Château de Vincennes


Location: Vincennes, Val-de-Marne   Map

Constructed: 1340-1410

Official site


History of Château de Vincennes

(RER) (A): Vincennes
Paris metro (1): Château de Vincennes.
(BUS) RATP 46 56 112 114 115 118 124 210 318 325


Château de Vincennes is a royal palace located in Vincennes, Val-de-Marne in France. It originally started as a modest hunting lodge for French king Louis VII in the middle of the 12th century. Surrounding area was covered by forests, but in 1337- 1410 a new bigger Vincennes Castle was erected to defend the borders of the French kingdom. It was also about this time when Philip VI of France added donjon tower that dominates these military fortifications. At a height of 52 meters it was the tallest medieval fortified structure in Europe. In the 17th century the fortress underwent a reconstruction that turned it more into a royal palace rather than a military fortress. Many royal weddings were held on its grounds, several kings were born. But it became particularly famous as a site of execution of Duke of Enghien in 1804. One of the young Bourbons he was abducted by the troops of Napoleon Bonaparte, brought here and finally executed. During World War II the castle was briefly held by the French army for its headquarters. After the defeat German turned it into their military base. Although it is hard to tell how many people were executed within its walls at least 40 hostages were killed by the German soldiers here. Today Vincennes Castle is open to the public.


Château de Vincennes is most famous for setting of execution of Louis Antoine Henri de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien on 21 March 1804 on the orders of the First Consul of the French Republic Napoleon Bonaparte. French dragoon managed to cross the Rhine into Ettenheim in Baden and arrested the duke. Trumped up charges of counter revolutionary activities, illegal border crossing and swift execution shocked the continent. Willow on the painting is a spot at the entrance to the castle where execution actually took place.


The fortress is located near the capital, about eight kilometers from the Ile de la Cité. Unlike the majority of fortified castles, it is not located on a hill, a hill or on the top of a cliff, but on a limestone plateau. It is not near a stream, but only a stream, the Ru de Montreuil, descending from the Montreuil plateau, which fed the moat, the overflow of which then headed towards Paris and threw itself in the lake of Saint-Mandé.

In the Middle Ages, the time of construction, the site was covered by a forest full of game. Since the nineteenth century, the surroundings of the castle have been urbanized: all that remains of the forest is the Bois de Vincennes.

This fortress has more the appearance of a vast fortified city or a “fortified royal residence” than of a fortified castle. The castle was originally a simple manor, but it was very early intended to house, for long periods, the royal family with all its servants, part of the administration of the kingdom and the necessary army. in his defense.

It consists of a long enclosure wall, flanked by three gates and six towers 42 meters high, which extends over more than a kilometer and protects a rectangular space of several hectares (330 × 175 m). The protected square is occupied by the keep 52 meters above the ground of the courtyard (the highest in Europe and comparable to that of the castle of Coucy destroyed in 1917), administrative, civil and military buildings, and a chapel. In the Middle Ages, the whole made it possible to live on site for several tens of thousands of people. When Jacques Androuet du Cerceau designed the castle in the album Le premier volume des Plus excellents bastiments de France, in 1576, the enclosure was overcrowded; "It contains a real city". The keep was designed to house the King of France in case of danger. It is in itself a stronghold. Wide moats, a gatehouse and two drawbridges ensure its defense. The lowest level serves as a water and food reserve. The first and second floors are the royal apartments. The other three upper levels accommodate servants and soldiers.


The illustration opposite shows nine towers, a reference to the legend of the Nine Preux:

A: Tour of the Village
B: Tour of Paris
C: Tower of the Reservoir
D: Devil's Tower
E: Tour des Salves
F: Tower of the Superintendent
G: Queen's Tower
H: Tour du Bois
I: King's Tower
K: Dungeon



Medieval ages
The simple hunting lodge, built by Louis VII around 1150 in the forest of Vincennes, became a royal residence (resort manor) in 1180 under the reign of Philippe Auguste. Saint Louis is traditionally represented there by historiography rendering justice under an oak tree. In the middle of the Middle Ages, Vincennes was more than a military fortress: Philippe III (in 1274), during his second marriage, married there and two kings of the fourteenth century died there: Louis X (1316) and Charles IV ( 1328). Around 1337, Philippe VI de Valois decided to fortify the site by building a keep to the west of the manor. Charles V was born in this fortress, made it his residence, the seat of his government and of his high administration. He had the work decided by Philippe VI carried out, later adding the monumental enclosure with its doors and towers. The keep and its enclosure8 were completed in 1371, and the wall with its rampart, encircling the keep, manor, Sainte-Chapelle and residential buildings, was completed in 1380. The work lasted two generations.

In addition, the relics of the crown of thorns which were kept in Vincennes having been transferred to the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, the construction work of a new chapel was entrusted to Raymond du Temple and began in 1379. La Sainte -Chapelle de Vincennes was to receive a fragment of the relic that remained in Vincennes. On the death of Charles V in 1380, Charles VI gave the order to continue the work, which was interrupted several times. When Louis XI made Vincennes his residence, he left the royal apartments of the keep for a new single-storey pavilion, built in 1470 in the southwest corner of the castle. He also relaunched the Sainte-Chapelle site.

From the Renaissance to the Restoration
Royal residence
The construction and embellishment of the castle continued under the Valois. François I had the pavilion built by Louis XI to reside there during his stays in the capital. Henri II, who had transferred the seat of the Order of Saint-Michel to Vincennes, entrusted the completion of the work on the Saint-Chapelle to his favorite architect, Philibert Delorme, and the chapel could finally be inaugurated in 1552. In February 1574, the court took refuge in the castle of Vincennes where Charles IX, seriously ill, died on May 30 in the royal apartments of the keep. François d'Alençon and the King of Navarre, assigned to residence at the court, become the forced guests of the castle.

The young Louis XIII was installed, after the assassination of his father Henri IV, in Vincennes in the former pavilion of Louis XI, and spent part of his youth there.

The castle thus became the third royal residence. Louis XIV was in Vincennes when, on April 13, 1655, he went according to historiographers "in hunting clothes" to the Parliament of Paris, to make a bed of justice to impose his fiscal edicts.

The architect Louis Le Vau built for Louis XIV the wings (wrongly described as “pavilions”) of the King and Queen. He erected the Queen's Wing [-Mother] in 1658 and the King's Wing in 1661, the two wings connected by a portico to the north and south surrounding the royal court. Cardinal de Mazarin died there on March 11, 1661 and his remains were exhibited in the Sainte-Chapelle.

It was considered to replace the pavilions built by Marie de Médicis, but the reconstruction work was however abandoned, because Versailles then concentrated all the efforts. However, the castle retained some examples of the early Louis XIV style in the large apartments. The gardener Le Nôtre also practiced there by arranging formal gardens and the access to the Bois de Vincennes, opposite the new southern entrance marked by a monumental “triumphal arch” door.


Royal prison and manufactory
The keep was converted into a state prison (for prisoners of high birth). Its capacity did not allow it to accommodate more than fourteen inmates. The Duke of Beaufort, principal head of the "cabal of the Importants", imprisoned by order of Anne of Austria, escaped in 1648. Cardinal de Retz went there to meditate on the Fronde in the old room of Charles V Nicolas Fouquet, who had launched the architect Le Vau, was also entitled to the honors of the prison of Vincennes, following his three-year trial (1664) and before his transfer to the royal stronghold of Pignerol.

The castle was definitely abandoned as a royal residence when the King settled in Versailles (around 1670). Louis XV only stayed there a few months (he was sent there on the death of his great-grandfather Louis XIV, in September 1715, the air was considered healthier there than at Versailles; the regent - Philippe d ' Orleans - then took him to Paris). Louis XVI did not stay there.

In the eighteenth century, it housed the Vincennes factory, dedicated to the production of porcelain, which later became that of Sèvres. The keep remained a state prison. There were interned Voltaire, the Marquis de Sade (from September 1778 to February 1784) and Mirabeau among others. Diderot for his part was not imprisoned in the keep but in a building adjoining the Sainte-Chapelle and now destroyed.

Through an edict of February 1788, Louis XVI decides to alienate - by sale or demolition - the castle among several royal residences or buildings independent of the Crown which are no longer in use and whose maintenance constitutes a financial pit, of which those of Choisy-le-Roi, Madrid, la Muette and Blois.

On February 28, 1791, the workers of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, not wanting a new Bastille, tried to storm the keep in order to demolish it. But the arrival of Lafayette's troops coming to support the Parisian National Guard allows the keep to be saved.

Despite the change of regime, the keep will find its destination in the nineteenth century. Only the prison conditions will radically harden. Thus, following the days of February 23 to 25, 1848, many left-wing republicans such as Barbès, Blanqui and Raspail (who left thanks to his election to parliament and whose writings testify to his stay in the Parliament) will stay there. former chapel of Charles V).

In 1796 the castle was converted into an arsenal, since then housing the historical section of the army. It was fundamentally changed at this time. The remains of the original hunting lodge dating from the time of Saint Louis were destroyed. New military buildings were built which still exist today. In 1804, the Duke of Enghien was shot in the moat of the castle by order of Napoleon.

Appointed governor of the castle by Napoleon in February 1812, General Pierre Daumesnil defended it for the first time in March 1814, during the Battle of Paris, then a second time in 1815, during the occupation of Paris by Russian and Prussian troops. . The latter, who wanted to seize the arsenal of the castle, encountered fierce resistance. With less than 200 men, the general refused to surrender, insensitive to pressures and attempts at corruption, braving the siege of the fort for more than five months. He ended up capitulating on the orders of Louis XVIII, but left the fortress brandishing the tricolor.

Governors and lieutenants
The command of the castle was entrusted to a governor, also named captain, who was assisted by a lieutenant especially in charge of the guard of the keep and the prisoners.

(Non-exhaustive list)
Around 1400: the count of Tancarville, appointed by Charles V.
Around 1420: the Earl of Huntington (English), appointed by Henry V of England.
Around 1472: Olivier Le Daim, nicknamed Olivier le Diable, appointed by Louis XI, who had 3000 oak trees planted in the woods.
1565: Antoine de Belloy sgr. de Houdainville and Morangle, Captain of the men-at-arms of the castle.
Around 1610: captain of Beaulieu, appointed by Henri IV.
Around 1620: Honoré d'Albert, Duke of Chaulnes, brother of Luynes, appointed by Louis XIII.
1633: Léon Bouthillier, count of Chavigny and Busançois, secretary of state, friend of Richelieu appointed on June 27, 1633, arrested during the Fronde in 1648 and imprisoned in the castle of Vincennes.
1648: The Baron de Drouet
1649: The count of Broglie
1652-1661: Mazarin; the Governor's Tower collapsed in 1654.
1658: Marsac, commander of the castle.
1676: Armand-Charles de La Porte de La Meilleraye, husband of Hortense Mancini, niece of Cardinal Mazarin, who organized a fight between a lion and a bull in the castle to entertain Louis XIV's wife
1691-1694: Bernardin Gigault de Bellefonds, Marshal de Bellefonds.
1694: Louis Christophe de Bellefonds, marquis, son of the previous one.

1696-1720: the Marquis Florent Claude du Châtelet, Lord of Neuville, husband of Madame du Châtelet. His lieutenant was Charles le Fournier de Bernaville until 1708, when he became governor of the Bastille.
It seems that the castle remained without a governor for several years after the death of the Marquis de Châtelet in 1720. But there was Lieutenant Pierre Baisle, former captain of the Champagne regiment, until 1749 when he was appointed governor of the Bastille.
1751: the Marquis de Salières, former lieutenant general of the armies.
1754: the Marquis de Voyer, appointed on September 12, 1754.
1767: the Chevalier de Rougement (commander of the Dungeon).
1784: d'Argenson (son of the previous one)
1794: marquis de Rougemont
1812: Pierre Daumesnil
1815: Bernard-Emmanuel de Puivert, then Pierre Daumesnil.

Recent epoch
It was in the moats of the castle that Louis-Antoine de Bourbon-Condé was executed in the context of what is known as the Affair of the Duke of Enghien.

The massive exit door of the keep comes from the Temple prison, destroyed by Napoleon. The emperor was also at the origin of the topping of the various towers of the castle. The park was remodeled in the nineteenth century in the style of English gardens. Napoleon III entrusted Viollet-le-Duc with the task of restoring the chapel and the keep and administratively bequeathed the 9.95 km2 of the Bois de Vincennes to the city of Paris.

On October 15, 1917, it was Mata Hari's turn to be shot for espionage near the fortress of Vincennes, at the foot of the butt of the shooting range, the usual place of military executions.

During the Second World War, the castle briefly served as the headquarters of General Maurice Gamelin, responsible for the defense of France against the German invasion of 1940. On August 2, 1944, three divisions of the Waffen SS retreating from the Normandy front settled in the area. On August 20, 1944, 30 hostages were in turn executed there by the Nazi forces; which destroyed three ammunition depots installed in casemates, at the time of the liberation of Paris, on the night of August 24 to 25. The resulting fire then lasted nearly eight days and caused irreversible damage: part of the collections was destroyed, the King's pavilion in ruins, and that of the Queen partially destroyed.

In 1964, Charles de Gaulle - then President of the Republic - formed the plan to leave the Élysée Palace, which he considered too landlocked in Paris, with no prospect of the capital and not prestigious enough to welcome the Head of State. He chose the Château de Vincennes as his new presidential home, but the operation was abandoned for other priorities.

New roles
The Château de Vincennes comes under both the Ministry of Culture (the site was classified as a historic monument in 1993 and 1999, and the Departmental Service for Architecture and Heritage is located there), and the Ministry of Defense (the château houses the Historical Defense Department, SHD).

Since 1988, a vast renovation program has been undertaken. Threatened with ruin, the keep was closed in 1995, and after major general consolidation work on its structure, the keep with its royal apartments reopened to the public in 2007. In 2008-2009, the royal chapel also underwent a major restoration. , necessitated by the storm of 1999.

For several years, local elected officials have been trying to speed up the renewal of the site, in particular by obtaining a reorganization of the current governance of the castle and by developing patronage. Thus was born, at the initiative of the city of Vincennes, the “Association for the influence of the Château de Vincennes”, currently chaired by Françoise Sampermans.

The “Escale plan” would be an evacuation plan for the Élysée Palace, in the event of a 100-year flood in Paris. And the presidency would have prepared in this eventuality a retreat on the castle of Vincennes, deemed safe and easily adaptable.