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How To Take a Castle  

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When taking a castle, firstly make sure that it has a garrison. If it has one, this next section will tell you how to take it. Later on we will deal with how to take a castle without a garrison.

Now, when dealing with your castle, look for ways in. Most castles have a couple of towers which are clearly indefensible, a spot where you can hide and no-one can hit you, and a couple of tunnels leading in. These items are most likely to be there if the architect died or was executed after the castle was completed. Search the castle carefully around the perimeter and you'll probably find some without too much difficulty.

Then try to get into the castle. This isn't so hard as it could be, but worth doing yourself so that you know how well it got done. Dress up as someone fairly normal who would be allowed onto the walls. You can then examine towers, garrisons, troop rotas, when the next tournament, joust, cock-fight or the like is going to call troops away from the walls (one town was captured by one Earl and three soldiers in such circumstances). You can also look at exits from ways in and see if you can use them. You can also chat up the kitchen girls and ask if you can bring a few friends round for a little house-party - if you get in this way you won't need a large army.

In the event of your coming in by this route and finding that the girls told about you and that an armed guard is present the best course of action is to run. If you do get in easily, take over the castle with minimum bloodshed if you want to be kind and maximum bloodshed if you want to be heroic, ransom anyone important for the profit and because it looks better than stringing them up, block up the entrances which you saw, and dispose of the kitchen girls, as they are evidently treacherous and cannot be trusted.

If you get in but are beaten back, you should die fighting. The second option is to be taken prisoner, and cowards leg it. If you take the castle, you have been successful, although trickery isn't the fairest way of doing it. But if you get in easily and then your army of 200 is killed by the lord and a few guards you should be ashamed of yourself. In the event of your demise, make sure your weight is in proportion to the wealth of your family, to ensure that your mummy can afford to pay your weight in gold to regain your body rather than risk it ending up at the bottom of a moat.

When attacking, try to do it in twilight. You should be just about able to see what's happening, but the defenders won't be able to see you too well. In broad daylight a large army is just too obvious, and at night no one has any idea what the bananas is going on, where the rest of the army is, or where they are going, and the biggest joke for soldiers is the idea of the army which, in a midnight confrontation, wipes itself out with no losses to the other side. Alternatively you could reverse this, pretend to attack in the middle of the night, and let the defenders wipe themselves out in the dark, allowing you to walk into an empty castle the following morning.

If you can become a regular at taking castles and killing everyone inside left right and centre, you will not be noted for your chivalry or the God-fearing decency of men who hold the former occupants of their new castles to ransom, but you will find it easy to take castles. Warn a castle's garrison that in twelve hours you will be at their gates. They will leave so fast that they may even forget to put the cat out, cancel the milk, or wreck the castle to make things difficult for the newcomers because they have to start by rebuilding the place. Within a day you will be in charge of a castle with (hopefully) a full granary, armoury, treasury and stockpile, and lots of lovely land. The best bit is that it'll all be free, and that's a good way to feel happy.

You can also besiege the castle, but this can be a long job. You have to sit outside until the garrison surrenders, and this can take a long time if the castle has good stocks of food. Besieging a castle is a long and boring job, best done by generals with nothing to do or youths who are just learning how to handle an army.

Sadly the art of taking or holding castles is long gone, as an art destroyed by Oliver Cromwell.

The cad fired cannons at most of the castles in Britain and then blew up the towers. Except in the case of Raglan, which was demolished with pickaxes after it turned out that it was too well built for the gunpowder of the day. Fortunately there was no such thing as a nuclear bomb in those days, otherwise there would be no castles left in Britain, and that would ruin the next part of this feature.

In order to take a ruined castle you do not normally have to fight any knights, but you can end up fighting the tourists already within and, if these fights get too violent, you can beat up the local constabulary (not advised).

The main reason for trying to take a castle now is if you wish to avoid paying the entrance fee (in this age when our dear friend President G. W. Bush would love to drop a nuclear bomb on you for causing trouble, a castle is of little strategic value), although you can also try to take a castle in order to get done for climbing on a historic monument, desecrating a historic monument, and possibly behaviour liable to cause a breach of the peace.

Unfortunately most activities are even more boring than handing over a small piece of paper with the Queen's head and £20 on it. However, an exception comes when filming is taking place within the castle, whereupon you can leap over the walls, kill the actors, drastically improve the content of the production, and get 20 years inside (unless you can persuade the judge to give you a typical 12th-century punishment, in which case, unless you have a title, they will probably hang you).

Please remember that firing cannon at ruined castles is a) not historically accurate and b) counted as desecrating historic monuments, so don't do it.

Overall we advise that, unless you are really out of pocket, you just pay up at the door. Many castles have free entry anyway.

Last modified 18/03/11

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