Besieging the Castle: The Planning and Execution of Medieval Sieges

Medieval sieges were a common method of warfare used to take control of castles, cities, and towns.

A Trebuchet Catapult Siege Attack on a Castle

“The successful conduct of a siege required a complex array of skills, including the ability to build and operate siege engines, to maintain the supply lines of the army, and to manage the morale of the troops.”

Michael Prestwich, Professor of History at Durham University, author of “Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience.”

They required careful planning and a team of skilled professionals and tradesmen to execute.

But what exactly went into the planning and execution of a medieval siege?

Siege Engines and Weapons

Siege engines and weapons were critical to the success of a medieval siege. These included catapults, trebuchets, battering rams, and siege towers. Skilled workers such as carpenters and blacksmiths were needed to construct these weapons and keep them in working order throughout the siege.

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Trebuchet Siege Engine 15th Century Depiction
Siege Weapons Castles

Trenches and Tunnels

Trenches and tunnels were used to undermine the walls of the castle or city being besieged. Workers would dig deep trenches around the perimeter of the castle, making it difficult for anyone inside to escape or receive reinforcements.

They would also dig tunnels under the walls, which could be collapsed to create breaches.

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“The medieval siege was a carefully choreographed dance between attacker and defender, each seeking to outmaneuver the other.”

Kelly DeVries, Professor of History at Loyola University Maryland, author of “Medieval Military Technology.”

Blockade and Starvation

One of the most effective methods of a medieval siege was to blockade the castle or city and starve the inhabitants into submission. This required a team of soldiers to prevent anyone from entering or leaving the area being besieged.

This tactic was often used in combination with other methods to weaken the defenders and force them to surrender.

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Siege Towers and Battering Rams

Siege towers and battering rams were used to breach the walls of the castle or city being besieged. These were large, mobile structures that could be pushed up against the walls, allowing attackers to climb over and enter the castle.

They were typically constructed by skilled workers such as carpenters and engineers.

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Siege Tower and Battering Ram

Negotiation and Surrender

Sometimes a siege would end in negotiation and surrender. This could occur if the attackers were unable to breach the walls or if the defenders were running low on supplies. Negotiators were often skilled diplomats who could find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

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Overall, the planning and execution of a medieval siege required a team of skilled professionals and tradesmen. Siege engines and weapons needed to be constructed and maintained, trenches and tunnels needed to be dug, and negotiations needed to be handled carefully.

The success of a siege often depended on the skill and expertise of these individuals.

A Medieval Castle Being Defended Under Siege

List of Military Personnel during a Siege in Rankings of Importance, High to Low

The overall commander of the siege would be responsible for the planning and execution of the siege. This position would be held by a high-ranking military officer or a noble.

The engineer was responsible for designing and building the siege weapons, as well as digging the tunnels and trenches needed to undermine the defenses of the besieged fortress.

Artillery crew
These soldiers operated the heavy weapons, such as trebuchets, catapults, and ballistae, that were used to batter the walls and towers of the castle.

A sapper was a specialized soldier responsible for digging the tunnels and trenches that were used to undermine the defenses of the besieged fortress.

Archers played an important role in medieval sieges, as they were responsible for providing cover fire for the troops and keeping the defenders pinned down while the siege weapons were being operated.

Infantry soldiers formed the bulk of the besieging army, and were responsible for a variety of tasks, such as building siege works, assaulting the walls, and defending against sorties by the defenders.

Cavalry troops were used for scouting, raiding, and harassing enemy supply lines, but played a relatively minor role in actual sieges.

Support staff
This would include cooks, medics, and other non-combat personnel who were needed to keep the army functioning.

It’s worth noting that the specific roles and responsibilities of each of these positions would vary depending on the time period, location, and other factors. However, this should provide a general overview of the military personnel involved in a medieval siege.