These two roundels (462 and 468) show a mounted soldier aiming a threatening crossbow. Both crossbowmen sport long tunics over chain mail, the same clothing that King Richard wears. They appear to be soldiers in his army.
The crossbows can be identified by the loop in the middle of the bow, which is part of the mechanism for drawing the bowstring. Crossbows were capable of terrible force that could pierce plate armor within a certain range. The awe and fear inspired by the crossbow is suggested by the decision reached at the Second Lateran Council in 1139, which forbade the use of the crossbow in battle—except against non-Christians. It would have been quite difficult to operate a crossbow while riding, as it required both hands to shoot; this action would have required superb horsemanship. These designs, then, show a powerful, innovative weapon that was regarded with awe and required highly skilled knights.
The crossbow was particularly associated with Richard’s crusading endeavors. Not only was Richard himself “as effective with a crossbow as with a lance” but it was also well known that his death was the result of an infected wound delivered by a crossbow bolt. Richard was even said to have shot down guards with a crossbow while ill and being carried on a stretcher. His association with the crossbow was strong enough for the thirteenth-century English historian Matthew Paris to indicate Richard’s death by means of his inverted coat of arms suspended from a crossbow (Fig. 14). Both men shown in these tiles can be understood as well-equipped and fierce soldiers in Richard’s crusading army, and they amplify the role of the crossbow both in the crusades and in the narrative of Richard’s life.
To learn more about the soldier tiles, see the video on the Parthian Shot page.