Workers restoring Hay Castle find a catapult stone possibly from Barons’ War with King Henry III

Workers restoring the ancient Hay Castle in the United Kingdom came upon an exciting discovery this week after they found a boulder that had been fired into the grounds by a catapult during a siege several hundred years ago.

There are many castles that dot Europe and the United Kingdom, and many have witnessed war and death over the centuries, including Hay Castle, which had been conquered, occupied by enemy forces and re-conquered several times over for 300 years until it became more of a private estate.

Hay Castle by Pauline Eccles via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

According to the Hay Castle Trust:

For a thousand years, this remarkable structure has been part of the landscape. Part Norman, part Jacobean and part Victorian, Hay Castle has been a home to invaders, patriots’ citadel, country manor and a world-famous bookshop. The castle stands in the heart of Hay-on-Wye — sometimes called the Town of Books — site of the Hay Literary Festival, which for ten days every year attracts the most exciting writers, thinkers and artists to inspire and entertains hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Hay Castle is one of the great medieval defense structures on the border of England and Wales still standing. Built in the late 12th century by the powerful Norman Lord William de Braose, its history is long and turbulent. The castle was sacked by Llewelyn II, the last prince of Wales, in 1233, and rebuilt under the custody of Henry III. Centuries of turmoil followed until the 15th century, when the castle passed into the hands of the Beaufort Estates.

Hay Castle, as it used to look before it fell into disrepair. Image via Wikimedia.

Until then, however, control of the castle had been long sought by invaders and rebels, including the barons who waged civil war against King Henry III in 1263-1267 in what is known as the Second Barons’ War.

The English barons led by Simon de Montfort demanded more power and rights from the monarchy, which Henry, who had rebuilt Hay Castle three decades earlier, had already agreed to grant. But Henry went back on his word and with a papal blessing set about to restore his absolute authority across the land, forcing de Montfort to flee to France, only to return in 1263.

Upon his return, de Montfort gathered a force and marched on London. With the support of the city on his side, de Montfort captured Henry and his queen. It could have ended there, but Henry regained his freedom as de Montfort’s coalition fractured. Both men sought to work out a compromise, but it failed, resulting in the war that dragged on for the next three years.

Depiction of the Second Barons’ War in England featuring Henry’s forces on the left and de Montfort’s forces on the right. Image via Wikimedia.

In 1263, Prince Edward captured the castle for his father, only to lose it again the very next year after de Montfort and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd launched a campaign to take it back. And it was during these engagements that a catapult used by one of the two forces launched a stone into the castle.

While working on a massive restoration project on castle grounds, a team of workers unearthed an extraordinary 63 pound stone ball that likely had been used to weaken the defenses of the castle via trebuchet, an ancient catapult that was also used to launch dead bodies and burning objects, which could explain how the castle was burned.

Trebuchets are ancient catapults used in siege warfare. Image via Wikimedia.

According to the BBC:

It was found during excavations at the Powys castle, and is 1ft (29cm) wide and weighs 4.5 stone (28.5kg).

The ball was found 1.3ft (40cm) deep in the east wing of the site.

Dr Chris Caple, former associate professor of archaeology at Durham University, said the trebuchets were “not easily constructed”.

“This means that they usually indicate royal forces, or those of a very wealthy lord,” he explained.

Worker posing with the catapult stone at Hay Castle. Image via Twitter.

Prince Edward certainly did lead royal forces, but it’s also possible de Montfort used the same kind of stones.

Over 15,000 casualties resulted from the war, including de Montfort, who was killed during the decisive Battle of Evesham in 1265. Prince Edward would pin the rebels in at Kenilworth Castle and lay siege to it. Soon, however, the rebels were forced to surrender because they ran out of supplies and were starving. The two sides signed the Dictum of Kenilworth in 1267 to bring hostilities to a close.

The ruins of the Great Hall of Kenilworth Castle as seen today. Image via Wikimedia.

Hay Castle would also be attacked during the more notable Wars of the Roses in the last half of the 1400s.

Today, only some of the old castle is left standing.

“The remains of the castle include a four-storey keep and a beautiful arched gateway,” the Hay Castle Trust says. “The multi-gabled Jacobean manor was severely damaged by fire in 1939, and again in 1977. Remnants of the 18th century formal gardens and 19th century terraced gardens can still be seen.”

Hay Castle in all its glory. The remains of the keep can be seen at left. Image via Wikimedia.

Catapult stones have been found at other castles, but it’s definitely interesting to find another, especially one that may very well have been used in a battle connected to the site. And it is certainly exciting for those who make the discovery. They are literally touching something used in ancient warfare. They are touching history and that’s always fun.

Most people have forgotten about the Second Barons’ War, but finding a catapult stone reminds us that it happened and brings the early bloody history of England back to life for everyone to learn.

More on the Second Barons’ War from Citizens Project below:

Featured Image: Twitter/Hay Castle

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