Crossbows were initially drawn by hand, by placing ones foot in the triangular stirrup-like thing in front of the bow, grabbing the string with straight arms and straightening the leg (Another option was to attach the string to a hook on the belt), but after the introduction of the steel bow (which replaced the bows made from wood, sinews or horn, often by laminating different materials) around 1400, the increased draw-weight made this impossible, and a lever or cranequin had to be used.

In 1139, pope Innocentius II declared the use of a crossbow against fellow (or not-so-fellow, one might presume) christians a crime, but since almost everyone (except perhaps the Welsh) had realised the advantage of the crossbow over the longbow - the flatter trajectory made aiming easier, no one paid much attention to the pope in this matter.

The ammunition used by crossbows is called bolts or quarrels.