The Trebuchet

The Trebuchet was the most fearsome medieval weapon in the middle ages. Capable of smashing castle fortifications and slinging rotten carcases over castle walls. It was so formidable that on some occasions castles under siege surrendered upon the mere sight of a Trebuchet being constructed nearby.

The Trebuchet is a very large catapult style siege engine. It works by using a counterweight mechanism to swing a long, loaded arm around the main frame and effectively sling-shotting it’s ammunition into or over a castle wall. The Trebuchet could swing objects weighing up to 160kg, causing devastation to even the hardest of fortifications over time. It’s main weakness was that it took a long time to set up, and a fair while to reload.

The basic design has a long beam attached to an axle near one end, and a huge weight on the end of the shortest length from the axle. The long arm was then pulled back by siege engineers using rotating handles, and then it is locked in place. At the end of the long arm section, a slingshot was fixed where the projectile would be placed, ready for launching.

Once all was in place and the arm locked back with a pin, the siege engineer would release the pin quickly. The long arm would release all that stored potential energy, and with the large counterweight soaring downwards, the long arm would swing swiftly upwards, projecting the boulder (or whatever was in the slingshot) up to 100 metres away!

The largest Trebuchet known to have been built was the one used to siege the Stirling Castle in 1304. Edward I (Longshanks) had it made especially, and named the huge weapon Warwolf! It had a fearsome reputation, in which the sheer sight of the giant weapon being constructed, intimidated the Scots so much that they tried to surrender. Edward I then sent them back to the castle declaring:

You don’t deserve any grace, but must surrender to my will!

The huge Trebuchet was then accurately hurling vast missiles into the Stirling Castle walls and destroying a large section of it!

When it was disassembled it would fill 30 wagons. It took 5 master carpenters and around 50 labourers 3 months to complete the behemoth.

See for yourself in the video below, what a fearsome Trebuchet looks like firing a large fireball at Warwick Castle:

References (video by Bob Astill)
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