The Trebuchet at Warwick Castle was built in 2005 and is based on designs from the 13th and 14th centuries. It was constructed with the support of Dr Peter Vemming from The Mediaeval Centre in Nykobing, Denmark, and the Wiltshire Oak company. In keeping with the tradition of naming a Trebuchet, Warwick Castle’s Trebuchet is nicknamed Ursa, which is Latin for bear.
It was given this name after Warwickshire’s famous bear and ragged staff emblem and to represent its might. It stands at 18 metres high and weighs 22 tonnes. These 22 tonnes are made up from the giant oak frame and the ash throwing arm. There is also the counterweight, a one tonne container made of oak that hangs in the centre of the machine. Inside the counterweight there are approximately five tonnes of ballast.
Trebuchets were used to launch large projectiles in an attempt to breach castle walls. Large rocks or stones were the most common ammunition but there are records of other more unusual materials being used including incendiary projectiles to cause fire, dead animal carcasses and sewage to spread disease, and the heads or limbs of prisoners to strike fear into the enemy. During peak siege warfare a skilled crew would attempt to launch a projectile every six minutes.
The Warwick Castle Trebuchet used to operate as it would have done in siege warfare using winders in the wheels co-ordinated by a Trebuchet Master, launching an 18kg projectile approximately 200 metres.
Unfortunately, Ursa is currently in disrepair and unable to launch at this time, but rest assured the day will come when Ursa will fire again.