The seal from Edward II's charter showing the siege of Carlisle - click for a larger view

Carlisle 1315...
Robert Bruce's army besieges a city 


(The drawing shown above is a tracing of the illumination on Edward's charter to Carlisle. The original, which can be viewed by clicking on the drawing, was drawn in 1316. It shows all sorts of siege-scene details, including an attacking trebuchet, a great crossbow (occasionally also referred to as a "springald") seen on the top of the battlements, siege ladders, sappers with picks, archers, a spear-throwing knight, rock-throwing men at arms, axes, pikes,... well, everything really.....)

Sieges were generally long and nasty; marked by misery, disease and starvation while they were in progress,
...and merciless slaughter if the defences fell.
Occasionally there was an exception - although even here the consequences could be grave.
 

In the early 14th Century Edward II made a series of campaigns into Scotland, sometimes for reasons little better than diverting attention from the dodgy doings of English politics - but resistance to English rule was very real.

Robert Bruce led a resistance that was at first more of a guerrilla one, but later a full-scale war. 1314 saw the battle of Bannockburn and Edward’s great defeat. Edward and some of his cavalry escaped to the castle at Dunbar, shown the way by a Scottish knight. After his success at Bannockburn, Robert Bruce moved on to lay siege to the city of Carlisle - and that story is the subject of this little tale.

The following account comes from the Lanercost chronicle, which was most probably written at Carlisle just after the siege. A small point of interest is that the text mentions the use of pole slings.
It has, of course, been translated into modern English and is from "The Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry", Tiger Books, 1995.

 

"From 22 July, Robert Bruce with his entire army laid siege to Carlisle for ten days. Every day of the siege they attacked one of the city gates, and some days all three gates at once, but never without loss, for the defenders hurled down on them from the walls darts and spears in such profusion that the besiegers wondered whether stones were breeding inside the walls. A details from he seal from Edward II's charter showing a great crossbow (possibly the machine referred to as a springald) in use during the siege of Carlisle

On the fifth day of the siege, the Scots set up a machine near to Holy Trinity Church, to hurl stones at the wall and gate, but despite a continuous rain of stones they did little damage, killing only one man.

Inside the city, however, there were seven or eight similar machines, as well as other engines of war called ‘Springalds’ (which hurl long darts), and slings on poles for throwing stones, all of which terrified and injured the besiegers.

Then the Scots built a ‘belfry’, a tower-like structure, considerably higher than the walls, but they never succeeded in bringing it up to the walls, because as they were transporting it on wheels across some wet and muddy ground, it sank under its own weight and could be pulled no further.

They set up long ladders, which they climbed under covering fire from a huge body of archers, whose rain of arrows prevented the defenders from putting their heads above the parapet.

But - God be praised! - the defenders found the strength to hurl the ladders away. Many of the besiegers were killed, wounded or captured, there or elsewhere around the walls, but only two Englishmen were killed throughout the siege.

After ten days, whether because they had news of the approach of English forces, or because they despaired of success, the Scots returned homewards in confusion, leaving their siege engines behind them."

 


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