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Sieges in Europe (1400-1700)

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Koh, Yu Kyung
Term Paper, AP European History Class, October 2008

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Technical Aspects of European Sieges
III. The Siege of Orleans (1429)
III.1 Background and Progress
III.2 Factors that Might Have Caused a Failure of France
III.3 Legacy of the siege
IV. The First siege of Vienna (1529)
IV.1 Background and Progress
IV.2 Reasons of Ottoman Failure
IV.3 Legacy of the siege
V. The Siege of Haarlem (1572-1573)
V.1 Background and Progress
V.2 Tactics and Strategies
V.3 Legacy of the siege
VI. The Second siege of Vienna (1683)
VI.1 Background and Progress
VI.2 Reasons of the Second Ottoman Failure
VI.3 Legacy of the siege
VII. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            Siege is a military blockade of a city; smaller meaning of the siege includes mere surrounding of a target. Usual tactic of siege is to besiege the city and wait until the city yields to the attacking force. Hence, the period of siege is long comparing to battle, and it is very important for both attackers and defenders to overcome lack of food and fatigue and caused during long period of the siege. Even though siege requires big amount of cost and time to practice, it is a very effective way to defeat the town completely.
            Siege happened frequently in Europe, especially in the age of gunpowder which began in the 1300's. Various technologies and tactics unique to siege developed throughout the centuries. This paper will focus on technologies that were important to European sieges, and famous examples of sieges from 1400 to 1700.

II. Technical Aspects of European Sieges
            Technology is one of very important factors to win battles or wars. When the army have better technology, it needs less effort and time to gain victory; developed weapons and technique are superior to labor and manpower. Victory in a siege, as a branch of war, is also greatly affected by technology. Above all, the construction of walls and production of gunpowder and cannon were the most important technologies of siege from the 13th century to 19th century.
            Technology of building walls was indispensable factor which can led defenders to victory. As the products of feudal society in medieval ages, many cities have stone walls surrounding them. Since siege is one-sided beleaguerment of attackers, it is very important for the town to keep their wall uncollapsed until the end of the siege. When the cannon and gunpowder were introduced to Europe in the 13th century, new fortifications of wall had to be designed; before, the height of the wall was only considered. The ways to protect walls from bombards are depth and angle of the wall; If the wall is deep, attackers need more power and time to collapse the wall, and town had to make attackers only able to fire on walls indirectly at an oblique angle. Star-shaped fortresses became very popular in the 16th century. When looking the star-shaped fortress from the top, it is in a zig-zagging form rather than linear form. Hence, when the fire is aimed at the wall, the star-shape wall can more effectively disperse the concentration of the power than the linear-shape can. This kind of shape even used in World War I. Star-shaped wall was developed into polygonal fort in the eighteenth century. While star forts are effective against cannon but weak at accurate fire of guns or highly explosive shells, polygonal fort can defend itself from explosive shells.
            On the other hand, technology of gunpowder and cannons, as siege engines, were very important for attackers. Siege engines are devices used to break city walls when siege is held. Gunpowder revolution, starting from 14th century, dramatically increased warfare in Europe; siege, as a branch of war was no exception. Gunpowder and cannons were much more effective than firearms or edged weapons used by previous infantry and cavalry. Gunpowder is an explosive mixture consisting of many chemical compounds. Because it burned rapidly and was considered quite explosive at that time, gunpowder was used in cannons. Cannons were devices that were frequently used in sieges since their projectiles could go beyond fortifications and burst inside of the town. Cannons were able to fire heavier pieces of ordnance further and faster, and they were shot straightly, increasing their impact on walls; they have maximum power at an angle of 45 degrees. Great effect of gunpowder can be shown with the example of the great walls of Constantinople which were destroyed in 6 weeks by the cannon in 1453. Cannons were effectively used in breaking walls or digging tunnels under walls to make walls collapsed. Swords and pistols which soldiers used to carry with them were no longer useful in big battles or sieges.

III. The Siege of Orleans (1429)

III.1 Background and Progress
            The main background of the siege of Orleans was the Hundred Years' War, which was held between England and France. Hundred Years' War began in 1337 due to crown dispute; King of England had claimed for crown of France. Orleans, at that time, was the northernmost city under the French crown, and was located on the Loire River. The Duke of Orleans was the head of Armagnacs, who are the supporters of uncrowned king Charles VIII. By the time the siege began, Orleans was one of the last Armagnac fortresses.
            The siege began on October, 1428, under the control of Earl of Salisbury, and Orleans had been besieged for 8 months. At the very early stage of the siege, English attacked the walled monastery of the Augustins, and a fortified gate-house Tourelles. Orleans decided to give up protecting the Tourelles and withdraw in order to start their defence. English also established fortified positions around Orleans, yet the blockade was not complete, so moving in and out was possible. One most notable action during the siege was the 'Battle of the Herrings'. It was an unsuccessful attempt of French to impede a supply convoy of English force. French army at that time had much larger force than English force, and was also assisted by Scottish army. French army defended themselves with sharpened spikes all around the fortification; this tactic was very successful at prior battle. French used gunpowder artillery to attack. However, since it was very new and the French lacked understanding of this weapon, the attack was not very successful. Scottish also started attacking. However, since their armours were not strong, and they were not the experts in usage of artillery, they failed in their attack and made great damage. Encouraged by weaken French force, English began their counterattack, and French had to succumb. Situation in the city became worse.
            Then, Joan of Arc, the maid who was believed to received revelation from god, arrived Orleans to rescue the city. She succeeded in isolating English force by garrison. French army decided to attack the Tourelles, and this is called Les Tourelles. Joan successfully led this assault to victory, and English army gave in and marched off. By emergence of Jeanne d'Arc, the siege ended with French's victory like a miracle in 9 days.

III.2 Factors that Might Have Caused a Failure of France
            Orleans could be defeated by number of reasons if the relief force of Joan of Arc did not come to rescue. First, as mentioned above, French army had problem with weapons. French tried using gunpowder artillery to stop the supply convoy of English army. However, gunpowder at that time, was immature and soldiers were unskilled in using it. Cannons, relatively undeveloped at that time, sometimes allowed projectiles strike their own army. To make the situation worse, armors of French and Scottish forces were not strong enough to withstand the large impulse. Therefore, even though French army had large force and also were supported by Scottish force, by misuse of artillery, they received great damage. Moreover, wagon fort, which was formed during the battle, was also not successful for France. Wagon fort is a mobile fortification of wagons arranged in circle or rectangular shape. When Scottish soldiers formed wagon fort, English archers attacked behind the wagon fort, and the wagon fort got the great damage. Other factors that made Orleans desperate were the hunger and fatigue. Due to long siege of England, even though there were some supplies since the blockade was not complete, citizen had to suffer hunger and fatigue. These hardships led to fall-down of soldier's morale and also might allowed Orleans to succumb.

III.3 Legacy of the Siege
            In the Hundred Years' War, since France suffered a series of defeats before the siege of Orleans, France apparently seemed to be lost in the war. However, victory in the siege of Orleans marked the turning point. Also, it was the first major victory of Joan of Arc, who contributed greatly to overall victory of Hundred Years' War. Siege of Orleans became a springboard to other victories she had achieved, and made her acknowledged by the society that did not believe women could accomplish good work in wars.

IV. The First Siege of Vienna (1529)

IV.1 Background and Progress
            The Ottoman and the Habsburg Empire, both of which were large empires that had enormous domains, were holding the dominant power over the Europe. There were frequent territorial disputes between two kingdoms. The background of Turkish siege was also due to territorial dispute of Hungary. By the victory of Sultan Suleiman I, Ottoman gained their power over southern Hungary. However, at the same time, Ferdinand I became the King of Hungary by the marriage. Became furious of the deprivation, Ottoman determined to attack Ferdinand and get their territory back; the first Turkish siege, also known as the Siege of Vienna, took place in 1529, and was held for about 6 months.
            Army of Ottoman had considerably large number of soldiers and weapons, but they encountered flood on their way to Vienna, and many of them were lost. Meanwhile, in Vienna, the preparation of protection were stiffened. German mercenary Salm reached Vienna with the relief force so that Vienna could be equipped with soldiers and strengthened wall. Vienna also blocked city wall. Fatigue by the long trip, army of Ottoman arrived at Vienna in a bad condition. Their attempts of destroying the wall and mining both failed. Moreover, horses as well as soldiers caught disease, and they could no longer continue the siege. Therefore, Ottoman gave up the siege and retreated.

IV.2 Reasons of Ottoman Failure
            Suleiman's army had a large force; it was estimated that troop consisted of from 120,000 to more than 300,000 men. However, army had to face misfortunes. They encountered heavy flood in Bulgaria, on their way to Vienna. Large number of weapons and camels were lost; actually, bringing camels into Europe itself was not smart act in the first place. Ottoman had long advance to Austria, and soldiers had bad condition by the time they arrived to Vienna. The group that was most proper to fight was the light cavalry; however, they were inadequately equipped for the siege. After they failed to give damage to city-wall, they began mining. However, heavy rain fell that October, and mining was in vain. Sickness and fatique of Ottoman army was deepened, and unseasonably heavy snow gave Ottoman no more chance to attack, but to retreat.

IV.3 Legacy of the Siege
            Siege of Vienna in 1529 was the first attempt of Ottoman Empire to take Vienna. This event contributed in deepening tension between Ottoman Empire and Habsburg Empire. The siege exacted heavy cost from Ottoman Empire and soon declined its active expansion. However, when siege failed, it gave another aspiration for Ottoman Empire to attack Vienna again. It also stimulated Vienna to strengthen its fortress to protect itself from further attack.

V The Siege of Haarlem 1572-1573

V.1 Background and Progress
            Haarlem is a city of Netherlands, which is now a capital of North Holland. The siege of Haarlem was held during Eighty Year's War, which was the revolt by Netherlands against the Spanish. Netherlands, at that time, was under Spanish rule, and Calvinist Reformation was spreaded throughout the country. Haarlem first did not wanted to make conflicts with the Spanish King Philip II, so they did not convert to Protestant immediately after Reformation began, and they tried avoid iconoclastic Reformation, which was frequently happening in Netherlands. King Philip II decided to stop Calvinism and suppressed Calvinists; all towns people of taken cities, Zutphen and Naarden, were killed by the Spanish army. To avoid that tragic fate, Haarlem attempted to held negotiations with Philip II. However, William the Silent, a Protestant prince who led Dutch independence movement, opposed the negotiation, and the delegates who went to Amsterdam to held negotiation were sentenced as traitors and were executed; Haarlem had decided to admit Reformation and stay loyal to William the Silent.
            Spanish force kept slaughtering thousands of Protestants and finally reached Haarlem in December 1572, and they started their siege. Battles or sieges in the winter were very rare at that time. Haarlem had walls surrounding the city, but they were not strong and were in a bad shape; Spanish even could build up the camps. The Spanish did not properly surveyed city and attacked the Kruispoort, where is Haarlem's strongest part. Then, Spanish used cannon to damage the defense but they failed. Spanish force also digged tunnels to reach the city wall, but since people in Haarlem dug counter-tunnels, Spanish tunnels were blown up. Besides, since the ground level was so high, digging tunnel was very difficult. Spanish also failed to break city walls due to impatiency and lack of preparation. These fights between Haarlem and Spanish force continued until March, and Spanish had a large loss. They then tried total blockade rather than sporadic capture.
            In March, 1573, Amsterdam army came to support Spanish army and blocked the whole city, so there could be no more supplies from outside world. Because of the hunger, the cities situation became worse, and city defenses were gradually weakened. William the Silent tries to ask for rescue but failed. He sent strong troops to Haarlem as the final measure, but the troops were wiped out by Spanish force. With no more hope, Haarlem had to surrender on 12 July 1573 after long siege of 8 months.

V.2 Tactics and Strategies
            One notable tactic was William the Silent's smuggle in supplies over the frozen lake, Haarlemermeer. Spanish was surprised by this way of smuggle since they never saw skating. After freeze, William could continue receiveing provisions with boat under the thick mist of lake. During the siege, women in the town, led by Kenay Sinonsdochter Hasselaer, also participated in the fight and got respect from all.
            Spanish first used cannon to harm the fortification, but it was useless. Then they tried mining, which was most frequently used way in sieges. However, this also failed because of counter-tunnel of Haarlemmers. When Spanish succeeded in total blockade, it could defeat Haarlem by stopping whole supply

V.3 Legacy of the Siege
            Even though Spanish won the siege, but Don Federico lost 10,000 men and this siege was delayed for seven month. It was mysterious that strong Spanish army could not defeat poor Dutch town in short time; Haarlem also did not succumbed to army but to hunger and disease. This showed other cities of Netherlands that Spanish army was not imperative and perfectly strong. Great losses of Spanish army from this siege helped Leiden and Alkmaar when they were besieged, and those cities held out against the Spanish siege later.

VI. The Second Siege of Vienna (1683)

VI.1 Background and Progress
            More than a century after the first Turkish siege, the second Turkish siege took place in 1683 and was held for 2 months. Failure of the first siege of Vienna had given Ottoman the inspiration to strengthen itself. Ottoman practiced extensive and through preparation with a lot of care and effort; they even repaired and established bridges and roads to Austria. Moreover, due to Ottomans assistance to suppressed protestants of Habsburg region, Ottoman Empire had been gaining great support from Protestants, and they made a great force in the army. Apparently, no particular conflict seemed to be caused between Habsburg and Ottoman Empire for many years. However, the tension between the military forces of Habsburg and the Ottoman was deepened in 1682, and this resulted the intrusion of Habsburg troops into Hungary. Enraged by the intrusion, the Great Vizier of Ottoman Empire Kara Mustafa Pusha began to move his army to Vienna.
            Although Ottoman army was well prepared, they had to face failure again. After the first Turkish siege, Vienna had built intensified walls around the city, and they had a relief force from other country. On the other hand, Ottoman failed to get relief force from allies. Because the fortification of Vienna was strong, and Ottomans strategy was not effective, Ottoman eventually failed to defeat Vienna.

VI.2 Reasons for the Second Ottoman Failure
            If the main reason of failure in the first Turkish siege was misfortune due to climate, second Turkish siege failed due to unwise strategy and lack of preparation against expected attack of the relief army. Ottoman was better prepared than last siege. However, Ottoman army's long mobilization and launch gave Vienna enough time to prepare and receive relief army. They could not rush into the city since Viennese shot defensive fire in the empty field in front of the city, so Ottoman army digged long trench toward the city. Turks also had to undertake mining since fortification of Vienna was very strong. Mining and digging a tunnel took long time and Ottoman army's sense of lack of urgency delayed advance of army and relief force of Vienna arrived in city. The relief army wanted to prevent another long siege, so King of Poland showed effective leadership even though they had only 6 days. However, Ottoman army was still in disorder when they had months to organize the force. Moreover, annoyed by ignorance of Kara Mustafa Pasha, who was the head of Ottoman army, Tatar force refused to help Ottoman attacking Vienna. Ottoman also could not expect Wallachian and Moldavian allies to help; they detested Ottomans because they took heavy tributary payments from their countries. Left bridges also failed to defend itself, and allowed Habsburg and Polish army to pass. Therefore, the unorganized strategy and lack of defense led Ottomans to failure.

VI.3 Legacy of the Siege
            In the second siege of Vienna, Ottoman lost great number of soldiers and weapons. Before, Ottoman's power was so great that many European countries had to struggle by Ottoman Empire. However, this failure in siege marked the turning point of Ottoman's expansion to European world, and Ottomans great power gradually declined after the siege; Ottoman spent another 16 years on fighting but they lost Hungary and Transylvania as a result.

VII. Conclusion
            Whether defeated or not, both attackers and defenders were damaged greatly after the siege. Siege is a very costly and time-consuming task. Technology, as matter of course, was important in winning a siege, but as examples above show, there are many other factors for the victory in a siege. One major factor is well-organized tactics; no matter how strong the army is, if strategy fails, army also fails. In some examples of siege mentioned above, it is able to see that siege almost could failed due to unuseful strategies. Another factor is fatigue and disease. Since a siege takes long time, it is important to overcome fatigue and hunger; especially for defenders, since siege is blockade of a city, main reason of surrender is hunger due to lack of supply from outside world. Siege of Haarlem, for example, had to surrender because they could no more endure the hunger. Relationship with other countries also can be crucial factor, because the supporting force from allies can play a good role in the siege. Actually, in the second Turkish siege of Vienna, Ottoman could win if they got more supporting force from allies, but since their relationships were bad, Ottoman force had to hesitate asking for force from them. In conclusion, siege requires great deal of time and money, and even besides that, there are a lot of requisites that must be well considered and prepared.

X. Bibliography

Note : websites quoted below were visited in October 2008.
1.      Richard Holmes, Battle, Eyewitness Books, p.32-33, p.46-49
2.      Gino Raymond, Historical Dictionary of France, p.142-144, p.148
3.      Article : War, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia, Vol.29, 15th Edition
4.      Article : The Technology of War, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia, Vol. 29, 15th Edition
5.      Article : Netherlands, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia, Vol. 24, 15th Edition
6.      Article : Haarlem, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, Vol. 5, 15th Edition
7.      Article : Orleans, Siege of, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, Vol. 8, 15th Edition
8.      Article : Joan of Arc, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia, Vol. 22, 15th Edition
9.      Article : Siege, Wikipedia,
10.      Article : Siege of Orleans, Wikipedia,
11.      Article : Siege of Haarlem, Wikipedia,
12.      Article : Battle of the Herrings, Wikipedia,
13.      The Siege of Haarlem, from Haarlem Shuffle,
14.      Article : Siege of Vienna, Wikipedia,
15.      Article : Battle of Vienna, Wikipedia,
16.      Article : Early Modern Warfare, Wikipedia,
17.      Article : Gunpowder, Wikipedia,

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