Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Depictions of early sieges at Foix Castle and Jerusalem

When depicting the past the medieval artist would portray it as a contemporary event. Centuries later we view history as he saw it but what was castle warfare really like in 12th and 15th century France? Two sculptures and a tapestry provide an answer.

The Château de Foix is situated in the town of Foix (Midi-Pyrénées). Its museum houses two carvings from the 12th century cloister of Saint-Volusien Abbey. These depict the siege and destruction of Foix Castle in the 5th century by the Visigoths but portrayed as a present day event. Artefacts from a siege at Montsegur in France also survive in its museum.

LEFT: Foix Castle is in the town of Foix (Midi-Pyrénées)
RIGHT: Foix Castle's round tower

The object of their wrath was the Bishop of Tours, later to be canonised as Saint-Volusien.

Here we have one of the earliest depictions of the siege and capture of a castle.

TOP: Besieged – walls are undermined. One attacker aims a crossbow while another deals a blow with a sword
BOTTOM: Captured – the door is smashed and the walls are demolished. Bishop Volusien, hands bound, rope around his neck is led away

One depicts a towered and battlemented stone castle with its gate firmly shut and under attack. A crossbowman keeps heads down as a sapper undermines the wall. A defender is being dealt a heavy blow on his head by a shield-bearing, sword-wielding attacker.

In the other, it is all over. The door is smashed and the castle is being demolished. Volusien, distinctive in his twin-pointed mitre, with bound wrists and rope around his neck, is being led off by two Visigoths for what will be an unpleasant end – what else would one expect from a Visigoth!

LEFT: Saumur Castle in the French town of Saumur in the Maine-et-Loire
RIGHT: Siege of Jerusalem part of 15th century tapestry – with an early depiction of a firearm

The Château de Saumur is located in the French town of Saumur, in the Maine-et-Loire. Its museum hosts a 15h century tapestry depicting the capture of Jerusalem in 1099. The Crusading forces, splendidly protected in plate armour and carrying firearms, are storming the city walls.

Take a closer look at the firearm. While one soldier takes careful aim his companion applies a match to ignite the charge. Jerusalem fell by conventional means and not by gunpowder but what a splendid depiction of its time is left by this tapestry.

Added: 21 Jan 2020 Updated: 07 Feb 2020
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