Siege Warfare

A Siege is the use of offensive operations carried out to capture a fortified place by surrounding it and deploying weapons, machines and devices against it. The term derives from ‘sedere’, Latin for ‘to sit’. A siege is in effect, one of the most arduous undertakings in which an army may be employed, one in which the greatest fatigue, hardship and personal risk are encountered. Where the prize can only be won by complete victory, it is obvious that the success or failure of such an enterprise may determine the fate of a campaign, an army or perhaps the very existence of a state or nation. It took warfare and military campaigners from bands of raiders, to occupiers and conquers. The Trebuchet (a counter weight or swinging beam machine, gets its name from the French word for ‘throw over’) was the heavy artillery of the middle Ages. They were also known as Occitian Trebuca’- ‘bringer of trouble’. Their main purpose was for siege warfare, where they would hurl missiles over the walls of cities or castles.

N.A.N.M.A has its own working Trebuchet among other siege weapons. ‘Gloria’ is a ¼ size replica of arguably the most famous of siege war machines ever built. ‘Warwolf’ was a trebuchet constructed by Edward I (long shanks) to defeat and suppress the Welsh and then the Scots in c.1300. It was the biggest machine of its type and the pinnacle of siege war machines prior to the emergence of gunpowder and cannons. ‘Warwolf’ took more than 60 crew to operate it. It could hurl a stone ball of some 800lbs or more in weight over 300yds (the length of three football pitches). Other than stones, it would also hurl various other missiles employed to demoralize and wear down the defenders, dayand night; Sharp wooden poles and darts or pots of sharp stones (shrapnel) Burning Sand (this became trapped inside armour ) Pots of Greek Fire (oil), casks of burning tar or burning hay-bales to set fires Dead animals and carcases (often of captured and consumed livestock taken from the surrounding farms, small holdings and hunting grounds) Dung or any rotting matter which would cause foul odours and spread disease. (dead mutilated and disease ridden bodies, including captured messengers or prisoners!) Quicklime (to blinded the occupants and cause distractions and irritation). Bee’s nests or rats in sacks (for nuisance value). Caltrops (four pronged spikes which formed a medieval mine-field, these were often used against counter-attacks on the machines.

Finnvarr Galowglass - Gynour & Master of the Trebuchet
The men who built and operated these machines were the engineers of their day. The word engineer derives from the Latin word ‘ingenium’ meaning ‘ingenious device’! The English lords nicknamed them ‘gynours’: they were unusual for the medieval period in possessing knowledge of several trades and fields of engineering. During the 100 year overlap between the demise of siege engines and the rise of gunpowder the nickname gynour evolved to become ‘gunner’ and is still in use today.

We at N.A.N.M.A, have our own gynour, a character called ‘Finnvar Galowglass’ (meaning - wise man/mercenary), a name commonly given to the journeymen of siege warfare. He can speak with authority on siege warfare, the devices employed and the mathematical and scientific aspects; not just from historical record but bringing it to life with practical demonstrations. The cost of these siege engines was prohibitive and only the most wealthy and influential of people could contemplate owning one. The head gynour in charge of looking after the lord or king’s store of war machines would have had an enhanced social status holding the title of ‘Magister Tormentarum’ (Master of Trebuchets).