Arming the citizens : a crossbow distribution inventory

Like other towns in the Holy Roman Empire, Fribourg relied on its citizens to defend its walls during war. Moreso, possessing enough military equipment was essential for its inhabitants. The town itself stored a large quantity of small arms and armour in its arsenals, which had to be distributed to fighters during sieges and before military expeditions. To be able to retrieve the distributed weapons, the municipal authorities produced weapon inventories to trace the lent items. In this article, such an inventory will be presented, one which was written during the war against Savoy in 1447-1448.

Since 1440, Savoy and Fribourg (which was under Habsburgian authority) had contentious economic and diplomatic relations. The situation escalated in 1445, when Savoy closed its border to merchants from Fribourg, after 4000 florins were stolen from a papal envoy by a Habsburgian vassal. To prevent economic disaster, Fribourg prepared itself for war by raising an extraordinary tax, buying artillery, and distributing weapons to the male population. In December 1447, Fribourg attacked several Savoyan villages. However, the war turned in favour of Savoy, as they secured an alliance with Bern. Attacked on both sides, Fribourg surrendered in July 1448 and became a Savoyan subject in 1452[1].

On May 9th, 1447, a crossbow distribution took place in the town and the surrounding countryside. 443 people received – for the most part – a crossbow, with a quiver and a dozen bolts. A 12 folios long inventory was produced to keep track of each item, so that the city could retrieve them after the war. The inventory is not the only list in the main document, as the scribes wrote it after a series of other weapons and ammunition inventories. This type of documents was thus a work document, as the numerous annotations and marks show.

Fig. 1: AEF, Affaires Militaires, I-7, fol. 5r. Circles and crosses indicate that the inventory was updated later after the first writing.]

To illustrate this, the inventory’s first folio is transcribed here:

« Cy contient per escript le delyvrance de l’atilliement de messegniour de la ville de Fribor, delivree per la main de Hensly d’Englisberg et de Glaudo d’Autignie. Ordoney per messegniour le dilon apres feste Sainte Croyx en may l’an mil cccc xlvi.

o Item Jorgoz d’Englisperg ·i· arbelester por son garson riset et tot sen qui appertien mex Gorgo, ·vi· pfil, i wind.

l+ Primo Jacob d’Englisperg le Jone a· receuz ·una· dozaine de karre· bon und ein krieg winden me xii pfil guot, i totzen pfil.

o+ Item Hensly Ferwer a receuz ·i· dozaina de karre bon.

o+ Item Piero ·und· Johan Mossu hatt ·ii· tozen pfil der besten.

+ Item Jacob Fogilli hat ·i· arbrest núw mit ein krieg (i wind), ·i· totzen pfil mex ·i· wind.

o+ Item Williemoz Chaste hat ein krieg wind mex una arbelestaz, une foure et xv ·flotze per l’avoie […], i karkey.

Item Piero Perrotet hat ein krieg wind und ein arbrest.

Item Glaudo d’Autignie hat ein arbrest mit der hulft und ein krieg, ·ein· hulft totzen pfil ein kocher lidrin.

Item Williemo Stadler a· xii flotze bone.”

The crossbows – as well as firearms and armour − were preserved in the courthouse (salle de justice), situated in the city centre near St Nicholas cathedral. In 1465, this building stocked 332 crossbows, 36 maille armours, 145 helmets, 61 pairs of arm protections and 46 pairs of gauntlets. Bigger items – such as cannons – were stored in the city arsenal or on the fortifications.

Other documents preserved in Fribourg’s state archives give more insights in the citizens’ military involvement. For example, it is possible to identify the socio-economical level of some of the persons cited in the crossbow inventory, thanks to a tax book written in 1445, which gives the wealth of individual citizens. In preparation for the war against Savoy, about 3150 households were taxed (represented generally by a male member), each on 1% of their wealth. Thus, it is simple to calculate one’s total wealth. On an economical level, Fribourg’s society can be divided into three classes: a relatively large lower class (25 pounds or under of wealth, 704 households), a large middle class (25,1 to 1000 pounds of wealth, 2256 households) and a small upper class (1000,1 to 40000 pounds of wealth, 190 households). The gap between the extremes in wealth was massive, as the wealthiest citizen in Fribourg owned 1600 times more than the poorest. However, this gap was not considered during the crossbow distribution. Indeed, like citizens from the lesser classes, upper class citizens could receive military material to defend the city. For example, the donzel Jacob d’Englisberg (member of the upper class, with a wealth of 14700 pounds in 1445[2]) received bolts and a war cranequin[3]. On the other hand, Jean Gottrou (considered by the tax book as a poor household, with 25 pounds or less of wealth in 1445[4]), received a crossbow, a quiver, a dozen bolts and a belt[5].

Although Fribourg’s walls were never under siege during the war – as the town’s authorities accepted piece quickly after Bern’s alliance with Savoy –, the population was ready to defend the fortifications. Some were even nominated by the municipal authorities to man precise parts of the fortifications or the canons. Here, an example indicates that men belonging to the upper class had to defend the wall, although according to their status: Johan Pavilliar – owning 8300 pounds of wealth – was captain on one of Fribourg’s gates – the Porte des Étangs[6]. These examples show that defending the town was a concern for the whole urban community, independently of one’s wealth.

Cite this article as: Mathijs Roelofsen, "Arming the citizens : a crossbow distribution inventory," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 24/07/2022, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1906.

[1] Roberto Biolzi, « Avec le fer et la flamme ». La guerre entre la Savoie et Fribourg (1447/1448), Lausanne 2009, pp. 13-29.

[2] AEF, Stadtsachen, A576a, fol. 31r.

[3] AEF, Affaires Militaires, I-7, fol. 5r.: “Item Jorgoz d’Englisperg ·i· arbelester por son garson riset et tot sen qui appertien mex Gorgo, ·vi· pfil, i wind.”

[4] AEF, Stadtsachen, A576a, fol. 67v.

[5] AEF, Affaires Militaires, I-7, fol. 5v.: “Item Johan Gotrou a ·i· arbelestre à foure, ung walkrapf, ·i· karkey, ·i· dozanna de floze et ·i· boudrey.”

[6] AEF, Affaires Militaires, Places-Hôpitaux 3, fol. 2r.


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