Medieval Trebuchet Siege Engine in the Keep Yard of Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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John Latter on December 29, 2009

A replica medieval trebuchet in the Keep Yard of Dover Castle with the Keep, or "Great Tower", out of shot to the right.

A trebuchet, trebucket, or trébuchet, is a siege engine that was employed in the Middle Ages either to smash masonry walls or to throw projectiles over them. It is sometimes called a "counterweight trebuchet" or "counterpoise trebuchet" in order to distinguish it from an earlier weapon that has come to be called the "traction trebuchet", the original version with pulling men instead of a counterweight (1).

There is speculation that the trebuchet may have been introduced to England by Prince Louis of France (later Louis VIII) during the Great Siege of Dover Castle in 1216 (part of the First Barons` War fought initially against King John).

There were, in fact, two sieges of Dover Castle with the second one, according to, "Histoire des Dues de Normandie et des Rois d`Angleterre", beginning on the12th of May, 1217 (by which time King John was dead and Henry III was on the throne.

Apparently, it was during the 1217 siege that the trebuchet first made its appearance:

[Prince Louis] set up a trebuchet, which proved ineffective, and busily began the construction of “maisons”, possibly fortified positions of some kind.

...The investment of Dover necessitated the division of Louis’ forces across England and in his absence one half of his army was destroyed at the Battle of Lincoln on 20th May 1217. When news of this reached Louis he disassembled his trebuchet at Dover and, shortly afterwards, moved to London.

Later, during the Siege of Stirling in 1304, Edward I (Edward Longshanks) ordered his chief engineer, Master James of St. George, to begin work on a new, more massive engine called Warwolf, a version of the trebuchet. The Warwolf, or Ludgar (Loup de Guerre) is generally thought of as the most powerful and most famous of the trebuchets in history (2).

Behind the trebuchet in the above photo are the towers of King`s Gate, the northern entrance in the walls of the Inner Bailey (the southern entrance is Palace Gate).

In front of the trebuchet is Keith Ashley-Thomas, originally from Chester, and a chap I have known since my days as a member of St Paul`s Social Club, Maison Dieu Road, Dover.

Click to see all photos of Dover Castle, one of Dover's English Heritage sites.

(1) From the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia entry for Trebuchet, which continues:

The counterweight trebuchet appeared in both Christian and Muslim lands around the Mediterranean in the twelfth century. It could fling up to three-hundred and fifty pound (140 kg) projectiles at high speeds into enemy fortifications. On occasion, disease-infected corpses were flung into cities in an attempt to infect or terrorize the people under siege - a medieval form of biological warfare. Traction trebuchets appeared in the Greek world and China in about the 4th century BC, and did not become obsolete until the 16th century, well after the introduction of gunpowder. Trebuchets were far more accurate than other medieval catapults.

(2) Abridged from the Middle Ages Website entry for Trebuchet.

Dover Castle appears in "Dover in World War Two: 1942", a ten minute British Ministry of Information film, released by the US Office of War Information, and narrated by the American journalist, Edward R. Murrow.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

This is the Images of Dover website: click on any red or blue "John Latter" link to access the Entry Page.

John Latter on April 26, 2010

The replica trebuchet was moved to near Godsfoe Tower by members of H Troop, 69 Gurkha Field Squadron, in January, 2010*.

Click to see the siege engine in its new location:

The Medieval Trebuchet near Godsfoe Tower

*English Heritage news report: Gurkhas to move Giant Catapult at Dover Castle.

John Latter on March 19, 2013

This photo shows the archway and drawbridge of:

The King’s Gate, Inner Curtain Wall, Dover Castle, United Kingdom

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on December 28, 2009
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2009/12/18 11:40:13
    • Exposure: 0.004s (1/250)
    • Focal Length: 28.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/11.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash