Book Review: Siege: Castles at War (Mark Donnelly and Daniel Diehl) : MHQ | HistoryNet MENU

Book Review: Siege: Castles at War (Mark Donnelly and Daniel Diehl) : MHQ

8/12/2001 • MHQ Reviews, Reviews

Siege: Castles at War, by Mark Donnelly and Daniel Diehl, Taylor Publishing, $29.95.

This book is a credible attempt to educate laymen in the fundamentals of medieval European siege warfare. The work sprang from the experience of its authors during their research for a Discovery Channel television show on the subject. Mark Donnelly and Daniel Diehl had to study many academic sources to produce a script about castle warfare, and during that process they became convinced of the need for a book on the subject for the general reader.

Siege: Castles at War contains contemporary accounts of sieges, descriptions of the evolution of castle construction, explanations of the politics and economics that created and sustained castle garrisons and siege forces, and the reasons for the decline of castles. The authors use a fictitious siege as a vehicle to explain the factors that characterized siege warfare and the use of castles to create and preserve regional power.

Despite its limited length, the book has a broad scope. It begins its study of siege and castle warfare with biblical accounts, thirteenth- and fourteenth-century b.c. Greek narratives, and the introduction of Roman siege weapons.

The authors then explain the growth and development of European wooden defensive works between the sixth and tenth centuries. Motte and bailey castles constructed of earth and timber are discussed, as well as the resumption of stone castle construction in the eleventh century. The Hundred Years’ War (1337­1453) and its effect on castles and sieges are explained in detail, and a lengthy discussion of siege theory and tactics is included.

The authors discuss the more vital facets of castle warfare in turn. This part of the book begins with negotiations and extends to the use of artillery and siege engines, followed by explanations of ramming, sapping, and mining. Donnelly and Diehl include depictions and discussions of siege towers, and they weigh the advantages and disadvantages of starving the defenders of a besieged castle. This section concludes with a chapter on the cannon and gunpowder revolution.

The final part of the book deals with the decline of the castle. Although Diehl and Donnelly note that the development of gunpowder and the cannon played a significant role in the castle’s demise, they offer the multifaceted weakening of feudalism as the primary cause of the decline and disappearance of castle warfare in Europe. The growth and pervasive influence of a mercantile economy elevated the importance of the city, a phenomenon that robbed both the noble and his seat of residence of power. The authors conclude that power follows money.

Rod Paschall

 

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