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Château Gaillard
Ruined Medieval Castle in France

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Château Gaillard is a ruined medieval castle in Normandy, France.

It was built built in limestone c. 1196–1198 by the master military strategist Richard I (Richard Coeur de lion, the Lionheart). Some historians think that he designed it himself. It was an early Concentric castle and one of the first to feature machicolations, and flanking towers. The castle consists of three enclosures separated by dry moats, with a keep in the inner enclosure.

It was lost to the French by the incompetent King John and played a major part in the Hundred Years' War, exchanging hands several times. It was slighted in 1599–1611, and is now in ruins. The ch�teau Gaillard can be visited throughout the year. The keep is open in summer paying. Guided Tours in English, French and German from mid March to Mid November. Parking available.




The castle is located 300 feet (90 m) above the commune of Les Andelys overlooking the River Seine, in the Eure département of Normandy, France.

It is located some 95 kilometres (59 mi) north-west of Paris and 40 kilometres (25 MI) from Rouen.

Richard carefully chose the site for his fortress. The Seine takes a sharp curve at Les Andelys. In the curve in front of the peninsula, a cliff 100 meters high juts out like a boat prow over the river. A strip of land links this rocky spur to the plateau beyond.

Richard took maximum advantage of this strategic position. The castle could only be attacked on the plateau side. Thus, a complete system of concentric defences was erected on this side. The donjon, the last retreat, was entrenched at the top of the cliff.

Construction began in 1196 under the auspices of Richard the Lionheart, King of England and Duke of Normandy. The castle was expensive to build, but the majority of the work was done in an unusually short time. It took just two years and at the same time the town of Petit Andely was constructed.

It is said that some of the plants here were brought back from the East by Crusaders. They became acclimatised and have been reproducing here for centuries.

The siege of Château Gaillard by the King of France, by Martial d'Auvergne, Illumination from the Vigiles de Charles VII, Paris, France, XV°siècle



Château Gaillard
Les Andelys 27700
Upper Normandy

Telephone from the UK: 00 33
Telephone from the US: 010 33
Telephone from France:
Telephone from other countries: +33 (0)




Google Maps


Small scale map showing the location of
Château Gaillard

Google map showing the location of
Château Gaillard

Large scale map showing
Château Gaillard




Richard the Lionheart inherited Normandy from his father, Henry II, in 1189 when he ascended to the throne of England. There was rivalry between the French king and Richard as the King of England was more powerful than the King of France, despite the fact that Richard was a vassal of the French king and paid homage for his lands on the continent of Europe..

From 1190 to 1192, Richard the Lionheart was on the Third Crusade. He was joined by Philip II of France as each was wary that the other might invade his territory in his absence.

Richard was captured and imprisoned by the Duke of Austria on the return journey to England, and he was not released until 4 February 1194. In Richard's absence, his brother John revolted with the aid of Philip. Amongst Philip's conquests in the period of Richard's imprisonment was Normandy. It took Richard until 1198 to reconquor his Dukedom..

Perched high above the River Seine, an important transport route, the site of Château Gaillard, in the manor of Andeli, was identified as a naturally defensible position. In the valley below the site was the town of Grand Andely. Under the terms of the Peace of Louviers (December 1195) between Richard and Philip II neither king was allowed to fortify the site. Despite this, Richard intended to build a castle at Andeli. Its purpose was to protect the duchy of Normandy from Philip II—it helped fill a gap in the Norman defences left by the fall of Château de Gisors and was 5 miles (8.0 km) away was Château de Gaillon, a castle which belonged to Philip—and to act as a base from which Richard could launch his campaign to take back the Vexin from French control.

Richard tried to obtain the manor through negotiation. Walter de Coutances, Archbishop of Rouen, was reluctant to sell the manor as it was one of the diocese's most profitable, and other lands belonging to the diocese had recently been damaged by war. When Philip besieged Aumale in Normandy, Richard grew tired of waiting and seized the manor.

In an attempt to get Pope Celestine III to intercede, Walter de Coutances left for Rome in November 1196. Richard sent a delegation to represent him in Rome. One of the party, Richard's Lord Chancellor William Longchamp (Bishop of Ely), died during the journey, although the rest, including the Philip of Poitou, Bishop of Durham, and Guillaume de Ruffière, Bishop of Lisieux, arrived in Rome. Walter de Coutances meanwhile issued an interdict against the duchy of Normandy which prohibited church services from being performed in the region.

Roger of Howden detailed "the unburied bodies of the dead lying in the streets and square of the cities of Normandy". Construction began with the interdict hanging over Normandy, but it was later repealed in April 1197 by Celestine, after Richard made gifts of land to the Walter de Coutances and the diocese of Rouen, including two manors and the prosperous port of Dieppe.

The site of Château Gaillard had not been fortified before, and the town of Petit Andely was constructed at the same time; together with Grand Andely, the two are known as Les Andelys.

The castle sits on a high limestone promontory, 300 feet (90 m) above Les Andelys and overlooking a bend in the River Seine. The castle was connected with Andelys through a series of contemporary outworks.

Château Gaillard has a complex and advanced design, and uses early principles of concentric fortification; it was also one of the earliest European castles to use machicolations.

Château Gaillard was captured in 1204 by the French king, Philip II, after a lengthy siege.

In the mid-14th century, the castle was the residence of the exiled David II of Scotland.

The castle changed hands several times in the Hundred Years' War, but in 1449 the French captured Château Gaillard from the English for the last time, and from then on it remained in French ownership.

Henry IV of France ordered the demolition of Château Gaillard in 1599; although it was in ruins at the time, it was felt to be a threat to the security of the local population.

The castle ruins are listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.

The inner bailey is open to the public from March to November, and the outer baileys are open all year.

The work at Château Gaillard cost an estimated £15,000 to £20,000 between 1196 and 1198. This was more than double Richard's spending on castles in England, an estimated £7,000. The Pipe rolls for the construction of Château Gaillard contain the earliest details of how work was organised in castle building and what activities were involved. Amongst those workmen mentioned in the rolls are quarrymen, masons, carpenters, smiths, soldiers to guard the workers, diggers who cut the ditch surrounding the castle, and carters who transported the raw materials to the castle. A master-mason is omitted, and military historian Allen Brown has suggested that it may be because Richard himself was the overall architect; this is supported by the interest Richard showed in the work through his frequent presence.

Not only was the castle built at considerable expense, but it was built rapidly; construction of large stone castles often took the best part of a decade. Richard was present during part of the construction to ensure construction proceeded at a rate he was happy with. According to William of Newburgh, in May 1198 Richard and the labourers working on the castle were drenched in a "rain of blood". While some of his advisers thought the rain was an evil omen, Richard was undeterred:

the king was not moved by this to slacken one whit the pace of work, in which he took such keen pleasure that, unless I am mistaken, even if an angel had descended from heaven to urge its abandonment he would have been roundly cursed. —William of Newburgh

After a year, Château Gaillard was approaching completion and Richard remarked "Behold, how fair is this year-old daughter of mine!" Richard later boasted that he could hold the castle "were the walls made of butter".

At one point, the castle was the site of the execution of three French soldiers in retaliation for a massacre of Welsh mercenaries ambushed by the French; the three were thrown to their deaths from the castle high above the surrounding landscape.

In his final years, the castle became Richard's favourite residence. Writs and charters were written at Château Gaillard, bearing "apud Bellum Castrum de Rupe" (at the Fair Castle of the Rock).

Richard did not enjoy the benefits of the castle for long as he died in Normandy on 6 April 1199, from an infected arrow wound to his shoulder, sustained while besieging the Château at. Châlus.

After Richard's death, King John failed to defend Normandy against Philip's campaigns between 1202 and 1204. The Château de Falaise fell to Philip's forces, as well as castles from Mortain to Pontorson while Philip simultaneously besieged Rouen, which capitulated to French forces on 24 June 1204, ending English rule in Normandy.

Considering the citadel too strong to be taken by storm, Philip Augustus chose to lay siege. His troops settled down outside the castle, but John did not react.

The local population sought refuge in the castle to escape the French soldiers who ravaged the town. The castle was well supplied for a siege, but the extra mouths to feed rapidly diminished them; between 1,400 and 2,200 non-combatants were allowed inside, increasing the number of people in the castle at least fivefold.

In an effort to alleviate the pressure on the castle's supplies, Roger de Lacy, the castellan, evicted 500 civilians. This first group was allowed to pass through the French lines unhindered, and a second group of similar size did the same a few days later. Philip was not present, and when he learned of the safe passage of the civilians, he forbade further people being released from the castle. The idea was to keep as many people within Château Gaillard to drain its resources.

Roger de Lacy evicted the remaining civilians from the castle, at least 400 people, and possibly as many as 1,200. The group was not allowed through, and the French opened fire on the civilians. They turned back to the castle for safety, but found the gates locked. They sought refuge at the base of the castle walls for three months. Over the winter, more than half their number died from exposure or starvation. Such treatment of civilians in sieges was not uncommon, and such scenes were repeated later during the Hundred Year's War.

After seven months of blockade, Philip Augustus chose to storm the fortifications. He built a covered road from the plateau to the advanced bastion. Under this shelter, men could bring bundles of wood and earth to fill the first ditch. They reached the bottom of the walls and mined the tower. When the hole was large enough, they kept a fire burning in it. A part of the tower eventually collapsed in a cloud of dust. The defenders of the stronghold had to withdraw behind the first enceinte.

According to the chronicle written in praise of Philip Augustus, the victorious King of France, the besiegers easily wrested control of the outer walls. Walking around, one of them noticed a small window three or four meters up the wall. The Normans gave no thought to defending it, as it was the window of the latrines. On March 6, 1204, a few French soldiers climbed up through the window and entered the fortress.

The Normans thought there were many of them and lit a fire in order to bar their way, but the wind blew the smoke back in their direction. The defenders were forced to hide behind the second enceinte.

Historians have doubts about the veracity of this story. Possibly the assailants penetrated the castle through the badly protected chapel added by John, who did not have his brother's mastery of defensive design. As the French could not boast of having defiled a holy place, they invented this episode of the latrines - much more acceptable to the medieval mind.

That same day, Philip Augustus bombarded the second wall with a great catapult. Enormous stones fell on the ward and eventually opened a breach. The defenders had no time to escape into the donjon, as they were too busy defending the breach. They were soon overwhelmed by the numerous assailants. The inner court was too narrow for them to fight in line. The Anglo-Norman troops retreated to the inner ward. After a short time the French breached the gate of the inner ward, and the garrison retreated to the keep. With supplies running low Roger de Lacy and his garrison of 20 knights and 120 other soldiers surrendered to the French army, bringing to an end the siege on 6 March 1204. Roger de Lascy and his 129 knights were now prisoners. They would be set free in exchange for a ransom some time later.

With the castle under French control, the main obstacle to the French entering the Seine valley was removed; they were able to enter the valley unmolested and take Normandy. For the first time since it had been given as a duchy to Rollo in 911, Normandy was directly ruled by the French king. Once Chateau-Gaillard had surrendered, Philip Augustus was free to invade the fiefs of the Plantagenets, which spread southward as far as the Pyrenees and the Auvergne. In 1204, Normandy was made part of the Kingdom of France.

The city of Rouen surrendered to Philip II on 23 June 1204. After that, the rest of Normandy was easily conquered by the French.

In 1314, Château Gaillard was the prison of Margaret of Burgundy and Blanche of Artois, two French noblewomen;. They were locked up and had their heads shaved for committing adultery.

Following the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 during the Second War of Scottish Independence, the child-king David II and some of his court fled to France. David, then nine years old, and his bride Joan of the Tower, the twelve-year-old daughter of Edward II, were granted the use of Château Gaillard by Philip VI. It remained their residence until David's return to Scotland in 1341. .

During the Hundred Years' War between the English and French crowns, possession of the castle switched several times. Château Gaillard—along with Château de Gisors, Château de La Roche-Guyon, Ivry-la-Bataille, and Mont-Saint-Michel—was one of five castles in the Normandy that offered resistance to Henry V of England in 1419, after the capitulation of Rouen and much of the rest of the Duchy.

Château Gaillard was besieged for a year before it was surrendered to the English in December 1419; all the resisting castles except Mont-Saint-Michel eventually fell, and Normandy was temporarily returned to English control.

Étienne de Vignolles, a mercenary (routier) known as La Hire, re-captured Château Gaillard for the French in 1430. However, the English were revived by the capture and execution of Joan of Arc, and although by then the war was turning against them, a month later they captured Château Gaillard again. When the French gained ascendancy again between 1449 and 1453 the English were forced out of the region, and in 1449 the castle was taken by the French for the last time.

By 1573, Château Gaillard was uninhabited and in a ruinous state, but it was still believed that the castle posed a threat to the local population if it was repaired. Therefore, at the request of the French States-General, King Henry IV ordered the demolition of Château Gaillard in 1599. Some of the building material was reused by Capuchin monks who were granted permission to use the stone for maintaining their monasteries. In 1611, the demolition of Château Gaillard came to an end. The site was left as a ruin, and in 1862 was classified as a Monument historique.

In the 1990s, archaeological excavations were carried out at Château Gaillard. Excavations investigated the north of the fortress, searching for an entrance postulated by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, but no such entrance was found. The excavation revealed that there was an addition to the north of the castle to enable the use of guns. Typologically, the structure has been dated to the 16th century.

After Philip II took Chateau Gaillard, he repaired the collapsed tower of the outer bailey that had been used to gain access to the castle.

Today, Château Gaillard's inner bailey is open to the public from March to November, while the outer baileys are open all year round.

Château Gaillard commanding the river


Château Gaillard in 1204


Château Gaillard curtain walls


Château Gaillard tower






Château Gaillard consists of three baileys—an inner, a middle, and an outer with the main entrance to the castle—and a keep (donjon) in the inner-bailey. The baileys, which were separated by rock-cut ditches, housed the castle's stables, workshops, and storage facilities.

It is common for extant castles to represent several phases of construction, as they were adapted and added to over the period of their use, but Château Gaillard represents a single period of building.

The outer bailey is the southernmost feature of the castle; it is pentagonal with five towers spaced along the wall, three of which are at corners. North of the outer bailey is the middle bailey which is an irregular polygon; like the outer bailey, the wall of the middle bailey is studded with towers. Towers allowed the garrison to provide enfilading fire. In the fashion of the time, most of the towers in the curtain walls of the middle and outer baileys were cylindrical.

Facing the plateau, a triangle shaped outwork, flanked by five towers, constituted the first defence of the fortress. A ditch 12 meters deep surrounded it.

If the enemy managed to gain control of this bastion, he would come up against high outer walls. He would have to get over this rampart to get as far as the courtyard, then he would face the castle itself, which is to say the second outer wall surrounded by a second ditch.

This second rampart is the most original feature of Chateau-Gaillard. Richard used a bossed wall rather than a smooth one. The rampart was made of 19 arcs of a circle pierced by arrow slits. The round shape gave less hold to projectiles, which had no salient angle to catch. In addition, it allowed for shooting slantwise through the arrow slits from any point of the wall The rampart had no dead angles.

A single gate was pierced in the embossed enceinte. It was not directly in line with the plateau, but on the side, forcing the enemy to advance along a part of the ward before standing in front of the gate. It was protected by a drawbridge and portcullis.

Visiting the inner part of the castle reveals another architectural feat: the two wells. The first one is located in the yard; the second one not far from the keep. It is 100 meters deep and was dug through the rock down to ground water.

The keep stands inside the embossed ward. Richard gave it walls five meters thick.

Beside the donjon stands the Castellan’s's house. One can still see the mullioned windows bordered by stone seats affording a panoramic view.

Château Gaillard was one of the first castles in Europe to use machicolations — stone projections on top of a wall with openings that allowed objects to be dropped on an enemy at the base of the wall. Machicolations were introduced to Western architecture as a result of the Crusades. Until the 13th century, the tops of towers in European castles had usually been surrounded by wooden galleries known as hoards, which served the same purpose as machicolations.

Within the middle bailey was the inner bailey. The gatehouse from the middle to the inner-bailey was one of the earliest examples of towers flanking the entrance to remove the blind-spot immediately in front of the gate. This was part of a wider trend from around the late 12th or 13th century onwards for castle gateways to be strongly defended.

The design of the inner bailey, with its wall studded with semicircular projections, is unparalleled. This innovation had two advantages: firstly, the rounded wall absorbed the damage from siege engines much better as it did not provide a good angle to aim at; secondly, the arrow slits in the curved wall allowed arrows to be fired at all angles.

The inner bailey, which contained the main residential buildings, used the principles of concentric defence. This and the unusual design of the inner bailey's curtain wall meant that castle was advanced for its age, since it was built before concentric fortification was fully developed in Crusader castles such as Krak des Chevaliers.

Concentric castles were widely copied across Europe; for instance when Edward I of England, who had himself been on Crusade, built castles in Wales in the late 13th century, four of the eight he founded were concentric

The keep was inside the inner bailey and contained the king's accommodation. It had two rooms: an antechamber and an audience room.

In England there is nothing similar to Château Gaillard's keep, but there are buildings with a similar design in France in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Military historian Sir Charles Oman wrote in 1924 that:

Château Gaillard, as we have already had occasion to mention, was considered the masterpiece of its time. The reputation of its builder, Coeur de Lion, as a great military engineer might stand firm on this single structure. He was no mere copyist of the models he had seen in the East, but introduced many original details of his own invention into the stronghold.

Despite Château Gaillard's reputation as a great fortress, some historians have highlighted the absence of a well inside the castle as a peculiar weakness, and the castle was built on soft chalk, which would have allowed the walls to be undermined. This is sometimes attributed to Château Gaillard being important not solely as a military structure, but as a salient symbol of the power of Richard the Lionheart. It was a statement of dominance by Richard, having reconquered the lands Philip II had taken.

Castles such as Château Gaillard in France, and Dover in England, were amongst the most advanced of their age, but were to be surpassed in both sophistication and cost by the concentric fortifications of Edward I of England in the latter half of the 13th century.


Château Gaillard plan


Artists impression of Château Gaillard






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