The use of the regular mine for effecting a breach in the wall of a fortified place was well known, and often brought to bear. The miners began their work at some distance, and drove a shaft underground towards the part of the fortifications which seemed most assailable; they excavated beneath the foundations of the wall, supporting the substructure with wooden props until they had finished their work. Then they set fire to the props, and retired to see the unsupported weight of the wall bringing it down in a heap of ruins. The operation of mining was usually effected under the protection of a temporary pent-house, called a cat or sow.
Suppose the king and his chivalry in the following woodcut to be only summoning the castle; and suppose them, on receiving a refusal to surrender, to resolve upon an assault. They retire a few hundred yards and dismount, and put their horses under the care of a guard. Presently they return supported by a strong body of archers, who ply the mail-clad defenders with such a hail of arrows that they are driven to seek shelter behind the battlements.
Every castle offered hope, not only of hospitality, but also of a trial of arms; for in every castle there would be likely to be knights and squires glad of the opportunity of running a course with bated spears with a new and skilful antagonist. Here is a picture from an old MS. which represents the preliminaries of such a combat on the green between the castle walls and the moat.
King, &c., in Pavilion before Castle
The illustration, from a fourteenth-century manuscript, represents a siege. A walled town is on the right, and in front of the wall, acting on the part of the town, are the cross-bowmen in the cut, protected by great shields which are kept upright by a rest. The men seem to be preparing to fire, and the uniformity of their attitude, compared with the studied variety of attitude of groups of bowmen in other illustrations, suggests that they are preparing to fire a volley.