A Trebuchet from The Romance of Alexander (circa 1330).
Historic Counterweight Trebuchet Illustrations
Part 5

This is one of a series of pages of Medieval and Renaissance illustrations of trebuchets. To avoid problems with historical interpretation (& copyright!) as much as possible, I have chosen to use pictures which seem to be plausibly contemporary with the devices being illustrated. I have also tried to avoid what seem to be obvious fantasy pieces. .



No. 17 - Trebuchet and Gunpowder


In this siege scene, taken from a 14th century document, a trebuchet stands beside an advanced-looking gun (note what appear to be trunnions or cast-in-place pivots for the barrel. This is very early for such a feature, and the drawing is not entirely clear...(Bodleian ms 264)
Elsewhere in the illustration (although mostly not shown here) armoured and helmeted men with crossbows, spears and rocks carry on the fight protected by large shields (See the soldier in front of the trebuchet). Although the trebuchet is not shown crewed, it is interesting to note that the siege engineer with the gun is in civilian dress.

The gun seems to be the starring feature in this picture, with the trebuchet receiving more of a "representation" than an accurate depiction. Even so, the familiar features (beam, bucket, axle, winch and sling) are all there.


 
No. 18 - Milemete

A drawing of a "rustic" machine from Walter de Milemete, early 14th Century. (Christ Church, Oxford, Milemete Ms 92, f. 67.)
As in some other examples shown earlier in these pages, this trebuchet has some odd features and proportions.
  • Cross-bracing between the uprights mean that the beam can never pass between them
  • The length of beam projecting past the weight-bucket suspension point is long enough to foul the load
  • the sling is so long that it would be in danger of not lifting off and
  • unless the projectile is made of something very light, it looks heavier than the power weight.

On the positive side, in addition to the usual components (rope sling cords, smooth cloth-like pouch, tapering beam and large winch) this image also has a trigger mechanism just visible at the extreme tip of the beam.


 
No. 19 - "Minimal" trebuchets

Here is a pair of very simply represented trbuchets - a lot like the even simpler ones shown in Illustration No.7.

British Library MS Royal, 16G vi, f. 388.
Note the ridiculously long length of the weighted end of the beam and short sling arm - hopeless for throwing unless this is a simple drawing error ... or the beam can slide within the upright's fork. Also odd are the very long ropes used to hold the weights to their beams.
(Experimentation is required here...)

A re-enforcing band can be seen around each weight "barrel".
(Note the similarity in style and details between this drawing and the Godefrey de Bouillon siege in Illustration No.13. Is this from the same work?


 
No. 20 - "Bucket" Trebuchet


The weight bucket on this trebuchet is unusual in that it is drawn as having a barrel- or bucket-like stave construction, bound with the blue (metal?) hoops. There is some argument about how early the use of iron barrel hoops began. Despite the colour, these might be wooden (such as willow). The fastenings used are hinted at (note the patterns of small dots on the ends of the bands) which resemble nails more than the single rivets used in later metal barrel hoops.

Bibliotheque Nationale de France

 
No. 21 - Tower-top Trebuchet


This is a section of a diagram in The Elegant Book of Trebuchets (held in the Topkapi Museum, Istanbul).

This drawing, if somewhat "stylised", is interesting because it appears to show a machine with a fixed weight on the beam end as well as a hanging weight. This also appears in Illustration No.14

Also noteworthy is that this drawing shows the trebuchet's curved weight "propped" out rather than hanging vertically below its attachment point to the beam. Unfortunately, no method of achieving this is shown. This propping has the advantage of giving the weight a higher and straighter fall, thus increasing the trebuchet's power for no added size or weight.

As with many of the "Eastern" machines shown on these pages, this one has multiple bracing timbers, although the drawing also shows a large bearing block holding the axle.

The drawing from which this is taken appears intended to show the various types of trebuchets used.
For a view of the whole picture Click here.
(Scientific American, July 1995, "The Trebuchet")

 

 
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Russell Miners
This page was last edited Jan 2000