The Capture of Château Gaillard
- 6th March 1204 -
Built in a single year, 1197-98, by Richard I, the Lionheart, Château Gaillard was one of the strongest and most up-to-date castles of its age. The word Gaillard itself means strong and large and Richard was very proud of what he had built. It had 17 massive towers, walls over 4m thick and was built in the concentric style of two walls of defence – and it had two ditches, or moats. Its inner wall was embossed – 19 arcs of a circle – in the style Richard had seen whilst on Crusade in the East. The castle had been built to protect English lands in France that had been acquired by Henry II as part of his Angevin Empire - named after Henry’s father – Geoffrey of Anjou. This castle defended the Northern lands, Rouen and Normandy. It was positioned in a meander of the River Seine 55miles North West of Paris at Les Andelys.
King Philip II started the siege of the castle in September 1203 and his army camped outside for 6 months. The inhabitants of Petit Andelys took refuge in the castle by were evicted by the English garrison as they would use much of the supplies. About 1000 were let through the attacking line but others were then pushed back again towards the castle by the French. They died of cold and starvation between the two lines of combatants. The garrison inside jeered at the attackers from the thinking that the site was impregnable. However King John was unable to raise an army to relieve the siege and when Philip discovered the inhabitants had enough provisions for a further 6 months decided to launch an assault.
Screens were built to protect the attackers and a path was built through the moat using earth and trees. The corner tower was then mined which led to its partial collapse. A group of assailants then entered through the garderobes (latrine) holes (Think Johnny English) and were able to lower the drawbridge to the main keep. Other stories say that they managed to get in through the chapel and that this was destroyed and it’s possible that the story of the entry through the garderobes was used to deflect criticism from the Church. Trebuchets then blasted away at the remaining walls causing breaches to be made and the garrison surrendered on 6thMarch 1204.
The capture of Château Gaillard led to the eventual destruction of the Angevin Empire under King John, one of the many criticisms levelled against him. When John died in 1216 only a few areas of South West France were still left belonging to the English. The English barons even asked the French to invade when John refused to obey the demands of Magna Carta – which they did under the Dauphin, Louis Capet, in 1215.
Philip went on to defeat John at Bouvines in 1214, earn his name Augustus and became known as the father of Modern France.