Château d'Harcourt

Château d'Harcourt


Location: Harcourt, Eure département  Map

Constructed: 11th century

Tel. +33 23246 2970


Description of Château d'Harcourt or Harcourt Castle

Château d'Harcourt

Château d'Harcourt is a medieval castle located in Harcourt, Eure département in France. Château d'Harcourt or Harcourt Castle was constructed in the 11th century, although most of the present stronghold was constructed in the 12th century by Robert II d'Harcourt, friend and close ally of Richard the Lionheart on his crusades. During the Hundred Years War the fortress changed hands repeatedly between English and French forces. Its defenses were further increased during the French Wars of Religion between Catholics and the Protestants in the 16th century. Eventually it was badly damaged due to military actions. It subsequently lost strategic importance as a military base. The castle is open to the public. It is particularly famous for one of the oldest arboretum in the country or a collection of plants and trees.



The castle is located on the territory of the commune of Harcourt in the center-west of the French department of Eure, between Brionne and Le Neubourg. It rises to the north of the town, in the heart of the natural region of the Neubourg countryside, on the edge of a small valley which leads to a small dry valley in which the Évreux - Le Bec-Hellouin greenway winds.

The building belongs to a line of defense of the Duchy of Normandy built along the Risle, and made up in particular of the castles of Montfort-sur-Risle, Brionne, Beaumont-le-Roger and Conches-en-Ouche. The castle is surrounded by an arboretum which forms a setting around it.



When the Viking chief Rollon obtained, in 911, by the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, part of the territories which would constitute the Duchy of Normandy, he distributed, from 912, himself domains to his main faithful. Among these was Bernard the Dane, who was awarded, as the price for his exploits, considerable land, including the seigneury of Harcourt.

Bernard le Danois seems to be the first of a line which will take, two centuries later, the name of Harcourt with Errand. However, his affiliation with the d'Harcourts is not certain. The first lords of Harcourt whose existence is attested are Turketil and his son Ansquetil around the year one thousand.

The very first castle built in Harcourt dates from the 11th century. It was to be, like the fortresses of the time, built of earth and wood, and surrounded by a palisade and a ditch. It would be the work of Errand d'Harcourt companion of the Conqueror.

The second castle, built in stone, is the work of Robert II d'Harcourt, crusade companion of Richard the Lionheart. It dates from the second half of the twelfth century. A charter of the abbey of Bec-Hellouin mentions it in 1173-1174 and another, of Notre-Dame-de-Barbery, dates its construction after 1175. It is an important square keep, raised on a motte isolated by a wide ditch, with barnyard and which is accompanied by a chapel.

In the 13th century, this keep was completed by a polygonal castle with five round towers. The farmyard, also polygonal in shape, is surrounded by an enclosure flanked by twelve loophole towers. These modifications, very Philippian in style, are probably the work of Jean I d'Harcourt. In 1272, Jean II d'Harcourt received King Philippe le Hardi there.

In 1338, the King of France Philippe VI de Valois erected the seigniory of Harcourt, then owned by Jean IV, as a county. Jean le Bon will have Jean V d'Harcourt executed on April 5, 1356 in Rouen after his arrest by the king during the Rouen banquet. John V was involved in the plots of the King of Navarre, Charles II, and was present during the assassination of Constable Charles de La Cerda. Jean's widow, with her eight children, is driven from their home and all their property is seized. His uncle, Geoffroy d'Harcourt, revolted and allied himself again with Edward III to whom he bequeathed his domain of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte on his death in November 1356.

Jean VI returned to favor had been restored, around 1358, by the dolphin, the future Charles V the county of Harcourt as well as the lands seized by his father Jean le Bon. From 1364, and after spending four years in captivity in London where he had served as a hostage against the release of Jean le Bon taken prisoner at the battle of Poitiers, Jean VI d'Harcourt, with a large royal grant, reinforced the defense of the castle with in particular the construction of a gatehouse, in accordance with the order issued by King Charles V, of whom he had become the brother-in-law.

Jean VII d'Harcourt, a contemporary of King Charles VI, led a sumptuous life at the castle. He had twelve knights in his service, attached a choirmaster, a choir, musicians, amassed an immense fortune, collecting gold and silver, and made sumptuous presents to the monasteries. But on October 25, 1415, he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Agincourt, and his castle was taken by the English in March 1418 during the invasion of Normandy by Henry V of England. His property was then given to the Duke of Clarence, Thomas of Lancaster, brother of Henry V, then to Thomas de Beaufort, uncle of Henry V. In 1416, Marie d'Harcourt, eldest daughter of Jean VII, married Antoine de Vaudémont , and claimed the county of Harcourt in place of her younger sister, Jeanne d'Harcourt, wife of François III de Rieux.

At the end of August 1449, the siege is put in front of Harcourt, defended by 140 English soldiers.

“The siege was there nearly eight days
And then the engines fired
So strong against chimneys and towers
That the walls beyond pierced"
— Vigils of Charles VII.

It was not until September 15, 1449 that the latter were expelled by the counts of Dunois, Eu and Saint-Pol thanks to the use of artillery

At the end of the war, the estate returned to the Rieux family and then from the second half of the 16th century to the powerful house of Lorraine-Guise.

Between 1589 and 1591, during the Wars of Religion, the troops of the League, with the Count of Harcourt, Charles of Lorraine, cousin of Henri de Guise, entrenched in the castle of Harcourt, suffered the assaults of the royal troops of Henri III ordered by the duke of Montpensier, Henri de Montpensier, then those of Henri IV. Each side takes the castle twice, then heavily damaged by artillery.

Charles d'Harcourt returns to grace and marries Catherine-Henriette de Bourbon, legitimized daughter of Henri IV and Gabrielle d'Estrées.

In the 17th century, the fortress lost all military interest. In 1695, Marie-Françoise de Brancas, wife of the Count of Harcourt, Alphonse de Lorraine, undertook to redevelop it in order to make it more habitable and to adapt it to classical taste. This friend of Madame de Maintenon destroyed three sides of the polygonal castle to install a pleasure garden there and thus open her apartments to light. For the same purpose, large rectangular bays are pierced. Finally, the interior layout is reviewed. In the 18th century, its lords abandoned the castle.

After the Revolution, the castle, which escaped ruin, was put up for sale. In 1802, Louis-Gervais Delamarre, a Parisian lawyer, acquired it to create an arboretum there composed of rare species, including two cedars from Lebanon.

On his death in 1827, he bequeathed Harcourt to the Royal Academy of Agriculture, which left a work dedicated to the château. The latter yields by deed of donation the castle and the arboretum to the department of Eure. Since January 1, 2000, the departmental council of Eure is the owner.



The Château d'Harcourt today takes the form of a vast outer curtain wall, which has retained the layout of the 12th century fortress, and a castle with its twin entrance towers and its uncrowned and lowered keep. at roof level.

The castle at its origins
In view of the site, it seems likely that originally, the Château d'Harcourt consisted, like many other 11th century castles, of a fortified earth and wood complex, with a motte and a barnyard. , all surrounded by ditches.

The 12th century castle included: an oval motte, bathed in formerly flooded interior moats, on which stood the Romanesque keep, then the 14th century castle; a semi-circular farmyard, also surrounded by a deep and wide moat protected by a palisade replaced in the 14th century by the enclosure flanked by eight towers; and finally a second rampart preceded by a ditch, which extended the curtain of the farmyard and enveloped the castle on this side.


The motte and the house

The building, as it is known today, probably retains the original layout of this fortified complex. Indeed, the original mound certainly served as the basis for the construction of the Romanesque square tower of the twelfth century which succeeds the wooden constructions. Then, in the 13th century, it was extended in order to accommodate the dwelling which was attached to the tower.

The dwelling forms an irregular polygon composed of the square keep to the northwest, a dwelling housing the main staircase, the entrance gatehouse flanked by two high circular towers and the southeast tower with latrines. A well, with a squirrel cage and a vault decorated with broken sticks, typical decoration of the 12th century, leans on the dwelling. This arcade is probably not original, but rather an element belonging to a Romanesque religious building now destroyed, reassembled in the castle to add a decorative touch.

In the 17th century, the house lost its eastern curtain wall, the top floor of its main tower, its walkway and its battlements. On the other hand, it has gained an interior facade from the classical period, large bays and a main courtyard. However, the addition of this new facade has shaken up the structure of the building and the two parts, medieval and classical, tend to move dangerously apart.

Outside, on the terrace which provides access to the castle, a well dating from the 12th century was dug into the rock and 70 meters deep. In the fourteenth century, a squirrel-cage spinning wheel was added for its operation.

Inside, the dwelling includes a monumental staircase from the 17th century, made up of stone steps with a banister in ironwork, then in wood.


The farmyard and the enclosure

The barnyard
To the west of the house, opens a semi-circular farmyard surrounded by a wide and deep dry moat. This space was the living place of soldiers and servants, but could also serve as a refuge for the surrounding population. It is opposed to the high court (now disappeared) which was reserved for the inhabitants of the house. The farmyard was accessed by two gates, whose twin towers form a châtelet. One to the north, the Piquet gate, ruined, and on the other hand one to the south, fairly well preserved.

Today, the farmyard hardly includes any buildings, whereas it had several in the Middle Ages, including accommodation for soldiers, a chapel, stables, barns, attics, etc. Covered with cobblestones, it was an integral part of the defensive system, like a large barbican. Have also unearthed galleries and underground cellars.


The enclosure

The farmyard is protected by an enclosure built in flint with chainings in limestone stones. This enclosure, which was surmounted by a walkway and machicolations which have now disappeared, included twelve towers because it also included the dwelling. There are only five round towers left, the characteristic of which is to be flared at their base (which allowed projectiles to ricochet) and which are pierced with loopholes. These towers were once surmounted by pepperboxes and consisted of three levels connected to each other by an internal staircase.


The Picket Gate

The north door of the farmyard, known as Piquet door, the oldest, is largely destroyed. Archaeological studies carried out in the early 2010s have provided information on this part of the castle.

Thus, this door, facing the dry valley, was defended by a barbican and powerful ditches, the closest to the latter being crossed by a standing bridge. It consisted of an axial corridor, two flanking towers, framed by curtain walls against which large buildings leaned.

The building has known two successive states: the first certainly dating from the end of the 12th century or the first half of the 13th century; the second probably dates from the end of the 13th or 14th century. A fire followed by a major demolition would explain the transition from the first to the second state.

Composed of an overall identical architecture, these two states present certain differences: passage of a yellow mortar to an orange mortar, modification of the thickness of certain walls, probable increase in the size of the towers, addition of a paving of flint in the corridor, a fireplace (east building), plaster wall coatings (west building), and a step under an archer (east tower). The passage between the two towers is reduced by the installation of a thick wall, then definitively condemned by loose stones, bound with cob.

There remain, in the ditch of the upper courtyard, the remaining sections of the glacis of the counterscarp, the remains of a hypothetical tower in the northeast corner of the lower courtyard and the ruins of a wall or a glacis leaning against the embankment separating the ditch of the upper courtyard from that of the lower courtyard.


The Châtelet or the South Gate

The castle of Harcourt, formerly crenellated, and its Gothic door giving access to the fortified crescent, is the result of four phases of construction and modification between the 13th and the beginning of the 18th century.

At the end of the 13th century, the gate was built, flanked by two circular towers, pierced with arrow slits, some of which are still visible today, and preceded by a drawbridge which has been replaced by a causeway.
At the end of the 13th or the beginning of the 14th century, a rectangular building was attached to the door, thus making the whole thing a châtelet. The building consists of two rooms and a 14-meter corridor defended by at least two archers. It was also equipped with two portcullises and a stunner, thus creating an airlock system. The room on the first floor, which occupies an area of 73.50 m2, has a large fireplace and a vaulted framework, and is lit by a Gothic window with two lancets and oculus. It served as the chamber of accounts, seat of the high and low justice of the county of Harcourt.

In the 15th century, the interior was redesigned. This phase is characterized by the disappearance of the main defensive elements: lowering of the level of circulation by approximately 1 m on the ground floor, sealing of the arrow slits in the west room, removal of the closing devices and the stunner. In addition, the walls are redone and a new staircase is installed.
At the end of the 17th century, beginning of the 18th century, the building was transformed under the aegis of Marie-Françoise de Brancas, who undertook major modifications. Thus, the north gutter wall with its staircase, destroyed or collapsed, is rebuilt, but only up to the floor of the first floor. An asymmetrical roof with two slopes is therefore put in place. A straight wooden staircase is built into the west hall against the western gable wall.


Protection of historical monuments

The castle is classified as historical monuments by the list of 1862.