The force of the Trebuchet was capable of reducing castles, fortresses and cities to rubble.
Definition and Origin of the Trebuchet
The word 'Trebuchet' is derived from the Old French word 'Trebucher' meaning to throw over. In England siege weapons, including the Trebuchet, was also known as the Ingenium from the Latin word ingenium meaning ingenious device! The Trebuchet is also referred to as the Trebucket.
Trebuchet history dates back to antiquity. The traction trebuchet is believed to be an ancient war engine which was invented in China in 300BC. It is thought that the trebuchet may have developed from the stave sling. In the traction trebuchet a large troop of men pulled down on ropes to propel the missile. The trebuchet reached Europe during the early Middle Ages, or Dark Ages, in 500 AD and was used extensively by the French. At this time the design of the trebuchet was revised so that the troop of men used to pull down the ropes were replaced with a large fixed, or pivoting, counterbalance weight. The Traction Trebuchet used people as a power source. The Counterpoise Trebuchet replaced the people power with a weight on the short end. The Trebuchet (Trebucket) was introduced to England in 1216 during the Siege of Dover - as were many other types of siege engine. Louis the Dauphin of France crossed the Channel with a large force and laid siege to Dover Castle making a violent and incessant attack on the walls. He used the trebuchet against the walls of Dover Castle. The constable of Dover castle was Hugh de Burgh - he refused to surrender. King Edward I ordered his chief engineer, Master James of St. George, to begin work on a new, more massive engine called Warwolf, a version of the trebuchet. The Warwolf is generally thought of as the most powerful and most famous of the trebuchets in history.
Building and Design of the Trebuchet
The Trebuchet was a highly accurate siege engine requiring expert building and design skills. The trebuchet was a scaled-up stave sling used to reduce fortresses and is a counterweight siege engine.
- The Medieval Trebuchet consisted of a lever and a sling
- A very large force was applied to the shorter end of the arm, the load is on the other longer end of the arm with the fulcrum in the middle
- The siege engine's arm could measure up to 60 feet in length
- Heavy lead weights or a pivoting ballast box (filled with earth, sand or stones) were fixed to the short end of the Medieval trebuchet arm
- A heavy stone, or other missile, was placed in a leather pouch that was attached by two ropes to the other, long, end
- When the arm was released, the force created by the falling weight propelled the long end upward and caused the missile to be flung in the air towards the target
- The Trebuchet was capable of hurling stones weighing 200 pounds with a range of up to about 300 yards
- After maximum range was achieved, the trebuchet was moved toward or away from the target
The first type of Trebuchet (Trebucket) were powered by man power, but the later Medieval type of trebuchet relied on a huge counterweight that swung a long arm. The rate of release was amazing - up to two thousands stones could be released in one day!
The Trebuchet was designed as a giant catapult, or sling. Missiles thrown from the Trebuchet catapults were deadly. The Trebuchet is generally associated with throwing stones. A Trebuchet could release up to 2000 stones in one day! Should the supply diminish sharp wooden poles and darts would be used. Fire caused havoc in a besieged castle or city and a variety of fire missiles, including firebrands were thrown. Terrifying Greek Fire was also used as a missile from the Medieval trebuchet. Medieval Trebuchets could launch missiles hundreds of yards at, or even over, a castle, fortress or city wall. Attackers were ingenious in their ideas for launching Trebuchet missiles which would cause as much distress and discomfort inside the castle or town walls. Trebuchet missiles included the following objects:
- Sharp wooden poles and darts
- Casks of Burning Tar
- Burning Sand ( this became trapped inside armor )
- Pots of Greek Fire
- Dead, sometime mutilated, bodies
- Disease ridden bodies
- Body parts
- Dead animals
- Any rotting matter
The Medieval Trebuchet and the Gynours
In the late Medieval era of the Middle Ages the men who operated the trebuchet were called ' Gynours '. The Medieval trebuchet was a massive war engine and its size required that the machine would be built at the site of the siege. The Gynours were under constant bombardment from the arrows and missiles of the enemy. The enemy would also attempt to burn the trebuchet during any daring reconnaissance trips. Catapults would also be built by the enemy within the castle or city walls to attack any of the attackers siege engines. Warning cries were often made when a fire missile had been launched by a trebuchet.
Building a Trebuchet
Building a Trebuchet required the design and building skills. Siege weapons, such as the Medieval Trebuchet, were made to order! They were far too cumbersome to move from one place to another. In a siege situation the commander would assess the situation and the siege weapons design requirements to break a siege. Engineers would instruct soldiers as to the construction and building of siege weapons such as the Medieval Trebuchet.