Hello Variants, and welcome to the third entry in the exciting series New World, Who’s this? So far, we covered where castles come from and the make up of a castle. This week, we will take everything we’ve learned and burn it! We will be discussing sieging a castle.
Imagine this scenario: Someone you really don’t like has built a castle smack dab in the middle of the one place you didn’t need a castle to go. Assuming you would rather this castle and its inhabitants would depart these lands, you may decide to take over this castle for yourself. There are three primary ways to do this, either through a blockade, an assault, or through diplomacy. Sure, a castle could be purchased, or the local lord could be bribed, but let’s be honest: that’s not really why we are here! Of the three, the safest way to take hold of a castle is through blockading it and placing it under siege.
In a siege, an attacking army would surround a castle in order to ensure that reinforcements and supplies could not get through to where they were needed. Should you succeed in preventing anyone from getting in or out, you would simply wait until the people inside the castle grow hungry and wish to vacate. However, this could take a while (quite a while in fact, since most castles typically had large supplies of food and water in reserve for precisely this reason). While waiting for the sieged castle to surrender, the poor attacking army on the outside of the castle will be resigned to sleeping in tents and worrying about their food security. For this reason, you may not have time to wait the months or years it could commonly take to starve out a castle. With a war of attrition commonly not a viable option, many times you are left with just one option. To attack!
Taking a castle by force is no small feat. The first necessary task is to cross over or cover any moats, which are large ditches around the exterior wall to prevent quick or easy access to the walls or gates of the castle for anyone on the outside. Water was commonly added, but is optional for a moat. Once the moat was overcome, the walls themselves had to be dealt with. Scaling a wall typically meant moving ladders or siege towers to the base of the fortifications, and climbing up to attack the top of the wall directly. Going under is possible, but requires tunneling and digging saps, which would cause the wall to collapse after the supporting earth was dug out from under it. In addition, large siege engines such as trebuchets make it possible to smash through a wall, by knocking large holes in it with heavy projectiles.
If wall climbing isn’t your style, castle gatehouses could be attacked, as these are the natural entry points to a castle. Battering rams with protective roofing would be wheeled up to the gate to bludgeon it down. Both rams and siege towers could be covered in wet leather or skins to prevent flaming arrows or other incendiary weapons from igniting these massive wooden constructs. Gatehouses commonly featured what is lovingly referred to as murder holes, or openings in the floor over the gate where a variety of heavy and pointy objects could be thrown or dropped upon attackers. Rocks, arrows, spear, and boiling oil were among some of the common items dropped through these holes.
After the titanic struggle of taking any outer walls, the castles’ inner walls still had to be taken (with the keep almost fortified as a castle within a castle), where the defenders would typically fall back to. Some architectural trickery was used to make attacking a castle even more difficult. Stairways would be built as spirals, tapering to the left, which would leave anyone right handed exposed to an enemy with high ground, with their shields uselessly pressed against a wall. Arrow slits made it possible to fire a volley out of castle towers and keep hold of tactical positions that may have otherwise been lost.
Assuming that you and your valiant army are able to overcome all of these struggles, congratulations! You are now the proud owner of what is now likely a scattered pile of rocks that previously resembled a castle. Now you get the privilege of rebuilding, and hoping that the next guy doesn’t have the same fortune you had.
What would you like to learn about Castles? Let us know in the comments below.