Normans had 'dig for victory' strategy: Exeter uncovers plan to undermine its walls

EVIDENCE of William the Conqueror's siege of Exeter at the time of the Norman Conquest has been discovered. Ten feet underneath the site of one of the city walls' weakest points - the East Gate - investigations have revealed a previously unknown yet perfectly preserved siege tunnel.

It is thought that the tunnel was built as part of a Norman plan to undermine Exeter's walls and cause them to collapse. However, after an 18-day siege, it seems that the city surrendered before the Norman sappers implemented the final stage of their plan.

According to the medieval chronicler Orderic Vitalis, another Norman tunnel, built under the wall itself, caused part of the defences to collapse, thus forcing the citizens to surrender. After William took the city it appears that the tunnel was abandoned.

So far a 30ft length of the 3ft-high tunnel has been discovered by archaeologists from Exeter City Council's museum service.

It appears to have started below the city wall in the side of what was the dry moat which surrounded Anglo-Saxon Exeter. The Norman sappers, digging the start of the siege tunnel, would have worked under some sort of mobile protective structure for protection from arrows and other projectiles fired from the city wall.

Once under the wall, the tunnelers veered north-west 45 degrees so that they were burrowing directly underneath the city's East Gate.

The Norman siege of Exeter took place in 1068, 18 months after the Battle of Hastings. Most of Exeter's citizens were implacably hostile to the Normans, although some of the city's top merchants wanted to negotiate a compromise deal with the invaders to turn Exeter into an Italian-style city-state republic, nominally within a wider Norman empire.

William turned this down bluntly: 'It is not my custom to take subjects on such conditions,' he told a civic deputation.

The Normans then advanced towards Exeter and met a second deputation which negotiated a surrender and gave hostages as a guarantee of submission.

However, the city elite were overthrown by the populace in some sort of bloodless coup and could not deliver what they had promised to William.

William found the gates barred and the citizens defiant. One English fighter standing on top of the city wall offered the Normans the ultimate insult by dropping his trousers and loudly breaking wind.

But the Norman sappers saw to it that 18 days later Exeter surrendered - and William marched in triumph through the very gate that he had planned to destroy.

Exeter archaelogists have also discovered a 12th-century earthwork siege fort, built by King Stephen when he besieged Rougemont Castle in 1136. Excavations have revealed that the circular stronghold was 180ft across.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Sheet Metal Worker / Fabricator

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working within the workshop of ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist high tech compa...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral