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The Medieval Crossbow (Hardback)

A Weapon Fit to Kill a King

Military P&S History > By Century > 16th Century P&S History > Medieval World > Medieval History

By Dr Stuart Ellis-Gorman
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 240
Illustrations: 50 colour & black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526789532
Published: 26th May 2022


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The crossbow is an iconic weapon of the Middle Ages and, alongside the longbow, one of the most effective ranged weapons of the pre-gunpowder era. Unfortunately, despite its general fame it has been decades since an in-depth history of the medieval crossbow has been published, which is why Stuart Ellis-Gorman’s detailed, accessible, and highly illustrated study is so valuable.

The Medieval Crossbow approaches the history of the crossbow from two directions. The first is a technical study of the design and construction of the medieval crossbow, the many different kinds of crossbows used during the Middle Ages, and finally a consideration of the relationship between crossbows and art.

The second half of the book explores the history of the crossbow, from its origins in ancient China to its decline in sixteenth-century Europe. Along the way it explores the challenges in deciphering the crossbow’s early medieval history as well as its prominence in warfare and sport shooting in the High and Later Middle Ages.

This fascinating book brings together the work of a wide range of accomplished crossbow scholars and incorporates the author’s own original research to create an account of the medieval crossbow that will appeal to anyone looking to gain an insight into one of the most important weapons of the Middle Ages.

Stuart Ellis-Gorman’s multi-facetted study of the medieval crossbow plugs a glaring gap in scholarship on medieval weaponry, elevating this grim weapon to the same level of its more celebrated cousin, the longbow.

Pen and Sword titles have become more academic in tone and scope and they have done a superb job presenting deep scholarship (the text is very fully end-noted) attractively and accessibly, and this volume will doubtless become a go-to text for the subject.

The Society for Medieval Archaeology - Medieval Archaeology journal vol 66.2 (Dec 2022)

An excellently written book which I really enjoyed, especially the earlier chapters, essentially Part I and about a quarter of the book, on the more technical aspects of the crossbow and its evolution.

Pike and Shot Society

As featured in


This is a well presented hardback book from Pen & Sword, which runs to just over 200 pages, and is well illustrated with period line drawings throughout and a small selection of well chosen colour plates.

4/5 Potato Heads: A challenging read, but worth it.

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

I'm used to reading Bernard Cornwell's books about the middle ages and their battles in which the British triumphed because of their longbows; nice to read about the opposition - I have always liked the idea of a crossbow and indeed, my weekly comics back in the 1960s often featured medieval skirmishes in which crossbows were used - I also seem to remember them being used in the Angélique novels I used to read so avidly!. However, having said that, it does seem that the weapon takes a comparatively long time to load and it is small wonder that the English longbow was so overpowering at Agincourt etc. Stuart's book is beautifully illustrated and hugely interesting.

Books Monthly

Interview with the author:


New Books Network

As a former Archery Coach, I was looking forward to reading this book, although the crossbow has a poorer reputation in the archery world. That is because people like to create an allure around items like the Longbow and how that is steeped in history, but the crossbow is actually one of the deadliest and most accurate weapons before the rifle. The crossbow used to have such power and accuracy, it meant the individual soldiers had very little chance of survival against them as it would pierce their armour so easily.

Although they could be more easily hidden and could be used by less skilled marksmen, their major problem was that they were so hard to load physically and often had to be used by two men. This was an excellent book which showed that the author had gone through a good bit of research, telling the tale, history, use and tactics that revolved around the crossbow. The first half of the book concentrates on the technicals and the second half concentrates on the history and the battles were influential in. A really good book, definitely one for the historical weapons buffs.

Read the full review here

The History Fella

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

An excellent and detailed treatise on the history of medieval crossbows, with many references. Before reading the book, I was unaware that comparatively few crossbows have survived through to the present time, and that only a few eyewitness accounts mention the specific use of crossbows in battles.
The author gives fascinating details of the development of crossbow technology across the centuries until they were gradually superseded by firearms. Some of the earlier versions were adapted to fire stones or lead balls. by the means of a small pouch. These were more suited to hunting than battle.
It is interesting to note that medieval armies often mixed longbow archers with crossbowmen in the same unit, with sometimes quite impressive results. The crossbowmen certainly deserved their enhanced pay, crossbows were very expensive to purchase and difficult to maintain compared to a bow.
I can thoroughly recommend this book to military buffs and historians.

NetGalley, Peter Coxall

About Dr Stuart Ellis-Gorman

Dr Stuart Ellis-Gorman has a passion for the Middle Ages and medieval archery born of a childhood fascination with Robin Hood and Lord of the Rings. He made a special study of the history of the longbow and the crossbow for his PhD at Trinity College Dublin and has presented on the medieval crossbow at multiple academic conferences. He is an active and award-winning contributor to the internet’s largest public history forum, /r/AskHistorians, and reviews history books for a range of academic publications. He lives in Ireland with his wife and daughter..

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