Medieval Castle Siege

Medieval Castle Siege by Attrition

The aim of a castle siege using attrition tactics was to starve out the inhabitants of the castle by stopping food and water supplies entering the castle, they would do this by blocking roads and also by poisoning any local water supplies.

This waiting game usually played out over days. weeks, months and in very rare cases up-to a year but not generally longer than this, as it would be too hard to maintain a castle for this time without replenishing supplies.

There were also other factors to consider, like the disposal of human waste and illness and disease that could take hold, so it would be difficult for any castle to survive a long siege of attrition no matter how well stocked and prepared the inhabitants inside the castle were at the outset, most castles sieges would be short lived.

The combined effects of attrition and military attacks would be very effective against the inhabitants of castle under siege, this would effect moral and cause anxiety as well as physical health to the inhabitants.

The castles inhabitants who would be forced to fight eventually just to get more food and water, usually they would be in a weakened state due to the mental torture they had been under.

The fact that food and water would have been rationed gave the attacking armies a big advantage especially if they had superior weapons and or soldiers.

“A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by attrition or assault”

Medieval Castle Siege Attack Weapons and Tactics

Missile attacks over the castle walls

Medieval armies attacking Castles would use large catapults known as a Trebuchets to throw objects such as stones over a castle wall to damage the Castle and injure or kill its inhabitants.

Bodies of animals, dead people with diseases and animal excrement was also thrown over the castle walls using these giant catapults with the aim of spreading fear and disease.

Attack on a Medieval Castle using a Trebuchet – Giant Catapult

Trebuchet – Giant Catapult

The Trebuchet was a giant catapult made of solid wood that could fire missiles up to a quarter of a mile at great speeds, castle stones would be thrown that would shatter into deadly splinters.

Attacking the castle Drawbridge Siege

There were various ways and get into a castle via the main gate entrance and drawbridge, attackers could place large hooks attached to pulling machines called grappling hooks to pull down the drawbridge.

Deception techniques were also used, people would be disguised as someone who was known to or a friend of the castle, basically using a disguise to trick people into opening the drawbridge.

Surprising Castle Defenders – Castle Siege

These attacks were sometimes used when there were good hiding places and opportunities to sneak into the castle unseen, invading armies would hide at night and then attack the castle by surprise often taking out guards on the castle walls by using archers.

Digging under the castle walls – send in the sappers

Some attacking armies used skilled miners called the sappers during a siege to dig directly under the castle walls.

The sappers would use thick wooden posts to hold up the tunnel under the castle wall, when the sappers (miners) had gone far enough under the wall they would set fire to the posts and leave the tunnel to collapse upon itself when these post were burned.

This was a very clever technique because the walls would collapse as the ground underneath them gave way when the wooden posts had burned.


Attacking a Medieval Castle with A Battering Ram

Castle siege Battering rams

A large battering ram was pushed along at speed by many men on a wooden frame with wheels, the battering ram would be repeatedly slammed against a castle entrance (main gate) if possible. Archers would also fire flaming arrows at the castle door opening to burn the wood thus weakening the wood.

Scaling the castle walls during a castle siege

Siege towers were very clever and well designed pieces of equipment. they allowed soldiers to advance up them to the same height as the castle walls, the siege towers also had sides which protected the soldiers from attack, the attacking soldiers would also use grappling hooks to scale the walls.

Crossing the castle moat

Attacking armies would sometimes lay planks of wood across the moat or set fire to the timber spikes that had been laid in defense of the castle if the moat did not contain water.

If the moat contained water sometimes armies would dig out channels with shovels that would create a channel to drain the water away from the the moat so they could cross, although this would still be difficult as it would leave muddy conditions.

Smashing down a castles walls during a castle siege

A mangonel was a weapon that was commonly used to smash down castle walls, it was a catapult like the Trebuchet but more specialised and designed for more power at shorter distances.

Using this castle siege weapon you could fire very large stones at weak parts of a castle wall at very high speeds, this was a very efficient and destructive weapon.

Archers used in Castle siege attacks

Archers were very important military during a castle siege, they could they could fire thousands of arrows high into the air to come down on the inhabitants and defenders of the castle during a siege.

Archers used powerful long bows and later in the medieval period as military technology developed crossbows were introduced. Archers arrow tips could also be covered in tar and set alight in the hope of burning down parts of the castle from the inside.


Defending a Castle Under Siege

Medieval siege – Defending a Castle

The key to defending a medieval castle against a siege was making sure the right action was taken during the design and building phase of the castle, the things that had been done before any battle even took place such building a castle in a good defensive location ideally on a hill with good views all-round for some distance was very important.

It was also essential to build the castle from the best materials available, eventually all castles were built from stone and walls could be up to 6m thick, enough to protect them against catapults and other destructive weapon attacks.

The higher the castle walls were built the better as this would stop things being flung over the walls from a catapult and could stop arrows raining in from above, it also made them harder to climb.

Another key factor when preparing for a Medieval siege was to make sure that there was plenty of supplies, with food, water and enough weapons to fight off attackers being the key to defending a castle from a siege attack.

If you had enough food and water during a siege you might be able to outlast the attackers before you starved.

Ideally Medieval people would choose a location on high ground so that they could see the enemy coming from miles away, being up steep hill would also make attacking the castle hard work and it would be difficult to push heavy weapons such as battering rams up a steep hill.

Being on a steep hill will also make it difficult or near impossible for sappers (miners) to dig holes under the castle walls with the intention of collapsing them as well.

Pulling up the castle drawbridge before a siege

In defending the castle it was always essential to pull up the drawbridge quickly, the moat that was filled with water or spikes would then protect the castle entrance from attack, this stopped battering rams being slammed against the castle entrance.

There was also a large heavy wooden bar that would be placed across the door and would create additional reinforcement to the castle gateway.

Barricading the castle entrance

One of the tactics used during siege was lower the portcullis and barricade the entrance, built into most castle designs were also “murder holes” which allowed the pouring of boiling oil onto the attacking soldiers in relative safety from above.

Attack the best form of defence during a siege?

In many situations it would be a good idea to take the initiative away from the attacking army and send some of your army from the castle usually on horseback in an attack formation to destroy the large catapults and weapons such as the Trebuchet of the enemy.

The soldiers that were trained to use these weapons could also be killed at the same time. Usually a surprise night time raid could do plenty of damage as you could surprise the attackers as that slept.

Counter Attacking siege tunnels

Counter attack tunnels could be built to meet the tunnels mined by the attacking sappers, the captured sappers could then be put in the castle’s dungeon, this stopped these skilled miners from being able to collapse the castles walls. The tunnels could also be collapsed on the miners as they worked.

Castle moat – a useful delaying weapon in a castle siege

It was a good idea to fill a moat with either water or spikes to slowdown an attack on a castle, you could also fill the castle moat with excrement and other waste to stop the enemy swimming through it. The Castles moat would also stop your attackers digging under the castle walls and would stop an enemy using siege towers as they will be unable to push them up against the castle walls.

Firing back during a siege

It was a good idea during siege to fire weapons on the enemy to kill them in their tracks, you could fire arrows and other weapons from the castle wall walk or from inside castle window slits, arrow loops built into the castle walls made it easier for archers to fire on their enemy.

Kicking away Castle siege ladders

Another simple defensive tactic that was used to fight back against the siege attackers of your castle was to kick down their ladders, as the attackers erected their ladders against the castle wall you could push it over with your foot, or you could wait until there were many enemy soldiers up the ladder so that you killed or injured them as well, this was probably the better option.

The end of Medieval Castle Sieges

It was quite a scary event to be inside Castle during a siege as you could see the size of the enemy and their advancement, however if you were well prepared and had plenty of food and water you had a much better chance of survival.

As technology improved towards the later parts of the medieval period, cannons and other weapons were introduced and a castle no longer offered the same protection as it had in the past, this is the main reason why castles became a thing of the past and only became a reminder of this great medieval past.