Event Review – The Siege of Dover Castle

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Storming the gate

The Companye has returned from the best event of the year and very possibly the decade. This year we’ve attended Tewkesbury, Bosworth, Hedingham but this year’s event at Dover Castle blew them all out of the water. Why? Read on…

Having had nearly £3000 of equipment sadly stolen at last year’s England’s Medieval Festival at Herstmonceux Castle, the Companye decided for a change and try something new in the form of Dover Castle.

Dover castle without doubt is one of the most amazing historic properties that English Heritage maintain. It represents almost two thousand years of settlement and fortification and is it visually imposing. Members of the Harringtons who had not visited previously were amazed when they crested the hill from the A2 and saw exactly how large and complex it is.

We arrived on the Friday and English Heritage had exceeded our expectations. The battleground lay before the 30 ft walls of the Inner Bailey, and a false gateway & battlements had been constructed between two of the bastions. You can see it in the photo above, and it was absolutely fantastic.  This was approached by a steep bank (more on that later) making it even more of a challenge. A Sap had also been constructed , and the Mighty MSS Trebuchet was standing proud ready to do it’s worst to the walls.

With the Companye  now so excited we resembled a bunch of five year olds on Christmas morning, we proceeded to where we camping for the next three days, which was on the lower bailey area. The various MSS encampments were spread throughout the various areas of Dover Castle and it was great to have little pocket villages sprouting up everywhere around the site.

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The Peveral Gate, the Harrington Camp was accessed through this archway

We were camped beyond Peveral gate and had a number of the outer  Towers adjacent from the Camp site with some simply awesome views across the English Channel and France beyond.  Only Ant and Justin of the Companye had previously camped at Dover   (back in the nineties) and both were getting misty eyed and agreeing that it was far, far too long since a return.

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The View from the Harrington Camp – just an awesome spectacle

 

On the first day the weather was kind, and we proceeded to lay siege to the Tower. The backstory was that it was 1459 and the Earl of Warwick was returning from Calais to cause unrest in favour of the Yorkist cause. However Earl Rivers, a stanch Lancastrian was determined to capture him.

After Warwick was trapped in the Great Keep by River’s forces, Sir William Harrington was ordered to lead the assault on the castle and capture the Earl.

Firstly, the mighty trebuchet sent a (carefully constructed and English Heritage approved) ‘rock’ towards the castle which thundered into the walls, showering the defenders underneath.

Ordering his archers to keep the Yorkist’s heads down Sir William divided his attacking forces into two ladder parties and began the assault.

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The intial assault – onwards to glory!

As we made our way across the open ground, we were met with an arrow storm from the battlements. Men were dropping like flies but we soldiered on. Next we hit the slope before the walls, this was a mighty obstacle (it is deceptive how much of an obstacle this is when encumbered by armour and being shot at) but with the assistance of grappling hooks and scaling ladders we hauled our selves up to the walls.

At this point the defenders unleashed hell upon us!

Rocks were rained down upon us. Men scaling ladders were speared. Just as it could not get any worse, boiling oil was cascaded over the assault party. All that was missing was Obadiah Hakeswill screaming “Mother!!!”..

Steeling ourselves against the relentless resistance of the defenders, we set to the task at hand and attempted to scale the walls. Good men were sent up ladders, yet none could clamber over into the defences. Slowly, the assault was running out of impetus…

Seeing his men being consumed by the Dover Castle meat grinder, Earl Rivers ordered a retreat in order to allow the Trebuchet continue it’s work on the defences.

Despite this setback, the Harringtons returned to their camp to replenish and take on food. After lunch, under the terms of the siege, a tournament was proposed between the besiegers and the besieged which both sides agreed to.

Firstly, an archery contest took place on the castle green. To the dismay of the partisan crowd, an Arbalest (crossbow) from the defenders won the day with some excellent shooting.

Next up was a Pas d’arms, a foot combat tournament. Heavily armoured combatants from both sides took turns in testing their skills, to the delight of the spectators. Finally, a Grand Melee was proposed (see Delapre Abbey) which started apace. However, it became apparent that this was a cunning ruse of war, and Warwick had taken the opportunity to slip some messengers out from a Sally Port and breach the siege lines. One was captured, but one made it through and was on the way to London – where the Earl of Warwick’s powerful friends would bring aid.

This forced Earl River’s hand – and the assault was ordered to re commence immediately. Gathering their forces, the Harringtons prepared to return to the battle lines once more.

Once the army was assembled, the trebuchet opened up on the castle once more. Shot after shot pounded into the gate, the terrified defenders curled up behind the battlements and whimpering. Or it may have been laughter, we couldn’t quite tell.

The gateway now having been weakened, Sir William ordered the Sappers to fire the Sap they had been digging underneath the mighty walls. A burning brand was brought up and despite some excellent shooting from the defending archers the sap was alight!!

However, the sap failed to bring the castle down – much to the relief of English Heritage we suspect.

Frustrated at the failure of the sappers, Sir William ordered the Harrington Pioneers to lead the assault on the castle. This time, they would rely on different means to breach the walls, and a stout battering ram had been obtained. Lord Brooke’s men would attack via the north side once the pioneers had laid the way.

Once more, the Harrington’s made their way across the open killing ground towards the castle walls.. The wicked arrows of the defenders found their way into men who fell calling on Saint Boniface & Saint George to save them, but enough men made it to the slope. Under the cover of Pavaises the Ram party scrambled up the slope and assembled Before the walls. Again, the rocks rained down from above, and guns tore gaping holes in the pioneers but this time they were not to be denied. A veteran of the wars abroad eschewed any need of protection and charged the gate with a large Maul and proceeded to lay into them with great blows. Emboldened by this display of contempt for the defenders, with a great roar from the crowd the ram party charged the walls!

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The killing ground before the walls

With each mighty heave the gates shook. Warwick was forced to commit men from the walls to bolster the gate. Despite this – at last the gates were smashed open with a great crash. The fighting in the gateway was now desperate, as the Harringtons and the Brooke’s fought tooth and nail to gain access to the castle.

Upon seeing this, Warwick tried a desperate gamble – a force of Middletons were sent out from a separate gate and crashed into the attacking force.

Chaos ensued as the attackers attempted to determine the source of this latest horror, and the Brooke’s were wiped out to a man.

On seeing this, Warwick ordered his De Cobham defenders to seize the initiative and try and force the attackers back from the gateway. As Fighting now spread across the plateau just before the walls, the Harringtons were being pushed backwards by weight of numbers. Man after man tumbled back down the slope – much to the delight of the crowds.

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Fighting on the walls

Earl Rivers was now desperate and committed his final remaining men, but it was to no avail. As the Harringtons retreated to the siege camp, Warwick sent a raiding party to set fire to the trebuchet. Upon seeing this, the Lancastrians lost morale and fled for London – leaving the Yorkists in charge of the Castle. Sir William was captured and thrown into the sap whilst he could be ransomed and the show closed to thunderous applause.

After hours, sunday evening saw the Harrington’s host the costumed “Heroes and Villains” party! Mindful of our neighbours and the sleeping kids, we decamped to the Hurst Tower, which was lit up by lanterns and really atmospheric. This tower is hundreds of years old and it was not the first evening do it will have seen, but we hope it was up there with the best.

We are currently awaiting some decent photos as is was too dark for camera phones to capture – however here’s a little taster..

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BAN-NA-NAH!!! hEHEHEHEHEHEHEH. You should see her when she’s purple..

Sadly, after two splendid days of weather, the bank holiday Monday brought wet weather that set in for the day and did not cease. Mindful of this, we worked with English Heritage to adjust the show so that the public still had a great day out. There was an expected drop in participation across the Society as people huddled in tents, but the Harringtons were made of sterner stuff and took to the field to assault the castle once more – though perhaps in less shiny metal than in previous days!! You can see footage from the Monday on the video below, despite the inclement weather we still had a great time.


Highlight of the Monday afternoon was our very own Wibble (it’s a nickname, don’t ask) playing space invaders with the Bayards on the battlements…

All in all, this was a simply amazing event. Not only was it marvellous to be part of a 360 degree siege, it was an incredible visual spectacle for the public. We were informed by one watcher that “I’ve been coming to reenactments for twenty years and I’ve never seen anything like that! Incredible..”

Hopefully English Heritage will agree and invite us back. We’d also like to thank EH for the wonderful facilities, not one single complaint about Toilets which is a first for a bank holiday weekend.

We were also delighted to welcome newcomer Tony H into the camp for the first time and he mucked in – even when raining – which is also appreciated.

There were two additional surprises which were most well received. The first was out great German reenactment friends Bodo and Anja had travelled across from Hamburg to watch our show and hang out with us, it was marvellous to catch up and we hope we can welcome our Continental reenactor friends to another event soon.
The camp was also blessed with a little bit of stardust as New York Times Bestselling Author Tony Lee visited the camp and asked us to help him with his ALS ice bucket challenge. We were delighted to do so and you can watch him getting frozen below.

 

Tony has nominated Kit Harrington among others, Tony and Kit were guests together at San Diego comic con so it will be interesting if Kit accepts the challenge!

 

And now, as autumn draws in it’s time to start the planning for our woodland skirmishes and our banquet..

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