Medieval Siege Warfare


Medieval Siege Warfare
Medieval Siege warfare was an extremely expensive and time consuming business. Siege warfare was, however, a common occurrence, especially during the Hundred Years War (1337 - 1453), when the English were claiming French lands and mounting invasions. An important requirement to ensure a successful invasion was to capture the enemies power base - their castles. Medieval siege warfare was essential! There were more Medieval sieges than there were pitched battles. Medieval Siege Warfare was conducted according to Chivalric Rules and a truce or settlement would always be attempted, according to the Chivalric Code before Siege Warfare commenced.

Medieval Siege Warfare - Negotiation for the Attackers and Defenders
Medieval Siege warfare was fought from the perspective of the Defender and the perspective of the Attacker. The attackers had the upper hand in negotiations as they were in total control of the siege and could withdraw at any time. The defenders involved in siege warfare were aware of the cost of a siege and that a prolonged siege would cause additional problems in terms of the man power of the attackers.

The attackers force would have been raised by the Medieval Feudal Levy where nobles and their troops were only obliged to serve for a limited amount of time - usually 40 days. The cost and time elements were therefore critical to both sides and pressure was on both sides to achieve a peaceful agreement in Medieval Siege Warfare.

Medieval Siege Warfare

Medieval Siege Warfare

  • The strategy of Medieval Siege Warfare
  • Negotiation process of Siege Warfare
  • How the Chivalric Code effected the outcome of Medieval Siege Warfare
  • Medieval Siege Warfare for Defenders
  • Medieval Siege Warfare for Attackers

The Chivalric Code of Medieval Siege Warfare
The Chivalric Code regulated Medieval Siege warfare. These rules allowed surrender under honorable terms. Each side would have estimated the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. These considerations are fully explained in Medieval Siege Weapons. Medieval Siege Warfare was costly and Siege Weapons and the besieging forces would not be assembled until it was believed that all truce negotiations would fail. The Medieval Siege Warfare rules of the honorable Chivalric Code included the following elements:

  • Time Medieval Siege Warfare- A reasonable and specific amount of time was allowed for truce or surrender conditions to be considered. This ranged from 7 - 40 days. The shorter time period was most commonly allowed because of the problems caused by the Feudal Levy
  • Honorable Surrender - Medieval Siege Warfare - An honorable surrender had to be negotiated before the start of hostilities
    • Safe Conduct - Castle inhabitants could leave the castle unharmed
    • Weapons - Often terms would allow inhabitants to retain their weapons
  • Should inhabitants refuse to surrender no such promises were given
  • Intentions - Medieval Siege Warfare- The attackers would signal the start of the siege with flags or launching arrows or crossbow bolts at the castle entrance

Medieval Siege Warfare - the Attackers
The attackers forms of Medieval Siege warfare were as follows:

  • Siege Weapons - The Trebuchet, Ballista, Mangonel, Battering Ram and Siege Towers were all used in an attackers siege warfare
    • Battering Ram - The Battering Ram and the Bore were used to literally ‘batter’ down, pound, punch, shake and drill into the castle
    • Ballista - The Ballista - similar to a Giant Crossbow and worked by using tension.
    • Mangonel - Missiles were launched from a bowl-shaped bucket at the end of the one giant arm of the Mangonel
    • Trebuchet - The huge and terrifying Trebuchet consisted of a lever and a sling and was capable of hurling stones weighing 200 pounds
    • Siege Tower - A siege weapon designed to protect attackers and their ladders whilst storming a weak area of the castle wall
  • Undermining the Castle
    • It was easy to mine underneath a corner
    • The attackers would dig a tunnel underneath one of the corners using timber props (this process was called sapping). The tunnel would be packed with brush wood. The brush wood would be set on fire and the corner would collapse!
    • The structure of the castle would be weakened and the weight of the castle would bring the walls caving in and the whole castle would collapse
  • Scaling the Castle walls - Men, armed with scaling ladders scaled the castle walls. The main attribute of the scalars was their speed
  • Treachery - Traitors within the castle could turn on the inhabitants
  • Starvation - An effective siege strategy if time and cost was not a problem

Medieval Siege Warfare - the Defenders
Medieval Siege warfare tactics were very much dependent on the construction of the castle. Considerable engineering and building skills were put into strengthening and reinforcing the weakest part of the Castles with siege warfare in mind. The defenders forms of Medieval Siege warfare were as follows:

  • The moat and the drawbridge. The drawbridge was capable of being raised to prevent entry into the castle
  • The Barbican or ‘death trap’ was developed as another way to strengthen the main entrance, by adding more defences in front of it.
    • The Barbican was an exterior walled passage with multiple gates leading to the main entrance ( the Gatehouse) - the Barbican really was a death trap!
    • Defenders would fire arrows from loop holes in the Barbican passage walls
    • Only a small number of men were needed to defend this part of the castle
  • Murder Holes - Holes above the passage ( called Murder Holes ) allowed defenders to drop boiling water, heavy stones or hot sand on the enemy
  • The gatehouse was the entrance to the castle and defended by at least one portcullis, a heavy grilled door that dropped vertically down to protect the main entrance of the castle
  • The Gatehouse might also contain murder holes and arrow loops in the side walls
    • The Gatehouse, or main entrance, would be heavily barred - the Chapel was occasionally built in this vicinity - behind the Gatehouse. The enemy would then be seen to fire on the Chapel - God was seen as being on the side of the Defenders of the castle!
  • Once the Barbican and the Gatehouse had been breached the attackers would often find themselves in an outer bailey and under attack from the bowmen positioned on the walls sheltered by the Crenellations - yet another trap!
  • The low curtain walls of Concentric Castles meant that the defenders positioned on the inner walls could monitor the progress of the attackers
    • The attackers would then need to attack the Inner Bailey and the Tower or the Keep. The Keep or the Tower was the most strongly defended castle building. Some were as high as 90 feet tall!

The defenders would use all the traps which were built into the castle designs to their best advantage when waging medieval siege warfare. The siege engines would be attacked using fire and grappling irons and keeping the attackers under constant assault from arrows, stones (from slingshots) and crossbow bolts. Defenders launched arrows from narrow, sheltered windows called loopholes. Loopholes were different designs which accommodated the shape of different weapons. Different kinds of burning materials were dropped on hapless attackers including hot rocks, burning tar, boiling water or hot sand.

Medieval Siege Warfare
Medieval siege warfare was terrifying for both the attackers and the defenders!

Medieval Siege Warfare

Medieval Siege Warfare and Weapons

  • Medieval Siege Warfare - The weapons used by the Medieval Knights - Swords - Broadsword,
  • Falchion, Bastardsword, Cutting sword and the Greatsword
  • The Mace, the Dagger and the Lance
  • The Medieval weapons used by the armed men and archers including:
    • The Crossbow, The Longbow, The Battle Axe
    • The Poleaxe and Pikes
  • The massive Medieval Siege Warfare Weapons
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