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 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.
Those more terrible engines of war which ultimately revolutionised the whole art of warfare, which made the knight’s armour useless, and the trebuchet and arbalest the huge toys of an unscientific age, were already introduced; though they were yet themselves so immature, that for a time military men disputed whether the old long bow or the new fire-arm was the better weapon, and the trebuchet still held its place beside the cannon.
Cannon and Mortar
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.
Of machines formed on the sling principle, that called Onager may be regarded as typical of all the rest. Its force entirely depended upon the torsion of a short thick rope, acting upon a lever which described an arc of a vertical circle. The lever had attached to its free extremity a sling, or sometimes it merely terminated in a spoon-shaped cavity. When bent back, it was secured by a catch or trigger, and charged with a stone. On starting the catch by a blow with a mallet, the lever described its arc of a circle with great velocity, and projected the stone to a considerable distance.