Siege Warfare

Fotothek df tg 0000158 Belagerung ^ Festung ^ Belagerungsmaschine

A Siege and Siege Engines • Deutsche Fotothek [Public domain] • Wikipedia

Dear Year 8 Students,

Imagine sitting somewhere for hours with no certainty of success and a sense of the ultimate futility of life. Does this sound like school to you?

Well actually, I’m referring to carrying out a siege of a medieval castle.

Besieging a castle was a tedious, dangerous and messy business. All too often for the attackers, their efforts were futile.

Besiegers surrounded a seemingly impregnable castle and tried to induce the inhabitants to leave their stone refuge.

No toilets in an age of dysentery…

The besieging army would therefore be out in all kinds of weather, living in close proximity without proper sanitation. They would be vulnerable to castle defenders taking potshots at them from the castle wall and they would often feel cold and hungry. If dysentery broke out in the camp, everyone would become ill. The symptoms of dysentery include watery diarrhoea and vomiting. Imagine that without a toilet in the vicinity! By all accounts, the smell of a besieging army was particularly unpleasant. All in all, the sheer monotony, along with the constant danger and the lack of comfort, would lead to a constant sense of frustration.

Meanwhile, the defenders who were holed up inside the castle might well have enough stores to sit out the siege for months. They were in a highly defensible position.

Longbow • In the Public Domain • Wikipedia

Sieges took place quite often during the Hundred Years War (which actually refers to a series of battles over a 116-year period, between 1337 and 1453). The French knights, despite their long years of training, heavy armour and daunting warhorses, were no match for the longbow archers of England at the Battle of Crécy and in other conflicts. As adversaries sought protective cover in castles, a kind of arms race between the designers of castles and siege engines developed. 

Battle of crecy froissart

The Battle of Crécy (English on the right) • From an illuminated manuscript of the writings of Jean Froissart [Public domain] Wikipedia

Knights did not appreciate siege warfare since it provided no opportunity to show their valour. There is nothing very heroic about sitting and waiting, whether you are defending a castle or attacking it. Increasingly, such warfare involved mercenaries and peasants who were pressed into combat.

I hope that this rather unappealing description of siege warfare makes you feel slightly better about your daily fate in the halls of learning.

Kind regards from Ms Green


The Hundred Years War – An Introduction

Siege Warfare – Fill the Gaps (online version of this handout at number 2 below – see “Online Activities”)

Handout to go with film: Siege: Castles at War

Online Activities

1 Key Vocabulary
Flashcards | Bingo Terms and Pics

2 Quiz on Siege Warfare

3 Kahoot: Play with the Class | Play Alone

Recommended Websites

Siege Warfare in Medieval Europe from Ancient History Encyclopedia

♦ Seven Ways to Win a Medieval Siege from War History Online

Recommended Videos

Secrets of the Medieval Siege

Siege: Castles at War

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The Mongols Attack Japan

I’m back – I hope to stay.

Dear Year 8 students, 

I hope you still remember me after my long absence on sick leave! After my emergency operation, I needed quite a long time to get back to normal. Fortunately, my organs appear to be functioning properly now. More or less! Here’s hoping they stay that way.

I hope that you have all been happy at school and have managed all the demands on your time.

The mini-unit below is about the Mongols and their attacks on Japan in the 13th century. I understand that you have already learned quite a lot about medieval Japan and these Mongol attacks with Ms Giesbrecht. Like other medieval events that we have encountered, such as the Norman Conquest and the Black Death, these two failed invasions illustrate the beliefs and mentality of the would-be conquerors and the desperate defenders.

Below, you will find some extra activities, quizzes and websites about this remarkable story, followed by a Kahoot.

Kind regards from Ms Green

Artist: Katsushika Hokusai Source: The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Public Domain via Wikipedia


The Mongols conquered a vast empire in far less time than the Romans had required to conquer a smaller one. As a fighting force, the Mongols were efficient, ruthless, systematic and terrifying. When the leaders of a city realised that they were in line for a Mongol attack, they often surrendered meekly and began to pay tribute. This was a sensible idea, for the Mongols were tolerant towards their subjects but merciless towards their foes.

Below you will find some useful resources to help you discover what happened when the seemingly invincible Mongols attacked Japan in the thirteenth century. As the picture above suggests, it is always complicated to attack an island, especially one surrounded by potentially stormy seas. 

Handouts and Activities

Extension Task: Write a paragraph titled “The Story So Far” in which you use these key words and new vocabulary: Kublai Khan, Japanese sovereign/emperor, tribute, Mongols, Samurai, empire, code of honour, typhoon, brutal, armada.

Corresponding Task: Watch the video (Why were the Mongols so effective?) under “Recommended Videos” below and answer questions ⓐ, ⓑ and that are listed there.

Online Quizzes and Activities

(Simple multiple choice questions to help you focus on the main wording and details in the videos)

Recommended Websites

(The three handouts above are based loosely on this much longer article, along with other sources.)

Recommended Videos

ⓐ As you watch the video, write down key words. I shall do the same on the board. We shall have a quick quiz afterwards on the meaning of some words.

ⓑ The presenter lists 3 reasons why the Mongols were such successful conquerors. Write these down too. He repeats the reasons, so don’t panic if you miss them on the first run-through.
1♦ 2♦ 3♦ 

ⓒ Discussion question: Which three words would you use to sum up the Mongols and their style of conquest? (You can borrow words from the handout and the video.)


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The Life of Peasants

Dear Year 8 students,

I’m afraid that I’m not yet quite well enough to return after my emergency operation, but you will be looked after by two young and vivacious teachers in my absence. Hopefully, I shall be back fairly soon. In the interim, you will be learning about the lives of medieval peasants, the organisation of the manor and the feudal system. 

When I return, I hope that we shall be able to tackle siege warfare during the Hundred Years War, followed by life in medieval Japan with a particular focus on the Samurai. If there is time at the end of the term, we might also be able to touch on the Renaissance. 

Take care of yourselves and I hope to see you all soon!

Warm regards from Ms Green

Quick Introductory Quiz


Peasants made up about 90 per cent of the medieval population. They were looked down on, disparaged, oppressed and even despised. Yet their work was the basis of the society in which they lived. 

There were variations in status even within the peasant class. Some peasants were free people with a small amount of land and the right to work for wages. Others had a trade that gave them more leverage within the society and more opportunities to improve their lot. Many peasants, however, were serfs, who were like slaves – but not quite.

According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, a serf was “a person in a condition of servitude or modified slavery”. Even though the powers of the master were “more or less limited by law or custom”, in reality, the master had great power, if he chose to wield it.

Being in a condition of servitude meant that the serfs were subject to the will of the lord (or lady) of the manor; they could not leave the manor without permission. It was expected that they gain the Lord’s permission to marry. They were subjugated, they were poor and they were often hungry; to get through each year would have required unrelenting struggle, grinding toil and a fair bit of luck.

Hunger was a constant danger, starvation a real possibility. According to Lacey and Danziger, the writers of The Year 1000: What Life was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, July in England was the toughest month. The spring crops had not yet matured; the midsummer harvest produced hay for the animals and nothing for the humans. This time was referred to as “the hungry gap”.

Yet some aspects of the peasants’ lifestyle were healthy. They had a very healthy diet, if only they could get enough food. They lived on a pottage (like a porridge) of grain and vegetables, into which they dipped the hard, coarse and often stale flatbread that they baked. No soft, fluffy bread for them: their bread was a little like a pita bread or nan, but tougher and coarser. The pottage served to soften the hard, stale bread and make it edible. The bread was also used as an edible plate, called a “trencher”.

One of the healthiest aspects of their diet was that they had no sugar. Until the 17th century, when sugar was brought back from the Caribbean, no one in Europe had sugar. Honey was so precious that it was sometimes used as a currency. The positive aspect of a life without sugar is that the people at that time experienced almost no dental or jaw decay. The skeletal remains of the Anglo-Saxons in the year 1000 show that they were surprisingly tall, with excellent teeth.


The Feudal System and Peasant Life | Suggested Answers 

The Feudal System: Revision and SWOT Analysis

Online Activities

Tiny Cards Set

♦ Tiny Cards: The Life of Peasants

A Shorter Version of the Luttrell Psalter Film with Quiz Questions

♦ Kahoot: The Life of Medieval Peasants | Class | Alone

Recommended Links:

♦ BBC Bitesize: Ordinary Life in the Middle Ages 

BBC Bitesize: Life in a Medieval Village

♦ Clickable pictures of the Luttrell Psalter: Illuminated Manuscript showing the lives of ordinary peasants

♦ Blog: The Making of the Luttrell Psalter film (see the film itself below) The Meaning of “Serf” and “Serfdom”

♦ A 600-year old poem about the life of a peasant: From “The Crede of Piers the Plowman”

Recommended Videos:

♦ Video: The Luttrell Psalter Film – based on the pages of a beautiful illuminated manuscript (see the Quiz Version above)

♦ Worst Jobs in History: Creating a Wattle and Daub Cottage

♦ The Feudal System and the Domesday Book

4-Minute Video: The Feudal System

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