A Crossbowman’s Quiver, Italian or German, c. 1540-1550
Italy or Germany Wood, leather, boarskin, iron
PROVENANCE Viscount Cowdray Collection
The crossbow, in its hand-held form, was little used in Europe before the time of the Crusades. The Byzantine Princess Anna Commena, writing in the years 1118–48, went so far as to describe it as ‘a weapon of the barbarians... A truly diabolical machine’: a view clearly shared by Pope Innocent II (1130–43) who in 1139 banned its use throughout Europe, declaring it ‘a weapon hateful to God and unfit to be made use of among Christians’. His prohibition, however, like that issued by Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) some three score years later, had little effect. As a result of improvements made over the succeeding years to the composition of the bow itself and to the design of the devices used to span or tension it, the crossbow became for a while the most powerful projectile weapon of the medieval battlefield. Although forced around 1500 to relinquish its military superiority to the increasingly effective handgun, it nevertheless remained popular as a sporting weapon for several centuries thereafter. While the traditions of the chase may to an extent have influenced its continuing use in that context, there is no denying that the ability of the crossbow to operate silently, and thus not scare away other game in the vicinity, as the use of firearms tended to do, was an advantage that the sportsman very soon learnt to appreciate.