The archers of the castle found shelter behind the merlons of the battlements, and had the windows from which they shot screened by movable shutters; as may be seen in the next woodcut of the assault on a castle. It would have put the archers of the assailants at a great disadvantage if they had had to stand out in the open space, exposed defenceless to the aim of the foe; all neighbouring trees which could give shelter were, of course, cut down, in order to reduce them to this defenceless condition, and works were erected so as to command every possible coigne of vantage which the nooks and angles of the walls might have afforded. But the archers of the besiegers sought to put themselves on more equal terms with their opponents by using the pavis or mantelet. The pavis was a tall shield, curved so as partly to envelop the person of the bearer, broad at the top and tapering to the feet.
In the middle of the picture is a castle with a bridge, protected by an advanced tower, and a postern with a drawbridge drawn up. Archers, cross-bowmen, and men-at-arms man the battlements. In front is a group of men-at-arms and tents, with archers and cross-bowmen shooting up at the defenders. On the right is a group of men-at-arms who seem to be meditating an attack by surprise upon the postern. On the left, opposed to the principal gate, is the timber fort shown in the woodcut. Its construction, of great posts and thick slabs of timber strengthened with stays and cross-beams, is well indicated. There seem to be two separate works: one is a battery of two cannon, the cannon having wheeled carriages; the other is manned by archers. It is curious to see the mixture of arms—long-bow, cross-bow, portable fire-arm, and wheeled cannon, all used at the same time; indeed, it may be questioned whether the earlier fire-arms were very much superior in effect to the more ancient weapons which they supplanted.
The illustration is from the valuable MS. Life and Acts of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. The present is part of a fight before Calais, in which Philip Duke of Burgundy was concerned on one side, and Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, Richard Earl of Warwick, and Humphrey Earl of Stafford on the other.
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.
Seizing that moment, a party of camp followers run forward with a couple of planks, which they throw over the moat to make a temporary bridge. They are across in an instant, and place scaling-ladders against the walls. The knights, following close at their heels, mount rapidly, each man carrying his shield over his head, so that the bare ladder is converted into a covered stair, from whose shield-roof arrows glint and stones roll off innocuous. It is easy to see that a body of the enemy might thus, in a few minutes, effect a lodgment on the castle-wall, and open a way for the whole party of assailants into the interior.
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.
It represents a sally of the garrison of Nantes on the English, who are besieging it. The man-at-arms who lies prostrate under the horse-hoofs is one of the garrison, who has been pierced by the spear whose truncheon lies on the ground beside him.
The unarmed man on the left is one of the English party, in ordinary civil costume, apparently only a spectator of the attack.
The engravings of Hans Burgmaier, in the Triumphs of Maximilian and the Weise Könige contain numerous authorities very valuable for the clearness and artistic skill with which the armour is depicted. We have given an illustration which represents a combat of two knights, on foot. The armour is partly covered by a surcoat; in the left-hand figure it will be seen that it is fluted. The shields will be noticed as illustrating one of the shapes then in use.
In the cut we give a representation of the battering-ram It contains curious contrivances for throwing up scaling-ladders and affixing them to the battlements, from which the inventors of our fire-escapes may have borrowed suggestions; and others for bridging wide moats and rivers with light scaffolding, which could be handled and fixed as easily and quickly as the scaling-ladders. The drawing of the ram only indicates that the machine consists of a heavy square beam of timber, provided, probably, with a metal head, which is suspended by a rope from a tall frame, and worked by manual strength. The cut is especially interesting as an illustration of the style of armour of the latter part of the fifteenth century. It gives the back as well as the front of the figure, and also several varieties of helmet.
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.
The illuminators are never tired of representing battles and sieges; and the general impression which we gather from them is that a mediæval combat must have presented to the lookers-on a confused melée of rushing horses and armoured men in violent action, with a forest of weapons overhead—great swords, and falchions, and axes, and spears, with pennons fluttering aloft here and there in the breeze of the combat.[Pg 376] We almost fancy we can see the dust caused by the prancing horses, and hear the clash of weapons and the hoarse war-cries, and sometimes can almost hear the shriek which bursts from the maddened horse, or the groan of the man who is wounded and helpless under the trampling hoofs.
It was a desperate undertaking. There were 10,000 men, and the width of the river at the point of crossing was nearly a mile. It would seem hardly possible that such a movement could, in a single night, be made without discovery by the British troops, who were lying in camp but a short distance away. The night must have been a long and anxious one for Washington, who stayed at his post of duty on the Long Island shore until the last boat of the retreating army had pushed off. The escape was a brilliant achievement and saved the American cause.