The Medieval Siege Society hosts the siege of Herstmonceux Castle with commentary by Mr. Jim Marsh
Medieval sieges could be long and drawn-out affairs, and gave birth to a surprising range of techniques in order to bring about successful conclusions: techniques such as the use of underground mining, germ and chemical warfare (you thought this was something new? We haven't even reached the year 1500 yet).
While heavy weapons such as battering rams, catapults, trebuchets and siege towers would try to smash down the walls, mining engineers would beaver away underground, digging tunnels either to plant explosives against the castle walls or to undermine the foundations. Wells would be poisoned, and dead animals hurled in amongst the defenders to add to the stench, disease and mayhem inside the besieged garrison. Most sieges would crumble as conditions got worse inside, but that might take time and maintaining an army in the field has never been a cheap business, even then.
Siege encampments for the attacking forces would grow up like complete villages some distance from the main action, and today at Herstmonceux there is an opportunity to experience life as it might have been at the time of one such medieval siege. The year is 1466, and the War of the Roses - the struggle between the great houses of York and Lancaster - is drawing to a close. But there is no peace yet.
The Yorkist king - Edward IV - sits on the throne, but his bitter Lancastrian rival - Henry VI - is again gathering forces in the north. Trouble is brewing. Edward's most-trusted advisor, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, is becoming frustrated at the lack of power given to him by Edward. Now this supposedly-loyal Yorkist is being wooed by the Lancastrians.
Also being wooed at the moment is one Alice Fitzhugh, niece of the great Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville. And who should be doing the wooing, but young Johnny Fiennes, son of Lord Dacre, the owner of Herstmonceux castle. The good lord counts himself among the staunchest supporters of King Edward, and is deeply suspicious of the treacherous Nevilles. He fears - rightly, as it happens - that the slimy Neville will soon betray the King for Henry and the Lancastrian cause.
What to do? Well, firstly ban the marriage. The boy is not yet over the age where he can marry without parental consent. "We'll not have any of those Lancastrians in this family,' reckons Fiennes Senior.
Or will he? Perhaps he won't have a choice. Watch today as the two opposing forces are ranged against each other outside the mighty walls of Herstmonceux Castle: on the one side Lord Dacre, determined to stop the marriage at all costs. On the other the Warwick/Nevilles and their forces, equally sure that the marriage should take place. Can the matter be settled peacefully? or will blood have to be drawn?