The Story of the Sieging of a Medieval Castle: Chateau Gaillard

Chateau Gaillard was built by Richard the Lionhearted and it was sieged and taken by the French in 1204 AD. The story of this castle, and its siege is one of the most interesting stories in medieval history.

Chateau Gaillard is a medieval castle in every sense. When we think of medieval times and castles, or when we watch a movie with combat from this period, we are seeing what happened during the life and times of this magnificent castle. Richard the Lion Hearted built it between 1196 and 1198 as part of his Crusades campaign, and although it isn’t a functioning castle anymore its remains can still be seen and visited.

It was built on a natural triangular formation of land on the bank of the Seine river and had all the hallmarks of a well-designed and well-fortified castle with both water and land as protection. It also had a remarkable set of three concentric circles for defense. The outer circle was wooden and the two inner circles were stone. These formations posed a formidable challenge to any attacking force but they were not invincible. In 1203 AD Philip, the King of France, lay siege to this castle and after eight months of battle it surrendered to him on March 8, 1204.

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The Siege of Chateau-Gaillard in 1204...

The siege began in August of 1203 when King Philip massed his forces around the land structure and dug ditches for protection. His forces then proceeded to dig a mining tunnel under the outer wooden wall of the castle. This breached the wall and the first step of the siege was complete.

The second castle wall proved to be much more difficult and it was thought that the French forces would not be able to accomplish the task until a flaw in the design of the castle was discovered. They found an unguarded toilet chute that lead right into a chapel within the second wall. French forces entered the chute and took over this middle section of the fortification.

The third, and final castle fortification, was surrounded by a water moat and a natural rock bridge that crossed it. The sieging army used the rock bridge as cover while they dug a tunnel that breached the wall. This breaching of the final wall was the demise of the castle and the knights that remained (20 knights, and 120 men at arms) surrendered to King Philip.

The siege of this castle is definitive of what warfare was like in the middle ages before the advent of gunpower. Practically every type of siege technique was used to bring this fortress down. These included siege towers and the effective method of mining tunnels under fortifications to either breach or collapse the walls. The French also used Greek fire to destroy wooden parts of the castle. The French navy even erected siege towers on the tops of their warships. They then sailed the ships up close to the castle to make their assaults.

There were many battles and sieges during the middle ages and the siege of the Chateau Gaillard is probably one of the most interesting and is one that defines what warfare was during that period of time.

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