“Undermining” – Another Medieval Idiom

Ok Ok! I promise I won’t hit you with too many idioms but this one I can’t resist.  It is one of my favorites. It is “Undermining”. Did you ever wonder where that term came from?

It came from the sieging of castles. Yup. When an attacking force is sieging a castle one of the things that they would do was to dig a tunnel or mine underneath it. (They would dig a mine under it). Now here is where the real brilliance of the term comes into play.

We often think that they would dig a secret tunnel under a castle so they could sneak into the castle. But that really isn’t the case. The real point of these tunnels was to get under a wall or under a corner of the castle then collapse the mine. Therefore collapsing the wall or the corner of the castle wall. You see? So, digging the mine would cause the castle to collapse under it’s own weight.  Kind of brilliant.

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How did they do it without having the tunnel collapse on them as they were digging it? Well, they would build wooden supports just like we picture in a regular mine. And when they were ready they would evacuate the mine and light it on fire.

And just like any good arms race our castle residents had a way to combat this undermining. How do you think they did it? With a moat! Yup. The moat around a castle was the perfect defense for this because the attacking army couldn’t dig a mine. It would simply flood before they could get close to underneath the castle.