I was recently re-reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series (in the vain hope that by re-reading the series it will somehow mystically spark the author to actually get moving on writing the next book…hope springs eternal). In the latest book, Knife of Dreams, one of the main characters is describing a new crossbow crank that has revolutionized warfare by allowing the soldier to spin a crank 3 times and fully cock the crossbow. This allows a rate of fire unheard of before…something on the order of 6-7 shots per minute according to the story. Probably unreasonable…but I could see how such a crank might get you 5 shots per minute…better than anything before the cap lock rifle I think.
I can see how you COULD make such a crank…though I’m unsure if such a thing WOULD have been made in sufficient numbers using pre-gunpowder technology. For debate though, lets assume that there is a way it could be done before gunpowder firearms came widely into use in Europe.
Assuming you could get 5-6 shots off of a heavy crossbow per minute would personal gunpowder firearms have ever even been developed? I would think the advantages of a rapid firing crossbow would have relegated gunpowder firearms to obscurity and stifled their development…at least until someone figured out how to rifle the barrels and maybe breach loading to get similar rates of fire.