Medieval castle warfare and decline.Posted: June 12, 2012
Castle under attack with a trebuchet and a working draw bridge!
Right side view
Left side view
Siege was one of the many effective ways to take a castle, if done properly you could even do it without any of your army getting hurt. Siege worked by cutting off all supplies from the inhabitants of the castle, eventually starving them to surrender. Sometimes this process took months or even years depending on the amount of food stored within the castle. Sometimes if a relief army was on the way and you had to quickly take control of the area, then you could siege it as well as bombarding the castle slowly taking out its defences. Castles were often beside the sea or a river with a constant water supply, this posed a problem because food could easily be transported to the defenders. This could be fixed by placing iron studded logs across the river that will sink any passing ship. Like a modern day sea-mine, but for the wooden boats, the logs will also have to be protected. The sea though, is different to the river, for huge stretches of land you might need a navy to take out any foreign ships. There is no doubt siege is effective, it’s not a weapon but a tactic that can be equally dangerous.
What weapons were used in the middle ages?
There were hundreds of different weapons that armies could use, though some were expensive and could only be afforded by the rich, others were cheap but still posed big threats to the enemy.
Some weapons used by food soldiers include: Blades, Dagger, Knife, Long sword, Messer, Club, Flail, Mace, War Hammer, Polearm, Halberd, Lance, Military fork(the weaponized Pitchfork), Poleaxe, Spear.
There were others that were for those who specialised in ranged weapons: Bow, Longbow, Crossbow, Throwing axe, Throwing spear and Javelin.
They also used their medieval versions of tanks and artillery: battering rams, catapult, trebuchet, ballista, siege tower.
If I was to be a soldier with any weapons I wanted then I would have had a two bolt crossbow, a spear on back, a sword in pouch against waist, a dagger in pocket, and a Halberd.
Most of the defensive tactics of castles depended on its location, almost all the time did the terrain around the castle determine the survival or defeat of it.
1. Castles were always built on land containing a well or a spring – so lack of water was not usually a problem. It was essential for the inhabitants of a castle to have access to a well.
2. Many castles were built with direct access to the sea, or a river, so that fresh supplies could be delivered to the castle and the defenders could not be starved into submission.
3. Water was also required to douse any fires within the castle complex.
4. The inhabitants of Castles which were built inland ran the risk of being starved into submission.
5. The higher the land the castle was built upon the easier it was for defending a castle.
Also there were military tactics, like having a moat, filling the walls with thousands of archers and always having a ready army to keep off any that break in. If possible, when you know an attack is coming, turn the surrounding grounds into a hilly marsh land ( the rain will help a lot here )so when the enemy come their tents will sink and the siege weapons will collapse. Also have a relief army hidden from the enemy’s notice. So if in the circumstance that you know that you will never be able to defend such an overwhelming attack; you can do a surprise attack on their undefended back lines and win the fight!
There were many different types of attacks possible, but it almost always depended on the situation or goal. For commonly the attacking army will try to take it by force, often by using siege engines to break down the walls; Archers to shoot dead any defenders on the wall or in the castle or set fire to the insides; Use battering rams to destroy the gate and send the army in. Sometimes they undermined the corner by digging under it, removing its foundations and letting the moat do the rest. The collapsing corner of the wall will provide a pathway in. Then attempt to send the army through the hole and take them by surprise. Other ways included sending in spies when the army is far away and the defenders are letting in people like normal. Then when the attack is under way, the spies who are hidden among the scared people in the castle go do their job; perhaps ruining water supply; burning food warehouses or weaponry storerooms. Another way to take control of a castle is to capture its leader if possible and hold him captive until he surrenders. Castles always had a weakness; all around the world the castles had a weakness, the ‘gatehouse’! The gate house was where most of the soldiers, people, craftsmen and supplies entered. Most of the time the only thing stopping enemies coming in was the draw bridge and a heavy metal spiked portcullis. Sometimes the battering ram won or lost, but either way this was a major weak point, never will there be an attack without someone or something battling the gate house.
Why castle building came to an end
Technology always evolves as people are constantly looking for new weapons they can use to outsmart the enemy. Gunpowder was of Chinese invention, but they used it for fireworks and other “more peaceful” stuff. But when traders from Europe stole the recipe, they thought in a totally different way to the Chinese and said to themselves: “Now how can I use this magical explosive power to blow up my enemy?”
So cannons were invented, first they posed no threats to the castle as most of the time the cannon itself blew up dealing more damage to the attackers. But as the years progressed it eventually became strong enough to destroy the strongest of walls.
Guns slowly replaced swords in the 1600’s and castles became more like a sitting duck, not a fortified safe spot. Other tactics emerged that no longer needed so much protection and many were no longer needed as a result of peace among nations. Also nations began mobilising a more organised defensive force so people no longer needed to hide or run to live. So castles soon became private houses, storage houses, land marks or just ruins just sitting there as a reminder off the gruesome past of medieval warfare. But the good news is that castles did not fully disappear. Though they don’t look like the medieval castles we used them in WW2, and we use them as nuke-proof bunkers under mountains. So the influence of our fathers still live to this day, their back breaking work to fight for their country.
“Medieval Castles”, http://www.medieval-castle.com/
“Castle Warfare”, http://www.middle-ages.org.uk/attacking-a-castle-in-the-middle-ages.htm
Hinkler Books, “Castle Challenge”, Orpheus Books Ltd, 2007