Week twenty-two: WARWOLF (probability 29002), by David Sutton

Zyzzyva will tell you that a WARWOLF is a variant of WERWOLF, a human being who is allegedly capable of changing into a wolf, and this is indeed one of the meanings given by Chambers, but it has acquired this meaning only by a misunderstanding. A WARWOLF was actually a kind of mediaeval siege engine, capable of hurling huge boulders. The original WARWOLF was used by Edward I at the siege of Stirling Castle in 1304, a vast device that filled thirty wagons when disassembled and could hurl a boulder weighing three hundred pounds. The resident Scots were so intimidated by it that they surrendered before it could fire a shot, but Edward, who was not known for magnanimity, was not going to have gone to all that trouble to build his toy and then not get a chance to play with it, so he ordered the surrendering inhabitants back into the castle and had it fired anyway. The first blow reduced the walls to rubble.

Weapons similar to a WARWOLF, though possibly not built on such an epic scale, were the Roman BALISTA or BALLISTA (both take a plural in -E or -S), which was a kind of heavy crossbow, the TORMENTUM (plural TORMENTUMS or TORMENTA) and the ONAGER. There are also the mediaeval MANGONEL and the TREBUCHET (or TREBUCKET), which launched heavy stones.

Incidentally dear old Sir Walter Scott got the wrong end of the stick again with WARWOLF and took it to mean 'a fierce warrior'.


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