Let’s chuck some corpses

27 June 2013 by Annelie Wendeberg, posted in Biological Warfare

The History of Biological Warfare, Part 4

“...dyverse great engyns […] cast in deed horses, and beestes stinking, wherby they within had great[er] dystres than with any other thynge, for the ayre was hote as in the myddes of somer: the stynke and ayre was so abdominable, that they considered howe that finally they coude nat long endure.” J. Froissart, The Siege of Thun l’Eveque (1340)

Reconstruction of a Trebuchet, a dyverse great engyn  (Source: Wikimedia Commons, ChrisO)

In 1337, King Edward III of England had the rather provocative idea to lay claim to the French crown. After all, royal french blood ran in his veins (and arteries), so why not be a little cheeky? The French applied their equivalent for the English expression of utter puzzlement - also known as WTF? Soon the Hundred Years War began and with it, one of the first recorded uses of rotting cadavers as weapons.

Leading an expeditionary force into France, Edward took Thun l’Eveque castle. While his men entertained themselves with harassing residents of the nearby city of Cambrai, he and the larger part of his troops moved on. The people of Cambrai sought help from the Duke of Normandy who soon besieged the castle, bringing “diverse great engyns” to hurl stones and dead horses into the stronghold.

The motive behind the use of carcasses as missiles is topic of hot debate (for further reading see here). Can an army have so many dead horses that they outnumber stones? Wouldn’t one eat a freshly deceased horse, instead of throwing it at the enemy? Disease was believed to be transmitted through bad air. What could create abdominable stynke as rapidly as rotting horses that come crashing down on the streets?

Regardless of the motive; be it to drive the enemy out with stinking mountains of flesh, or to infect them with disease, out they came after a relief force from England failed to dislodge the duke’s troops.

Only six years later, the chucking of corpses over city walls would mark the beginning of the greatest health disaster in human history (which will be the topic of the next post). Meanwhile: Catapult cows with Monthy Python



The Chronicle of Froissart, Translated out of French by Sir John Bourchier Lord Berners

Biological Warfare before 1914 by Mark Wheelis

Microorganisms and Bioterrorism

Six-Legged Soldiers




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