Charleville - Mezieres

Mezieres on the Meuse dates to the 800s.  Defenses were stone in the 1200s, and between 1590 and 1593, the walls were updated with more modern italian trace artillery defenses.  Demi-lunes and counterguards were added in the early and mid 1600s, and hornworks were built in the late 1600s.  To the north, Charleville appeared by the 1600s.  There, small arms were manufactured, including many used by Americans during the American Revolution.  Today, there are just a few traces left of the fortifications.  The Museum of the Ardennes in the Ducal Place, or town square of Charleville, has an excellent paper model of the old towns and their defenses along with old maps.  Unfortunately, the displays and a booklet on the fortifications are all in French, which your humble and obedient servant can't read, so the explanations here are sparse out of necessity.

Before stone was used for defenses, a major leap forward, wooden palisades and earthen mounds were common features.  Here, within Mezieres, it appears that a medieval mound, or motte, was later used as a platform for gunpowder artillery.

This is the western end of Mezieres.  The model depicts the town in around 1614.  The defenses included the river itself, which surrounded the town.  Not shown here, outworks provided additional protection.  Note the earthen mounds, or Bayard Cavaliers, mounting artillery behind the walls and the casemated walls.

Southern River Crossing

By the 18th century the southern bank would be protected by a hornwork.

On the eastern side of Mezieres, a citadel provided a fall back position in case the town itself was captured.  The photo at left shows how the citadel was designed to dominate the defenses of the town, in case they were captured, but also potentially to assist the army in controlling the town.  The building across the moat is a mill.  In the photo at right, note the earthen defenses mounting artillery, Bayard Cavaliers, behind the wall as well as the outwork separated by a wet moat.  In the 18th century, a counterguard was built in front of the prominent bastion at lower left and another counterguard was built in front of the Bastion de Bourgogne visible here projecting furtherest to the right.

This is the entrance to the citadel from outside the town, to the east.  It is protected by an odd modification of the defenses where the medieval medieval Porte de Bourgogne entrance is retained along with its drawbridge, protected by a modern casemated Bastion de Bourgogne.  

This plan depicts 18th century, including the extensive outworks protecting Mezieres.  Built on flat ground where the Meuse meanders, using the river to aid the defense was obvious.  In the top right corner is Charleville, strangely shown here without fortifications, which did exist by that time.

Charleville in 1629

The Meuse protects the northern side of Charleville.  At right is a mill, now a museum to a famous French poet.  See panorama below.



Place Ducale


Muskets for the French army were built in Charleville.  During the American Revolution, many Charleville muskets made their way to America to be used against France's hereditary enemy.  In the 19th century, small arms production was moved elsewhere, further from the border and therefore safer from enemy capture.


Copyright 2010-11 by John Hamill

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