Description and Design of the Trebuchet
The Trebuchet is a counterweight siege engine. The Trebuchet consisted of a lever and a sling. A very large force is applied to the shorter end of the arm, the load is on the other longer end of the arm with the fulcrum in the middle. The engine's arm could measure up to 60 feet in length. Heavy lead weights or a pivoting ballast box (filled with earth, sand or stones) were fixed to the short end of the trebuchet arm. A heavy stone, or other missile, was placed in a leather pouch that was attached by two ropes to the other, long, end. When the arm was released, the force created by the falling weight propelled the long end upward and caused the missile to be flung in the air towards the target. The Trebuchet was capable of hurling stones weighing 200 pounds with a range of up to about 300 yards. After maximum range was achieved, the trebuchet was moved toward or away from the target. The first type of Trebuchet (Trebucket) were powered by man power, but later trebuchets relied on a huge counterweight that swung a long arm. The rate of release was amazing - up to two thousands stones could be released in one day!
Missiles thrown from the Trebuchet
The Trebuchet is generally associated with throwing stones. A Trebuchet could release up to 2000 stones in one day! Should the supply diminish sharp wooden poles and darts would be used. Fire caused havoc in a besieged castle or city and a variety of fire missiles, including firebrands were thrown. Terrifying Greek Fire was also used as a missile from the trebuchet. Trebuchets could launch missiles hundreds of yards at, or even over, a castle or city wall. Attackers were ingenious in their ideas for launching missiles which would cause as much distress and discomfort inside the castle walls. Trebuchet missiles included the following:
- Sharp wooden poles and darts
- Casks of Burning Tar
- Burning Sand ( this became trapped inside armor )
- Pots of Greek Fire
- Dead, sometime mutilated, bodies
- Disease ridden bodies
- Body parts
- Dead animals
- Any rotting matter
Fire caused havoc in a besieged castle or city and a variety of fire missiles were thrown from a trebuchet - none more terrifying than Greek Fire. Greek Fire had the property of developing intense heat, spreading in all directions and burning on water! There were various formula for creating Greek Fire. Some accounts of Greek Fire suggest that petroleum and oil was used. Other Greek formula include quicklime, saltpeter, bitumen, sulphur, resin and pitch. This terrifying fiery substance stuck like glue to almost any surface and was nearly impossible to extinguish except with sand, salt, or urine. Throwing water on Greek Fire only fanned the flames.
The Trebuchet and the Gynours
The Trebuchet was able to project missiles from a distance of 300 yards. In the late Medieval era the men who operated the trebuchet were called ' Gynours '. The trebuchet was a massive war engine and its size required that the machine would be built at the site of the siege.
The Trebuchet and the Enemy
The Gynours were under constant bombardment from the arrows and missiles of the enemy. The enemy would also attempt to burn the trebuchet during any daring reconnaissance trips. Catapults would also be built by the enemy within the castle or city walls to attack any of the attackers siege engines. Warning cries were often made when a fire missile had been launched by a trebuchet.
The Trebuchet and Medieval Warfare
The castle owners ensured that their castles were built to withstand or combat a siege. Medieval Castles were built with access to fresh supplies from the sea. Various forms of defence including the Barbican, Portcullis, Gatehouse, Moat, Crenellations, Murder Holes etc were included in castle design. And castles were often built with the trebuchet in mind - a moat would keep a trebuchet at a distance from the curtain wall. Castle attackers employed siege Warfare including starvation tactics. Castle walls could fall due to bombardment from Siege Engines such as the ballista, the mangonel, battering ram, and of course, the trebuchet.
The story of the Trebuchet ( Trebucket) paints a terrifying picture. But it was just an everyday weapon employed during the era where war and violence was expected. But the Medieval era was also the period of the Code of Chivalry, Tournaments and Courtly Love. The Trebuchet was used at some tournaments as a Weapon of Love. The Trebuchet was filled with flowers and roses were launched at the Medieval ladies - they were 'Showered with Roses' by their Knights!