Castle Defenses

Medieval Castle Sieges

Medieval sieges could last for months. Attacking armies would set up long-term encampments at a safe distance from the castle's long-range catapults and crossbows. The attackers would also try to cut off as many points of access to the castle as possible and often built palisade fences for their own protection.

Sieges involved both covert and overt action. While heavy weapons such as battering rams, catapults, trebuchets and towers were trying to breach the walls, the most devastating attacks often came from underneath. Medieval miners had a very dangerous job during a siege. These men would find a weak point in the castle's wall, and tunnel under the foundation, preferably at a corner. After they had dug to their goal, loads of dry wood and brush were used to fill the tunnel cavity. Everyone would exit, and the last miner would set the fuel on fire. The strategy was, the blaze would cause the tunnel to collapse causing castle walls to fall, or be damaged enough to further exploit the weakness. Defending armies tried to detect miners' efforts using buckets of water. The castle army would start digging its own tunnels to counter the miners' efforts. If these tunnels ever connected, fierce hand-to-hand combat would soon ensue.

Attacking armies tried to take castles in stages. A common plan of attack involved first taking the gatehouse, then the castle's bailey, followed by its towers and the keep. Hand -to hand combat meant heavy losses would be suffered one both sides.

Sieges also ended from treachery amongst the defending castle garrison. Attacking commanders tried to exploit truces, and use the opportunity to plant a spy within the castle walls. A defending army defector might have been someone who wanted safe conduct and a purse of gold. This would be his price for information on weak points, or how to breach the castle walls.

Defending castles usually surrendered from lack of supplies. Food, water, ammunition, leather, iron and other necessities would be used during the weeks an months of a siege, and the fortress became more a prison than protector. Water sources were especially vulnerable. Wells were a necessity in medieval castles but they often failed and attackers would cut off any outside water supply or poison them if possible.