War in the High Middle Ages
This crossbow is a bow of the barbarians [westerners] quite unknown to the Greeks; and it is not stretched by the right hand pulling the string whilst the left pulls the bow in a contrary direction, but he who stretches this warlike and very far-shooting weapon must lie, one might say, almost on his back and apply both feet strongly against the semi-circle of the bow and with his two hands pull the string with all his might. In the middle of the string is a socket, a cylindrical kind of cup fitted to the string itself . . . and through this arrows of many sorts are shot out. The arrows used with this bow are very short in length, but very thick, fitted in front with a very heavy iron tip. And in discharging them the string shoots them out with enormous violence and force . . . they pierce though a shield, then cut through a heavy iron corselet and wing their way through and out the otherside . . . . Such then is this monster of a cross-bow, and verily a devilish invention.
Anna Comnena, The Alexiad, trans. Elizabeth Drew ( New York, 1967), pp. 255-56. The author was the daughter of the Byzantine emperor at the time of the First Crusade.
The twelfth century was the prime era of the knight. He dominated the battlefields of western Europe, where the lessons of the Crusades went largely unlearned. Twelfth-century commanders, facing forces almost identical to their own with little chance of being surprised by different tactics and weapons, had little reason to be innovative or try to develop effective infantry.
The most interesting battle fought while medieval cavalry was in its prime was the Battle of Bouvines ( July 1214). Despite the fact that it was fought between French forces and those of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV, it was largely a consequence of the long effort of the French monarchy to drive the Anglo-Norman rulers from their French fiefs. Henry II and Richard I had defended their fiefs with skill and tenacity, but Richard's