A scene from the Maciejowski Bible showing knights - and a trebuchet - from the 1250s

A Toy at Saida

Tabletop Artillery on Crusade
in the 13th Century

We have never claimed that tabletop trebuchets began with "Cheesechucker" - but it's amazing just how far back the practice of using toy artillery to throw things around at the dinner table goes!

The article which follows is an excerpt from "The Life of Saint Louis" by Jean de Joinville, a crusader with Louis of France in the 13th Century. The events described appear in a chapter covering July 1253 to February 1254. I have highlighted the short section mentioning this "ancestor of Cheesechucker", but I have also included the section before it as a reminder that this happens in the middle of a war - and end it with another of this crusader's pranks.
The tabletop siegecraft is perpetrated by a young knight (although a rather high ranking one). He appears to be fond of some rather rough humour at the expense of his fellow crusaders.
(...not your usual image of men on a "holy crusade".... but perhaps more familiar as "soldier's humour")

The next day we returned to Saida, where the king was staying. We found that he had personally supervised the burying of the bodies of all the Christians that the Saracens had killed when they destroyed the city. He himself had carried some of the rotting, evil-smelling corpses to the trenches to be buried, and that without holding his nose as others had done. He had sent for workmen from all the country round, and had started to re-fortify the city with high walls and towers.
When we arrived at the camp we found that he himself had seen to measuring out the sites where our tents were to be set up.

He had allotted me a place near to the Compte d'Eu because he knew that this young knight was fond of my company.
I must tell you here of some amusing tricks that the Compte d'Eu played on us. I had made a sort of house for myself, in which my knights and I used to eat, sitting as to get the light of the door, which, as it happened, faced the Compe d'Eu's quarters.

The count, who was a very ingenious fellow, had rigged up a miniature ballistic machine with which he could throw stones into my tent. He would watch us as we were having our meal, adjust his machine to suit the length of our table, and then let fly at us, breaking our pots and glasses.

On one occasion, when I had bought a supply of fowls and capons, and someone or other happened to have given the count a bear, he let the animal loose among my poultry, and it had killed a dozen of them before anyone could get there. The woman who looked after my fowls had beaten the bear with her distaff."

By the sound of *that* neighbour, you begin to wonder whether perhaps the king wasn't all that fond of Joinville.


nb: Translator Shaw doesn't specify the exact nature of the toy.. and perhaps the original was vague too (the glossary at the back of the book does list a couple of specific names like "petraria", so translator ignorance of technical details seems less likely.)
The low trajectory implied by shooting in through a tent entrance and down a table might favour some other stone thrower rather than a trebuchet.
We may never know.


The quote shown above is from the Penguin Classics edition: "Joinville & Villehardouin     Chronicles of the Crusades", translated by Margaret R B Shaw (1963)


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