Firing of trebuchet at Warwick april 2015

Trebuchet at Warwick Castle

Watching the giant trebuchet at Warwick Castle send off its fireball usually tops the list among younger visitors. Yesterday, a newly restored boathouse was engulfed in fire, ignited by sparks gave a special meaning to the idea of living history

Firing of a trebuchet
Firing of a trebuchet. New York, Morgan Library, MS 638 (Paris, 1240s)

The trebuchet at Warwick Castle is one of the main attractions. It was built in 2005, weighs 22 tonnes and stands 19 meters high. The design of the war-machine came from Peter Vemming from the medieval Centre in Nykøbing in Denmark, where he completed the first reconstruction in 1989. Notes and drawings from the 13th century were used to reconstruct these mighty machines. One such source was obviously the “Morgan Bible”, which holds some famous illustrations of medieval warfare. The Warwick trebuchet was built by a carpentry firm in Wiltshire.

Usually such trebuchets fires off stones (this is used at Nykøbing, where the trebuchet fires both stones and fireballs out over the water of Guldborgsund). However, more deadly ammunition might be used like prisoners, manure, dead animals or rotten corpses, all chosen to spread disease in the castle, which was under siege. But also beehives, small stones packed in fired clay or filled with inflammable substances, pitch or burning charcoals, might be used.

Trebuchets were grand machines and needed crews between 15 and 45 men to operate. Because of the time required for loading the machine and raise the counterweight, the rate of fire was very slow: no more than a couple of shots per hour.

The usual type of armament used at Warwick is, as we all know now, a fireball. One reason is of course that it makes the missile easier to follow from across the lake, where the visitors usually stand. Luckily there were no guests at the boathouse at the time of firing, and no one was in any danger. Newspaper reports of hysteria and people scrambling from the scene. However, videos at youtube demonstrate another story, where people seemed to stand around enjoying the real-life results of the reenactment. Warwick Castle, of course, reports of ‘evacuation’!

The boathouse dates back to 1896, when it was build to house an electric boat, charged from the electricity generated by the mill of the castle. So – perhaps – no great loss.


Experimental Reconstruction of a Medieval Trébuchet
by Dr. Peter Vemming Hansen, Nyköbing Falster, Denmark
Acta Archaeologica vol. 63, 1992, pp. 189 – 268


The Traction Trebuchet: A Reconstruction of an Early Medieval Siege Engine
By T. S. Tarver
Technology and Culture
Vol. 36, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), pp. 136-167

The Medieval Siege
By Jim Bradbury
Boydell and Brewer 1992 (2008)
ISBN-10: 0851153577
ISBN-13: 978-0851153575

Peter Fraser Purton
A History of the Early Medieval Siege, c. 450 – 1200
Boydell & Brewer, 2010
ISBN-10: 1843834480
ISBN-13: 978-1843834489

Peter Fraser Purton
A History of the Late Medieval Siege, 1200-1500, Bind 2
Boydell & Brewer, 2010
ISBN-10: 1843834499
ISBN-13: 978-1843834496





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