Shots Fired: 13th-Century Missiles Unearthed

During construction on the grounds of Kenilworth Castle in England, researchers have unearthed eight stone balls that were once hurled from catapults. These artifacts, dating back to the 13th century, are remnants of one of England’s longest sieges: when Henry III attacked Kenilworth Castle, which was held by rebels.

The catapult shots vary in size, with weights ranging from “that of a cabbage to that of a giant panda,” (1kg and 105kg) as described by the London Times’ Jack Blackburn. These projectiles were fired during the 172-day siege on the central England castle in 1266.

“It’s not every day we get lucky enough to stumble across historical remains like this by chance. … Imagine the surprise of the team when we unearthed these impressive stone projectiles that are nearly 800 years old.” says Will Wyeth, properties historian for English Heritage, per BBC News.

Henry III’s siege on Kenilworth was part of the Second Barons’ War, which erupted in 1264 when a group of noblemen seized power from the monarchy. Several years earlier, the lords had tried to limit Henry III’s authority by creating the Provisions of Oxford, which established the monarch’s accountability to a council of barons. When the king failed to honor the provisions, the lords—led by Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester—took control.

During the conflict, royal forces used nine siege engines, including catapults, and fired some 60,000 crossbow bolts. However, behind the castle’s 14-foot-thick walls, the rebels had siege engines of their own. The recently found catapult shots came from both sides of the conflict.

English Heritage describes the battle:

“The king’s stone-throwing machines, erected all around the castle, bombarded it with a continuous stream of missiles. They were thwarted, however, by the superior range of the weaponry inside—one chronicler described the stone projectiles from the two sides ‘clashing in the air.’ The king had to send to London for larger machines”

The rebels held Kenilworth through six months of attacks before surrendering due to starvation and disease. The siege became one of Henry III’s most significant military campaigns, and the newly discovered remnants serve as reminders of the battle’s intensity.

Records indicate that a single well-aimed missile destroyed one of Henry III’s wooden siege towers, which contained approximately 200 crossbowmen.

Something you might be surprised to find out, what you are thinking of as a catapult, is most likely not what was actually used in the siege. If you are curious to find out what it most likely was, check out this great video by Shadiversity.

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