Siege Warfare: Fortress in the Early Modern World, 1494-1660 ( vol 1 )

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Siege warfare was of the upmost importance during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, but despite this it remains comparatively overlooked and neglected in the historiography. Meditations is a broad work, unlike many other contemporary military manuals.

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For instance, Meditations shows an appreciation of the mental strain and trauma siege warfare caused. What becomes clear after an examination of the major themes of Meditations is that siege warfare was seen as highly significant by those involved in the wars and deserves a more serious and in-depth level of research by historians. George Turner is currently studying for a Masters in History at the University of Nottingham, specialising in early seventeenth century English history, having previously completed a BA at Nottingham in History with Contemporary Chinese Studies.

This article is based around his undergraduate dissertation on siege warfare in England in the s. Download the PDF of this article here. During the English Civil Wars of the s and s, siege warfare was a central aspect, which has nonetheless been overlooked by the historiography.

Often the major focus of historians of the wars has been major battles such as Marston Moor and Naseby; important sieges such as Newark and Colchester get little attention. Barbara Donagan states that it was in sieges that the military and civilian spheres began to merge — many sieges took place in garrisoned towns, and even sieges of country houses had an impact on local communities. My approach to siege warfare in civil war England has been influenced by the recent trend of third-wave military history, which considers the culture and cultural impact of war.

Humphrey Peake was a clergyman based primarily in Kent, whom, in the preface of Meditations , shows his royalist alignment. The Alumni Cantabrigienses puts his date of birth in , though the registers of his local parish reveal only one Humphrey Peake born in the s, specifically It is a thorough, in-depth examination of siege warfare in the style of a military manual.

How Peake came to have such knowledge of sieges with no apparent military experience is unknown. The fortification of Canterbury in may have allowed him to attain some information, and Fiona McCall raises the possibly of Peake being in Oxford while it was besieged, being Doctor of Divinity in the city in Robert c. Manuals by the likes of Thomas Venn and David Papillon are both technical and matter-of-fact, including diagrams, figures, charts and specific examples.

It pays attention to morale, exhaustion and the psychological impact of being under siege. Even the chapters on weapons and tactics include long exposition on religion or themes like bravery, as in the chapter on petards. It is a vital source in understanding both the military and socio-economic aspects of siege warfare, as well as its impact on English society. Despite this, Meditations has been misunderstood and overlooked by historians. Carlton wrongly calls it a sermon despite it being a military manual, while McCall only briefly touches on Peake.

To contextualise Meditations , I shall consider sieges in England between and due to this being the area where Peake would likely have the most experience. The experiences of non-besieged garrisons — such as Newport Pagnell — will also be of interest. In terms of sources, I will draw frequently from contemporary printed accounts. Some brief context on the background of siege-craft in England prior to the civil wars is required to enhance our understanding of what took place after In terms of fortification, even the most modern garrisons like Portsmouth dated back to the mid-sixteenth century and were thus in a state of disrepair by Meditations is an essential work in comprehending the cultural impact siege warfare had on English society in the mid-seventeenth century and beyond.

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  • Like his writings on weapons though, Peake does not approach it from a technical standpoint, instead demonstrating the ways in which sieges led to pragmatism prevailing over cultural norms. The former suggests that supplies were low, with lead having to be replaced with other metals that would weaken the bullet and make it more likely to break apart on impact which would naturally incur the disgusted reactions of Fairfax.

    Donagan does however raise the point that many poisoned bullets were simply homemade bullets that lacked the refinement of professionally-made ones, rather than the product of a conscious decision to inflict more damage. A tactic often used in sieges was the firing of buildings around a garrison. Peake writes how, along with felling trees, this was necessary for maintaining a suitable line of sight. It could be that years of war made him more pragmatic and willing to make sacrifices.

    Thus, while Peake does not reveal much about the practical usage of weapons in sieges, he does enhance our understanding of the impact they had on culture and discourse in English society. Peake is aware of the physiological consequences of exhaustion, a view shared by Angier. He suggests taking time to mourn, recharge and recover from the stresses of combat. Morale could be boosted during a successful siege by news from deserters of those inside the garrison, as happened at Basing House.

    Peake found that of paramount importance for a leader was the ability to instil discipline. Peake also stresses the importance of commanders acting justly, lest soldiers outright reject orders as happened at Gloucester. One psychological aspect of sieges that Peake overlooks is the morale of civilians in garrisons, which was important due to the converging of military and civilian spheres that Donagan highlights. Local populations were often at odds with the military governments of garrisons, a prime example being Colchester.

    Despite the initial hopes of Charles Lucas to win over the locals, after weeks of close siege, anger was directed at commanders such as the earl of Norwich through protests and petitions. As underlined above, Meditations frequently interprets sieges as deserving punishments from God for sins committed. This could be due to the contemporary perception amongst royalists, like Peake, of parliamentarianism being prevalent in urban areas, with Peake showing notable hostility to towns and cities.

    Meditations also discusses sieges in the wider context. Though, more notable still is what Peake omits, especially disease, which receives only tacit acknowledgement despite its high presence in sieges. His approach to fortification strays from the technical advice of the likes of Papillon in favour of considering the economic cost. Sieges also had a non-economic impact on society, becoming entrenched in discourse and memory during and after the civil wars, thus providing insight as to why Peake likely wrote Meditations.

    Another difference with Papillon on this subject relates to alcohol consumption in sieges. Peake clearly believes that sieges are a punishment from God for specific sins committed in a garrison, a common one being drunkenness. Sieges saw the perfect conditions for disease to spread, and while the risk of disease could sometimes be lessened, often sickness was endemic and spread easily between military and civilian populations.

    One example of Peake addressing economic concerns is his chapter on fortification. Unlike Papillon, Peake talks more of the expense of fortifications and their effect on morale than of how to construct them. It shows the reaction to the severe economic cost of fortifications and suggests notable resistance to construction, as well as the importance of keeping soldiers busy to avoid mutiny or desertion. The considerable costs of fortification were raised primarily through taxes, a subject Peake does not mention.

    Nevertheless, an examination of the wider economic burden of sieges puts Meditations into context and furthers our understanding. To raise these funds, garrison commanders could be especially burdensome. The governor of Aylesbury boasts he was able to raise the same amount of money in 15 days that would take Parliament 15 weeks, and while likely an exaggeration, this demonstrates that commanders were willing to squeeze surrounding areas.

    Hence sieges had an economic impact both during and after the civil wars. As the examples of York, Exeter and Bristol show, the economic impact of siege warfare was felt for years, leading to it also affecting aspects of popular culture and discourse and becoming entrenched in memory following the civil wars in ways that can still be seen today. This in part demonstrates why Peake came to write Meditations. Even those not in sieges would have been aware of them, not only due to rapidly-expanding print media and journalism, but also through sermons. Take Great Yarmouth for example, which showed deep-seated hostility to being fortified lest it lead to a siege.

    But even during the Second Civil War the town remained ardently opposed. Repeated letters from Parliament encouraged Yarmouth to develop its fortifications, invoking the ongoing siege at Colchester as a warning, yet Yarmouth still held firm. The siege of Colchester, for example, left a deep impact on the surrounding area.

    The hunger felt in the siege is referenced in a sermon nearly a decade later, and the poor weather endured there was still memorable as late as Attempts were also made to forget sieges rather than remember them. In many cases, castles and fortifications were slighted to remove traumatic memories, tying into a wider reluctance to discuss the war once it was over.

    EPrints on Cultural Heritage

    Evidently, some things still held firm despite the pressures of war. While he may not have had the military expertise of the likes of Papillon and Venn, Peake offers insight in other areas. The psychological impact of siege warfare, for example, is a running theme. The repeated mentions of besieged populations being somehow deserving of what Peake sees as their divine punishment, and thus not worthy of sympathy, is indicative of the impact sieges had on society as sieges were clearly a serious matter that people felt needed to be explained and justified in religious terms.

    While lacking detailed military strategy or instructions, the general messages of being virtuous, prepared, and temperate which is found in Meditations would have been highly applicable to sieges.


    Siege warfare would have been a subject that was both topical and understood by many due to the vast impact of sieges, and the knowledge and awareness of siege warfare due to hearing of events in continental Europe. Socially, sieges persisted in popular culture — such as in Essex — for decades after the end of the wars, with the heavy economic burden of maintaining garrisons meaning that even for those not in or close to a besieged garrison the impact of siege warfare would have been felt. Efforts to slight castles and fortifications after the war also show the traumatic memories that siege warfare left behind, and the general feeling that it should not be repeated, something both Harrington and Barratt touch upon.

    Clearly a book which triggered traumatic memories was unlikely to be a bestseller. Though evidently aware of this trauma, Peake still intended to publish his book regardless. Perhaps he intended it to assist said trauma, with suggestions given, for example, on how to cope with the stress of combat.

    Fortifications of the Great Siege

    Meditations thus demonstrates the impact of siege warfare on civil war England. Sieges impacted almost everyone economically, challenged pre-existing religious and military norms, and left long-lasting traumatic memories still visible today in the slighted castles and fortifications across England. The fact Peake was writing a book like Meditations also underlines the large degree to which siege warfare was seen as being of the utmost importance during the civil wars, even if its enactment did not match the scale of its continental counterparts.

    Meditations enhances our understanding of not only military, but also religious, social, cultural and economic history. More widely, this underlines how overlooked siege warfare has been by historians, with Meditations suggesting sieges made a considerable impact on society. Further research is needed not only into siege warfare during the wars, but the long-lasting impact it had on English society and, indeed, the societies of the other nations involved in the civil wars who also experienced siege warfare.

    A move away from the traditional operational history of the likes of Young and Emberton, and a greater appreciation of the principles of New Military History in accounting for the social and economic factors of siege warfare would be of historiographical benefit. Some encouraging progress has been made in this regard, with Donagan acknowledging the melding of military and civilian spheres in sieges. III , p. Thomas Fairfax London, , p. Green ed. I London, , p. Hutchinson, Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson , ed. Hutchinson London, , p. Harrington, English Civil War Fortifications 2 nd ed.

    Oxford, , p. Hamilton ed. Therefore, they undertook a long process of reconstruction and addition of new defenses, such as the angled bastion. These protected effectively the city during the siege of But all this was to change, thanks to a single man and its vision: the French architect Sebastien Vauban.

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    His fortifications included all the devices mentioned before and were considered the most elegant and efficient in Europe , fact that can be appreciated in his masterpiece: the city of Lille. But, how effective were these fortresses? The truth is that they proved to be quite effective in the innumerable sieges that happened during this period. By the beginning of the 17 th century these were insuperable strongholds but the presented one issue: visibility issues. Good news for the attackers — surprise attacks will get top marks, but this was not always a very easy maneuver to perform.

    Moreover, the visibility problem was easily resolved. Towns added gun-towers to have a better view of their surroundings and to provide effective flanking fire. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to consider this the end of story — it is not, at all. War had secondary effects on towns. All this process of walling up cities created a stronger feeling of independence and community in towns as the walls became their symbol. Furthermore, it created a closer relationship between towns and the rural areas due to the need of ready supplies.

    But space started running short, and towns begun to build up their houses to have space to live and work, and new plans of edification were generated radial and gridiron. These made streets narrow and buildings close to each other…Cities became a massive hazard for epidemic infections and that mixed with the social disruption. This is not something new, but actually a rather common effect of warfare.

    The new urban layout made people fear more artefacts like bombards that could cause a fire and massive demolition inside the town due to their firing arch. People were constricted within their own walls…But along came the 17 th century to change this. As cities could not expand and were too crowded the walls were demolished or left to ruin.

    Also it has to be considered that the urban response was not the same everywhere. Unlike France or Italy, England remained basically unwalled until the Civil War , and there were differences among the south and the north of the country. In Eastern Europe, the process happened a bit later. I am very supportive of this statement by Hale, about these changes:. But we are missing a key fact in here that I have already been hinting at. One can appreciate war from its victims, and gun powder for sure changed the perception of conflict for those who had to suffer it.

    An arrow does not produce much noise, it will not keep you up by night…but a gun shot will. All the urban developments jeopardising urban health and security contributed to this shock too. So, personal opinion? Yes, gunpowder revolutionised warfare, but more importantly, it change the modern world and its people. Now, if this has made you think, or tickled your fancy, here are my sources.

    (PDF) Military Technology and World History: A Reconnaissance | Bart Hacker -

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