Setting the Chillon crossbows in our sights

Chillon’s permanent exhibition includes an arbalest crossbow dating back to the 15th century, the very end of the Middle Ages, when the Savoy family reigned over the castle and all of Vaud.

Stored in the weapon’s room in the keep, the crossbow was not found on the site, but was instead donated in 1825 – four years before Gioachino Rossini composed the opera William Tell, drawing on the legend that founded Switzerland. That’s a whole other story.

View of the composite bow of the Chillon crossbow

The bow is composite, meaning wood covered in a more tension-resistant material to bear some of the strain. Generally, cattle sinew was used to reinforce the convex outer side, as it could resist tension. Slivers of animal horn were applied to the concave inside, as they were compression resistant.

The whole thing was then coated in boiled bull tendons and wrapped in leather or parchment. On the Chillon crossbow, you can still see some remaining particles near the strings attaching the bow to the tiller (the wooden stock with a long groove designed to hold and direct the projectile).


Some crossbows fired projectiles at speeds of over 200 km/h.

This type of crossbow had a draw weight of between 80 and 150 pounds. It was, on the other hand, extremely sensitive to moisture. Not ideal for a castle built on a lake…

So, can bull sinew help hit the bull’s eye? There’s only one way to find out – head to room 43 and take a look for yourself!



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