|The Norman conquest of England in 1066 created an unusual situation in
which the new King of England was, in his capacity as Duke of Normandy,
a vassal of the King of France. With Norman possessions extending even
to the Mediterranean, the English monarch / Duke of Normandy was in
reality more powerful than the King of France. Conflict between the
two realms was predictable and extended off and on in several guises for several centuries.
In the late
1100s King Richard the Lionhearted of England and King Phillipe Auguste of France briefly
ended their conflict in Normandy with a peace treaty. Richard,
however, in 1196 began construction of a castle, Chateau Gaillard, in a
designated neutral zone along the River Seine, a place called Andeli, an act which gave him
control of river traffic from the Channel into Rouen and Paris.
After Richard died and was succeeded by King John, Phillipe
Auguste attacked the new fortifications, capturing the Chateau de Ile
then the town itself, forcing the residents to seek the protection of
Chateau Gaillard on the cliffs 90 meters above the river.
||Civilians could only hinder the defense of the castle and eat
the food stored for the defenders, so the English sent groups of them
out from the castle. Knowing this, Phillipe Auguste prevented the
final group of civilians from passing through his lines, as was the
custom of the times. In the siege that followed, many of these
civilians caught between the lines were killed or died of hunger and
|In this work by Viollet-le-Duc you can understand the design
and appearance of the castle, an innovative fortress of its time.
Chateau Gaillard featured machiolations, at least on the keep,
which were stone works built out from the top of the walls so that
objects could be dropped on attackers below. Towers were designed
to project forward from the walls to provide flanking fire, and arrow
slits were designed for a wide field of fire. The castle featured
a concentric defense. Built with steep ground on three sides, an
attacker would have to capture first the outer bailey, then the middle
and inner baileys before facing the strongest part of the castle, the
keep. The inner bailey used a scalloped wall design,
theoretically stronger but not as useful in reality as expected.
Protected by a ditch to its front, the outer bailey was the castle's
first line of defense. After the castle became obsolete, locals
used the stone for other construction projects. In the cross
section of the wall in the center you can see that the outward facing
stones are well finished compared to the wall's interior, which is made
of rubble and mortar. During the siege, the French captured the
outer bailey by mining under the defenses, bringing a portion of them
down. Next we will walk toward the middle bailey.
This 360 degree view is from the ditch separating the outer bailey from
the middle bailey. A bridge spanned this ditch, which is 9 meters
wide and 6 meters deep. Next we will walk into the middle bailey.
In this 360 degree view we can see the ditch separating the middle
bailey from the inner bailey, which includes the keep. The French
captured the outer bailey and were now faced with the middle bailey.
To capture it, the French infiltrated the area, perhaps through
the latrines, the approximate position of which is indicated on the
panorama. They then took the chapel and opened the gate from the
The defenders now held only the inner bailey. Mining, counter
mining, and a trebuchet brought down its walls, and the remaining
English, 140 of them, surrendered on March 6, 1204.
Above are two views of the keep, which is part of the inner bailey
walls, from opposite sides. Rounded on the portion that is part
of the inner bailey walls, on the interior of the bailey, the keep is
rectangular. The keep walls are 2.5 meters thick and included
machiolations and a plinth at the bottom, a thicker section of the
walls which allows dropped items to shatter or bounce. The plinth
also makes mining under the walls more difficult.
Rouen fell to the French king soon afterward followed by all of
Normandy. The reign of King John was not a success in no small
part due to the loss of Normandy, and he was forced to sign the Magna
Carta in which he acknowledged the limits of royal power and the
existence of specific liberties. Due to the this and family
connections between the royal families of England and France, in later
times the King of
England would claim the throne of France, but the Hundred
War would end any
threat of English takeover of France. Although Chateau
Gaillard had some involvement in the Hundred Years War, it did not
play a vital role. Gunpowder made it obsolete, and the castle was
a ruin by 1573. By the early 1600s it was used as a hideout by
local criminal elements so the locals got permission to tear the place
and use the stone for local building projects. Today it is a
partially restored ruin well worth a fortification buff's visit.
Copyright 2012 by John Hamill