese Crossbowmen

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Usage of the bow as a tool for hunting and in combat as a weapon dates back to the stone age. Simple and reliant, it allowed the user to effectively snipe his or her target without the victim noticing it. Made out of various wood, it offered tension and compression according to the specific wood used. Anyone can make a bow in a day but those skilled enough in the proficiency could make one in just a couple of hours. Various peoples around the world and throughout history would use the longbow, from the earliest recorded usage by our ancestors. The traditional longbow the English would use was made out of yew. Standing up to the height of its wielder, it weighted just a couple of kilograms and was renowned for its shape resembling the letter D. They were most effective when used at long range to medium range, as it required lot strength for its string to be pulled back. Rest was often done in between shooting. A single arrow from the longbow would be able to pierce the plate armor used by knights, rendering them heavily injured or dead in most cases. The training needed to wield such a weapon required its user to start at a very young age. He would’ve needed to be healthy, muscular enough to draw the longbow with ease and tall enough to not be dwarfed by it. King Edward the III enacted laws prohibiting golf and football to be played as a relaxing activity, insisting on boys and men to practice archery instead. So strict were these laws that fletchers and bowyers were to be impressed into the army, or simply put, forcibly recruited into service. They would become the pride of the English, but were often the targets on the battlefield as archery brought them victories in wars they wouldn’t have won, by the sheer casualties it could inflict upon their enemies.


Earliest recorded usage of the crossbow dates back to the ancient dynasties of China. Somewhat cheap to produce and easy to wield, it allowed the common soldiers to rapid fire on their enemies with striking accuracy. It is essentially a bow mounted upon an elongated wooden frame, or stock, with a built-in mechanism to draw the bow string, and a simple trigger to be pressed to fire it. Its reloading mechanism would feature either a press, push or pull lever, a cranequin allowing for an ever easier reload, a windlass and the latest ones using mechanized reloading. The widest usage of the crossbow came in the Middle Ages, particularly on the battlefields of Europe. Militias were the easiest recruited people, requiring little to no training. They were often given crossbows, allowing for even the most ill prepared and armored man to be an effective killing machine. Given a short sword and a pavise to shield them, they would be most renowned for their professional counterparts used by the Kingdom of Genoa. The commanders of these Genoese crossbowmen were usually nobles coming from the various families in Genoa, and the crossbowmen themselves were clad in light armor and given either a short sword or a dagger for close quarter protection. Short to medium range was the effectiveness of the crossbow, but anyone caught in the never ending storm of bolts piercing the wind and flying toward them was easily given the dream of becoming a porcupine.

Longbow versus crossbow

The best-known examples of war winning longbow employed by the English was the Hundred Years War. Most notable in the battles of Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt, they would annihilate the French with such devastating results that the battles were over before the close combat clashing even reached itself. As they were the elite soldiers of the English, they were the most prized possession on the battlefield. They were not bogged down by rain in their effectiveness and allowed to be used in offence more efficiently than in defense. They were later used in the War of the Roses, when brothers fought each other for who they viewed should control Britain, House York or House Lancaster. They were eventually thwarted by the use of cannons, as longbowmen were easily made cannon fodder in the modernizing wars.

Crossbows were best described as the every man’s weapon of choice. They were used in various and almost uncountable wars in history. From ancient China, to the European Middle ages, they would be seen and used with outrageous results. As they are mostly effective in short to medium range, they were employed for garrison and for defense, rather than offense. Anyone besieging a settlement that had a couple of crossbow militia at its disposal would quickly learn how fast an army can disappear. They were the competitor to the early gunpowder weapons in the Middle Ages and Renaissance era, but as muskets became the staple of armies, the crossbow found itself useful for hunting and sports.

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