Medieval Castle Siege Tactics
Castles were primarily built as fortifications with the intention to resist and withstand direct assault. As the element of warfare expanded in the Medieval Ages, it became necessary to conquer, raze and occupy castles belonging to a rival or enemy.
The traditional castle siege could last months or even years and in no manner was a simple or easy operation to plan. Castles were constructed with walls and towers that served as a garrison position for the troops within. From these vantage points, archers were somewhat securely shielded and were able to fire arrows at the enemy with relative safety.
Ideally, a castle was built on a plot of earth that was naturally defended. Such locations may include the edge of a cliff, the top of a hill or mountain, or in a dale where all sides, or just a few sides were exposed to the threat of attack. The towers, spires and steeples often served as watchtowers from which an enemy could be sighted on approach.
To demonstrate a the siege, defense and assault of a typical Medieval Castle, refer to the diagram below.
The basic outline represents a castle with the white blocks inside representing the Keep or Stronghold. Once the Keep was captured, the castle by all intentions, fell to surrender.
In this diagram we see that the castle is naturally defended by water on the northern border. As a result, advancing enemies would be forced to attack from the south, east or west. An enemy could choose an assault via the water but this would prove highly ineffective. On the other hand, the Castle itself could be provided with ducts and waterways into the fortification allowing for resupply and provisioning.
Castle defenses were often elaborate. Not only were the walls equipped with archer slits known as "murder holes", but there were also spouts that allowed for the pouring of boiling water, tar and pitch onto enemy troops below who ventured too close to the castle walls or gates. The picture below demonstrates the view of an archer utilizing a murder hole. Note that though narrow, it gave the archer a sweeping and commanding view of the area outside while protecting him.
As a result, machines known as 'siege engines' were craftily built to assist the enemy in knocking down the massive stone walls of the castles.