Château de Gisors

Château de Gisors


Location: Gisors, départment of Eure Map

Constructed: 1095 by Henry I of England, Duke of Normandy

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Description of Gisors Castle

Château de Gisors is a medieval fortress located in Gisors, départment of Eure in France. The castle was constructed in 1095 by Henry I of England, Duke of Normandy. Gisors Castle was constructed on a tall hill surrounded by a protective ditch. Initially it was meant as a protection of the English crown of its lands, however in 1193 the French royal armies captured the fortress. Gisors Castle became famous as the final prison of Jacques de Molay (on the right) in 1314. He served as the Grand Master of the Order of Templar knights. This powerful order grew larger than any of the European monarchs expected or wanted it for that matter. French king with an approval of Roman pope started a systemic crack down on the order. Jacques de Molay was captured, tortured and questioned in this fortress. It is likely that he was kept in the round keep known as a Prisoner's Tower. However he refused to give up any of his secrets. Eventually he was executed by burning alive.



The remains of the castle overlook the town center of Gisors, dominating the valley of the Epte, in the French department of Eure. The square, established at the rounded end of a plateau projecting into the bend formed by the Epte in front of the French Vexin, was the key to a fortified line of castles on the river with Neaufles-Saint-Martin, Château -sur-Epte, Baudemont (Bus-Saint-Rémy), Dangu, who was to defend the Duchy of Normandy against the claims of the King of France.



The origins
The origins of this fortress date back to the second half of the 11th century. A castle motte was built in 1097 by Robert II de Bellême, on the order of the King of England, Guillaume II le Roux (1087-1100), regent of the Duchy of Normandy. This was completed a year later by a wooden keep, probably surrounded by a palisade. In 1113, this fortified site, dominating the Epte valley, hosted a meeting between the sovereigns Louis VI le Gros and Henry I of England. It knows its first siege in 1120, during the rebellion of the Norman lords against the English tutelage. The stronghold, defended by the governor "Robert de Chandos" might have held firm, this serious alert will lead the English sovereign to judge it safer to rethink the fortifications, which will be resumed from 1123. This first reconstruction campaign will see the addition of an octagonal freestone dungeon, surrounded by a large device.

Henry I Beauclerc died in 1135, leaving no male heir. His daughter Mathilde the Empress, widow of the Germanic Emperor Henry V, removed from the throne, married, in 1128, a noble Angevin, Geoffroy Plantagenêt, who became, in 1144, Duke of Normandy. On January 19, 1144, Geoffroy pledged allegiance to his suzerain Louis VII and gave him the castle of Gisors and the Norman Vexin. At the same time, the throne of England is entrusted to Étienne de Blois. The latter's death in 1154, without a male heir, made Geoffroy's son, Henry II, the new king of England, and inaugurated a new era: that of the Plantagenets.

An Anglo-Norman stronghold
A meeting between the new King of England and the King of the Franks Louis VII the Younger took place in 1158 at the Château de Gisors. In order to seal the reconciliation between the two kingdoms, the Capetian sovereign grants the young son of Henry II Plantagenet, Henry the Younger, the hand of his daughter Marguerite of France, aged only six months, giving him as a dowry the fortress of Gisors with the Norman Vexin. Pending the celebration of the marriage, the stronghold will be entrusted to the order of the Temple, like two other castles. Three Templar knights are responsible for watching over the fortress: Robert de Piron (or Pirou), a knight of the Temple of Saint-Malo, Tostes de Saint-Omer (or Otton), master of France, and Richard d'Hastings, then master order for the province of England. However, as early as 1160, Henry ordered the celebration of weddings; in doing so, Gisors becomes Norman again. Between them, the bride and groom are barely eight years old.

The strategic nature of this point in the Epte valley did not escape the new master of the place, and a new campaign of reconstruction was undertaken in 1170. This lasted ten years. During this long period, the keep will be consolidated and raised by two additional floors, while at the same time, the ditches are enlarged. A new enclosure (the lower enclosure), 800 meters long and flanked by eight towers, completes the protection of the site.

The annexation by Philippe Auguste
In 1188, on the eve of the third crusade, a royal interview between the Anglo-Norman sovereigns Henry II and the French sovereign Philippe Auguste took place at the castle, at the end of which a truce was decided and where they promised together to cross paths and to leave for the Holy Land to recapture Jerusalem from the Emir Saladin. However, Henri died the following year and it was accompanied by his successor, Richard Coeur de Lion, that the Capetian went to war. When at the end of the crusade, Richard was held prisoner by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, the opportunity seemed too good for the French sovereign, who seized the fortress in 1193; he had several alterations made there, including the construction of a second cylindrical keep, the "Prisoner's tower", inspired by the Louvre castle, the barbican, facing the city, or even the royal residence, destroyed at the beginning of the XXth century.

Freed in 1194, Richard took up arms to recover his fief. However, the two parties opted for appeasement and signed the Vaudreuil and Issoudun peace treaties in 1195, supplemented the following year by the Treaty of Gaillon, which placed the Norman Vexin, and therefore Gisors, under the authority of the crown of France. To compensate for the loss of several of his strongholds and to try to protect his lands, Richard then undertook the construction of a formidable castle: Château-Gaillard, built in just two years.


The Templar Prison

Deprived of strategic significance, the castle of Gisors was then transformed into a prison. This will welcome famous guests during the wave of arrests of the Knights Templar: the fortress thus became, from March 1310 to March 1314, the place of detention of the Grand Master of the Order, Jacques de Molay, joined in the jails of the castle by three other dignitaries of the order: Hugues de Pairaud, Geoffroy de Gonneville, master of the province of Poitou and Aquitaine, and Geoffroy de Charnay, preceptor of Normandy.

English conquest
In 141917, a campaign by the Duke of Clarence led to the conquest of the castle by the English. These will not be dislodged until 1449.

Return to the crown of France
Returned to the crown of France, the castle, which had become useless at the end of the Franco-English conflict, was gradually abandoned. In 1591, the fortress was decommissioned.



The square is in the form of a very large flanked enclosure, 200 m by 155 m which encloses in its center the keep on a motte erected by the Dukes of Normandy. A deep ditch in a circular arc joining the valleys that surround the site, protects the place from the plateau on the last slopes of which it is built. The city was established at the level of the river, at the foot of the castle.

The primitive motte castle is made up of an imposing polygonal keep, established on a castle motte about 30 meters high and with a diameter at its base of 70 meters. The keep will be encased by a stone wall, reinforced at regular intervals with flat buttresses to support hoardings and bretèches, built at the top of the mound in order to protect it. Inside the summit enclosure stood a chapel, a kitchen and a well. This enclosure is pierced by a large door which was accessed from the foot of the motte by a monumental staircase framed by two walls.

The area of the castle was increased by the addition of an enclosure, preceded by a moat, which develops approximately 200 meters long and 10 meters high, flanked by towers, the most famous of which remains the Prisoner's tower, constituting a testimony of Philippian architecture in the region. Several underground cellars have been set up under the castle.



Gisors is a good example of the evolution of a motte into a fortified castle incorporating in stone the three constituent elements of the castles of the year 1000, the motte, the palisade, the dungeon.

Robert de Bellême introduced two innovations to Gisors: the circular shirt tied to the side of the dungeon (shell-keep) and the polygonal plan of the latter, the layout of which allowed radiant firing. Originally the keep, built by Robert de Bellême at the end of the 11th century, had only one floor. It was Henry II Plantagenet who, in 1161, added two additional planked floors to the keep and its very prominent buttresses at the corners. Mention is made of the king's bedroom where, as early as 1184, window glass is mentioned. The spiral staircase and the turret will be built in the 15th century.

The shirt, innovative, and yet rather summary, a wall supported by buttresses, comes from the light palisades which surrounded the base of the motte the primitive keeps. This will be adapted to all the neighboring dungeons: Château-sur-Epte, Fréteval, La Roche-Guyon, Château-Gaillard with a scalloped plan, eliminating any blind spot at the foot of the wall. The buttresses of the shirt will be added by Henri II. They are intended to receive hoardings and wooden bretèches.


The outer enclosure

We owe this large enclosure to Henri Ier Beauclerc. Contemporary to that of the Château d'Arques, around 1120, it replaced the barnyard of the châteaux of the time. This is still very irregularly flanked by towers (north and east walls). The southern part, built fifty years later by Henry II, is better balanced, with the Devil's Tower to the north, the Governor's Tower in the center of the southern curtain wall and its two main entrances to the southeast, the Porte des Champs, announcing the achievements of Richard Coeur de Lion and Philippe Auguste.


Prisoner's Tower

It is a large cylindrical keep built by Philippe Auguste on the outer enclosure, in the years (1197-1200) which preceded the conquest of Normandy. The keep is no longer the ultimate redoubt in the center of the fortress, but sitting on the curtain wall, it communicates both with the exterior and the interior, and plays an active role during a counter-attack. Other examples can be seen in Verneuil (Grey tower), Lillebonne, Falaise (Talbot tower). The tower has an elevation of 28 meters above the moats, and 14 meters above the inner courtyard. It includes three round rooms superimposed vaulted on ribbed vaults with six compartments, thus reinforcing the whole, in progress on the wooden floors, prone to fires.

Subsequently, the tower housed the city's archives, and on the ground floor, a dungeon, hence its name of Prisoner's tower. We can see in this one the naive sculptures executed practically in near darkness by Nicolas Poullain, lieutenant of the Provostship of Paris, who was locked up there in the sixteenth century (around 1575): Adam and Eve, Passion and crucifixion of Christ, Jesus and the Emmaus pilgrims, Saint Martin sharing his coat, Saint Barbara and her tower, Saint Nicolas and the three children, a church, a castle, a ball, a hunt, a tournament, etc.

Devil's Tower
Built in the 1190s, the Devil's Tower was one of the first cylindrical towers with arrow-slit flanks. It was started under the Plantagenets and completed under the administration of Philippe Auguste, after 1193.

Saint-Thomas-Becket Chapel
Built by Henry II, there are only a few remains: these are limited to a few traces of the apse, in the Romanesque style, set in the surrounding wall, at the top of the motte.

Public garden
Its esplanade has been converted into a public garden and with the walks of the castle, the site is classified on February 24, 1940.


Gisors and the Templar myth

The castle of Gisors is renowned for its links with the history of the Order of the Temple, although it was not built by them. It was entrusted to them from 1158 to 1160 during a truce between the kingdom of England and that of France, then served as a prison from 1310 to 1314 for the last master of the order, Jacques de Molay, as well as three others. dignitaries of the order, during the trial of the order of the Temple.

According to certain legends, the castle of Gisors would be the hiding place of the treasure of the Templars. In the 1950s, the guardian of the castle, Roger Lhomoy, undertook to dig a well and to explore the underground passages and cavities thus brought to light, which ended up destabilizing the motte and causing cracks in the keep. The man claimed to have discovered underground rooms, as well as a chapel containing 30 medieval chests, 19 stone sarcophagi and several statues. The mayor and several residents went to the scene but the underground was so deep and dangerous that no one wanted to go down. The caretaker was ordered to fill in the cavities, and the courtyard was then concreted. Roger Lhomoy told his adventure to Gérard de Sède, who wrote an article in a magazine on Gisors to relate this story, and thus popularize the mythical priory of Sion in his work published in 1962, Les Templiers sont parmi nous, ou l'Énigme de Gisors. Excavations organized in 1964 by the Ministry of Culture at the castle to find the treasure of the Templars following the description of its gardener and caretaker, Roger Lhomoy, came to nothing. The foundations of the castle have been highly destabilized by this research.