Banning the Crossbow

“We prohibit under anathema that murderous art of crossbowmen and archers, which is hateful to God, to be employed against Christians and Catholics from now on.” – Canon 29, Second Lateran Council

Thus spake Pope Innocent II, the only source I can find in a brief internet search for the stuff “everybody knows” about the Church banning the use of crossbows (and archery, apparently, though that doesn’t get much press, possibly for reasons we’ll discuss below).

I’m not a medievalist, so I don’t know the actual arguments behind this, but I know what “everybody knows” — crossbows can punch through the hardest armor, which meant that a unit of peasants with crossbows could defeat a bunch of noble knights. In an age when the Princes of the Church were literal princes, or at least noblemen — and thus often led troops into battle personally — this was a big deal. What was “the feudal system” for, if not to keep noblemen at the top of the hierarchy?

Strangely enough, though, pretty much everybody seemed to ignore the archery ban — see, for example, the Battle of Crecy— and there’s no comparable “halberd ban” (that I’m aware of) even after the Battle of Courtrai, in which a peasant militia armed with pikes slaughtered a whole bunch of French knights. Using the logic of what “everybody knows” about crossbows, an explanation suggests itself: Longbows and pikes are very demanding weapons. They require extensive training and a fair amount of physical strength — halberds are heavy, and longbows have draws in the 100lb range. They also require lots of skill to use effectively, and pikes, especially, demand giant, rock-like balls (go ahead and imagine what it’s like to face down a fully armored killer with a twelve foot lance, barreling at you at 20mph on the back of an 800 lb horse, which is also armored).

Crossbows, by contrast, require little physical strength and almost no training to use — just point and shoot.

Note that I didn’t write “to use effectively in battle,” since the professional crossbowmen who fought in medieval battles were professionals — that is, highly disciplined (in context) warriors who practiced constantly with their weapons. Innocent and the gang weren’t so worried about being killed in battle by units of professional crossbowmen. They didn’t fear dying in battle, but they were deathly afraid of being murdered, and that’s where all that “just point and shoot” stuff comes in. You need a fair amount of skill, and no little nerve, to be a professional arbalester…

…but pretty much anyone with a grudge could just pick one up, hide it under his cloak, saunter into killing range, and pull the trigger. Bad news for the nobility, eh?

Of course, crossbows were just too useful to the nobility for the ban to have any real effect — see for example, the Battle of Crecy, above, in which England’s (theoretically banned) longbowmen drove France’s (theoretically banned) crossbowmen from the field, before shooting down the French knights. Indeed, so widely ignored was the ban that throughout the Middle Ages, crossbows improved. They became smaller, more powerful, easier to use. The nobility apparently reckoned that the risk of assassination by a disgruntled, untutored peasant with a crossbow was outweighed by the punch trained crossbowmen gave them in battle…

Alas for the noblemen, Innocent II had been right all along. Give the peasantry access to small, easily concealed, powerful weapons that require no training to use, and boom, there’s the end of the feudal system. The crossbow really was the great equalizer…

…that’s the story, anyway, that “everybody knows” about why the Church banned crossbows. I have no idea if it’s actually true or not. And anyway it doesn’t matter. All of this is just a historical curiosity.


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15 thoughts on “Banning the Crossbow

  1. SeverianSeverian Post author

    Oops. It occurs to me that some easily excitable people might be tempted to look for some hidden meaning here, so let me be clear: I’m only pointing this out to show how what “everybody knows” can be tested against historical reality. If all that stuff about banning the crossbow were true, then you’d see it in the historical record. Were there lots of assassinations, or attempted assassinations, of nobles by disgruntled peasants with crossbows? I’m not a medievalist, but I don’t know of any. Therefore, what “everybody knows” is wrong.

    I mean, c’mon man. This isn’t English class, where you have to find some secret hidden symbolism in everything. It’s just a history lesson. Nothing more.

    1. Avatardave b

      English class was my first inkling that perhaps adults were not quite as smart as we kids assumed. Four years of HS English, taught by various wopersons of a liberal outlook, and I was convinced that many adults were either very stupid or mentally ill. I did learn that the ugly virgins who taught English courses were symbols of the decline of civilization. I am sure todays versions are the epitome of the woke shrew.

  2. AvatarPickle Rick

    Note the language. The ban was on the use against fellow Christians. It is a refinement of Pax Dei and Treuga Dei.
    By the time gunpowder and guns came around nobody got lathered up about them. Saint Barbara was and is the patron saint of artillerymen…

    1. AvatarWOPR

      It is similar to the belief, leading up to WWI, the Europeans would slaughter African tribesmen with a Maxim gun. They would never use it against each other.

  3. SeverianSeverian Post author

    dave b has it right. What I’m worried about is that some crazed English teacher type might, in xzheyr craziness, argue something along the lines of “since 1) we live under what amounts to techno-feudalism, and 2) the “knights” of such a system all wear blue checkmarks on their armor, and 3) those knights are all in on cancel culture, then, at some point, they’re going to #cancel the wrong guy — in fact, it’s all but inevitable — and that guy will add 1+2+3 and get…”

    But that’s just crazy talk, because where could you even see a crossbow these days? And of course we DON’T live under techno-feudalism, because corporations are our friends and they only want what’s best for us. As do all the noble knights, who anyway are just doing their duty by obeying their lords. Does the sacred oath of enfeoffement mean nothing to you people?

  4. AvatarMBlanc46

    This time they’re really going to do it, are doing it as I type, I believe. There has been a lot of talk—well, internet bloviating—about how the crossbows will have to be pried from their cold, dead hands. I’m skeptical that that will often be the case. However, if a critical mass of angry white guys actually does bring it to that, things could get very unsettled in these parts.

    1. Avatargedeon

      The control freaks get off on terrorizing normies because they can’t control the masses granularly. The interesting thing about the 2a banter yesterday is that the DOJ via ATF has already lost cases in the courtroom for both 80% receivers as well as braces. The ATF tried on braces as recently as last December to published revised guidance on braces and it was immediately withdrawn following the overwhelming public response during the comment period.

      Executive orders apply to the executive branch, so the slo admin is directing federal LEO to interpret the law in a way that has already lost in the courts. In addition, the publishing of boilerplate legislation for state red flag adoption is another admission of the weakness of the current government to create unfavorable laws before even getting to the matter of compliance and enforcement.

      Take your pick of urban SWAT teams and they are mostly comprised of non-military door-kickers. I personally know M. Stradley who ran Portland’s swat until the poz gang came down on him about a decade ago and they are still trying to get him. It has been a while since I spoke to him, but there is no scalable way for the fed, state or municipal LEOs to disarm patriot America. Zero and the JCOS know it as well.

      The last year has had not only a profound affect on the patriot community, but also normie dem voters who even started buying firearms and accessories. Beyond the raw quantities of firearms and ammunition in patriot hands and the rejection of the fraudulent inauguration, the YOY value of firearms is up somewhere between 50-100% and ammunition around 300-500%. Any effort to appropriate that store of wealth from the patriot class will be met with righteous resistance.

      So while I think it is expected that we will not only see copious amounts of anti-firearm propaganda and low intensity conflicts to try and foment popular support for it, I think they horses ran out of the barn between the pandemic, st. Floyd festivities and the fraudulent election.

      Based on personal experience as well as conversations with LEOs, I think we will see officers going through the administrative motions and not much on the active law enforcement front. BORTAC and US Marshalls were the two primary tactical groups deployed to hot areas of federal concern during 2020 and the leaks from CBP on the southern border support the belief that they are staffed with patriot blood.

      There is a big difference between assaulting the residence of drugged-out gang banger and a class of people who have had everything from red dawn to the hypothetical home invasion and unconstitutional confiscation assault team on their mind for decades now. Success or failure, I expect the patriots will be emboldened if and when .gov tries to a broader disarmament campaign.

      The costs and risks escalate rapidly and the big thing the control freaks cannot have is public failure to undermine their mass perception as omnipotent.

      1. SeverianSeverian Post author

        Gotta disagree on two points. First, I question if anyone sees the government as omnipotent. They are theoretically capable of bringing overwhelming force, and that will remain true no matter how bad they botch any given operation… but I’m pretty sure most everyone takes it as read that they *will* botch it.

        More importantly, though, I doubt they’ll have to do any enforcement at all. If the Kung Flu has taught us anything, it’s that Americans are all fucking sheep. All the “patriots” out there talking tough about “muh gunz” are still wearing face diapers in public. They’ll bitch and moan and write some stern letters to their congressmen, promising to vote **so hard** against them at the next election, but when they’re ordered to turn their guns over, they’ll line up like good little serfs.

        1. Avatargedeon

          I question how broad your sphere of influence is if that is your final word on the matter. We have seen a culture which embraces and exploits lawlessness, so it should not be a stretch believe the antithesis exists as well.

          In any case, these are falsifiable hypotheses so we can revisit them as the future matures.

          1. SeverianSeverian Post author

            I don’t have a “sphere of influence;” I have a blog that has twenty readers. But yeah, based on what I’ve seen with the Dread Coof, about 90% of my fellow “Americans” will march into the boxcars with a smile on their lips and a song in their hearts, posting selfies to Faceborg and TikTok the whole time.

            And yes, if present trends continue we will certainly see, one way or the other. But if you know of any folks out there who have any concrete, active plans to disprove my hypothesis, I assure you in the strongest possible terms that I do NOT want to know about it.

  5. AvatarNot a Fed

    C’mon man, nobody needs a crossbow. Those weapons of war don’t belong on our streets, especially if it is black or has the shoulder thing that goes up.

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