The End of Granada I

High up against the steep walls dropping straight down to the river Darro, to the north of the palatine city of the Alhambra, the palaces occupied by Boabdil as reigning sultan were well protected by the nearly vertical embankments. Next to these was the mexuar, or administrative area for the Nasrid kingdom, which was entered from the public square and is described for us by Ibn al-Jatib, the vizier of sultan Muhammad V, in 1362. The mexuar had two patios, one where the council of viziers met, and another which housed the royal chancellery, where the royal secretariat’s writing office was located. This office occupied a place of great importance in Granada’s political and cultural life, as the court secretaries were a group of luminaries who wrote not only documents of propaganda and legitimisation but also literary works in prose and verse. All correspondence, official letters, legal and diplomatic documents and private communications were written on the legendary red paper of the Nasrid chancellery. Although white was the most usual colour for paper, as it is today, medieval Muslim craftsmen knew how to make paper of different colours. Red represented the Nasrid dynasty, and documents issued in this shade were appropriate for the lord of the Alhambra, the red fort.

On 16 December 1489 Boabdil wrote a letter on the crimson paper, signed in his own hand and sealed with his seal, addressed to the viziers, sheiks and dignitaries of the settlement of Ugíjar and the farmholdings of the Alpujarran village of Picena, asking for their support. What happened at Baza, he wrote, was the will of Allah, and its loss filled Muslims with pain and diminished western Islam. But now, he stated, Muslims must consider the consequences of how they behave, and reflect with all their good judgement on their situation and future. They must cease their changes of heart and hasten towards what is good with strong resolve and diligence. Boabdil told them that he had agreed an amnesty with the Christians for two years extending to all his people, and urging them to recognise his authority. He encouraged them to exalt their holy cause and confess their absolute unity in private and in public. The sultan’s tone is persuasive and moralising, but also inspiring and affectionate, as he instructs them to accept what he calls ‘goodness and peace’. Just over a month after this letter had been sent, something happened to change his opinion about the amnesty. Early in January 1490, Boabdil sent his trusted vizier, al-Mulih, to the court of Ferdinand and Isabella to enter into talks with them. The subject of those talks is not specified, and it may have related to the recently agreed truce, although some believe it related to the potential handover of Granada. Al-Mulih returned with a letter from the royal couple, and accompanied by two young officers, who seem to have been charged with the task of negotiating for the city itself. One of the men was Gonzalo de Córdoba, aged thirty-seven, who had been inside Granada before when he had provided support for Boabdil against El Zagal, and had also been at the Battle of Loja, where he had apparently persuaded the sultan to surrender the town. Gonzalo had patched up relations between Ferdinand and Boabdil and renewed the secret pact in which the latter was to be rewarded for fighting against his uncle with the gift of a dukedom or a high-ranking title. The other man was Martín de Alarcón, who had been in charge of the arrangements for Boabdil’s imprisonment at Porcuna when he was first captured by the Castilians in 1483, from which time forward Boabdil had been the pawn of Castilian policy. Both men were well known to the sultan, although they were both associated with very negative experiences for Boabdil, which should have made him suspicious.

In his letter of reply to Ferdinand and Isabella, dated 22 January 1490, Boabdil suggested that it would be best to send his representative back to court to speak in person to the monarchs. According to Hernando de Baeza, the sultan realised that the Castilian negotiators were shifting the terms of their agreement and sent a nobleman from his household to the Castilian court at Cordoba to clarify matters. Boabdil was horrified at their response, which we can deduce was along the lines that the Muslims must surrender their arms and the city at once. This, of course, broke the pact of peace and contravened the truce signed with the Christians. Boabdil, now a man of thirty who knew his own mind, was no longer the inexperienced young sultan of 1482. He had been betrayed, imprisoned and maligned, and his son was still held hostage by the Castilians. The new demand must have seemed one betrayal too many. His immediate reaction was to provoke war, but his closest advisers warned against this, and suggested he should send his messengers back a second time. He heeded their advice and sent Aben Comixa, the senior constable of Granada, accompanied by a very good friend of Hernando de Baeza, a merchant called Abrahim Alcaiçí. They returned very unhappy, and confirmed that the Christians had no intention of keeping their word over what had already been agreed twice with the sultan. The news got out and the city was in an uproar. The stage was set once again for war.

The perception of Boabdil as the covert friend and ally of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Castile has done much to foster the idea that the Muslim leader was a traitor to his people, but it is not borne out by the textual evidence. At no time in their long association did either man pay anything but lip service to the idea of an affectionate, chummy relationship between the two. In their lengthy official correspondence, Boabdil’s letters begin and end with effusive expressions of subservient respect, admiration and solicitude which might lead us to think that he was overly compliant with the wishes of the Catholic Monarchs, until we realise that this flowery rhetoric was a standard part of formal letter-writing style in Arab tradition. The communications sent by the Christians were only slightly less demonstrative and familiar, again in keeping with the habitual language of official letters in the more sober Castilian language.

More revealing of Ferdinand’s true motivation is his letter to the Mameluk leader Qa’it Bey, with whom he had made a temporary alliance against the Ottoman Turks from 1488 to 1491. The Spanish sovereigns described the war against Granada as if it had marginal religious motivation. They wrote of Granada as a vassal kingdom, part of the Castilian crown, which had failed to fulfil its obligations to them, and made out that the war was a punishment of the rebels, nothing more. Those who were willing to surrender were guaranteed the preservation of their faith and freedom in their religious practices. This quite blatantly contradicts the way the war was spoken of inside Castile and by the Christian chancellery, who presented it as a crusade against the enemies of the faith. Queen Isabella’s obsession with winning the war was apparently rooted in her deep Christian beliefs and piety. With crusading zeal, she longed to destroy the last remnants of Muslim power, and resented the presence of a potentially hostile kingdom of different race and religion. But her aim was political unity, fuelled by a desire to build a sense of nation and enlist the support of her people. It was obviously helpful for the alliance with the Mameluks not to show hostility towards Islam, and so the Castilians craftily harked back to the original vassaldom of the Nasrids to the Christians approved by Muhammad I in 1236. As no formal peace treaty had been signed between Boabdil and Ferdinand, only truces, this ancient agreement was still legally valid from the Christian perspective. This version of the situation as it was presented to Qa’it Bey implies that one major reason for war was the acquisition of money and power, masquerading as a religious motive. Another strategic purpose was to take the southeast of Spain from a power closely linked to the feared menace of the Turks, who might recover their strength and join with Granada in the future. So Christian Spain was sending a clear message to the Mameluks that they would do well to keep Ferdinand and Isabella as allies and not enemies.

These political and military manoeuvres reveal the cunning and duplicity of Ferdinand. The notorious Florentine diplomat and writer Machiavelli, who was a great admirer of the Catholic king, stated in his work The Prince that great campaigns and striking demonstrations of personal abilities brought great prestige to a prince. He had Ferdinand in mind. As a young man, the Aragonese prince had been clever and likeable, and, like Boabdil, was an excellent horseman and hunter. The historian Fernando del Pulgar spoke of him as having ‘such grace that everyone who talked to him wanted to serve him’. But his shrewdness was obvious even then – his motto was ‘Like the anvil, I keep silent because of the times’. All his life he had frequented the halls of power. Aged just nine, he had been his father’s deputy in Catalonia, and became its lieutenant at sixteen. He was the ideal successor to his father on the throne of Aragon, which he took over in 1477, brought up in that kingdom, but also having Castilian blood as second cousin of his wife Isabella, which made it easier to unite the two kingdoms by their marriage. In spite of this, he was a womaniser and had at least three illegitimate daughters, all relegated to convents. Historians tell us that Ferdinand was easy-going but also ruthless, devious and more cynical than his wife. The modern historian Hugh Thomas states in his book Rivers of Gold that his instincts were those of a calculating machine rather than a man of passion. And there were the prophecies by the clergy that he would be the king who would win back the Holy Land for Christendom. The dramatic impact of the fall of Constantinople in 1453 had renewed the crusading zeal of western Europe, reflected in the popularity of the chivalric novels of the late fifteenth-century such as Tirante the White and Amadeus of Gaul, whose mixture of chivalry and violence chimed with contemporary warfare. There was a sense, as we have seen, that Ferdinand was the man for the moment, and his successes at the siege of Malaga and the taking of the seemingly impregnable Ronda had been personal triumphs. His eye was firmly on the big prize of Granada, whose conquest would make him and Isabella rulers of virtually the whole of Spain.

Boabdil was up against a man who was obsessively ambitious, immensely powerful and an expert military strategist. He knew how to take advantage of the newest trends in warfare developed in the mid-fifteenth century, which included new weapon capabilities, tactics and administrative advances. During the course of this century almost every European army had adopted the gunpowder weapons so successful in siege operations during the Granadan war. Siege artillery had been used in Spain before the fifteenth century: Sultan Isma’il I was reported to have captured the town of Huéscar in 1324 and Baza in 1325 using gunpowder artillery, and we know that the Spanish Muslims used cannon against the Castilian army of Alfonso XI at the siege of Algeciras in 1342. One big mistake by the Nasrids was failing to advance the use of gunpowder artillery in their military strategies. Instead, they left this to the Christians. Ferdinand modelled his siege artillery on the French weapons which had been used in the 1450s, and appointed a French Master of Artillery. The triumphs he had in the war up till 1490 would not have happened without gunpowder technology.

At the same time, Ferdinand’s naval blockade on al-Andalus gave him control of the straits of Gibraltar, the narrow stretch of water between Spain and Africa which either allowed or prevented invasion. Regular Spanish patrols made it impossible for the north African Muslims to make contact with Granada. The third prong of the Christian king’s military strategy was the tala, or devastation of crops, throughout the kingdom of Granada, but most cruelly in the vega surrounding the city itself. To besiege a population and destroy their food supplies at the same time is a deadly combination which Ferdinand used remorselessly. The first tala of the year, on 21 May 1490, destroyed the crops of the vega, whose castles at La Malaha and Alhendín had just been taken by his army.

Despite the threatening situation, Boabdil was in no mood to relinquish his kingdom. Granada was still formidable because of its position and defences, shielded to the east by the great mountain range of the Sierra Nevada and encircled by massive towers and walls of great strength and solidity facing the vega. The sultan had a change of heart and abandoned the dangerous diplomatic game he had been playing for years. Courageously, he launched an attack on the town of Padul, recently acquired by Ferdinand from El Zagal, as soon as the Castilians had withdrawn from the tala in June 1490. The assault was successful and, against the odds, he managed to recapture the town and surrounding area, as well as the castle of Alhendín. No doubt elated by these victories, he went to war against the coastal town of Adra, which was won back with the help of north African volunteers, but a further attack on the coastal town of Salobreña failed in September, as the Muslim army had to hurry back to Granada, where the Christian army was reported to be heading. Boabdil was trying to rebuild his kingdom with modest victories, and probably hoping to open up links from Granada to the outside world now that vital food supplies from the vega were practically non-existent. A chain of seaside bases might provide a tenuous life-line to allow food and other supplies to reach them from north Africa, and a link across the mountain tops to the outside world might also enable a limited amount of provisions and men to get through to Granada. During the rest of 1490, a kind of stalemate was reached. The Castilians didn’t launch a full-scale offensive, but raided and skirmished, with minor successes, and destroyed the crops of the vega for a second time in September. Boabdil refused to surrender, although it was now that his uncle decided to leave his endangered estate and cross over to Oran.

By 1491 the writing was on the wall. Granada lived in fear and hardship, while frantic, secret negotiations went on behind the scenes. In April, once the better weather came, Ferdinand led his army once more towards Granada and intended to stay there until the city surrendered. On 26 April, the army camped near the fountain of a small town called Ojos de Huéscar, known as Atqa to the Muslims, just six miles west of Granada. Here they were joined once more by Queen Isabella and her ladies in waiting: the queen supervised the military preparations and inspected the encampment dressed in full armour. There is a story that she wished to get a closer view of the Muslim city, so the king and queen went to Zubia, a nearby village, and sat at a window which gave an unbroken view of the beautiful Alhambra. The feeling of being spied on by an enemy moving ever closer was too much for the Granadans to endure, and they burst out of the city gates, dragging several pieces of artillery with them, and assaulted the lines of Spanish soldiers stationed between the village and the city to protect the king and queen. The Castilians pursued them back to the city gates and a large number of Granadans were killed before they could regain safety.

The Christian army remained within striking distance of Granada throughout June and July, when Ferdinand made a remarkable decision. Seeing they might well still be in the same position as winter approached, he ordered an entire new town to be constructed on the site of the encampment. Extraordinary as this decision seems, Ferdinand was a man who had been undaunted by re-engineering mountain pathways to accommodate his troops and artillery: his plan was put into immediate action, and his soldiers became artisans. Neighbouring villages were razed to the ground to provide materials for the new buildings, which were erected in just eighty days. Where there had been temporary tents there was now permanent stone and mortar in the form of dwelling houses, plus stables for 1,000 horses. The town had the shape of a rectangular gridiron with two spacious avenues intersecting at right angles in the centre in the form of a cross, 400 paces long by 300 wide, with imposing portals at each of the four points. Inscriptions on blocks of marble recorded the relative share of labour of men from various cities in the work.

While the town was under construction Isabella had been lodged in a magnificent silk tent owned by the Marquis of Cádiz. One night a gust of wind blew over one of the lamps, which set fire to the loose hangings inside, and the blaze spread to nearby tents. It happened in the early hours when the sentinels had fallen asleep, but the Queen and her children managed to escape unharmed, although many jewels, precious silks and brocades were lost, and she had to borrow clothes from her friends. When the buildings were finished and painted in gleaming white, a mayor was appointed, a man called Francisco de Bobadilla, a war hero and commander of the military Order of Calatrava, one of the semi-religious brotherhoods whose members had played a key role in the fighting against the Muslims. The army wanted the town to be named after the queen, but she declined the honour and named it Santa Fe, Holy Faith, as a token of trust in their Christian divinity. If you visit Santa Fe today, it looks much the same as it did in 1491. The church of Santa María de la Encarnación, built later, in the sixteenth century, bears the words ¡Ave María! and a lance sculpted in memory of a Christian nobleman, Hernán Pérez del Pulgar, who had gone to Granada at dead of night in the winter of 1490 via a secret tunnel, to pin a parchment bearing those words upon the entrance to the mosque with his dagger. It was an act straight out of the pages of chivalric romance, and suggests that many Christian knights fought for fame and glory as much as anything else. Most of the monarchs’ advisers, secretaries and treasurers also went to Santa Fe, which was set up as a court as well as a military headquarters. In October 1491 Isabella actually summoned Columbus there, where he stayed all autumn, an unintentional witness to the events unfolding in nearby Granada.


The Siege of York

On 19 January 1644 the Scots army crossed the River Tweed into Northumberland. It comprised twenty-one regiments of foot and seven regiments of horse, some 18,000 men. Sir Thomas Glemham had only 2,000 men with which to oppose them and all he could do was retreat before the Scots, breaking bridges as he went. By the 25th the Scots had reached Alnwick and arrived at Morpeth two days later. On 1 February the Scots began their final march to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, although due to the weather they did not arrive before the town until the 3rd. The town was immediately summoned to surrender and the Scots’ surprise must have been great when they received a refusal from the Marquess of Newcastle himself – he had been promoted in the peerage for his victory at Adwalton Moor as had his lieutenant general, James King, as Lord Eythin.

On 15 January Newcastle had returned to York. For the next two weeks he gathered his forces to move north against the Scots and put plans for the defence of Yorkshire into place. On the 29th he set off north with 5,000 foot and 3,000 horse. Newcastle’s army arrived at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 3 February, a few hours before the Scots army approached from the north, having taken only five days to complete the march.

With their summons refused the Scots were in a poor situation. They had intended to seize Newcastle-upon-Tyne and use it as a supply base. At this early part of the year the roads back to Scotland were in very poor condition and could not be used to supply such a large army. The obvious solution was to supply the army by sea but this needed a decent sized port. The coast of Northumberland was sadly deficient in such ports. The Marquess of Newcastle was aware of the precarious Scots position and his main objective became the defence of the line of the River Tyne. The Scots army sidestepped towards the west in an attempt to find an undefended crossing, as well as covering Newcastle-upon-Tyne. As the Scots army spread out, Newcastle was presented with an ideal opportunity to strike at them. On 19 February two Royalist columns crossed the Tyne and attacked the Scots’ quarters at Corbridge. In a hard-fought action the Scots were driven back with loss and their commander, Alexander Leslie, Earl of Leven, concentrated the whole army close to Newcastle to prevent a repetition.

Although Newcastle had successfully held the Tyne his army was exhausted and in need of rest. With this in mind, Newcastle withdrew his army to Durham. This presented Leven with an ideal opportunity, which the canny old soldier did not let pass. On 28 February the Scots crossed the Tyne and marched for Sunderland which was occupied on 4 March. The Scots now had their supply base and spent the next four weeks gathering supplies in preparation for their next move. On several occasions Newcastle tried to draw the Scots out of Sunderland to fight him in open ground. Leven realised that although his army outnumbered Newcastle’s, the veteran Royalist horse could be decisive. Leven refused to be drawn and several inconclusive actions were fought among the enclosures surrounding Sunderland. By the 25th Newcastle had realised that the Scots would not be drawn out on to ground of his choosing and pulled his troops back into Durham. On the 31st the Scots marched in pursuit of Newcastle and by 8 April had occupied Quarrington Hill, to the east of the town, effectively cutting Newcastle off from Hartlepool, his main supply port.

Things began to move rapidly. On the 12 April Newcastle received news that his Yorkshire army had been defeated at Selby and York was in danger of falling. During the early hours of the 13th Newcastle’s army set off for York, with the Scots in close pursuit. The Royalists arrived at York on the 19th, in the nick of time. The Scots and Lord Fairfax’s armies joined at Tadcaster on the 20th. In a matter of days the whole situation in Yorkshire had changed.


The Allies moved into their assigned zones, with the Scots covering the south and west sides of the town. Lord Fairfax was still short of infantry and several regiments of Scots foot, under Sir James Lumsden, were despatched to reinforce him on the eastern side of York. Although the Allied force heavily outnumbered the Royalist defenders, they were still too few to cover the whole circuit of the town’s defences. The area to the north of the town, between the Ouse and the Fosse, was covered only by cavalry patrols. Until this gap was sealed the Royalists would be able to bring supplies and reinforcements into the town, thus making the Allied task much more difficult.

It was obvious that the Allies needed more troops but where were they to come from? As it happened another force was within easy reach of York. In East Anglia the Earl of Manchester’s Army of the Eastern Association had captured Lincoln on 5 May, finally clearing the Royalists from his assigned area of responsibility. A deputation, including the Scots Earl of Crawford-Lindsey and Sir Thomas Fairfax, was despatched to talk to Manchester, who readily agreed to bring his troops to York. Manchester’s army began its march on the 24th and moved into position to the north of York on 3 June. The city was now fully surrounded and the siege began.

West of the Pennines, Prince Rupert was beginning his move to relieve York. To try to prevent this Sir John Meldrum had been sent to Manchester with two regiments of foot, including one Scots regiment. The bulk of the Allied horse had been sent to cover the passes through the Pennines – Cromwell is mentioned as visiting Penistone to cover the Woodhead Pass and Otley to defend the road from Skipton.

On 5 June Lord Fairfax put a plan into action to raise a battery against Walmgate Bar. To mask this move the Scots and Eastern Association troops formed up as though they were going to attack. While the defenders’ attention was drawn to the other side of the town, Fairfax made his move, capturing the suburbs outside the gate and raising a five-gun battery within 200 yards of the gate. Newcastle had made a mistake by not destroying the suburbs outside the town as these covered the enemy advances against the town’s weak points: its gates. It also gave the Allies defensible positions should the Royalists sally out of the town. Realising his mistake, Newcastle tried to rectify the situation on 8 June by burning down the buildings outside Bootham Bar. The attempt was unsuccessful and the fire raisers captured. In return, Manchester’s men tried to set fire to Bootham Bar’s wooden gates but this attempt was also unsuccessful.

Newcastle had received news of Prince Rupert’s advance into Lancashire. It is thought that this communication was carried out by signal fires from Pontefract Castle. At this stage of the war Prince Rupert had a reputation for invincibility and his northward march had put fear into the hearts of the Committee of Both Kingdoms. Several letters from the Committee to the commanders at York prompted them to divide their armies and send a substantial force over the Pennines. Leven, Fairfax and Manchester stuck to their task, telling the Committee that a division of their force would lead to disaster.

On 8 June Newcastle decided to open communications with the Allied commanders, more in an effort to waste time rather than a desire to come to an agreement. For one week the two sides exchanged messages and held discussions until, on the 15th, Newcastle peremptorily refused to accept the Allies’ surrender terms. It now became obvious that the previous week’s parleys had been a time wasting measure and Newcastle had no intention of surrendering the town. On the 16th the first attempt to storm the town took place.

Sir Henry Vane, a representative of the Committee of Both Kingdoms with the army at York, was sitting in his room writing a letter to the Committee, reporting the completion of two mines and the repair of a massive siege gun. Mines were a method of breeching defensive walls that had been used from ancient times. A tunnel was dug until it reached the walls and then a chamber was dug. Originally, a fire had been set in the chamber which burnt through the tunnel’s supports, causing the ground above to collapse, bringing the walls down with it. By the time of the Civil War the chamber was filled with gunpowder which was then exploded, blowing the wall above, and any defenders standing on it, into the air. Sir Henry was disturbed part way through writing his letter by a loud explosion. When he returned to his correspondence he added some important news:

Since my writing thus much Manchester played his mine with very good success, made a fair breach, and entered with his men and possessed the manor house [King’s Manor], but Leven and Fairfax not being acquainted therewith, that they might have diverted the enemy at other places, the enemy drew all their strength against our men, and beat them off again, but with no great loss, as I hear.

A mine had been exploded under St Mary’s Tower. Much of the tower and its adjacent walls had collapsed – the damage can still be seen today.

With the wall breached, Lawrence Crawford, Manchester’s Sergeant-Major-General of foot and a professional Scots soldier, ordered his assault force to attack. The attack by Manchester’s men seems to have caught the other commanders by surprise and the Royalists were able to concentrate on repulsing the attack. Newcastle took part in the defence, leading a party from his own regiment. The Parliamentarian force was repulsed with considerable loss – Manchester mentions, in a letter to the Committee of Both Kingdoms, losing 300 men in the assault, including 200 prisoners.

It is difficult to understand why Manchester carried out this attack without support from the other Allied commanders. Sir Thomas Fairfax gives one possible reason:

Till, in Lord Manchester’s quarters, approaches were made to St Mary’s Tower; and soon came to mine it; which Colonel Crawford, a Scotchman, who commanded that quarter, (being ambitious to have the honour, alone, of springing the mine) undertook, without acquainting the other Generals with it, for their advice and concurrence, which proved very prejudicial.

Another interesting point is the location of the attack. St Mary’s Tower forms one corner of the defences of the King’s Manor, which is outside York’s main defensive walls. Even if Manchester’s men had captured the Manor they would still not have breached the main defences, although their approach to Bootham Bar would have become much easier – any approach could be flanked by musket fire from the manor. What had happened to the second mine? Lord Fairfax had attempted to mine Walmgate Bar and Sir Henry Vane had reported its completion. Why had this mine not been exploded? Sir Henry Slingsby, one of the Royalist defenders, gives the reason: the mine had flooded. Simeon Ashe, the Earl of Manchester’s chaplain, gives this as the reason for Crawford blowing the mine when he did, rather than his ambition, as Sir Thomas Fairfax asserts.

The attack on the King’s Manor was the only attempt by the Allied commanders to assault the town. For two weeks after the failed assault things quietened. Both sides were holding their breath and waiting for Prince Rupert’s next move. On 30 June news reached the Allied commanders that the Prince had arrived at Knaresborough, within a day’s march of the town. They had no choice but to leave their siege lines and gather the army to oppose the Prince’s advance. Early on 1 July the Allies marched west from York and formed line of battle on Hessay Moor. This position blocked the Prince’s direct route from Knaresborough, via Wetherby.

It is now time to go back several weeks and briefly look at Prince Rupert’s advance into Lancashire and his approach march to York. On 16 May Rupert began his march to the north. His first move would be into Lancashire which, early in the war, had been a fertile recruiting ground for the Royalist cause. After the Battle of Sabden Brook, in May 1643, the county had come under Parliamentarian control, although many of its inhabitants still had Royalist leanings. Only one position still held out for the King, Lathom House, and one of Rupert’s objectives was to relieve it.

By 23 May Rupert’s growing force had reached Knutsford. He had been joined on the march by Sir John Byron’s Cheshire forces. The Royalists were confronted by the River Mersey which had only three crossing points between Manchester and the sea: Hale Ford, Warrington and Stockport. Hale Ford was covered by the defences of Liverpool and Warrington had been garrisoned. This left Stockport as Rupert’s choice of crossing point and he successfully brushed aside the locally raised garrison and continued into Lancashire on the 25th.

The immediate effect of Rupert’s entry into Lancashire was the raising of the siege of Lathom House. The besiegers withdrew into Bolton and this was Rupert’s next target. On 28 May Rupert’s army stormed the town in, if Parliamentarian news sheets are to be believed, one of the bloodiest episodes in the Civil War. That said, there is little evidence beyond Parliamentary propaganda to support the wholesale slaughter reported.

On the 30th the Royalists moved on to Bury, where they were joined by Newcastle’s cavalry, the Northern Horse, commanded once again by George Goring after his exchange, and several other small forces from Derbyshire. With the arrival of these reinforcements Rupert’s force had grown to 7,000 horse and 7,000 foot.

Rupert’s next target was Liverpool which would provide the Royalists with a good arrival port for Irish reinforcements. Leaving Bury on 4 June, the Royalists arrived before Liverpool on the 7th, having marched via Bolton and Wigan. Rupert summoned the town to surrender but its commander, Colonel Moore, refused. Between the 7th and 9th the town was bombarded and by the morning of the 10th a large enough breach had been made in the town’s defences to allow an assault. Although the attack was repulsed, Colonel Moore realised that his men could not hold out for much longer. During the night the defenders were evacuated onto the ships in the harbour and the Royalists occupied the town on the 11th.

While he was at Liverpool Rupert received a letter from his uncle, the King. This letter is one of the most controversial documents to have come out of the Civil War and historians are still disputing its correct interpretation. Rupert believed it was a direct order to fight the Allied forces besieging York and, after his defeat at Marston Moor, carried it with him for the rest of his life as proof of why he fought the battle.

On 20 June the Royalist army left Liverpool and began its approach march to York. By the 23rd they had reached Preston and then crossed the Pennines to Skipton by the 26th. After resting for several days the Royalists continued their march, arriving at Knaresborough on the 30th. On 1 July Rupert caught the waiting Allied commanders by surprise by not taking the direct line from Knaresborough to York but taking the longer route along the north bank of the River Ouse. By nightfall the Prince’s army was encamped in the Forest of Galtres, north-west of the city, and York had been relieved.


Siege of Güns

Suleiman the Magnificent was already in Belgrade. His arrival in this “gold key to Europe,” as Belgrade was called, had been an occasion to put the sultan’s magnificence on full display. The city’s streets were adorned with triumphal Roman arches, every bit as grand as those that had adorned Bologna for the coronation of Charles V. Indeed, the Belgrade spectacle seemed intended specifically to surpass the opulence of the Bologna event. Standard-bearers carried banners with Mohammed’s name embossed in jewels and other flags displaying elegant Ottoman symbols. Pages carried fantastic gold-and-jeweled helmets, more amazing than the crown Charles had worn in Bologna. Other pages carried a box containing the actual mantle of the Prophet and two of his swords. The sultan, wearing an immense turban and a fur-lined purple caftan, sat astride a jeweled saddle on an enormous horse that was caparisoned with brocade and whose bridle contained an egg-sized turquoise gem.

The sultan tarried in Belgrade for several weeks, combining military strategy and diplomacy with dazzling ceremonies. Ambassadors from Vienna turned up again, first at Nis and then at Belgrade, offering a much larger annual tribute and withdrawing previous demands about Buda and the recognition of Ferdinand. They were treated roughly at first by Ibrahim, before they were ushered into the presence of the sultan. The audience was choreographed by Ibrahim to induce the utmost awe and amazement. Suleyman sat upon a golden throne whose supports were fashioned to look like quivers containing golden arrows and that were covered with jewels. Upon his head was a stunning golden helmet that had been made by the finest goldsmiths of Venice and that was designed as four golden crowns, one superimposed upon the next, and sprouted jewels as if they were star-bursts. The helmet bore a vague resemblance to the tiara of the pope, but was far more magnificent. One observer called the helmet-crown “the trophy of Alexander the Great.”

In this audience little was said, for, according to a Venetian report, the ambassadors were rendered “speechless corpses.” To them Suleyman again delivered his stark challenge to Charles V. Was he great of heart? If so, let him await me in the field. With that the ambassadors were dismissed unceremoniously to return home empty-handed.
Treated with greater dignity and even more elaborate pomp was a delegation that came from Francis I. Despite the French king’s promise in the Peace of the Ladies three years before to give up consorting with Turks and to join in the defense of Christian Europe, Francis had actually made a secret alliance with Suleyman’s vassal János Zápolya to support the Transylvanian’s claim as king of Hungary. In return, Zápolya agreed that Francis’s second son would succeed Zápolya on the Hungarian throne. The French envoys were taken for audiences with commanders and viziers, and treated to parades by the Anatolian and Rumelian armies. In their audience with the sultan, the French ambassadors tried to dissuade the sultan from going forward with his European invasion, lest it do what in fact it was doing: uniting the Catholics and Protestants and making the Holy Roman emperor even more powerful. Ibrahim Pasha turned the request aside gently. Matters had proceeded too far. There was no turning back from this epic duel for the mastery of the world. The matter had become personal. If he turned back now, Suleyman said, “They would say that I am afraid of the king of Spain.”

From his golden throne the sultan could survey his vast Balkan dominion with satisfaction. The Turks held virtually all of Croatia to the west with the exception of a few coastal cities like Dubrovnik. They held the territory between the Sava and Drava rivers known as Slavonia. They had occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina for nearly seventy years, and Serbia south to Kosovo for almost one hundred and fifty years. In all of these territories, conversion to Islam had been spirited. When Suleyman’s army moved into Hungary, it would encounter a more mixed situation, but the campaign ahead offered the opportunity to reward those who supported his vassal János Zápolya and to punish those who had defected to Archduke Ferdinand.

In the second week of July 1532, the Ottoman army decamped and moved north, while a formidable Turkish fleet on the Danube shadowed the ground forces. At Osijek, the armies crossed the Drava River over twelve pontoon bridges and soon entered southern Hungary. Heavy rain and interminable swamps hindered the progress, but not as dramatically as during the previous invasion. Eight thousand janissaries led the way, their heavy drums and reedy horns announcing the advance. They were followed by more than a hundred cannons, by a contingent of tribute boys with their long hair and scarlet caps festooned with white feathers, and a group of harriers with their hawks and hounds. The Eagle of the Prophet, encrusted with pearls and precious stones, preceded the suite of the sultan himself. Behind him came tens of thousands of soldiers and an immense baggage train pulled by camels and elephants.

The juggernaut moved north through western Transdanubia, taking the more direct overland route to Vienna through Székesfehérvár and Györ, slogging through the swamps south of Lake Balaton (and leaving many of their heavy siege cannons in the mire), skirting the lake itself and avoiding Buda altogether. At town after town, fortress after fortress, local commanders under the sway of Zápolya came out to greet the Turks and offer the keys to their garrisons. Rewards were handed out accordingly.

At Györ the Sultan tarried for discussions with his advisers. There, the Turkish high command made an important strategic decision. The Ottoman navy would continue upriver to Pressburg, and an advance division of sixteen thousand light-armed raiders would proceed to the environs of Vienna, while the main body of the army would proceed west overland to the southern edge of Lake Neusiedler. From there it would turn south to the town of Güns, the first of the small fortresses under the sway of Ferdinand I. After the army made quick work of that tiny fortress, it would move west into the grasslands and meadows of southeast Austria. They hoped Charles V would be lured from his refuge across the Alps to the open and lovely landscape of Styria into the final apocalyptic battle between emperors and religions and continents to determine whether Islam or Christianity was the dominant and superior force in the world.

By now it was early August, prime fighting season, and the Christian force was indeed massing in southern Bavaria at Regensburg. Charles had been elated at how quickly and enthusiastically his army of defense had mobilized itself. On August 9 he had written to his wife that all the states of Germany, including the Protestant ones, had acted with dispatch and zeal. Within a matter of a few weeks, a combined force of Germans, Austrians, Italians, Spanish, and Dutch had been joined by some twenty thousand Lutheran landsknechts. The total strength of the force was about eighty thousand. Charles was well pleased. The moment for which he had been born and risen to power had arrived. This clash would mark his fulfillment as the secular defender of the faith. This was the highest calling of chivalry. In the words of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the society of European Christian nobles of which he was head, he had been brought to this place and this time to lead the fight “for the reverence of God and the maintenance of our Christian Faith, and to honor and exalt the noble order of knighthood.”

On August 9, the first elements of the Turkish army under Ibrahim Pasha arrived in the environs of Güns. To their dismay, instead of a meek and subservient official bowing and offering the keys to the town, the Turkish advance guard was confronted with Hungarian knights in full battle armor. Upon further inspection, it was determined that all the surrounding villages around Güns had been set aflame, the fields of fodder torched, and the wells poisoned. By the time Suleyman himself arrived three days later with the main army, it was clear that not only would the fortress not surrender, but it planned a stiff defense.

The stubborn leader of this affront was a familiar figure, the Croatian nobleman Nicolas Jurischitz, who just months before had presented the tribute offer for Archduke Ferdinand to the Sublime Porte in Constantinople. Against the mighty Turkish army of over seventy thousand soldiers, Jurischitz had arrived in Güns several weeks before in the company of ten fully armed knights and twenty-eight light cavalrymen. The town itself boasted about a thousand able-bodied men and several thousand women, children, and old people. Güns was a classic “castle town,” with low walls, a fortress, and a barbican or gate tower; its walls were surrounded by a moat that was fed by a millrace that coursed down the hill from the north.

Jurischitz saw his mission clearly. To Ferdinand I he wrote, “I have volunteered to fight against the Turkish emperor and his army. I fight not because I presume to equal his force, but only so as to delay him a little while to give time for Your Royal Majesty to unite with the Christian Holy Roman Emperor.” Slowing down the Islamic cyclone, therefore, was his sole purpose.

That the Christians dared to challenge so overwhelming a force was, at first, a source of bemusement to the Turkish high command. Wrote the sultan’s chancellor, “As soon as the mind of His Highness, Ibrahim Pasha, became enlightened as to the situation of the castle, he, like so many lions in courage, intended to break the pride of those locked within and to open the gate of triumph and attach this castle to the string of other fortifications he had conquered.” It would not be so easy.

In classic fashion, the light cannons known as falcons and falconets opened a barrage against the walls, to little effect. The Turks quickly realized they needed the heavy cannons that they had discarded in the swamps of Lake Balaton. Moreover, the defenders had the brio to sally out of their fortress and inflict considerable loss on the besiegers. Six days into the siege a number of all-out assaults had been repelled, and the Turkish forces grew restless. Grumbling about Ibrahim Pasha’s command began; he had promised quick victory and plentiful booty. Men began to drop from starvation. Heavy rain and hail complicated the situation, and supplies started to run short. “We are short of bread,” a Turkish dispatch read. “We have enough grain, but there are no mills to grind it, so we are short of flour.” Twelve days into the siege, Turkish mines brought down a forty-foot section of the wall. But the charge of the janissaries into the breach was turned back.

If the siege was faltering, the will of the defenders was also waning. Scrolls were lobbed over the walls to the Turkish side, describing a desperate situation and encouraging negotiations. But Jurischitz rallied his motley force. Finally, on August 27, after another furious assault was turned back, Ibrahim Pasha offered to talk. The first exchanges stalled, and the siege resumed. At one point eight Ottoman flags were planted on the walls, but they soon disappeared. With no further progress, Ibrahim offered to talk a second time. His sudden interest in peace negotiations had behind it a considerable incentive: his janissaries were on the verge of revolt.

After two full weeks, the garrison still held out. Their exasperation tinged with grudging admiration, the Turks turned to diplomacy in earnest. Messages began to be exchanged between the sides. Did the fortress commander propose to continue his “futile display of arrogance and pride?” If he would surrender, a free passage to freedom was promised. Jurischitz replied that he was merely the servant of the Holy Roman emperor, who had entrusted the town and fortress to his care. As such he would surrender to no one as long as he lived. Next came an offer of money to the defenders, one gold ducat for every house in the town, though their superiors would have to pay considerable tribute for the trouble they had caused the great Suleyman. To this Jurischitz replied that the town did not belong to him but to his master. He was in no position to take money for it. As for the ducats for the sultan’s troubles, he barely had enough money to pay his own soldiers. As each of these retorts were reported to Suleyman, he grew more livid. He ordered one more furious assault. Word was passed through the Turkish ranks. “I will have the head of my enemy, or he will have mine,” Suleyman was quoted as saying.

When huge wooden, pyramid-shaped assault towers were rolled close to the high walls, the defenders filled barrels with sulfur, tar, and tallow, set them on fire, and burned the towers. As their defense went into folklore, it was said that during this last assault “a rider of vast and imposing stature appeared in the sky, brandishing a flaming sword. This engendered such fear in the Turks that they retreated from the walls.” St. Martin himself had become, in folklore, the savior of Güns.

When the dust of this final assault settled, a Turkish herald approached the walls and shouted a question. Was the commander still alive? Jurischitz was, in fact, wounded. Half his garrison was dead, and his remaining soldiers were ready to give up. The store of gunpowder was virtually depleted. But the Croatian shouted back that he lived still. Then, shouted the herald, the grand vizier demanded a conference with him. Safe conduct was promised, and two Turkish hostages came forward to remain in Christian hands while their leader talked to the enemy.

Jurischitz instructed his comrades that if something happened to him, they were not to surrender the castle. “Thus, alone and timid,” he wrote later, “I left the fortress with my escort that consisted of a thousand janissaries with their captain riding by my side.”
At Ibrahim Pasha’s sumptuous tent the Croatian commander was greeted with ceremony and respect. The grand vizier rose to welcome him warmly and conveyed him to a seat of honor. Ibrahim inquired about the commander’s injuries with evident sincerity. Were the wounds dangerous? he asked. Soon enough, he came to the point. Why had Jurischitz not surrendered? Ibrahim went down the long list of other commanders who had done so in the face of so mighty a force. So much pain and suffering could so easily have been avoided. Ibrahim then turned to the status of Jurischitz’s Christian masters, displaying a precise awareness of where Charles’s Christian army was now encamped. Did the Croatian expect the king of Spain to come to his relief? There was almost a note of hope in Ibrahim’s voice.

If Jurischitz had at Güns proved himself a great warrior, he was no less a diplomat. To each of the grand vizier’s questions, he had an elegant response. He thanked Ibrahim for his concern about his wounds. Only his honor had prevented him from giving up, for he could not endure the humiliation of surrendering without being forced to do so. Gradually, it dawned on Jurischitz that Ibrahim was attempting to lure him over to the Turkish side. How could the Croatian bear to live under so tyrannical a rule as this? Ibrahim asked. The great Suleyman was offering a gift of his grace for the castle, the city, its citizens, and the commander himself. As long as the sultan had ruled, never had his people fallen to such a low state as the people of Güns. Rising decorously, Ibrahim Pasha offered his hand and proposed to take Jurischitz for an audience with the Grand Turk, only a short distance away. The commander needed only to bow before the sultan and he would be saved.
Jurischitz declined.

“I know the power of your grace over the Grand Turk,” he said. “My respect for him will not allow me to present myself to him in such a weakened state. I am too weak to bow.”
It had been a delicate dance. “I noticed how pleased Ibrahim seemed to be by showing my reverence and great esteem for him,” the Croatian wrote to the archduke a day later. Flattery had gotten him everywhere. He knew full well that had he given offense, another assault would have followed and that would have been the end of it. At the parting, Ibrahim presented Jurischitz with a magnificent robe of honor.

As the Christian commander was escorted back to the castle, the janissary captain asked if he might come inside the walls to congratulate the brave defenders. Jurischitz did not think it was a good idea. Unruly Germans and Spanish soldiers were inside over whom he had little control, he said. The captain’s safety could not be guaranteed. Not long after, Ibrahim Pasha appeared in person outside the walls. Please do not harm further any injured Turks who might be inside the walls, he shouted to Jurischitz. There were none, the commander shouted back.

“If you are well and wish to ride to the gates of Vienna with His Majesty’s ambassadors, it can be arranged,” Ibrahim shouted. There would be no last assault, only a last effort at recruitment. Again the Croatian thanked the grand vizier for his generous offer, but he must decline. He had fought them for twenty-five days, he shouted back. His defense was more important to him than any major battle or any other honor could be.
Ibrahim nodded his understanding. “You speak the truth,” he said and rode away.

The strangest of conclusions was arranged for this historic David-and-Goliath affair. To save face, a contingent of janissaries was permitted to occupy a breach in the walls for several hours. There they planted their huge flag in the rubble, green in its background, with thick white Arabic lettering: “There is but one God, and Mohammed is his prophet.” As the janissaries sang and chanted boisterously, accompanied by loud drums and horns, Ibrahim sent his congratulations to Suleyman. Heavy rain began to fall, but it did not dampen the farce. Suleyman himself wrote the good news in his diary, as if he were writing for the historical record:

“The Grand Vizier held a Divan with the ceremonial hand kiss. With the joyful news of the surrender of the fortress the Grand Vizier was given five hundred gold coins and a caftan. The Pashas kissed the Sultan’s hand to congratulate him for conquering the castle.”
In his heart Suleyman must have had a very different emotion. His mighty army had been detained and rebuffed by a puny force for more than three critical weeks. In these campaigns against Christian infidels he seemed cursed to encounter brilliant commanders: Philippe de Villiers de L’Isle-Adam at Rhodes, Graf Nicolas von Salm at Vienna, and now Jurischitz here.

At an agreed-upon time, 11 a.m. the next day, the Turks withdrew from the breach, and to this day the bells of Güns (now the Hungarian border town of Köszeg) chime at that hour every morning.

The Turks had wasted three precious weeks on this pointless assault. The chill of fall was not far away. Notwithstanding the lame efforts of Turkish propaganda to turn defeat into victory, the siege of Güns would later be compared to the humiliation of Xerxes at Thermopylae.

28 February–1 June 1807: The Siege of Danzig I

General Chasseloup-Laubat (1754–1833). The celebrated engineer who directed French operations at Danzig, Kolberg and Stralsund. At Danzig he was opposed by fellow Frenchman, Bousmard, an engineer whose methods he had studied and absorbed.

The Siege of Danzig. A French map of the siege, indicating the siting of French batteries. Please note the left-hand side of the map is north.

An 800-year-old port at the mouth of the Vistula, Danzig is of major strategical importance. A fortified city of great wealth, crammed with bursting storehouses and magazines, it is a bastion on the Baltic: constituting, in Napoleon’s mind – as Petre notes – ‘a standing menace, whilst in the enemy’s hands.’ In fact, Napoleon is obsessed with Danzig, considering its capture vital for a variety of reasons: first, to deny the port’s facilities to the Russians, who – with the help of the British Royal Navy – might attempt a landing in his rear; second, to remove the threat posed to his left flank by the Prussian garrison; third, to exploit the city’s great strategical and material resources himself. And last – but perhaps not least – to divert attention away from his failure to crush Bennigsen at Eylau. Thus, as Petre states: ‘Scarcely was the battlefield of Eylau cleared when, on 18 February, Napoleon commenced his arrangements for the siege, which had been interrupted by Bennigsen’s advance, necessitating the recall of Lefebvre to guard Thorn.’

Marshal François-Joseph Lefebvre – former commander of the infantry of Napoleon’s Old Guard – is, according to Foord, ‘merely a rough, honest old soldier of little strategic or tactical ability.’ Of humble background (his father was a miller), this tough 52-year-old veteran is a replacement for the unfortunate General Claude Victor, captured while changing horses near Stettin by a party of Prussian soldiers disguised as peasants. Lefebvre knows nothing of siege warfare, but will be aided in his task by Napoleon’s top engineer, General Chasseloup-Laubat. As for Lefebvre’s command, it consists of the 26,000 troops of X Corps. Only some 10,000 of these soldiers are French, the rest being an assortment of foreigners, largely Poles and Saxons. But Lefebvre’s force will continue to grow over the coming months, strengthened by a steady stream of captured Prussian ordnance from the fallen fortresses of Silesia.

Opposing X Corps is a complement of some 16,000 men, augmented by 450 guns, howitzers and mortars. The bulk of the manpower – around 11,000 men and 300 guns – is concentrated in Danzig itself, the remainder strung out in detachments north of the city, tasked with maintaining communications with the Baltic. Despite later claims (from both sides), these garrison troops are not of the first class: but they are well-supplied and ably led by General Count Friedrich Adolf von Kalkreuth (also spelt ‘Kalreuth’, ‘Kalckreuth’ or ‘Kalkruth’ in contemporary sources), a veteran of the Seven Years War. Like Lefebvre, Kalkreuth is no expert when it comes to sieges, and will rely, in his turn, on an experienced advisor. But this guru is none other than the celebrated French émigré, Henri Jean-Baptiste Bousmard, whose treatise on the science of siege warfare, General Essay on Fortification (published in the 1790s and dedicated to the king of Prussia) is Chasseloup’s bible. Thus, the commanding generals will preside over a game of cat-and-mouse between the 58-year-old Bousmard and the 53-year-old Chasseloup: two clever and resourceful men, seemingly sharing the same textbook. But the game will be a lethal one, and only one of the two Frenchmen will survive.

The venue for the Bousmard v. Chasseloup match is a walled city protected by nineteen bastions. Danzig – an old Hanseatic town – was bagged by Prussia in 1793 during the Second Partition of Poland. The city’s inhabitants – Germans and Poles – had enjoyed hundreds of years of municipal autonomy: consequently, Prussian rule was despised. In 1797 a rebellion broke out but was soon crushed, Danzig remaining in Prussian hands.

In 1807, as Petre states: ‘the civil population of Danzig numbered about 45,000. The city had somewhat declined in importance of late years, yet was still a very important port and market. Its fortifications had, in 1806, been much neglected, and were in very bad repair. It was only when the Prussian power collapsed, in the autumn of that year, that a siege began to seem probable. Then every effort was made to repair and strengthen the fortress.’

In fact, Danzig’s fortifications are formidable, its storehouses full, and its approaches covered by boggy ground and several waterways. It will be a difficult nut for Chasseloup to crack. Above the city, the Vistula – flowing from east to west – hugs the northern flank of the fortress. Then, once past Danzig, the river sweeps north in a wide arc, through a vast swampy plain, known as the Nehrung, before emptying into the Baltic a few miles beyond. The navigable Laake Canal cuts through the eastern Nehrung, connecting Danzig with the estuary, thus creating the garrisoned island of Holm, the southern tip of which gazes across the Vistula at Danzig’s northern walls. The mouth of the Vistula is guarded by a small fort at Weichselmunde, opposite the tiny port of Neufahrwasser. Meanwhile, to the east and south of Danzig lies more marshland, intersected by several streams, including the River Mottlau: a tributary of the Vistula, which, running through the centre of the city, bisects it on a north–south axis. To the west – the only practicable line of attack for a hostile army – stand the fortified bastions of the Hagelsberg and the Bischofsberg (armed with forty guns apiece): the first dominating the main approaches to the city; the second forming its south-west corner.

Dabrowski’s victory at Dirschau on 23 February has effectively confined Kalkreuth’s troops to the precincts of Danzig, leaving Lefebvre free to make his advance on 9 March. The next day, having driven in the Prussian outposts, the marshal occupies villages south and south-west of the city. Several days later, the western suburb of Schidlitz is successfully stormed.

But Napoleon wants Danzig’s communications with Weichselmunde and the Baltic cut and orders Lefebvre to encircle the city. Consequently, on 20 March, General Jean-Adam Schramm – operating on Danzig’s eastern flank – leads 2,000 French troops onto the northern bank of the Vistula, and marches west on Weichselmunde. The small French task force succeeds in pushing the Prussian outposts back along the eastern Nehrung and into the fortress of Weichselmunde itself. Speedily reinforced by Lefebvre, Schramm then beats off a sortie from Danzig, and secures a position on the Nehrung north of Danzig: his right anchored on the Baltic, his left on the Vistula. The French stranglehold on the port is tightening. Now Lefebvre feels himself strong enough to open a regular siege.

By 1807 the basic method for beleaguering a city is well-established. The engineers on both sides know what to expect. First, the attackers will attempt to isolate the garrison by enforcing a blockade. Then, at a safe distance, an initial trench or ‘first parallel’ will be dug opposite a section of the city walls. Once completed, saps will advance from this trench until a ‘second parallel’ is completed, and then a third, and so on, until the walls are almost reached. Meanwhile, well-sited batteries will batter the walls facing the trenches, and when a breach is made, the city will be invited to surrender. If the invitation is refused, the attackers will issue from the trenches and storm the breach. Should the fortress fall, a time-honoured tradition – dating back to the Middle Ages – grants victors the ‘right’ to murder the garrison and plunder the town as ‘punishment’ for obliging them to suffer casualties by mounting an assault. So much for the theory.

28 February–1 June 1807: The Siege of Danzig II

Panoramic view of the Siege of Gdańsk by French forces in 1807.

In practice, Chasseloup – aided by his assistant, François Joseph Kirgener – is faced with a difficult task. Danzig is well-stocked, and as long as ships can reach it from the Baltic, the garrison will never starve or run short of ammunition. The city’s fortifications are sound, and its approaches covered by both natural and artificial obstacles on three sides. Left with little choice but to attack from the west, Chasseloup bites on granite, selecting the great bastion of the Hagelsberg as the focal point of his campaign. But to keep Kalkreuth and Bousmard off balance, a diversionary operation against the Bischofsberg will also be mounted. It will be dangerous work, especially as the trenches creep closer to the city and come within range of shot and shell hurled from the walls above.

On 2 April the ground has thawed enough for Chasseloup’s sappers to start digging opposite the Hagelsberg. This first trench or ‘parallel’ will eventually run for some 1,300 yards (1,200m). The following day sees a see-saw battle for possession of redoubts west of the city. After a bloody hand-to-hand contest, the garrison keeps control. Meanwhile, the digging continues, hampered by collapsing trenches and Kalkreuth’s decision to release dammed floodwaters onto the plain. By 8 April, a second parallel is opened and the sappers are exposed to enemy fire, as well as repeated sorties by the Danzig garrison. In fact, Kalkreuth is conducting a vigorous defence, mounting spoiling attacks on the siege works and disputing every inch of ground. Nevertheless, Chasseloup is determined the trenches must be pushed forward and siege works opposite the Bischofsberg begin. Lefebvre is uneasy about the campaign against the Bischofsberg, which slows the pace of the siege and uses up valuable men and materièl. But Chasseloup is insistent that both forts must be approached, to keep Kalkreuth guessing which one will be assaulted.

On 11 April, the Silesian fortress of Schweidnitz falls to Vandamme and its heavy guns sent north to the besiegers before Danzig. Two days later, Lefebvre receives reinforcements and repulses another sortie by the garrison. By 15 April the second parallel is completed west of Danzig: the besiegers are creeping closer to the city. And to the north, on the Nehrung, French troops under General Gardanne successfully advance along the Laake Canal to cut Kalkreuth’s communication with the sea. Meanwhile, staff officer, Louis Lejeune arrives at Lefebvre’s camp. Although technically an aide-de-camp to Marshal Berthier, Lejeune – a trained engineer – is acting as both a courier and an observer for an impatient Napoleon:

All the best engineer officers of the French Army were collected together under General Chasseloup at the Siege of Danzig, and the operations were conducted with great rapidity, though not fast enough to please the emperor, who, at a distance from the scene of action, did not realize that fresh obstacles were thrown in our way every day by the skill of the directors of the defence.’

On 20 April high winds and snowstorms halt operations before Danzig. But next day, the first big guns arrive at Lefebvre’s camp. Two days later, General Jean-Ambrose Lariboisière – commanding the French artillery – orders a twelve-hour bombardment of the city. Fifty-eight heavy guns open up, smashing buildings and igniting fires. Public morale crashes in a storm of panic, as the cannonades continue over successive days. Meanwhile, during the night of 25 April, Chasseloup’s engineers complete the third parallel before Danzig’s western defences. The besiegers are within musket-shot of the walls and sappers are smashing the palisades of redoubts protecting the city’s approaches. Kalkreuth launches a major counter-attack, and when it is repulsed, the Prussian general is invited to surrender. Kalkreuth refuses to capitulate and the bombardments continue. A few days later, General Gardanne takes the island of Holm on Danzig’s northern flank, killing or capturing the entire garrison. According to Petre: ‘The island was a most valuable prize; it was promptly fortified, and its guns turned against Danzig, the defences of which they took in reverse … The flying bridge connecting Danzig with the island was gallantly cut adrift by a miner named Jacquemart, under a heavy fire.’

But on 10 May, with Danzig encircled and an all-out assault imminent, a fleet of fifty-seven transports appears at the mouth of the Vistula, carrying some 7,000 Russian troops under General Kamenski (spelt ‘Kamenskoi’ in some sources, but no relation to the ex-commander-in-chief). Kamenski has been sent to save Kalkreuth’s skin, his task force sailing from Pillau, near Königsberg, in British ships. Kamenski, so Petre tells us, ‘disembarked on the 11th at Neufahrwasser. He was, till he landed, unaware of the loss of the island of Holm, which seriously compromised his plans.’ So much so, the Russian general resolves to stay-put and dig-in. This passivity plays into Lefebvre’s hands, giving the marshal time to call up Lannes (recovered from his Pultusk wound), at the head of a 15,000-strong ‘Reserve Army’, which includes Oudinot’s élite Grenadier Division.

At 4.00 a.m. on 15 May, Kamenski bestirs himself at last, marching south from Weichselmunde to meet Schramm and Gardanne on the plain north of Danzig. Advancing in four great columns led by Cossacks, Kamenski’s troops are in action within the hour, pushing back Frenchmen, Saxons and Poles. Soon after 5.00 a.m. Schramm is hotly engaged and giving ground. Kamenski pushes on, making repeated attacks, the fury of the fight increasing each minute. But just when a Russian breakthrough seems likely, Lannes’ leading column arrives to rescue the situation. Outnumbered, Kamenski’s force is driven back to the fort of Weichselmunde, leaving some 1,500 dead and wounded on the plain. Kalkreuth’s Prussians remain passive spectators, Kamenski’s offensive collapsing before effective support can be organized.

And so, with Kamenski’s survivors botded up at Weichselmunde, the siege resumes. Louis Lejeune survives the battle on the Nehrung, but brushes with death on his return to Lefebvre’s camp:

During the battle I rode a horse lent to me by Marshal Lefebvre, and on my way back to headquarters in the evening a ball from Bischofsberg shattered a rock beneath me, and the fragments killed my horse on the spot. I remained flat on my face on the ground for some time before I could get up. The effects of the shock and the pain of my bruises soon went off; I was not really wounded, and I was able to drag myself to headquarters, where the rejoicings over the victory soon quite restored me.’

Several days later, Lejeune describes the scene when a British corvette, the Dauntless, enters the Vistula, and sailing past Weichselmunde, attempts to deliver supplies to Kalkreuth’s incarcerated garrison:

on 19 May an English sloop of war with twenty-four guns tried to run the blockade and get into the town by way of an arm of the Vistula which winds through the meadows round Danzig. The bold commander of the vessel hoped to break down every obstacle with discharges of grape shot from his cannon. He had actually got within range of the town, having met with no more formidable obstacles than a few simple booms, which were easily broken through. He was not, however, prepared for the sudden attack opened upon him by several companies of our sharpshooters, who rushed across the meadows and fired a volley into the ship from both sides of the stream, mowing down the sailors and bringing the sloop to a standstill. Without helmsmen, and with sails flapping helplessly, the vessel drifted to the side of the stream and grounded; the soldiers sprang on board and took 150 prisoners as well as the valuable cargo of weapons, ammunition, and provisions which the commander had intended for the use of the garrison of the beleaguered city.’

Cut off from the sea, the Danzig garrison is doomed, and on 20 May Kalkreuth opens tentative peace negotiations. He is offered honourable, even generous, terms by Lefebvre – a sign, perhaps, of Napoleon’s need to close the siege quickly – including the right to march his garrison out of the city, ‘with arms and bag-gage, drums beating, colours flying, matches lighted, with two pieces of light artillery, six pounders, and their ammunition waggons, each drawn by six horses.’ Furthermore, a safe passage is guaranteed to Kalkreuth’s officers, on condition they swear not to bear arms against France for twelve months from the date of surrender. Kalkreuth signs, but inserts a clause stipulating that capitulation will only come into effect if the city is not relieved by noon on 26 May.

But Lefebvre – running out of patience and fearful of another Allied attempt to relieve the city – decides to storm Danzig as soon as possible, as described by Louis Lejeune:

Marshal Lefebvre was as impatient as we were to get into the town and to put an end to the tedious operations … One day the marshal, angry at all the delays, took me by the arm and began banging with his fist at the base of a wall, pierced by the sap, shouting in his Alsatian brogue, “Make a hole here, and I’ll be the first to go through it.” Meanwhile the walls were falling under our bombardment, and a practicable breach had at last just been made. Troops were ready for the assault, and the decisive blow was to be struck the next morning …’

On 23 May, however, events take an unexpected turn: Kamenski’s Russians re-embark at Weichselmunde and sail back to Pillau, while the ethnic Poles among the Prussian garrison start to desert. Then, Danzig’s shopkeepers appear at the city gates, setting up stalls and selling wine to Lefebvre’s troops at thirty-two sous a bottle. It is clear everyone is sick of the siege. Soon the soldiers of both sides are fraternizing, merrily getting drunk together. Finally, the arrival of Marshal Mortier with a further 12,000 French troops decides the issue and Kalkreuth announces his desire to quit. Thus, Danzig is spared the trauma of a bloody assault, and on 27 May the defenders march out and the besiegers march in, led by Chasseloup’s sappers.

In his official report to Frederick William, Kalkreuth blames mass desertion for the fall of Danzig: though it is only after the capitulation that large numbers – some 2,000 Pomeranian Poles forced to fight for Prussia – go over to the French. But it is reasonable to assume that falling morale – rather than dwindling numbers or supplies – is a factor in the Prussian surrender, as Petre notes:

From famine or shortness of supplies or ammunition the garrison had never suffered. Enormous quantities of stores of every description remained in the place, and were of the utmost service to the French. Whether Kalkreuth should not have held out longer is a moot point. The Hagelsberg would probably have been stormed with great slaughter on both sides …’

And so, despite orders from Frederick William to defend Danzig to the last, Kalkreuth opts to save lives by capitulating in the face of lengthening odds. He has lost some 3,000 men during the siege from sickness and enemy action. Among the dead is engineer Bousmard, killed by his own countrymen. But Kalkreuth is not disgraced, the Prussian king quickly promoting him to field marshal. Equally gratifying – perhaps more so – is public praise from Napoleon, who considers Kalkreuth’s defence of Danzig masterly.

But then, Napoleon could afford to be generous to his enemies. In fact, with Danzig’s coffers at his mercy, he could afford to be generous to everyone, each soldier of X Corps being awarded a bonus of 10 francs. Lefebvre, meanwhile, is sent a box of chocolates. The gruff marshal – perhaps baffled at first – is delighted to find 300 banknotes inside, each of 1,000 francs denomination (according to Blond, soldiers will refer to cash as ‘Danzig chocolate’ for years to come). A year later, Napoleon will make Lefevbre duke of Danzig, with a gratuity of two and a half millions. Meanwhile, having scored a major military, political and financial coup at the cost of some 6,000 men (1,500 of them Poles), a gleeful Napoleon announces the fall of Danzig in his 67th Bulletin of 29 May 1807:

Danzig has capitulated. That fine city is in our possession. Eight hundred pieces of artillery, magazines of every kind, more than 500,000 quintals of grain, well-stored cellars, immense collections of clothing and spices; great resources of every kind for the army … Marshal Lefebvre has braved all; he has animated with the same spirit the Saxons, the Poles, the troops of Baden, and has made them all conduce to his end.’

The Siege of Smolensk 1632-33

Mikhail Shein surrendering to the Poles in Smolensk

Smolensk War: Smolensk Voivodeship, showing in red the disputed territory.

Diplomatic maneuvering in Stockholm and the Crimea completed Russia’s war preparations. Gustaphus Adolphus had recently intervened in the Thirty Years War as an ally of the Protestant princes and consequently welcomed Russia’s proposed attack on Poland, hoping that it would secure his Livonian flank. Negotiations with the Tatars, although less smooth, finally resulted in the Khanate’s promise of neutrality.

Confident that Russia was ready, Filaret made his final choice for war when he learned of the sudden death of King Zygmunt III in April 1632. A Poland distracted by the quarrels and intrigues of an interregnum, Filaret reasoned, would be more vulnerable than ever. Accordingly Moscow ordered the concentration of the troops of foreign formation and commanded the cavalry troops to “ready themselves for service, assemble supplies, and feed their horses.” Voevody (district military leaders) and namestniki (provincial viceroys) were ordered to cooperate with the recruiting officers who would shortly arrive to verify the musters of the local nobility. All those processes required time. At last, by August the Muscovite state had at its disposal 29,000 troops and 158 guns. Overall command rested with the aged boyar Mikhail Borisovich Shein. Shein’s qualifications for his post were his close association with Filaret (the two men hand endured Polish captivity together), his prestige as a hero of the Smuta and his intimate knowledge of the fortress of Smolensk (as commandant of the garrison there during the Polish siege of 1609–11).

A nakaz, an instruction issued in the name of the tsar, spelled out for Shein the general objectives of the war and the overall strategy he was to follow in their pursuit. Russia’s goals were in fact modestly limited to the reconquest of the territories that had been lost to Poland in 1618. Russia’s forces were supposed to capture Dorogobuzh and as many other frontier outposts as they could, as quickly as possible. Simultaneously, they were to issue proclamations calling on the Orthodox subjects of the Poles to rise in rebellion. Then they were to move briskly to invest and take the important town of Smolensk, some 45 miles southwest of Dorogobuzh. Possession of Smolensk was critical to Muscovy’s plan for the entire campaign. The lands Russia wanted to reacquire lay roughly within the oval described by the Dniepr river to the west and Desna to the east. Smolensk was located on the Dniepr at the northern end of the oval, less than 30 miles from the headwaters of the Desna.

The war began splendidly for the Muscovites. By mid-October 1632, Dorogobuzh and twenty other frontier forts were in Russian hands. On October 18, Shein and the main army arrived at the outskirts of Smolensk and prepared to besiege it.

To seize Smolensk was, however, no easy matter, for the town was protected by series of daunting natural and man-made obstacles. The core of the city was ringed by a wall almost 50 feet high and 15 feet thick. Thirty-eight bastions furthered strengthened this defense. Although those fortifications had been considerably damaged during the 1609–11 siege, the Poles had recently devoted great attention to their repair. They had augmented them by erecting a five-bastion outwork to the west of the city (known as King Zygmunt’s fort), which was furnished with its own artillery and subterranean secret passages to facilitate sorties and countermining. To the north the city was defended by the Dniepr and to the east by a flooded marsh. The southern side of the city consequently offered the most promising approach for an assault, but here the Poles had build a strong, palisaded earthen rampart. The garrison, under the Polish voevod Stanislaw, was also relatively strong, comprising 600 regular infantry, 600 regular cavalry, and 250 town Cossacks. Stanislaw could rely on the townspeople to man the walls in a pinch and could also enlist the services of several hundred nobles of the local levy, who, armed and mounted, had taken refuge within the town of Smolensk at the news of the Muscovite advance.

Smolensk thus confronted Shein with formidable military problems: a resolute garrison, strong fortifications, and natural obstacles. Shein’s troop dispositions were commendable for prudence, economy, and foresight. He recognized that the same natural obstacles (the Dniepr, the flooded marsh) that protected the Poles to the north and east also hemmed them in, serving as natural siege works. That made a complete set of lines of countervallation unnecessary. Shein therefore deployed his troops to achieve three purposes: the possession of all tactically significant positions, such as patches of high ground around the city; the protection of his own lines of communication, supply, and retreat; and defense against potential relief columns. He ordered Colonel Mattison to occupy the Pokrowska Hill due north of the town of Smolensk on the opposite side of the Dniepr. The site was clearly the one most suitable for the emplacement of artillery batteries. Due west of the city Shein stationed the formations of Prince Prozorovskii. Prozorovskii, whose back was to the Dniepr, enclosed the rest of his camp with an enormous half-circle of earthworks (the wall alone was over 30 feet high). His purpose was both to menace the Polish ramparts on his right flank and to serve as the first line of defense against any Polish army of relief coming from the west. Between Prozorovskii and the walls of Smolensk, Shein placed van Damm’s infantry and d’Ebert’s heavy cavalry. Colonel Alexander Lesly, Colonel Thomas Sanderson, and Colonel Tobias

Unzen, in command of the main body of Russian forces (almost nine thousand men) positioned themselves along the perimeter of the enemy’s palisades to the south. To the east Karl Jacob and one thousand Russian infantry of new formation formed a screen behind the flooded marsh. Two and a half miles farther east, in a pocket formed by the bend in the Dniepr, was Shein’s own fortified camp. Shein’s camp protected not only the army’s wagon trains and magazines, but also two pontoon bridges the Muscovites had erected across the Dniepr to secure communications with Dorogobuzh, where the reserves of food were stockpiled.

Those arrangements were certainly intelligent, yet Shein from the beginning was incommoded by a lack of artillery. Heavy rains in the late spring and early summer of 1632 had turned the roads to mud. In the interests of surprise, Shein had decided to advance on Dorogobuzh, leaving most of his heavier guns behind. Thus the Muscovites had only seventy mostly light artillery pieces on hand in October. The rest of the field artillery was not delivered to Shein until the end of the year. It took until March of 1633 (five months into the siege) for the Russians to drag the nineteen heavy siege guns from their arsenal in Moscow to Shein’s camp on the Dniepr. Part of the delay resulted from the massive size and weight of the siege pieces: more than 450 wagons were required to carry the guns, the shot, and the powder to the theater of war; the two largest guns fired projectiles weighing about 200 pounds.

Without heavy guns, and siege pieces in particular, Shein was unable to effect a close blockade of Smolensk. The Poles profited hugely from this. News of the siege of Smolensk reached Warsaw by early November. Within two weeks the Diet appropriated money to put a 23,000-man crown army into the field. In the meantime the Grand Hetman of Lithuania, Prince Krzysztof Radziwill, mustered elements of the separate Lithuanian army and advanced on Smolensk himself. Although Radziwill did not have enough troops to raise the siege unaided, he was able to bring Smolensk some succor. By means of two night operations in March of 1633 he broke through Shein’s lines and delivered food, munitions, and more than a thousand reinforcements to the beleaguered town. That, however, was the limit of Radziwill’s capability. Thereafter he withdrew from the city and engaged in guerrilla attacks on the Muscovite camps. Those attacks were more annoyances than serious threats.

By April the Russians had demolished the earthen ramparts the Poles had constructed south of the city. Shein now trained his guns on the walls of Smolensk itself in the hope of achieving a breach. Simultaneously he ordered that two mines be dug: one west from the camp of Jacob; and one northwest from Lesly’s position to the Malaclowski gate. By mid-July, Muscovite gunners had reduced one section of wall almost 100 feet broad to rubble, while Lesly’s sappers, under the direction of chief engineer David Nichol, had succeeded in implacing in another section a gigantic bomb of twenty-four powder kegs. On the appointed day the mine went off with such concussive force that tons of rock and timber were catapulted into the ranks of the Muscovite soldiers, who had been assembled too close to the wall for safety. In addition to the hundreds of casualties inflicted on the infantry, the blast also took the lives of thirty miners, who had been unable to scramble out of the tunnel in time. Still worse, Shein was not even able to exploit the 400-foot breach the mine had created, because the Polish defenders improvised hasty (but nonetheless substantial) barricades from the debris. The Russians consequently had no choice but to break off their attack.

They never got a chance at a second assault. In part as a response to the gravity of the military emergency, the Polish and Lithuanian magnates in Warsaw had composed their differences and had chosen the son of the deceased monarch as Poland’s new king. On August 23, 1633, King Wladyslaw IV arrived at Smolensk at the head of 23,000 men. From that point on the campaign was an unbroken litany of Muscovite military disasters.

On September 7 Wladyslaw launched diversionary attacks against both Mattison and Prozorovskii that made possible the conveyance of still more men and supplies into Smolensk. On September 21, despite Russian countermeasures, the Poles succeeded in smashing Mattison’s defensive works to the north and west. Believing that the Pokrowska hill was now untenable, Shein ordered it evacuated.

The siege of Smolensk had effectively been lifted. The Muscovite army was now split in two; almost 10 miles separated Shein from the isolated detachments still holding positions west of Smolensk. The destruction of van Damm, d’Ebert, and Prozorvoskii was now Wladyslaw’s top priority. On the night of September 27 the Poles began a series of nonstop assaults. Powerless to resist the pressure and aware that certain of his foreign troops had already deserted to the enemy, in early October Shein ordered Prozorovskii to abandon his enormous fort and retire to the main Russian camp downriver. This retreat entailed leaving tons of guns, powder, and supplies behind. Prozorovskii tried to blow up this military equipment prior to his departure, but a sudden downpour unfortunately extinguished the fuses and delivered his arsenal to the Polish king intact.

Japanese Siege Weapons

Early Fortifications

Although fortifications were constructed in Japan prior to the feudal period, frequent conflicts associated with warrior ascendancy inspired new, distinctive temporary architectural forms as well as more lasting structures to protect against military attack.

Up to the beginning of the feudal era, three forms of fortifications were built, according to archaeologists. The grid-pattern city form was inspired by Chinese planning precedents, and included gates or walled enclosures. Mountain fortresses appear to be an indigenous form, and were typical of remote areas. Plateaus or plains often utilized the palisade, a semi-permanent defense. Typical defenses included a rampart, a ditch, and a palisade. Grid-pattern cities were surrounded by walls that served as a demarcation point rather than as true protection, and eventually such barriers disappeared. Remains of mountain fortresses found in northern Kyushu were a more effective means of protection, and may have belonged to ancient kingdoms that ruled parts of Japan in early times. Palisades were often constructed in the northeastern areas of the main island of Honshu. Although excavations have revealed only partial remains of such structures, they are significant since they offer prototypes for medieval fortifications.

Until the end of the Kamakura period, most fortresses built in Japan were relatively simple, and were designed for a particular siege or campaign. Terms such as shiro and jokaku (translated in later eras as “castle”) appear frequently in 12th- and 13thcentury accounts of warfare, but in the Kamakura era, these terms refer to temporary fortifications. Early medieval defense structures were more like barricades than buildings, and were not intended to house soldiers for extended periods. However, such fortifications could be elaborate and large in scale.

Many extant screens depict scenes from Tale of the Heike, the famous Japanese historical saga of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Its twelve volumes relate the long narrative of the rise and fall of two rival warrior clans, the Genji (or Minamoto) and the Heike (or Taira). This screen illustrates famous episodes from the saga, including the battle at Ichi-no-tani Mountain and the death of Taira no Atsumori at Yashima.

Literary and pictorial accounts confirm that extensive planning and earthworks projects were utilized throughout the medieval era for major battles. For instance, the defense works at Ichinotani erected by the Taira clan in 1184 included boulders topped by thick logs, a double row of shields, and turrets with openings for shooting. Even if descriptions of such structures taken from accounts of the Gempei War dating to the late Kamakura era exaggerate these defenses, they capture the labor, time, and ingenuity involved in such efforts.

As wartime construction continued, Japanese military architects became skilled in adapting civilian structures that offered multiple options for warrior defenses. Composite barriers utilizing timber and other materials that protected crops from intruders and animals were helpful in subduing infantry offenses. Military architects familiar with agricultural irrigation principles constructed ditches and moats to deter mounted troops. In sum, military construction of the early medieval period involved tailoring familiar forms to warrior needs to provide an initial line of defense.

Some temporary construction types afforded flexibility and served well in both offensive and defensive situations. Kaidate (shield walls) and sakamogi (brush barricades; literally “stacked wood”) were both in common use by the 13th century. Kaidate, formed of rows of standing shields, had been employed since the end of the Asuka period (eighth century), and were valuable as portable field fortifications. Sakamogi, which were most likely inspired by barriers for livestock, were useful in several contexts as well. These deceptively simple structures continued to be effective in the age of gunpowder as they remained difficult to cross and also resisted explosive shells. Barriers made of shields could be made more effective through deployment atop, or in front of, another defensive form. However, as the power of the Ashikaga shoguns declined in the Northern and Southern Courts era, combat conditions changed, and samurai clans confronted elevated fortresses where warriors on horseback were ineffective.

Azuchi-Momoyama- and Edo-Period Castles

After the feudal system was reorganized by the Tokugawa shogunate, castles (shiro) were erected in the center of a daimyo’s domain, so they would be easily accessible. Without natural defenses such as hills and plateaus, these structures required additional protection compared with the elevated shiro built during the late Muromachi and Momoyama periods. For security, builders developed walls of enormous boulders that often had smooth surfaces that would be difficult to scale. Moats (hori) also provided a means to deter an attacking force.

The castle was not only a means of defense, but also served as the hub of administration and commerce in the domain. Castles housed the domain lord and chief retainers. Towns developed around the structures, called “towns beneath the castle” (jokamachi) since the castle was often elevated, and both literally and figuratively overshadowed all other buildings nearby. Merchants and artisans became an important aspect of life in these castle communities, as daimyo and their retainers had more time and disposable income than in the past. Further, the rise of fashion and interest in display (in the sense of decoration and adornment) that arose in the cosmopolitan Edo period made it necessary for members of the warrior class to keep up appearances, and this led to healthy economic growth even in provincial castle towns.


In the late Kamakura and early Muromachi eras, locally powerful landholders did not yet have the resources to commission and train considerable numbers of mounted warriors. At this stage, extensive forces designed for long-distance campaigns were unnecessary as well, since battles in the provinces often culminated in localized sieges to gain control of a strategically positioned castle. Thus significant numbers of well-trained foot soldiers were necessary to enter the territory of an opponent and scale his fortress. While swordsmanship began to gain prominence among samurai skills in the early medieval era, the primary warrior weapon among foot soldiers was a long polemounted arm called naginata, and this was supplemented by archery. Military drills using polearms involved learning to pull a cavalryman from his mount and engage him in close-range combat. Other practical applications of such weapons included thrusting, or throwing, a spear or other polearms in order to hit a distant target. Archers and infantry equipped with spears were also trained to send arrows over castle walls to cover the approach of foot soldiers who sought to scale the walls and thereby gain access to the castle.


Siege Warfare

Japanese castles were adapted to siege warfare. Again the similarities between Western and Eastern warfare are evident and the sophistication of Japanese siege-craft is obvious.

If a samurai is on the defending force, the following items are things he would be familiar with as he moved in and around the castle.

Arrow and Gun Ports

Inset into the walls of castle defenses are small holes—they are normally rectangular, circular or triangular. Positioned at different heights, the defenders use them to shoot out over the field of battle. However, shinobi creep up to these apertures and fire burning arrows and flash arrows through them into the interior of the castle grounds to discover details about the interior layout. In addition to this, they would throw in hand grenades to kill those shooting out at the opposition.

Stanchions, Walkways and Shields

Along the inside of castle walls, wooden stanchions and frames would support multiple levels of walkways—similar to modern day scaffolding. Samurai would use these levels from which to shoot outward, either through arrow and gun ports or over the tops of castle battlements from between shields. In addition to this, bridges that could be retracted were set up at various positions; if the enemy breached the defenses these walkways could be retracted, allowing defending samurai to kill the enemy from the opposite side.

Killing Zones

Walls, turrets and enclosures were created to form killing grounds and zones, where the defending army could attack the enemy with crossfire and pin them into a corner and halt movement.

Turrets and Palisades

As discussed before, the castles of the early Sengoku Period and before were generally smaller; walls could be protected by turret towers, wooden shields and semipermanent buildings that were made of wood and were built along the tops of walls. Shinobi had various mixtures that would set fire to these, fires that would be difficult to extinguish, helping to break through the castle defenses.

Allied Help

A defending castle could set up a series of fire beacons and send messenger relays to request allied forces to counter the siege. Sometimes the relieving force could surround the besiegers, forcing them to defend their own rear and fight on two fronts.

Sallies and Sorties

The castle would send out night raids and attacks when they thought that the time was right. They may even evacuate a castle from an non-besieged section—if any—through gates and ports. Shinobi were trained to watch the smoke rising from castles. If the smoke from cooking fires and kitchens was too much, too little, or later than normal, a shinobi would know that the enemy had either started to evacuate or that they were preparing extra food for those going on night raids or that the food stores were diminishing. All of which was information the shinobi would pass on to his commander.

Those who were attacking the castle had certain weapons and tools to help degrade the height and protection advantages of the defenders.

Trench Warfare

Trenches at their smallest were three feet deep with an earth mound on the top of around two feet; this total of five feet covered the average height of a samurai. The closer to the castle the trench lines were the deeper they had to be dug, as arrows could be shot into the defenses from such an angle.

Towers and Constructed Turrets

As discussed previously, the enemy battle camp had collapsible turrets and towers; these were erected to see enemy troop movements and shinobi.

Battering Rams

Covered rams on wheels were used to take down castle doors and break open sections of defenses.

Shields and Walls on Wheels

Small platforms were placed on low carts with walls erected on the front. These walls had shooting ports and would be rolled into place, and from here attacking samurai could shoot at the enemy. This included walls mounted on arms that could be raised so that samurai could shoot out from below them and other such contraptions.

Shields, Bamboo Fences and Bundles

Human-sized wooden shields that stood erect with the help of a hinged single leg would protect samurai. In addition to this, bamboo was tied in large bundles and shooting ports were cut out of the middle. These bundles could be leaned against waist-height temporary fences so that samurai could shoot from behind cover.

Cannon and Fire

Cannon were used to launch fire and incendiary weapons and shot. Kajutsu—“the skills of fire”—included long-range rockets, flares and anything that causes flames in the enemy camp. Some shinobi were essentially agents who moved into the enemy castle and made sure that fires were set from within. One shinobi trick was to set a fire away from the main target to distract the defenders from the actual target and then to move on with their initial aim of setting fire to more important things like the main compound.


Tunneling was undertaken to undermine the enemy defenses. If done in secret and not on a war front, the tunnel had to start far from the target, or start from inside a nearby house. To discover if tunneling was taking place, empty barrels would be set into the ground to listen for mining below.

Moat Crossing Skills

Portable bridges and temporary structures were used to cross rivers and bridges. The shinobi’s task was to discover the length, width and depth of a moat and report the dimensions, or to cross it in secret at night.

On the whole, the samurai castle was a place of residence and the target of a siege. The samurai would defend and attack castles with ingenious tricks and tactics and shinobi on both sides would come and go, stealing information or setting fires to things, something that was quite normal in life as a samurai.