Ancient Siege Engines
Froissart chronicles that at the siege of Thyn-l'Eveque, 1340, in the
Low Countries, ' John, Duke of Normandy had a great abundance of engines
carted from Cambrai and Douai. Among others he had six very large ones
which he placed before the fortress, and which day and night cast great
stones which battered in the tops and roofs of the towers and of the rooms
and halls, so much so that the men who defended the place took refuge in
cellars and vaults.'
Camden records that the strength of the engines employed for throwing
stones was incredibly great and that with the engines called mangonels
they used to throw millstones. Camden adds that ' when King John laid siege
to Bedford Castle there were on the east side of the castle two catapults
battering the old tower, as also two upon the south side besides another
on the north side which beat two breaches in the walls.'
The same authority asserts that when Henry III. was besieging Kenilworth
Castle the garrison had engines which cast stones of an extraordinary size,
and that near the castle several balls of stone sixteen inches in diameter
have been found, which are supposed to have been thrown by engines with
slings2 in the time of the Barons' war.
Holinshed writes that ' when Edward I. attacked Stirling Castle, he
caused an engine of wood to be set up to batter the castle which shot stones
of two or three hundredweight,' p. 261.
Pere Daniel in his Histoire de la Milice Franfoise, writes : ' The great
object of the French engineers was to make siege engines of sufficient
strength to project stones large enough to crush in the roofs of houses
and break down the walls.' This author continues : ' The French engineers
were so successful and cast stones of such enormous size that their missiles
even penetrated the vaults and floors of the most solidly built houses.'
The effects of the balista on the defenders of a town were in no degree
inferior to those of the catapult. The missile of the ballista consisted
of a huge steel-tipped wooden bolt which, although of far less weight than
the great ball of stone cast by a catapult or the far larger one thrown
by a trebuchet, was able to penetrate roofs and destroy light parapets.
Caesar records that ' when his lieutenant Caius Trebonius was building
a movable tower at the siege of Marseilles, the only method of protecting
the workmen from the darts of engines. 4
must have followed if two soldiers had not signalised
themselves by a brave exploit. Covering themselves with shields of the
enemy which they found among the slain, they advanced undiscovered to the
battering-engine and cut its ropes and springs. In this bold adventure
they both perished and with them two names that deserved to be immortal.'
1 Catapults were often called mangons or mangonels
in early mediaeval warfare, but in course of time the name mangonel was
applied to any siege engine that projected stones or arrows. In this case
the trebuchet is intended as no catapult could project a millstone.
2 The engines here alluded to by Camden were
trebuchets as the catapult had not a sling attached to its arm.
3 These engines would also be trebuchets.