16st catapult shots from Siege of Kenilworth Castle unearthed by chance

A man examining one of the projectiles
The eight projectiles vary greatly in size - RICHARD LEA-HAIR

Catapult shots launched during what is believed to have been the longest siege in medieval English history have been unearthed at Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire.

The eight well-preserved boulders, which weigh as much as 16st, were launched during King Henry III’s siege of the castle in 1266, when England was in the grip of civil war.

The discovery was made during building works to improve accessibility to the Grade I-listed building, with some of the projectiles found just below the surface.

“It’s not every day we get lucky enough to stumble across historical remains like this by chance,” said Will Wyeth, a properties historian at English Heritage. “Imagine the surprise of the team when we unearthed these impressive stone projectiles that are nearly 800 years old.”

Two men moving one of the catapult shots
The catapult shots were capable of causing significant damage - RICHARD LEA-HAIR

The shots vary greatly in size, with the largest weighing 16st 8lb and the smallest just 2.2lb.

Archaeologists were quickly able to date them to the medieval siege, based on similarities to stones discovered in the 1960s.

Mr Wyeth said they would have been capable of causing “serious damage”, with records showing that one of Henry’s wooden siege towers, containing around 200 crossbowmen, was destroyed by just one well-aimed missile.

The King besieged Kenilworth Castle for 172 days during the Second Barons’ War, when a number of noblemen, led by his brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, rose up in an attempt to curb his power.

A 14th Century illustration of the siege
A 14th Century illustration of the siege

De Montfort had been granted custody of the castle in 1244, and after he was killed at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, his supporters continued to use it as a base for their resistance.

After the King’s messenger to the rebels returned with a severed hand, Henry decided to recapture the castle by force, launching a siege that lasted from June 25 until December 13, 1266.

He deployed a vast arsenal of weaponry in his attacks, including 60,000 crossbow bolts and nine siege engines, in an attempt to breach the stronghold’s 14ft thick walls.

The rebel garrison, inside, was equipped with similar launching devices, and it is the stone projectiles fired from both sides that have been discovered outside the West castle walls.

After almost six months the rebels succumbed to starvation and disease before surrendering to the King, who then gave the castle to his son, Edmund, Earl of Lancaster.