Reconstructing a Historic Crossbow

Here is a simply amazing project submitted to this website by James Bayne. And a big thanks go out to him for this amazing contribution!! He found ten parts of a crossbow on what could possibly be the famous Bannock burn battle site. It was one of the most famous battles in the history of Scotland and it took place in 1314. The actual site of the battle has however been under a lot of controversy. These parts have been laying in hiding for almost 700 years.

James tells us about the find:

The crossbow was found on the bank of the burn and only about 5ft from water. It lay in an area of 2-3 yards long and a yard wide and in parts spread out as the wooden stock decayed and the metal parts moved slightly in the stream over perhaps 300 years.  This bank now, was during the battle and aftermath was the actual burn, at this point hundreds of men spilled into it (there is a small ravine at this point) it became a mass killing ground for the soldiers of Edward 2nds army, and it was said that after the battle the Bruce walked across dry shod on their corpses.  Myself and a friend always referred to this part as "the creepy bit" as you always felt you were never alone, at on a fallen tree nearby i felt somebody was sitting and musing at my efforts to find the crossbow parts, sometimes an aroma of beautiful flowers would hit me , though surrounded by weeds and grass.

The crossbow is believed to be Genoese. The Genoese were famous in that time period for manufacturing high quality crossbows and for training large forces in how to use them. They came out of the city of Genoa in Italy.

But, even more amazing is what he did with the parts. He used them to reconstruct a crossbow! Yup! Does it get any more amazing than that?

Following are pictures of the parts and of the crossbow. Here is what he has to say about the crossbow:

I happened to view your excellent site on weaponry and thought you might want to view 10 metallic parts of a crossbow i found last year , and also the replica i made from these parts. Its a cranker as you can see with a crank stroke of 8ins, has automatic trigger reset, sliding cog to disengage rack from pinion, it also had a front and back sight, the front bolt rest (did`nt use fletched arrows) served as sight plus rest for the crossbow, meaning it could be fired from a long shaft driven into the ground.  When cranked up the pinion would slide across and a small u shape piece of metal fitted into a holster to prevent rack and crank levers breaking fingers or wrist when fired, It had an Achilles heel in the rack after 100 fires (just like my replica) would start to bend behind bolt stub caused by the terrific kinetic energy it generates when front of rack contacts the striker launch plate (mine emits a puff of smoke). Performance?? the replica range is 250yds, and can launch 7 per minute easily.

I have re constructed the bow almost to the parts I found, I have since found another "U" part for another bow 30ft from the first one , meaning 698 yrs ago more than one Genoese bowman fled for his life and probably lost it in the bannock burn.

The completed crossbow

Here are the ten parts that were found. The gear at the bottom is not one of the parts. It just shows how a pinion would be against the rack.

Midway though the building.


I was never allowed to find the crossbow parts all at the one time, first i found the rack , next time i visited the foot pad , same again for the trigger, then the only multiple parts i found still in situe where they fell 697 yrs ago was the crank mechanism, the small cog no longer metal, but its outline and dimensions still able to measure and record its dimensions.  By this time i had started to build the bow (without all the parts being found) a mistake as i found out later, the reason for building it as an engineer i was intrigued by the slight bend behind the stub on the rack, was this due to damage in the ground over 700yrs or a design fault.?

As work continued i soon began to realise that this was some piece of kit for 1314 , the trigger was self setting and was contained in its own trigger box, when cranked up, the small cog would have been slipped to one side to allow the rack to propel forwards without injury to crossbow man,  it had a front and rear sight, could be mounted on a pole driven into the ground and the front sight, cum balista rest became a pin to insert into the pole, meaning it could traverse through 360 degrees, and be fired at any trajectory and a killing range of easily 150yds , in short a medieval snipers rifle!

The bow i never found, it could have been wood , but with the quality and sophistication of this weapon i`m inclined to think metal, and as it lay in water for years , the large mass of the bow could have been easily swept downstream and lost forever.  The last part i found with great joy was the bolt rest cum front sight, as i found it after the bow was completed and i had to adapt the bow.!    24 hours after i found it so good was its condition i took the finished bow to where it had been used and fired a bolt through the sight, the crack from the crossbow like a gunshot reverberated across the fields, this was the first time in 697 years it was heard.    Since then the "creepy bit" is no longer creepy as myself and my friend Brian has observed , it would seem the previous owner was happy with the result and has since moved on!!


James Found More artifacts from the site including a Farriers Toolbox - Read more and see the pics here.



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