IMS involvement in siege weekend at Pontefract Castle

Two IMS PG Researchers and one IMS alumna presented a series of talks at Siege Weekend, held at Pontefract Castle on 28 May 2018, and another IMS PG Researcher designed and organised the event.

Siege Weekend at Pontefract Castle
The two-day Siege Weekend programme at Pontefract Castle included a series of specialist talks, events with re-enactors, and activities such as archery, exploring siege engines, climbing, and siege coin-making. The event was held from 27-28 May 2018, and the programme of talks featured four speakers, three of which are associated with the University of Leeds as a former or current member of the Institute for Medieval Studies (IMS). 

Each day the event opened at 11:00 and concluded at 16:00.  

Eleanor Wilkinson-Keys, IMS PG Researcher and Volunteer Coordinator at Pontefract Castle, organised this event.

Programme of Talks
All talks were held in the Castle's Visitor Centre.  

Sunday 27 May, 14:00-15:00. New Evidence of the Sieges at Pontefract Castle. 

Ian Downes, Wakefield Council's authority on Pontefract Castle and Pontefract Castle's Programme and Events Officer, discussed recent archaeological finds discovered on site and considered how this new evidence can reinterpret our understanding of the siege held during the Civil Wars.

Monday 28 May, 11:00-12:00. What Happened to Robert of Pontefract? Disease and Death at the Crusader Siege of Acre, 1189-91. 

Joanna Phillips, IMS PhD Alumna, asked how we can understand the experience of the victims of high levels of illness and disease in crusader camps through the records of the time. Phillips also considered what we can learn about 'Robert of Pontefract', who died at the crusader siege of Acre in the Third Crusade (1189-91). 

Monday 28 May, 13:00-14:00. All is (Un)Fair in Love and War: Breaking the 'Rules' of Siege Warfare.

James Titterton, IMS PG Researcher, observed that even an activity as violent as a medieval siege was governed by social conventions: chivalry, honour and tradition dictated that certain behaviours were off-limits. But what happened when people chose to break these informal 'rules'?

Monday 28 May, 15:00-16:00. The Fight Book of Hans Talhoffer: Siege Technology and Combat of the Fifteenth Century. 

Jacob Deacon, IMS PG Researcher, discussed Hans Talhoffer, a fencing master active during the mid-fifteenth century, and a series of Fechtbucher, or fight books, which depicted the art of single combat. Deacon focused on a specific book published in 1459 which included material on fighting and various forms of siege technology. 

Other Activities
The re-enactors gave a series of demonstrations, including laying siege to the Royal Apartments. Techniques and weapons used during the medieval period were featured, and the re-enactors showcased how sieges may have been conducted in the medieval period. A re-enactment camp was also open during the weekend, allowing for more interaction with various aspects of medieval history. 

The Royal Apartments and Elizabethan and Normal chapel areas were also open to visitors, following recent extensive conservation works.  

Participation and Results
Approximately 1,800 visitors attended the event over both days, and 13 to 20 participants (aged 18 and over) attended each talk. Wilkinson-Keys emphasised the positive feedback received from the talks, as attendees valued the 'specialist knowledge and interpretation [contributing] to the event's theme'. Moreover Wilkinson-Keys found the talks exciting because they 'added something completely new to the Castle's large-scale events programme, particularly in terms of catering to adults as well as families'. 

Titterton viewed his talk positively as well: 'The audience seemed engaged and I had a detailed conversation afterwards about medieval military strategies'. Phillips agreed, calling participating in Siege Weekend 'a great opportunity...It's such a valuable experience to share my research with a wider audience [who]...enjoyed it and asked some really thoughtful questions'. Although Titterton was 'delighted' to participate in the event, he acknowledged it was 'a challenge to speak about my topic in such an informal style'. All speakers also mentioned learning from and enjoying other talks at the event. 

Wilkinson-Keys further explained the re-enactment camp allowed participants 'to be immersed in medieval history', as they could observe various activities, including cooking, weaving, and stone masonry. Ultimately even the speakers enjoyed the variety of activities at the event - Titterton's only regret was a too-long queue on the crossbow range. 

Upcoming Events at Pontefract Castle
The next major event at Pontefract Castle is 'Proms in the Castle', held on 23 June 2018. Participants will enjoy an evening of orchestral music from the West Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra, with a spectacular firework finale.

More information about the event and tickets can be found here.