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fig. 42.—the goat's-foot lever.

this apparatus for bending crossbows was known as a goat's-foot lever, from its supposed resemblance in outline to a hind-foot of a goat. Though not of sufficient strength to bend a thick steel bow, or one such as required a windlass or a cranequin, the goat's-foot lever was of considerable power. Its action was easy and rapid, and could be applied on horseback. For these reasons, the goat's-foot was carried by the mounted crossbowman in preference to any other kind of lever employed for stretching the bow-string of a crossbow of moderate power.

The crossbow which was bent by a thong and pulley, a claw to the belt, a rack and screw or a windlass and ropes, could not possibly have been used by the mounted soldier. It is true the cranequin was employed for bending the larger crossbow carried by horsemen, but, as its mechanism was of elaborate and costly construction, it was not supplied to ordinary troops. On the other hand, the goat's-foot lever was simple and cheap and could be made for a trivial sum by any worker in metal.

I do not find the goat's-foot lever represented till the middle of the fourteenth century, but from that time till the end of the fifteenth century it is frequently pictured and mentioned in contemporary literature,

fig. 43.—How the goat's-foot lever was applied to bend a small crossbow.

and appears to have been a favourite contrivance for bending the lighter kind of military crossbow, fig. 97, p. 151.

The simplicity and convenience of this lever were so evident, that long after crossbows were discarded in warfare, it was popular for bending the steel bows of the smaller weapons used in sport or at the target—in the latter case, till as recent a date as the close of the eighteenth century.

Fig. 43, previous page, shows a seventeenth century small sporting crossbow being bent by its goat's-foot lever. From these sketches it will be realised how the mounted crossbowman held his crossbow and worked his lever. He passed his left arm through his bridle reins when in the act of bending his bow, or, in the event of his horse being well trained and steady, merely hitched the reins over the high pummel of his saddle.

Both the crossbow and its lever were fitted with small rings, by which they could be suspended to hooks fixed in the saddle of the crossbowman, when he did not require his weapon.


I. The handle, surface and side view. The handle is 10 in. long. It is 3/4 in. wide at its widest part A, and tapers from a thickness of 1/4 in. near its swivel end B, to 3/16 in. near its small end C.

II. The fork, surface and side view. A, is the cross-pin on which the handle is hinged, and B, is the pin on which the claw-frame swings, both pins being 1/4 in. in diameter. These pins are 2 1 in. from one another.

The curved parts, or prongs of the fork, are each 6 3/4 in. long from the cross-pin B, to their ends C-C.

The sides of the fork are 1 1/2 in. apart inside1 and 3/16 in. thick.

From the bend of the fork near A, to B, the sides are L in. wide ; they then gradually decrease in width to 3/16 in. at their points C-C.

III. The claw-frame, surface and side view. This part of the lever swings loosely on the cross-pin B.

The sides of the claw-frame are 2 3/4 in. long and ¿ in. wide. From D to E, they are 3/8 in. thick, from E to F they are 3/16 in. thick. The claws are if in. apart inside The flat cross-bar G, which connects the claws, is 1 in. wide and 1/8 in. thick.


Hook its claws over the centre of the bow-string, a claw being on each side of the stock and just clear of it.

1 This width of 1 1 in. fits a stock which is 1 1 in. wide across its grooved surface. If the width of the stock of a crossbow at this part is more or less, then the width between the sides of the fork will of course vary to suit.

Place the prongs of the fork over the top of the stock, with their ends resting upon the transverse iron pin (1 in. thick) which projects 3 in. on opposite sides of the stock, below the catch of the lock, I, fig. 43, p. 85.

[The ends of this pin were sometimes fitted with small revolving collars, to assist the downward slide of the fork as pressure was put on the handle of the lever.]

fig. 44.—the mechanism of the goat's-foot lever. Half full size.

Hold the crossbow in a level position with the left hand, the shoulder-end of the stock resting against the front of the right thigh. Pull the handle of the lever towards you with the right hand, II, fig. 43, p. 85, and fig. 97, p. 151.

The leverage obtained from the fork of the lever, as you pull its handle
back, will enable you to stretch the bow-string to the catch of the lock smoothly
and quickly.

I, fig. 43, p. 85. The lever fitted to the stock and bow-string, and ready to stretch the string over the catch of the lock.

II, fig. 43. The bow-string stretched over the catch of the lock by pulling back the handle of the lever. The lever having now no strain upon it from the bow-string, is loose, and may be removed from the stock by lifting it upwards. When not in use the handle of the lever is hinged back, so as to lie between the sides of the fork.

The goat's-foot lever I have described, was adapted to fit the small crossbow carried by mounted soldiers, as well as the light weapon employed in the chase or at the target.

In the case of foot-soldiers, however, a more powerful crossbow was used than could be managed on horseback, its goat's-foot lever being also larger, to enable it to bend the bow of the stronger weapon.

This crossbow could only be bent by resting its stock on the ground and then forcing the handle of its lever downwards with the right hand, whilst the left hand grasped a stout metal ring secured to the fore-end of the stock. Fig. 45, opposite page, shows a crossbow being bent in this way by its goat's-foot lever.

In these weapons of the foot-soldier, a lever of proportionate thickness to the strength of the bow intended to be bent, was, of course, necessary, the lever being usually about one-third longer in all its parts than the one given in fig. 44, and of suitable strength.

I should add that though these heavier crossbows were of considerable power and efficiency in warfare, they were much inferior in range and penetration to the crossbow that could not be bent by a goat's-foot lever, and which required a windlass or a cranequin for the purpose.

Ralph Payne-Gallwey's book"The Book of the Crossbow"






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