Catapult Shots Fired During 13th-Century Siege Unearthed at British Castle

Found on the grounds of Kenilworth Castle, the eight stones were used during a clash between rebels and royal forces in 1266

The stones were shot from catapults during one of the longest sieges in British history. English Heritage

During construction on the grounds of an English castle, researchers have discovered eight stone balls once flung from catapults. The artifacts, dating to the 13th century, are the remnants of one of England’s longest sieges: when Henry III attacked Kenilworth Castle, which was held by rebels.

The catapult shots vary in size, ranging in weight from “that of a cabbage to that of a giant panda,” as the London Times’ Jack Blackburn writes. They were fired during the 172-day siege on the castle in central England in 1266.

“We were able to immediately link these findings to the 1266 siege because of similar finds recovered in the 1960s,” says Will Wyeth, properties historian for English Heritage, per BBC News’ Eleanor Lawson. “It’s not every day we get lucky enough to stumble across historical remains like this by chance. … Imagine the surprise of the team when we unearthed these impressive stone projectiles that are nearly 800 years old.”

Henry III’s siege on Kenilworth was part of the Second Barons’ War, which broke out in 1264 when a group of noblemen seized power from the monarchy. Several years before, the lords had attempted to curb Henry III’s power by creating the Provisions of Oxford, which established the monarch’s accountability to a council of barons. When the king failed to honor the provisions, the lords—led by Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester—seized power.

According to English Heritage, which manages Kenilworth Castle and many other historic sites in England:

The rebels had one key asset: Kenilworth Castle. This mighty fortress, lying at the heart of England, was one of the largest in the kingdom. It had been a royal castle, and King John, Henry’s father, had spent vast sums strengthening and expanding its outer defenses, which included a giant mere or lake. In 1253, Henry III had given it to Montfort for life, probably hoping to secure his loyalty.

During the fight, royal forces used nine siege engines—such as catapults—and some 60,000 crossbow bolts. But behind the castle’s 14-foot-thick walls, the rebels had siege engines of their own. The catapult shots recently found on the castle’s grounds came from both sides of the conflict.

The castle was a key asset in the rebels' military campaign. English Heritage

English Heritage describes the battle:

The king’s stone-throwing machines, erected all around the castle, bombarded it with a continuous stream of missiles. They were thwarted, however, by the superior range of the weaponry inside—one chronicler described the stone projectiles from the two sides ‘clashing in the air.’ The king had to send to London for larger machines

The rebels held Kenilworth through some six months of attacks before surrendering due to starvation and disease. The siege went down as one of Henry III’s most important military campaigns, and its newly discovered remnants serve as reminders of the battle’s intensity.

“[The catapult balls] would have caused some serious damage when fired from war machines,” says Wyeth, per the Times. “In fact, records show that one of Henry III’s wooden siege towers, containing around 200 crossbowmen, was destroyed by just one well-aimed missile.”

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