SESSION III: The Medieval Experience of Siege

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SESSION III: The Medieval Experience of Siege

Knightly Interactions during Sieges (XIth – XIIIth Centuries)

Xavier Storelli (Université de Poitiers)

Summary

In January 1079, William the Conqueror lay siege to a French castle. This paper examined demonstrated chivalrous gestures between knights during sieges and the performance of  moderation and respect between warriors during sieges. It focused on the end of the eleventh century to the thirteenth century.

Knights were not really useful during the eleventh century when a castle was attacked or blocked, yet, there was a fixation on knightly virtues. Storelli amusingly pointed out that, “Sieges were neither total war or garden parties“. Sieges were perilous affairs, knights could be in danger from siege machines, and crossbow fire. The siege was a time to show strength and bravery, and a frontier. Storelli spoke about examples of restraint of violence. Sieges were also a chance to organise military jousts. A joust posed limited risks but provided a space where knights could still show off their prowess. These jousts tell us nothing about the war but a lot about chivalrous activities. Jousts were a way to gain and maintain fame with minimal risk; they could increase their glory yet preserve their lives. Good political conditions had to exist to further chivalry and just war. Besieged and besiegers alike passed the time by playing tricks on each other and the way to make war, at times, became more important than war itself.




SESSION III: The Medieval Experience of Siege 

“The Economics of Being Besieged: Moral, Monetary, and More”

Steven Isaac (Longwood University)

Summary

This paper focused on one angle of being besieged: The will to resist – the decision by townspeople to fight their besiegers. It looked at the cost-benefit analysis of this decision and why it was one that was renegotiated each day. It also demonstrated how townspeople coped as they prepared themselves for siege by managing their resources. Examples of townspeople rebuilding after the end of a successful siege and ransacking must have figured prominently in the mind of town leaders. Townspeople knew that there was a coming threat when they saw refugees fleeing from another attack; they knew trouble was imminent. Many  sought refuge in churches and many refugees were women. As the probability of siege grew more certain, both sides took part in deconstruction. For besiegers that meant destroying land and potential ambush stops to signal the determination of the king of surrounding a certain place. Soldiers would cut down trees and obstructions in the path of the besieging army. On the other side, city dwellers had to make the difficult decision to clear out homes and purposely damage property that had been built up during peaceful times. This meant burning down homes so that besiegers had nothing to use within them. Townspeople would rip up roofs and toss shingles and pieces at approaching soldiers. Curiously, Isaac pointed out that attacking armies often used vineyards as places of hiding men and their gear but amusingly,  there is no record in cartularies of their destruction by townspeople. Sometimes, the reputation of a besieger was enough to open negotiations without battle, like that of Baldwin V of Hainaut. The effectiveness of his siege engines preceded him and he only had to start unpacking for his targets to begin negotiations to avoid destruction. Lastly, the Isaac imparted the idea that the medieval will to resist was not solely anchored in food and money but often in the conviction of “God’s Will”.

Sharan Newman