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Friday, October 15, 2010

Les Andelys

Our first stop is at the companion villages of Les Andelys.  There are two of these, a small one and a littler one.  Our boat docks at the tiny village, Petit Andelys.  Our first destination is a short steep hike to the ruins of a 12th century castle, Château Galliard.  Looking at this unprepossessing little village, you would never suspect the epic proportions of the dramatic tale that surrounds this quiet little place.  It is a tale of unbridled competition and internecine family conflict.  It touches upon drug-crazed assassins, shipwrecks, courtly love, durance vile, crusades, king’s ransoms and civil rights and cannibalism and the very latest innovations in military architecture.   Get comfy, this may take a while!

The ruins of Chateau Galliard overlooking the Seine valley

It is quite unlikely that you have ever heard of Chateau Gâlliard unless you have already visited, or are an ardent student of 12th century warfare between the French and the Normans.  However almost everyone has heard of Richard, Coeur de Lion (or Richard the Lionhearted, if you are wedded to the English version of this story).  If this looks to you like another fight shaping up between two peoples who are really essential the same folks, you are right again.

Richard, Coeur de Lion, King of England, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Ireland, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, and Overlord of Brittany.
Normandy is so named because it was occupied by Northmen, or Vikings if you prefer.  You know the sort: long ships with dragon prows, bushy beards, big axes and who drink way too much mead; pagans who worshipped a one-eyed god who fought giants in his spare time.  They sell credit cards for Capital One now!  An apt metaphor really, what with the rapaciously high interest rates and high fees courant in 2010.  Vikings were the scourge of the costal areas of Western Europe between the 8th and 12th centuries.  Actually, it is a little unclear that the Northmen who settled in Normandy are those same Vikings straight out of central casting.  What is clear is they were not Franks, the German tribes who settled in Paris several hundred years earlier.  In 911, the King of France, Charles the Simple, defeated Rollo, one of these raiders, but granted him land centered on Rouen in what would later be called Normandy, on conditions that he convert to Christianity, marry into Charles’s family, and swear fealty.  Rollo and his heirs would be the King of France’s men; pledged to send him money, troops, and fight for him personally at times of need, but got to rule Normandy in return.  Prior to that time, the Vikings sailed right up the Seine and raided Paris. Charles thought that by giving Rouen to Rollo, he would buffer these attacks, which in retrospect does not seem simple at all, and it proved quite effective.  The Northmen in turn got land that was mostly Frankish by population, and adopted the French language and customs of the area.   By the 11th century, Normandy was distinctively French in culture and language, but also a fractious and ambitious dukedom on the French border.  Normans would go on to conquer Sicily, much of southern Italy, parts of Albania, the Holy Land and Cyprus.  As we shall recount in a forthcoming chapter, they would also gain the English crown in 1066 and become Kings of England.  By the later part of the 12th century, King Philippe Auguste of France, Charles’s grandson, was understandably uncomfortable with such a powerhouse now on his flank and coveted the rich Norman lands for himself to rule directly.

The Vikings got around, green areas were subject to frequent raids.  What's in your wallet?
Richard ruled England and Normandy for 10 eventful years, from 1189-1199.  He scarcely set foot in Britain, preferring instead to crusade and war in Southern France.  As a very strong-willed fellow from a strong-willed family, he was in nearly constant conflict, eventually squabbling with his father, Henry II (you may remember him from the movies The Lion in Winter and  Becket) and his brothers over succession and land rights for his brother, John.  This conflict eventually became open warfare.  Richard took over as King of England after combined forces belonging to John, Richard, and Philippe August defeated Henry II in battle over Anjou.  Henry is said to have died at the news that John, his favorite, had taken arms against him.  Richard and John didn’t get along at all well. A hint about how all that is going to turn out:  one of John’s notorious epithets is ‘Lackland.’  Richard was a sometime ally (and a sometime strong rival) of Philip Auguste, King of France, and the two monarchs shared an extensive common border that ran right through Andelys, which explains the need to make Château Galliard on this spot.  He was a man who could not be counted on to play nice, even within his own family, and his strong will would eventually cost him dearly, lionized or not.

Richard I of England and Philippe Auguste of France, and Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor, would learn of the fall of Jerusalem and heed Pope Gregory VIII’s call to organize the Third Crusade.  That means an all expenses paid trip to the Holy Land to fight the infidel Saracens led by the notorious Saladin.  Oh, and the fine print reads that the expenses of raising, equipping and transporting the holy army fall on the kings, not the Church!  So Richard heavily taxed England to raise and equip the 8000 men and 100 ships he brought to the effort to retake Jerusalem.  His was the largest contingent to actually reach the Holy Land when Barbarossa drowned fording a river en route and his troops, demoralized, returned home.
Travel to the Third Crusade.  Frederick Barbarossa only made it as far as the cross!

Not to call Richard irascible or anything, but on the way to the Holy Land he stopped at both Sicily and Cyprus and got into disputes with the local rulers that led to his conquering both islands.  Perhaps this is understandable.  Both local rulers were relatives!  In the Holy Land, he assisted in the conquest of Acre.  Richard’s help in the Crusade included a series of disputes about precedence in command— a fairly common problem in the Crusades, where the nobles who led them had great trouble agreeing who would be in charge.   One of the disputes caused Leopold V of Austria to depart in anger when Richard’s men cast down Leopold’s banner from the walls of Acre.  Another, arose when Conrad of Montefort was elected king of Jerusalem—a trifle prematurely as said election took place before the Third Crusaders had even  conquered the Holy City!  Not that said election did Conrad the slightest good.  When shortly thereafter a hashishin murdered Conrad, Richard was strongly suspected of arranging the killing. The Shi’a assassins were fierce opponents of the Sunnis and of Saladin, the leader in the fight against the Third Crusaders.  This is where the 'drug-crazed' assassins come in.  It was widely understood that the suicidal Shi’ite assassins smoked hashish to acquire visions of the heaven they would enter after they were killed for their deeds--‘Hashish’ and ‘assassin’ come from the same Arabic root–but the evidence that they actually smoked hashish for this purpose is rather slim, and probably reflects Sunni propaganda to the effect that that is how crazy you had to be to believe Shi’a religious doctrines the Sunnis already proclaimed to be apostate. And while we can’t completely clear Richard’s name in regard to Conrad, there is no real evidence he ordered the killing. 

Hashish is residue scraped from the flower tops of Cannabis sativa, otherwise know as marijuana.  Assassins probably didn't regularly use this, but had poor PR!  A classic illustration of winners writing the history!

While both were in Acre, Richard was subordinate to Philippe Auguste, who was nominally his liege, but Richard commanded when Philippe fell sick and returned to France.  Richard then enjoyed considerable success fighting in the Holy Land, but lacked the forces to retake Jerusalem.  In September of 1192, anxious about possible mischief at home from brother John and King Philippe, Richard negotiated peace with Saladin.  He bowed to the inevitable and acquiesced to Moslem administration of the Holy City, but secured free passage for Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, and then sailed for home.  Shipwrecked, and continuing on his way by land, Richard was captured in Saxony by Leopold V (yes, the very same guy who left the Crusade in disgust because he was dissed in Acre).   Leopold handed Richard over to the Holy Roman Emperor who held him for for a ransom of 65,000 pounds of silver – a sum that required crippling taxation to fund.  His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (she is famous for fighting with Henry II and establishing the tradition of courtly love) took two years to raise the requisite funds to secure his release, even after several Papal excommunications failed to free Richard. (The Pope was notoriously touchy about secular interference with his Crusaders.)  So Richard did not reclaim his throne until early 1194, and had to put down another rebellion by his brother John and re-conquer much of Normandy.  Richard did catch a break when the Holy Roman Emperor disregarded an impassioned missive from Philippe Auguste to refuse the money and keep Richard locked up and throw away the key!

Chateau Gaillard as it might have looked when Richard built it, a retouched photo.

In 1196, Richard seized church land (another dispute, the details of which I will spare you, but it took years to resolve!) and began construction of Château Gaillard and the village of Little Andelys for the obvious purpose of defending his realm from Philippe Auguste’s territorial ambitions.  It was sited so as to command a bend of the Seine and as a base for watching over the plateau which extended between Rouen and Paris.  Thus it was perfectly positioned to dominate the main transportation link between these two strategic cities. The castle was to be a state-of-the-art facility according to the siegecraft of the times.  Richard had apparently learned a great deal about military fortifications in the Holy Land while on crusade.  Château Galliard had several innovations that had not been employed before in Western Europe.  These include the first stone machicolations employed in the west.  These are parapets and protective walls overhanging the outer walls of the castle that allow a garrison to be protected when dropping rocks and boiling ‘oil’ on attackers who are attempting to storm the walls.  Up to this time, machicolations were constructed of wood, which offered some protection, but were highly vulnerable to being set alight by flaming projectiles.  All those tales about pouring boiling oil on attackers certainly did not come from Western Europe.  No one had any oil!  They had plenty of pigs though, so the real danger came from getting scalded by liquefied animal fat!  The castle keep also had oval sculpted outer walls.  This offered structural advantages when faced with bombardment.  They were stronger than flat walls, and it was much harder to strike a perpendicular blow to curved walls given the precision of the siege technology of the times.  As effective as this innovation was, Château Galliard is the only place in Western Europe where this was done.  Rounded walls also allowed a wider field of fire for archers firing through arrow slits in them.  Richard is thought to have designed the castle personally, and lavished $15-20,000 pounds on it, several times the amount he spent on all fortifications combined in England during that period.  

You can see machicolations at the top of the central keep, or dunjon.  They are incomplete becasue the top of the tower was decapitated.

Today, only the inner keep of dungeon is still mostly intact.  Parts of the first concentric ring of walls still stand, while all the other inner buildings are collapsed to their foundations.  The outer layer of walls is built from the ubiquitous white limestone I have already discussed.  Loose chert was used to fill a two foot inner space between the outer layers of limestone.  Chert is an extremely hard and durable rock, and was too difficult to shape into blocks in the 12th century, but this design made for extremely durable walls.  Château Galliard was invincible to bombardment by siege weapons during the 12th and 13th centuries. 

We climb the hill, and walk through the dry moat that surrounded the dismantled outer walls.  The view of Petit Andelys and the Seine valley is beautiful, even in a cloudy sky that threatens rain.  One certainly can readily imagine the sense of power that placing this fortification on these commanding heights would project.  Yet we stop to hear the guide’s account of the fortification and its construction in the small chapel which has crumbled to the point that its walls form a convenient ledge on which we sat listening to his account.  Wild flowers now grow through the gaps in the scattered stones and wild grass makes our floor.  Château Galliard is now a momento mori.  The cistern has been covered over with a modern grate.  The French have become tired of retrieving the bodies of the overly adventurous or suicidal from it.

The dunjon up close.  You can see where the overhang of the machicolations has been destroyed.  Photo by the author.

Listening to our guide in the ruins of the chapel.  Another group from our boat tours the uphill bastion Philippe's forces took first in the background. The hill behind us was denuded of trees in Richard's time.  Photo by the author.

Our chapel is actually the site of Château Galliard’s demise.  In 1199, only two years after the completion of his masterwork, Richard took an arrow during the siege of minor castle in Limousin.  He thought so little of the intensity of the battle that he not even put his armor on, and had earlier been dodging the occasional arrow from the undermanned battlements.  When he was hit, it was in the hand; barely a scratch!  His men took that castle soon thereafter, and the enemy archer was captured and brought before Richard.  He is said to have been a mere boy, who claimed he was avenging a father and brothers slain in campaign against Richard.  Everyone expected the boy would pay for this act with his life, but Richard generously pardoned him.   Richard’s wound, however, didn’t heal, sepsis set in, and on April 6, Richard died in the arms of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine.  His lands and the English crown passed to his hated brother, John.  

The plan for Chateau Gaillard.  The uphill bastion is at the top of this map, the chapel is the rectangular structure marked 'H', and the cistern at 'F', the keep at M.

In 1202, Philippe Auguste resumed his efforts to recapture Normandy.  John left Château Galliard inadequately garrisoned, and in September 1203 Philippe’s forces besieged it.  In a siege lasting 7 months, they first took the uphill bastion, mining under one of its towers, then worked upon the tougher main fortification’s outer works.  The 1,500-2,000 residents of Petit Andelys took refuge in the Château Galliard during the siege, but when supplies started to run low, the castle commander negotiated the release of a thousand of them and the French commander allowed them to leave. When Philippe heard of this, he insisted that the remaining civilians be made to stay in the castle, knowing that forcing the speedy depletion of food and water would hasten its fall.  In the late fall of 1203, the Château Galliard commander turned them out anyway, and the French opened fire on the next group of 500-1000 trying to cross their lines.  The desperate citizens tried to return, but the gate was locked against them.  They took refuge under the castle’s outer wall, and over half died of exposure and starvation during the ensuing winter.  There were tales of cannibalism before Philippe arrived to take command personally in February of 1204 and allowed the survivors to pass.  Later that month, a French contingent scaled an ‘unscalable’ cliff on the castle’s less defended side and gained entrance through the chapel.  Rumors that they slithered up a privy shoot to gain entrance are mentioned but flatly denied by our guide!  They overcame some surprised guards and burned the inner buildings and opened the outer gates, forcing the defenders to retreat to the keep.  On March 6, 1204, the garrison surrendered.  Philippe would go on to take Rouen a month later, and then take all of Normandy from John before the close of the year.  The lands given to Rollo now belonged directly to the King of France.  

Philippe Auguste taking possession of Acre, 1191.  He is the eventual winner in the struggle over Normandy.

Perhaps you think that is the end of the story, but, of course, it is not so.  Saladin died of yellow fever in 1197.  No military leader would rise to unite Moslems until the Sultan Mehmet captured Constantinople in 1453.   Pope Gregory the VIII, died shortly after having ordered the Third Crusade in 1187. He would be dead years before Richard, Philippe and Leopold departed for the Holy Land.  For nearly a hundred years more, popes would continue to order a long series of crusades to recover Jerusalem, until the last one finally petered out a failure in 1291.  None of these significantly bettered the results achieved by Richard.   King John would die of dysentery in 1216 in the midst of a civil war with his nobles whose resentments at excessive taxation were only partially assuaged by the Magna Carta.  He never recovered any of his lost lands, and died with a reputation so blackened that no English monarch since has taken the name of ‘John.’  He is known to this day as “Bad King John.”  The Magna Carta, however, is generally thought of as the founding document in the preservation of individual liberties in English common law, and of course, in our own civil rights.

King John signing the Magna Carta; a much better moment for us than for him!

Eleanor of Aquitaine would survive not only her estranged husband, but six of her eight offspring.  The tradition of courtly love popularized in her French Court survives to this day, greatly influencing modern notions of romantic love --- with mixed results.  Eleanor died in April of 1204 and was buried with Henry II.  Hopefully they have since shared a peace that eluded them in life. 

Philippe Auguste would outlive all of these opponents.  When he died in 1223, about 75% of modern France owed him fealty or was directly controlled by the French crown.  Among his more lasting accomplishments:  he began the building of the military fortifications that lie under the present day Louvre, started the Parisian market Les Halles which still stands and operates today, and continued the construction of Le Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris.

But later French leaders would be unable to consolidate Philippe Auguste’s territorial conquests.  Normandy would never again function as a separate state, but would be occupied by the English and be extensively fought over during the 100 Years War.  Château Galliard was repaired by Philippe after his conquest in 1204.  It would serve as a prison, a guest house for dispossessed Scottish royalty, and more until, in 1599, it was ordered demolished by Henry IV of France as a threat to Les Andelys, and part of the outer ring of walls was taken down.  For years after, pieces of the outer walls have been re-purposed for use in local construction.  Today its dismantlement has ceased and its perservation assured as a national landmark.

Richard I was ambitious about his burial as he had been in life.  His entrails were buried in Chalus, where he died; the rest of his body was buried with his father, and later his mother, in Anjou.  His leonine heart is buried in Le Cathedral Notre Dame de Rouen, where we shall visit it in just a few days.  English memory has been, I think, rather kind to Richard, given his taxation, his absence, and his general neglect of his realm for other priorities.  He is noted for his courage, his piety, and his success in battle.  He was far more of a warrior than a builder, Château Galliard notwithstanding. 

And what of the heroic young archer pardoned by Richard?  He did not long survive the king, either.  After Richard’s death, the boy was apprehended, flayed alive and then hung by one of Richard’s more vengeful captains.  It simply wouldn’t do to have commoners killing nobility, even in war, and getting away with it.  Especially not a king!

Petit Andelys as seen from the ruins.  The River Baroness can be seen in the center.  Photo by the author.

The little town or Petit Andelys, built as an afterthought to Châteaux Galliard, however, survived the trauma of its fall in 1204.  Looking at the sleepy little town, one wouldn’t guess its former importance or its residents’ brutal past.  But for those who recognize it, the evidence is prominent.  Today it has about the same population as it did then.  We tour it briefly before getting back on the boat.  It has cobbled streets, only few stores including one tiny grocery where I practiced my French buying a bottle of calvados.    Today, it seems rather tolerant of English speaking tourists that wander among the ruins and consider the epic scope and shocking brevity of Richard Lionheart’s efforts to preserve an independent Normandy.


  1. Great post and fascinating reading.

    I had never heard of Les Andelys or the Chateau Galliard prior to reading this, but this gives great insight into the events that defined the Middle Ages. I particularly enjoyed the aspects dealing with the various political machinations of kings and religious institutions.

    I only wonder what most modern royalty think of this history? Undoubtedly, they must be glad to live in times of relative peace and more advanced medicine despite their lack of meaningful political power now. In fact, the only royalty I can think of placing him or her self in harm's way now is Prince Harry and his tour of Afghanistan, fought ideologically and logistically on a battleground much different from the ones the original Crusaders did, even if the battles are still waged in Central Asia.

  2. Those few remaining Western European monarchs--and this is now a shortlist--are proud they have survived a rather difficult heritage. None of them envy the power their forebearers had at the price of living a feudal lifestyle. But Prince HArry is a goood example of this historical legacy. Given the courage, privations and ordeals their ancestors lived through, contemporary royal legitimacy requires great deal more than a lavish lifestyle and busy philanthropic calendar.

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