He’s been laying siege to Chateau Gaillard this morning, as you can see. But I’m not quite sure whose side he’s on. Is he supporting King Philip of France in capturing the castle from King John of England? Or is he supporting the knights of the English Kings in recpturing the castle during the Hundred Years War?
Or maybe the Protestant King Henry IV against the Catholic League in the 8th War of Religion?
Personally, I think that it’s some kind of personal adventure capturing the castle for himself?
All will be revealed in due course.
This morning it was Sunday of course and so there was no alarm. But what took me by surprise was the fact that I was wide awake by 06:15. And to such an extent that I was up and about quickly too.
There was some work that needed doing, followed by a shower. And then breakfast. I’ve paid for it so I was going to have it.
First stop though was in Les Andelys. From down in the village (well, two villages actually, Petit Andely and Grand Andely, hence the “Les”) you can see the castle up there on its rocky perch
Or at least, what’s left of it because the castle today is nothing like it was back in its heyday at the start of the 13th Century.
Apart from various strategic questions which I’ll mention later, this is one of the more important reasons. The River Seine, the river that links Paris to the Sea at le Havre, passes right by the foot of the castle.
Anything going from Paris to the sea, or from the sea to Paris by the river, which was the chief means of transport in those days for goods, has to pass by right under the shadow of the Castle.
The bridge, in case you were wondering, which I’m sure you are, is a magnificent structure well worthy of a photograph, but try as I might, there was nowhere to go to obtain a decent view of it.
But not to worry. The whole purpose of the castle is to guard the river and any crossing thereof so I reckon that the view from up top will be exactly what we are looking for, once I work out how we get up there. I don’t fancy climbing.
With it being a Sunday morning, there are a great many people out there relaxing and enjoying themselves, and certainly having fun in a boat with a couple of oars is one way to do it.
But deliberately ramming your opponent’s boat is one of the things that is not permitted on the river. That kind of schullduggery is definitely outlawed in the rowing community.
As regular readers of this rubbish will recall, pathetic parking is one of the many recurring features, and here’s one for a Sunday morning. The swimming baths aren’t yet open so the person here who has come to drop off her beloved (it is a “her”) is just parking in the roadway, despite there being a large public carpark down the road to the right.
She was still there when I pulled out of my parking place and she didn’t even move when I came up behind her either. I had to negotiate my way around her, and Caliburn’s horn circuit nearly blew a fuse.
It’s a a beautiful suspension bridge of course, but it’s not the first bridge to be built here. The first suspension bridge dated from 1835 and replaced a cable ferry which, interestingly, had an overhead cable rather than a submerged cable as you might expect here.
The bridge of 1835 was dynamited to stop the advance of Prussian troops during the war of 1870-71 and a new bridge was built in 1872. This was a stone arch bridge and proved to be unsatisfactory because its 4 arches impeded navigation along the river and so was removed in early 1914, although because of the War it wasn’t replaced until 1920 by a suspension bridge.
Built in 1947 by Bauduin’s of Chateauneuf, it’s 146 metres long and 5.7 metres wide, and made of reinforced concrete and steel. The daily amount of traffic that passes over it is about 3500 cars and 450 lorries, and the amount of traffic has caused it do be renovated and strengthened on several occasions – in 1988 and again in 2020, with more work planned in the near future.
This current work is due to an examination that took place following the collapse of a bridge in Mirepoix. The bridge here was described by the inspecting engineer as “presenting several fragilities in its structure”.
if I can give you a little history lesson, more of which anon, Normandy was not the property of the French Kings. It was ruled over by the Dukes of Normandy (one of whom was of course William the Conqueror) by virtue of the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte in 911. While the Dukes of Normandy owed alliegance to the French crown, were never under its control.
When William invaded England in 1066, quite naturally, he took Normandy with him and it became the property of the English crown.
In view of this alliegance, in principle the Duke of Normandy had to swear an oath of loyalty to the French King but once the Dukes of Normandy had become Kinds in their own right, the idea was anathema. Whoever heard of one king swearing loyalty to another? It smacked of all kinds of subservience.
Consequently there was a great deal of dispute between the two Kings over the question of the Duchy of Normandy.
France was a much smaller country in these days and depended quite a great deal on imports. In view of the state of the roads in these days, most commercial traffic into Paris came by water, the main avenue of approach being the River Seine.
This however was in control of the Dukes of Normandy – the Kings of England – and whenever there was a dispute between the two, which happened quite often, the English could simply prevent traffic from passing up the river to Paris and thus starve out the population.
There had been a “Gentleman’s Agreement” that the rock here, with its magnificent view both up and down river, should never be fortified. However, while Richard I was imprisoned by the Holy Roman Emperor, King Philip of France had captured Richard’s stronghold of Gisors so once Richard was free, he had to build another one.
And the site that he chose was here at Les Andelys. From here, he could strangle all of the freight traffic travelling up and down river, and cut Paris off from its supplies.
The island, which was a private domain, had a bridge that went across to both banks of the River Seine but it was apparently made of wood and so it was quite easy for the forces besieging the castle to burn it down.
However I’ve not been able to find out too much about that bridge . There seems to be very few records about it.
Over there … “what? behind the rabbit?” – ed … we have the area known as Grand Andely, which seems to have been known by the end of the 6th Century.
Petit Andely is the part of the town that is right at the foot of the rock and which was first mentioned at the start of the 13th Century which seems to suggest that it was founded in connection with the construction of the castle, but
What we can see here is the Hôpital St Jacques. This started life in the 13th Century as a halt for pilgrims heading to Santiago de la Compostela and was outside the town walls so that pilgrims arriving late would not inconvenience the town’s watchmen.
But what you actually see here is much more modern than that. In 1781 the Duke of Penthièvre, an illegitimate grandson of King Louis XIV by one of his mistresses, started a reconstruction of the hospital in order to make it a place worthy of his status. Designed by , and it took 4 years to complete.
Unfortunately the Duke didn’t live long enough to take full advantage of his new property as he died in 1793. And shortly afterwards, his heir was guillotined by the revolutionaries. The property is now an Old People’s Home.
Although it was directly overhead from the bridge, the direct approach is a on-way street in the other direction and so to actually reach there was a merry, mazy, winding way though the town and then a variety of different country lanes to reach it.
There’s a car park near the site but it’s not really big enough for all of the visitors so you need to arrive early – preferably before the hordes of motorcycles arrive. It’s on a steep slope too and wide vehicles will have “issues” about fitting into the narrow spaces provided.
It’s not exactly the easiest castle to reach, although the degree of difficulty is nothing like that which I have encountered IN THE PAST.
And in any case, none of this was enough to stop a besieging army, as we shall see
Luckily, because the castle is built on a chalk outcrop we can see exactly how they did it. The heavy carts that came this way bringing in the materials and supplies have left their own mark on the landscape in the shape of these trail ruts here.
They aren’t a patch on trail ruts that WE HAVE SEEN BEFORE of course but the castle was in use for a much shorter period of time .
Everyone knows that it was erected in a hurry – there’s no doubt about that – but the manner in which it was erected leaves a lot to be desired. Basically, it’s just a rubble wall faced with dressed stone, rather than being built of solid stone blocks.
That might have been how the Romans built many of their buildings, but the Romans knew about the chemical composition of concrete and employed it with great vigour with their rubble mix. Medieval builders had long-since forgotten the technique and we had to wait another 550 years and the arrival of John Smeaton before the technique was rediscovered.
King John however was a different matter. Said to be somewhat indolent, he made no real effort to put up much of a defence and his territory in Normandy was slowly but methodically overrun by Philip. Castle after castle, town after town fell to Philip until finally, in September 1203, the forces of the French King arrived at Chateau Gaillard.
In the river, the English had driven sharpened stakes into the river bed pointing upwards to prevent French boats passing up and down the river. Philip sent engineers to cut the stakes down, and while this was happening, the commander of the English garrison, Roger de Lacy, made no real attempt to stop them.
Philip’s French forces began to ravage and sack the town, which led to the population taking flight out of fear. Of course, there was only one place to which they could run, and that was to the Chateau. Suddenly, Roger de Lacy discovered that instead of a couple of hundred mouths to feed, he had many many more.
Various estimates have been produced, all of doubtful authority, suggesting that maybe as many as 2,000 people were now in the castle hoping to be fed.
The defenders, on the other hand, would ensure that they would have adequate supplies of food and water and then hold out in the hope that a relieving army would come to their rescue and frighten away the besiegers before the supplies of food and water ran out.
There were two half-hearted attempts at relieving the castle but both were beaten off by well-prepared French troops, and King John seemed to abandon all hope of defending his Province. he simply left France, never to return.
Their only hope of relief would be that some kind of plague would occur amongst the attackers (as happened on many occasions in history) or else the soldiers would lose patience and abandon the siege.
But this was unlikely to happen with King Philip. He was determined to recover the province of Normandy that the French Kings had lost in 911 and so the siege intensified.
After several hundred had been allowed to leave, the French then prevented the others from leaving and chased them back to the Castle. Finding the gates closed to them, they had to winter in the ditch here where they either died of exposure or of hunger.
Subsequent excavations of the ditch in modern times uncovered piles of human bones, some of which showed clear evidence of cannibalisation.
As I said earlier, the accepted way of defeating a garrison back in those days was to starve it out.
Much has been made in popular romance about battering rams against doors, long-distance siege engines like ballistas, trebuchets and mangonels hurling large rocks against the walls or even undermining the walls, but a great deal of that is not really a practical proposition.
Furthermore, the difficulty of dragging siege engines up cliffs and the lack of suitable ground nearby to position the engines and give a clear field of fire, not to mention the absence of suitable missiles would rule them out in many cases
And in any case, siege engines are pretty static affairs and a few sallies-forth from determined defenders could deal with those quite summarily.
Nevertheless, some siege engines were employed here due to the suitability of the surrounding terrain, the defenders lacked the kind of determination necessary and in the end one of the engines proved to be crucial, as you will find out if you read on.
However that’s rarely possible because castles are built on solid rock and a tunnel would take an age to dig. If you start very close to the walls, you are at the mercy of defenders above you raining down all sorts onto your heads.
And if you start your tunnel farther away, you have further to dig so it takes more time. And in both cases you are very susceptible to attack from a counter-attack from a sallying party or even to counter-mining by the defenders.
- The garrison here isn’t all that determined. They don’t seem to have made any really determined sortie to try to interrupt the defenders.
- With the castle being of an oblong shape rather than a square or circular shape, the perimeter walls of the castle are much longer for a given footprint and so would need many more troops to defend it correctly. It’s 200 metres long by 80 metres wide – 16,000 m² for a perimeter of 560 metres. Had it been square, then for 16,000m² it would have had 4 sides of 126.5 metres – a perimeter of 506 metres.
- The castle is built on quite soft chalk, which is relatively easy to undermine and which can be done quickly
At first, they tried the simple technique of using ladders to climb up the walls but the ladders were too short. And so, facing almost no opposition whatsoever from any sallying party they set out to undermine the walls of the tower that was furthest away from the keep, showering the area with arrows to keep the defenders away.
And when that wall collapsed, the French were able to use their ladders to climb over the rubble, rush in and occupy the lower or outer bailey at the south end of the castle.
So although the attackers were within the outer bailey their position was hardly any better as they could still not occupy the remainder of the castle and capture the garrison.
And if anything, the odds were then in favour of the defenders who had a smaller area to defend.
When John sans terre became King, being devoutly religious he had a chapel built here in the inner bailey and pierced the walls of the castle to make a couple of windows in order to illuminate the interior.
Despite what you might read in Heroic Poetry about soldiers climbing up latrine chutes, the truth from neo-contemporary accounts seems to be that, quite simply, a handful of French soldiers managed to sneak in through the windows and let down the drawbridge so that the rest of the army could enter the inner part of the castle.
But if so, he was completely mistaken because there’s a ledge of a couple of metres wide, and that’s more than enough for a few determined soldiers to sneak along out of sight of the defending soldiers inside the castle under cover of darkness and climb in.
Having overpowered the sleeping defenders, they could let down the drawbridge for the rest of the army to surge in and occupy the inner bailey.
This would ordinarily have led to another long, protracted siege but there was yet another major design fault in the construction of the castle, a mistake that is so simple that it makes you wonder what must have been going on in the minds of the architects at the time that they designed the castle.
You see the bridge above our heads just here that passes over the ditch and leads to the main door? You would be expecting that to be a drawbridge that the defenders could pull up behind them. But in actual fact it was a solid sone bridge that offered no protection whatever to the defence
Here, I’m standing in the outer bailey looking across where the drawbridge would have been into the inner bailey, with the bridge up to the keep over to the right.
And we can observe another design fault here too. Any good castle would have what they call a meutrieur – which in this case would be a long, narrow passage to the door flanked by the walls of the castle so that anyone attacking the door would have to run the gauntlet of the defenders either side raining arrows down on him from above
That’s not the case here though. The meutrieur isn’t anything like deep enough.
Although miners and sappers set to work on that walls and the gates, it was a well-aimed blow from an object thrown by a trebuchet or a mangonel (history does not record which) that finally brought down the gates and allowed the invaders to invade and seize the keep in March 1204.
This was the final blow to the English occupation of Normandy. With no possible means of defence, Rouen surrendered to the French a few months later
As Strawberry Moose surveys the River Seine from the viewpoint that the French Army has just captured, overlooking Les Andelys and the island in the middle of the River, the French were busy expelling the remaining 153 English troops from the castle.
The leader of the mercenaries attached to the French Army, Lambert Cadoc, was placed in charge of the castle and King Philip pushed on downriver towards Rouen with his army.
For 100 years or so, all is quiet at Chateau Gaillard but then the castle takes on a new role – as a royal prison.
The King of France in 1314, Philip le Bel, had 4 children – 3 sons and a daughter. His daughter Isabelle was married to the son of the King of England and the three sons were married to various European princesses. During a royal visit to France, Isabelle gave some embroidered purses to the wives of her brothers.
Some time later, she noticed that two of her purses were being worn by a couple of knights of the French court and so she mentioned it to her father, the King of France.
He had the knights watched, and sure enough, they were in the habit of visiting two of the wives of the King’s sons. They were arrested and under torture admitted that there was an adulterous relationship between the two knights and the two princesses. The knights were executed and the princesses were imprisoned in the Chateau Gaillard.
The castle is besieged by the English in 1418 and holds out for 16 months, only falling because the last rope that hauls up the bucket with the water from the well breaks and they lose the bucket, and hence can no longer access the water.
Subsequently the castle changes hands on several occasions until the English are finally expelled from France
For a period of about 40 years in the second half of the 16th Century there had been conflict between the Protestand and Catholic religion in France, a conflict that had quite often been particularly bloody.
In 1584 the Crown Pronce died and with no closer heritee, the crown would be destined to pass to Henry of Navarre – a Protestant. A Protestant King in France was unacceptable so another chapter – the eighth in this series of wars – erupted in 1585
Where the Chateau Gaillard fits in with all of this is that certain forces of the Catholic League find themselves bottled up in the chateau by forces loyal to the Protestant King Henry IV led by Nicolas de la Barre
However he didn’t apparently perform his task to everyone’s satisfaction because in 1595 we see the first of a long series of letters of complaint that the castle has now become a haunt of unruly robbers and bandits.
It’s not known for certain when Nicolas de la Barre died but in 1603 King Henry gave the order that the castle should be dismantled and the stones given to the Capucin monks of Les Andelys and sometime later to other local religious establishments.
And this is where I come to a stop too because having spent the last couple of hours wandering around the site and seeing everything that I could, it was time for me to follow these people and take my leave of the castle
By the time that I returned to Caliburn it was lunchtime so I grabbed hold of my sandwich stuff and went off to find a comfy spec in the sunshine and make my butties.
Somewhat earlier I mentioned that the car park was pretty busy with cars and their occupants. The arrival of a horde of motorcyclists added to the confusion and the crowds were swarming all over the place by now.
But the view was stunning. The chalk cliffs are really quite magnificent. They are said to be a climber’s paradise which is no surprise as they are claimed to be the highest cliffs of the whole river valley and that’s a statement that I could readily believe.
It’s certainly a good way to travel and to see the sights along the river bank and although I don’t imagine that it’s cheap, it would have been really pleasant in this sweltering heat.
Unfortunately, I can’t afford to hang around as I have a long way to go this afternoon. And so after lunch I had a drive that was mainly uneventful, except for an altercation with a crazy lorry driver, all the way down to Vierzon.
Here I’m esconsed in probably the cheapest hotel in the whole of France, the Hotel L’Excess.
And cheap as it might be, I’ve stayed in hotels that have been much worse than this for much more money too.
Having had breakfast and lunch today, I wasn’t all that hungry so I missed tea. However late on, I nipped out for a bag of chips. And in the meantime I had a chat with Rosemary on the telephone and told her about my trip so far.
So now I’m having an early night. I still have a long way to go tomorrow. There’s all kinds of things that need doing before we all go into another lockdown, which I fear is imminent.
See you all in the morning