Case example

An interesting case involved the identification of missile holes in a vast 18 ft diameter table which was reputed to be that of King Arthur, a fifth century King of England (Biddle, 2000).

The table had been hanging on the wall of the great banqueting hall at Winchester Castle, Hampshire, and it was not until it was taken down for restoration that the missile holes were located.

An examination of the table's surface found there to be a total of 45 complete penetrations. X-ray photographs revealed a further five missiles still embedded in the thick central supporting beams. Unfortunately, I was prohibited from removing any of these (Figure 5.5 and 5.6).

Using side- on X- rays, it was possible to determine the exact depth of the missiles and thus their calibre which ranged from 0.6 to 0.9". It was also noted that the missiles were very irregular in shape, suggesting that they were probably not cast in the conventional way.

In the early part of the seventeenth century, the military in England were armed with a wide variety of weapons ranging from 0.5 to 1.0". The foot soldier was nearly always armed with a simple smooth-bore matchlock musket and the

King Arthur Example
Figure 5.5 King Arthur's Round Table (diagrams and photograph of the Winchester Round Table by courtesy of Prof. Martin Biddle).
Winchester Round Table Diagram
Figure 5.6 Missile entry holes in table. Diagram by courtesy of Prof. Martin Biddle.

cavalryman with a wheel- lock pistol or carbine. The missiles used in these weapons were rarely cast and usually, especially in times of battle, just lumps of lead which were simply hammered into a rough shape and size to fit the bore of the weapon. This situation was standardized by an order of 1673 where the calibre of service muskets was fixed at 12 bores (0.729").

If the damage to the table was inflicted by military troops, then this probably took place before the last quarter of the seventeenth century as witnessed by the size and type of the missiles.

Historical records revealed that the castle was taken by Oliver Cromwell 's parliamentary forces in 1642. The castle and town were regained by the King in 1643 but was taken again by parliamentary forces directly under Cromwell's command in 1645.

The trajectories of the missiles were found by comparing the positions of the entry and exit holes and side-on X-rays of the large beams under the table.

Whilst the resulting bullet trajectories would appear somewhat confusing, historical records do show the position of the dining table in the Great Hall. From this, it can be ascertained that the majority of the shots were fired from either side of the table, whilst those directed at the image of King Arthur came from the head of the table, possibly even fired by Cromwell himself (Figure 5.7).

Ammunition Cartridge Diagram
Figure 5.7 Trajectories from entry and exit holes. Diagram by courtesy of Prof. Martin Biddle.

Obviously, the missile holes had nothing to do with King Arthur and eventually, the table was dated, via dendrochronology, to the fourteenth century.

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