Monday, August 15, 2011

Danger On The Perimeter - A Medieval Tale

Perimeter security has been an issue for centuries. Medieval Europe provides us with some great examples of this.

During the time of William The Conqueror, the Normans were amongst the most capable and innovative of fortress builders. Their design of motte and bailey castles (wooden fortresses on steep mounts with surrounding ditches) developed from their recognition that the perimeter was of paramount importance in their defence. They focused first of all on creating a perimeter ditch which surrounded the castle complex. Filled with sharp wooden stakes or water, the ditch was only the first obstacle that attackers would have to overcome. If they managed that, they would then have to climb the steep mount whilst being bombarded with arrows from the castle's soldiers. If they managed to get to the top, they would have to find a way to enter the gate of the wooden bailey (exterior wall of the wooden fortress). Some of the first motte and bailey castles built by the Normans after their invasion of England in 1066 were Pevensey Castle, Hastings Castle, Dover Castle and Canterbury Castle.

The Normans soon realised that castles and their perimeters would be better defended if made of stone so they changed their approach to castle design to reflect this. By the 14th century, substantial concentric castles provided the key to power and defence in Britain.

One of the most powerful, famous Kings of England, Richard 1st (Richard The Lionheart), knew only too well the importance of strong perimeter security. It was he who conceived and built Chateau Gaillard in Normandy. This was a castle which, during Richard's lifetime, was regarded by many as the most impenetrable of all castles in Europe. Such was its perimeter strength.

It is ironic, therefore, that Richard's untimely death came when he, just for a few moments, forgot the dangers of that a castle perimeter could present. At the relatively insignificant castle of Chalus Chabrol, during the early evening of 25 March 1199, Richard casually walked around the castle perimeter. A lone soldier on the ramparts had been firing arrows intermittently towards a few of Richard's men. No-one took the lone archer seriously for they could see him clearly and could dodge any arrow fired in their direction. Richard had opted not to wear his defensive chainmail. As he stood on the castle perimeter, he saw an arrow come flying in his direction. He misjudged the timing to move out of its way and was struck in the left shoulder near the neck. Between his own attempts to remove the arrow and those of a surgeon, the wound was worsened and gangrene set in. Richard died 12 days later.

Danger on the perimeter …. something as relevant 800 years ago as it is today.

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