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Poitiers Supper 2 October

Thirty Bowyers and their guests gathered at Bangers Bar and Grill in The City to enjoy a fascinating illustrated talk from military historian and television presenter, Mike Loades, on the subject of 'The Crossbow'.

Our speaker immediately appealed to us to put aside any tribal dislike and snobbery towards the crossbow. His purpose was to change our minds, he said. He explained that the crossbow was much easier to use than the longbow, cheaper to produce and didn't require years of training. There had been two Papal interdictions banning their use against Christians but longbows and crossbows served completely different purposes in the medieval period - longbows for battle and crossbows for garrison defence and naval attack. Both had been successful in their objectives until overtaken by technology. They operated alongside each other in the medieval world and longbow men would have doubled up as crossbow men from time to time if the situation demanded it.

Our speaker suggested that we had lost a sense of how important a weapon the crossbow was. He gave us a whistle stop tour from 200BC China, where the weapon was originally chariot-based before being mass produced for infantry, through its heyday between the 12th and 14th centuries, (before it was supplanted in battle by the longbow in England), to the 17th century where it had evolved into a prestige hunting weapon. We were reminded that Richard I was killed by a crossbow and Edward III's bodyguards were also thus armed. Indeed, the crossbow endured as it evolved into a hunting weapon lending itself to embellishment with the distinct advantage of not requiring immediate use.

We were treated to graphic illustrations of the range of draw mechanisms - from belt and claw, to windlass, gafle, cranequin and cord and pull. Geared mechanisms at their most powerful were capable of delivering an extraordinary 1500lbs draw weight, we were told. The sheer variety of crossbows was eye opening -from the assassin's one-handed version to the great siege crossbows.

And what of the potential Bowyer involvement? The speaker was adamant pleading with us to open our minds. And declaring: "Crossbows are your business Bowyers". The skills and tools required to make the wooden lathes was clearly bowyery in action, he said. Crossbow guilds exist to this day in Europe, a relic of their importance in the defence of walled towns where they were easy to use by the general populace. He believed it to be inconceivable that Bowyers could not have been involved in English production in spite of the lack of documentary evidence.

Mike Loades' evident passion for the subject was both stimulating and intoxicating as befits a gathering of Bowyers. He left us in no doubt of our involvement and the importance of yet undiscovered evidence. The accompanying illustrations only added to our understanding and spoke of his extensive research and downright dedication.

Mark Benstead

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