Château Gaillard

Château Gaillard

Location: Les Andelys   Map

Constructed: 1196–1198 by Richard the Lionheart

Open: 10am- 1pm, 2- 6pm March 15- Nov 15

Closed: Tuesdays, May 1

Entrance Fee: 3 Euros, Children: Free


Château-Gaillard is a fortified castle built at the end of the twelfth century, now in ruins, whose remains stand in the French town of Andelys in the heart of the Norman Vexin, in the department of Eure, in the Normandy region.

Its construction by the King of England and Duke of Normandy, Richard the Lionheart, is part of the struggle that the kings of France and the kings of England, then Dukes of Normandy, have been fighting since the 1060s. The square locked, with other castles and fortified works, the valley of the Seine. Its capture in 1204, announces the loss of Normandy and the end of the Plantagenet empire.

The castle is the subject of a classification as historical monuments by the list of 1862. Various adjoining plots of land were also classified in 1926, 1927 and 1928.



The ruins of Château-Gaillard are located on a limestone cliff overlooking a large meander of the Seine and the town of Andelys, in the French department of Eure, in France.




The construction of the fortress is part of the struggle fought since the 1060s by the kings of France and the kings of England, then dukes of Normandy. In 1189, Richard I, known as Richard the Lionheart, inherited the property and territorial possessions of his father Henry II Plantagenet, divided between France and England. King Philip Augustus, until then an ally of Richard, moves away from him. However, they left together in the winter of 1190-1191 for the Holy Land as part of the third crusade.

However, after a few months, Philip Augustus returns to his kingdom and takes advantage of Richard's absence to begin the conquest of the Duchy of Normandy with the complicity of Richard's own brother, Jean sans Terre. As soon as he returns, Richard sets out with energy to regain supremacy on the eastern border of his duchy of Normandy. In 1194, after defeating the Capetian army at Fréteval near Vendôme, the King of England concluded with the latter the treaty of Issoudun according to which he ratified the concession of Gisors, Gaillon and Vernon that his brother Jean sans Terre had already lost during his absence. The cession of these three places to the King of France weakens the eastern border of the Duchy of Normandy placed on the Epte and leaving Rouen, its capital, which is directly threatened.

Richard then decides to build in front of Rouen, a large fortress to block the right bank of the Seine valley and prohibit passage by river. He chose the Andely seam between Vernon and Rouen, located at the end of an important meander of the river. The entire fortified complex costs 46,000 pounds, the equivalent of five years of income from the duchy, exhausting the resources of the Plantagenet state. To lock the valley of the Seine, in addition to the construction of Château-Gaillard, Richard founded the town of Petit-Andely, fortified the island located in the middle of the river and blocked the course of it.


A castle born of a usurpation and an offense

The choice of the Andelys by Richard poses a double problem: on the one hand, the place is at the time, property of the archbishop of Rouen Gautier de Coutances; on the other hand, the duke has no right to fortify the place according to the terms of the Treaty of Gaillon of 1196. However, he has no choice if he wants to defend the Seine Valley, so he goes overboard. This earned him the wrath of Archbishop Gautier who threw the ban on Normandy, until a compromise was finally found in October 1197: Richard offered the prelate several ducal lands in exchange for the possession of the Andelys, including the port of Dieppe, source of important income. This exchange is particularly favorable to the Church.


The siege of Château-Gaillard

The Philippide, work of Guillaume le Breton, is the main source on this major event in the history of the castle. After the death of Richard the Lionheart in April 1199, his younger brother John without Land succeeded him on the ducal throne. Philippe Auguste took advantage of this succession to relaunch the conquest of the Duchy of Normandy. Under the pressure of the legate Peter of Capua, the king concluded a peace treaty on May 22, 1200, known as the Treaty of the Goulet. Philippe Auguste retains his last conquests, in particular the Norman Vexin, with the exception of Château-Gaillard. This peace is broken in 1202. The king resumed the offensive and in August 1203, he seized the island of Andely (with its fort) and the town of Couture, abandoned by its population. The boom is destroyed, making navigation on the Seine possible.

Further on, the Anglo-Normans abandon the castle of Vaudreuil without a fight, then it is the turn of the castle of Radepont to fall. The road to Rouen is then open for the French. Thus, when in September, Philip undertakes the siege of the castle, the fortress no longer has much strategic interest, even if it remains for the Normans an important symbol. It is just as important for the King of France who understands (it is the castle of Richard the Lionheart) the necessity of taking it down.

Philippe Auguste surrounds the fortress with a double circumvallation ditch that he bristles with 14 belfries. But aware of the formidable character of the fortress, the King of France is counting above all on a blockade that will starve the garrison and the population entrenched inside to subdue Château-Gaillard. Roger de Lacy commands the garrison and shows himself ready to resist while a relief army sent by Jean sans Terre unblocks him. To preserve food supplies, the 1,200 inhabitants of the Couture (Petit Andely), who had found refuge in the castle, were driven out in December. After having let most of it pass, the French besiegers pushed the rest back. Several hundred of them, packed in the second enclosure, exposed to the cold of winter, were starving. This is how they were represented in the sinister painting The Useless Mouths, painted by Tattegrain in 1894. Finally, the French let them pass and they dispersed.

But it is not the famine that ensures the King of France the capture of Château-Gaillard. He takes advantage of the "errors in the very design of the fortress, which will appear as the assault progresses". The French first attack the big tower that dominates the advanced work. Its collapse forces the defenders to retreat into the castle proper.

Legend has it that the French entered the barnyard through the latrines; Adolphe Poignant (nineteenth century) tells that it was Lambert Cadoc's troops who stormed it one night. However, in the light of Guillaume le Breton's account, they would actually have entered through one of the low windows of the chapel that Jean sans Terre had built very inappropriately. The legend of the latrines is still taken up as a true story today by various unspecialized sources, such as popularization books or internet sites. This story would have been invented after the fact, because it strikes the imagination by introducing funny things into a dramatic situation and, above all, because the truth is somewhat embarrassing for the image of the monarchy of divine right, a chapel normally being an inviolable sanctuary.

After entering the chapel, the attackers then lead into the barnyard while the defenders lock themselves in the dungeon. But as a sleeping bridge connects the barnyard to the keep, the French miners do not have great difficulty approaching the door. A jet engine finally sinks it. The garrison comprising 36 knights and 117 sergeants or crossbowmen surrendered on March 6, 1204. The siege will have cost the lives of four knights. Lambert Cadoc, mercenary leader of Philippe Auguste, was one of the great architects of this victory. The King of France entrusted him with the custody of the castle. The king now has the free field to complete the conquest of the Duchy of Normandy. Conquest facilitated by the moral decline among the Anglo-Normans, following the fall of Château-Gaillard. The duchy falls entirely in June 1204.


The Nesle tower case

In 1314, two of the three daughters-in-law of Philip IV the Fair (1268-1314) were locked up in Château-Gaillard after the Nesle tower affair, Marguerite of Burgundy, adulterous wife of the heir to the throne Louis of France (future Louis X the Hutin) and Blanche of Burgundy, wife of Charles of France (3rd son of Philip, future Charles IV the Fair). The first died there the following year, perhaps strangled on the orders of her husband or probably as a result of the poor conditions of her detention, while the second, after spending ten years in the fortress, was "authorized" to retire to the convent of Maubuisson, where she died in 1326.


Hundred Years War

In April 1356, the king of Navarre, Charles the Bad, arrested, during the feast of Rouen which takes place at the castle by King John the Good, is briefly imprisoned there, before being transferred to the Louvre, then to Arleux, from where he escapes. In 1413, Charles VI, out of money, reduced the salary of the governor of the Place des trois-quarts.

During the Hundred Years' War, Château-Gaillard suffered several sieges. On December 9, 1419, it fell into the hands of the English after sixteen months of siege and this because the last rope necessary to raise the water from the well had broken. It was the last Norman stronghold that still resisted the English troops of Henry V.

La Hire, companion of Joan of Arc, seized it by surprise in 1431 on behalf of the Armagnacs.

"In this season Étienne de Vignolles," says la Hire, "set out from Louviers with a large company of men-at-arms, who crossed the river Seine in boats, and came to take by climbing Chasteau-Gaillard, which is seven leagues distant from Roüen, sitting on a rock near the said river Seine, where they found the sire of Barbazen (Guillaume de Barbazan, captain of Charles VII) prisoner of the King of England, who had been taken in the city of Melun, of which he is the captain. And the said Barbazen was brought before the King (Charles VII), who was very happy about his deliverance"
- Berry, Chronological history of the King Charles VII

A few months later, the fortress is again under English control, and its guard entrusted to Lord Talbot. In September 1449, King Charles VII personally came to lay siege to the fortress and regained possession after five weeks of siege.


Modern era

During the Wars of Religion, the leaguers shut themselves up in the castle then under the command of Nicolas II de La Barre de Nanteuil. The troops of King Henry IV seized it in 1591 after almost two years of siege. In 1598, the States General of Normandy asked the king to demolish the building in order to prevent a new armed band from retreating there to plunder the region. Henry IV agrees. In 1603, the Capuchins of Grand-Andeli were authorized to take stones for the repair of their convent. Authorization was also given seven years later to the penitents of Saint-François du Petit-Andeli, then those of Rouen. The two religious communities are primarily tackling the curtains of the barnyard and the advanced work. The destruction was interrupted in 1611 and then resumed under the aegis of Richelieu. The cardinal orders the levelling of the keep and the enclosure of the high court. According to Bernard Beck, it was Louis XIII who, in 1616, fearing that his half-brother the Duke of Vendôme, Caesar of Vendôme, in rebellion against him, would seize the castle, would have hastened the destruction.


Romantic ruins

In 1862, Château-Gaillard was classified as a historical monument. He enters the tourist guides extolling the romantic ruins of Normandy, in the same way as the abbey of Jumièges and the castles of Lillebonne, Gisors or Tancarville. In 1885-1886, the architect Gabriel Malençon, then around 1900, the archaeologist Léon Coutil, were in charge of drawing a survey of the remains. Several excavations and surveys have made it possible to get to know the castle better. If his plan is now well known, there are still uncertainties about its history and the origin of certain architectural improvements.

These romantic ruins hosted in 2017 the International large format painting Competition in Normandy.



The site

Richard installs the castle on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Seine of about 90 meters. However, the site is not the highest point in the sector since to the south-east there is a plateau which dominates it by 50 meters.

The defensive system far exceeded the only fortress still visible today and literally blocked the river. At the foot of the castle, the fortified village of La Couture (embryo of Little Andely) had been created. From there, a bridge crossed the Seine and supported on the river island called the Castle, which hosted a small polygonal castle (the castle of the island). A few hundred meters upstream of the river, a triple row of piles prevented the descent of the ships (the boom). Two castle mottes served as outposts: the tower of Cléry, on the plateau, and that of Boutavant in the valley, of which some remains can still be seen on the island of La Tour. In the center, a magisterial and impregnable observation post, the Château-Gaillard (also called Château de la Roche- de la Roque in Norman -—. The set was intended to lock the loop of the Seine upstream of Rouen.


The architecture

This aspect is quite well known thanks to the multiple excavations and the accounts of the Normandy Exchequer.

Pressed by the imminent return of the war, the construction of the castle takes less than two years and in 1198, the work is completed. The result impressed contemporaries. Hence the comments lent to Richard the Lionheart: "How beautiful my one-year-old daughter is" and another time: "What a gaillard castle! »

Château-Gaillard is made of stone. It stands out for the complexity of its plan with a combination of staggered defenses in depth, facing the plateau from which the attack was supposed to arise. The castle does not resemble the fortresses built or improved in the first half of the twelfth century, by King Henry I. The latter were generally presented in the form of a large stone rampart enclosing a vast space; a square keep or a fortified gate completed the defensive device. Château-Gaillard is organized in multiple volumes, nested or almost independent of each other. The objective is clearly to multiply the obstacles in order to exhaust the attacker. This arrangement also aims to hinder the progress of the machines and requires fewer defenders.

The different parts of the castle are :
the keep, located in an upper courtyard and constituting an ultimate refuge in the heart of the fortress, is one of the most original and best preserved elements. It is in the form of a circular tower on three quarters, but with an angle to the southeast, and reinforced, on the one hand by a spur, and on the other hand by buttresses in the form of inverted pyramids, except on the western part on the cliff side. These buttresses joined in pointed arches that supported machicolations. These last elements disappeared with the upper part of the keep which was leveled in the seventeenth century. The keep had three levels but the entrance was via the first floor to the north-west via a long stone staircase now disappeared. The geminate opening of bays, on the cliff side, indicates that the tower had a residential function in addition to its defensive role ;
the upper courtyard, which houses the keep, is surrounded by an enclosure (shirt) and an external moat. The upper courtyard also had a large hall (aula), a bread oven and an armory. Cellars were dug in the rock of the ditch, at the foot of the shirt, and they could ensure the supply of a garrison for two years. Quite well preserved, the ellipsoidal-shaped shirt is an original part. Indeed, it has, on the plateau side, a festoon flanking thanks to contiguous towers, eliminating any blind spot at the foot of the wall, and ensuring better resistance to large projectiles and probably supporting machicolations. This innovation was not imitated. On the cliff side, on the other hand, the enclosure shows a flat and not very thick wall and partially merges with the keep. Windows pierce the wall ;
the lower courtyard encompasses the upper courtyard and its keep. It was surrounded by a dry ditch equipped with obstacles, surmounted by a polygonal rampart and towers, of which not much remains. A stone chapel, on the cliff side, and domestic buildings were located inside ;
the advanced defensive work of polygonal shape is provided with circular flanking. It forms an almost independent part of the castle since only a movable bridge spanning a moat connected it to the barnyard. Its purpose was to strengthen the defense on the most vulnerable side of Château-Gaillard, that is to say on the side of the overhanging plateau. It also served as an entrance to the castle, which makes it look like a barbican.

All the elements of the castle are isolated by a moat.
A 120-meter well (20 m below the level of the Seine) is dug in the limestone soil of the lower courtyard, while cisterns store water in the upper courtyard and the advanced structure. Cellars arranged under the barnyard and accessible by the south ditch surrounding the shirt ensure the conservation of the foodstuffs necessary to support a long siege.

Notes on its design
For contemporaries, it is an impregnable fortress.

However, by passive design, Château-Gaillard cannot exercise an active defense. In addition, it was dominated to the southeast by a plateau where war machines could be installed.

For the archaeologist Annie Renoux, Château-Gaillard is "both archaic and innovative". Archaic by its castral plate, innovative by its learned geometry. Scholars have often explained that its original architecture was influenced by the Syrian castles that Richard had known during the third crusade. This origin is discussed today, but it does not prevent some elements from appearing decidedly modern for the time. This is particularly the case of the scalloped wall, the system of machicolations on pointed arches carried by inverted buttresses and the regular flanking of the curtains by circular towers. The both residential and defensive function of the keep will be an idea pursued by Philippe Auguste.

Some figures
Length: 200 m
Width: 80 m
Altitude: about 100 m (that of the Seine is 10 m away)
Cost: 45,000 pounds for the entire fortification program (castle with the outposts, the bridge over the Seine and the town of Couture), the equivalent of the annual pay of 7,000 infantry
Weight: 4,700 tons of stone
Dungeon: 8 m in internal diameter, 18 m in height
Walls: 3-4 meters thick



In 2021, Thomas Risch is making a documentary about the fortified castle entitled Château-Gaillard, an impregnable fortress