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Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey
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THE TREBUCHET

The trebuchet always had a sling in which to place its missile.

The  sling  doubled  the  power  of  the  engine  and  caused  it  to  throw  its 
projectile twice as far as it would have been able to do without it.

It was the length of the arm, when suitably weighted with its counterpoise, 
which combined with its sling gave power to the trebuchet. Its arm, when released, 
swung round with a long easy sweep and with nothing approaching the velocity of 
the much shorter arm of the catapult.

The weight of a projectile cast by a trebuchet was governed by the weight 
of  its  counterpoise.  Provided  the  engine  was  of  sufficient  strength  and  could  be manipulated, there was scarcely any limit to its power. Numerous references are to be  found  in  medieval  authors  to  the  practice  of  throwing  dead  horses  into  a besieged  town  with  a  view  to  causing  a  pestilence  therein,  and  there  can  be  no doubt that trebuchets alone were employed for this purpose.

As a small horse weighs about 10 cwt., we can form some idea of the size 
of the rocks and balls of stone that trebuchets were capable of slinging.
When we consider that a trebuchet was able to throw a horse over the walls 
of  a  town,  we  can  credit  the  statement  of  Stella,1 who writes  ‘  that  the  Genoese armament sent against Cyprus in 1376 had among other great engines one which cast stones of 12 cwt.’

Villard  de  Honnecourt2 describes  a  trebuchet  that  had  a  counterpoise  of 
sand  the  frame  of  which  was 12 ft.  long, 8 ft.  broad,  and 12 ft.  deep.  That  such machines were of  vast size  will readily be understood. For instance, twenty-four engines taken by Louis IX. at the evacuation of Damietta in 1249, afforded timber for stockading his entire camp.3 A trebuchet used at the capture of  Acre by the Infidels in 1291, formed a load for a hundred carts.4 A great engine that cumbered the  tower  of  St.  Paul  at  Orleans  and  which  was  dismantled  previous  to  the celebrated defense of the town against the English in 1428-9, furnished twenty-six cartloads of timber.5

All  kinds of articles besides horses, men, stones and bombs were at times 
thrown  from  trebuchets.  Vassaf6 records  ‘that  when  the  garrison  of  Delhi 

1  Stella flourished at the end of the fourteenth century and beginning of fifteenth. He wrote The Annals of  Genoa from  1298-1409.  Muratori  includes  the  writing  Stella  in  his  great  work,  Rerum  Italicarum Scriptores, 25 vols., 1723-38.

2   Villard de Honnecourt, an engineer of the thirteenth century. His album translated and edited by R. Willis, MA., 1859.

3   Jean, Sire de Joinville. He went with St. Louis to Damietta. His memoirs, written in 1309, published by F. Micheal, 1859.

4   Abulfeda, 1273-1331. Arab soldier and historian, wrote Annals of the Moslems. Published by Hafnire, 1789-94 Abulfeda was himself in charge of the hundred carts.

5   From  an  old history  of  the  siege  (in  manuscript)  found  in  the  town  hall  of  Orleans  and  printed  by Saturnin Holot, a bookseller of that city, 1576.

6   Persian historian, wrote at end of thirteen and the beginning of fourteenth century. The preface to his history is dated 1288, and the history itself is carried down to 1312.

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THE TREBUCHET

refused to open the gates to Ala’uddin Khilji in 1296, he loaded his engines with 
bags  of  gold  and  shot  them  into  the  fortress, a  measure  which  put  an  end  to  the opposition.’

Figs. 18, 20., explain the construction and working of a trebuchet.

CASTING A DEAD HORSE INTO A BESIEGED TOWN BY MEANS OF A TREBUCHET

Fig.19- CASTING A DEAD HORSE INTO A BESIEGED TOWN BY MEANS OF A TREBUCHET
From ‘ Il Codice Atlantico,’ Leonardo da Vinci, 1445-1520

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THE ACTION OF THE TREBUCHET
Fig. 20. -- THE ACTION OF THE TREBUCHET.
A. The arm pulled down and secured by the slip-hook previous to unhooking the rope of the windlass.  B. The arm released from the slip-hook and casting the stone out of its sling.  C. The arm at the end of its upward sweep.


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