The site above the current town of Chinon was fortified early in history, and by the fifth century a Gallo-Roman castrum had been established, although in what form is unknown.  Count Theobald of Blois (d.975) is thought to have built the earliest known castle and certainly one existed at Chinon in 994.  After Count Odo of Blois died in battle in 1037, Count Fulk of Anjou (d.1040) marched into Touraine to capture Langeais and then Chinon, where the castle's garrison immediately sought terms and surrendered.  In 1044, Count Geoffrey of Anjou (d.1060) captured Count Theobald of Blois (d.1089).  In exchange for his release, Theobald agreed to recognise Geoffrey's ownership of Chinon, Langeais, and Tours.  In 1156 Henry II of England took the castle from his brother Count Geoffrey of Nantes (d.1158) after a long siege.  Henry favoured Chinon and made it his main arsenal of his empire.  In late November 1166 he summoned his Aquitainian barons there to end the Poitevin disturbances.  In December they moved to Poitiers and then Henry made war on them as they could not agree.  Finally he sent Queen Eleanor to rule them and end the war.  Chinon was used by King Henry, Queen Eleanor, Richard and Geoffrey for their Christmas celebrations in 1172, before they went to war with each other then next year.  It was probably at this time that Henry made a grant to Fontevraud abbey of land for granaries in Saumur and Angers which was witnessed by his queen and several barons.  Early in the new year of 1173, Eleanor was still at Chinon when she witnessed her husband's charter confirming Fontevraud's rights in Angers and Saumur.  She then moved with her husband into the Auverge.  On Henry's return he brought his son, the Young King with him as he feared his loyalty as they ‘could not even converse... on any subject in a peaceable manner'.  While at Chinon in mid-March the young King slipped out of the bedroom he was sharing with his father and fled Chinon castle to Paris.  Towards the end of April 1173 the great revolt began and a letter was sent which shows King Henry's side of the argument.
To Queen Eleanor of England.  From [Rotrou] the Archbishop of Rouen & his Suffragens: Greetings in the search for peace --
Marriage is a firm and indissoluble union. This is public knowledge and no Christian can take the liberty to ignore it. From the beginning biblical truth has verified that marriage once entered into cannot be separated. Truth cannot deceive: it says, "What God has joined let us not put asunder [Matt 19]." Truly, whoever separates a married couple becomes a transgressor of the divine commandment.

So the woman is at fault who leaves her husband and fails to keep the trust of this social bond. When a married couple becomes one flesh, it is necessary that the union of bodies be accompanied by a unity and equality of spirit through mutual consent. A woman who is not under the headship of the husband violates the condition of nature, the mandate of the Apostle, and the law of Scripture: "The head of the woman is the man [Ephes 5]." She is created from him, she is united to him, and she is subject to his power.

We deplore publicly and regretfully that, while you are a most prudent woman, you have left your husband. The body tears at itself. The body did not sever itself from the head, but what is worse, you have opened the way for the lord king's, and your own, children to rise up against the father. Deservedly the prophet says, "The sons I have nurtured and raised, they now have spurned me [Isaiah 1]." As another prophet calls to mind, "If only the final hour of our life would come and the earth's surface crack open so that we might not see this evil"!

We know that unless you return to your husband, you will be the cause of widespread disaster. While you alone are now the delinquent one, your actions will result in ruin for everyone in the kingdom. Therefore, illustrious queen, return to your husband and our king. In your reconciliation, peace will be restored from distress, and in your return, joy may return to all. If our pleadings do not move you to this, at least let the affliction of the people, the imminent pressure of the church and the desolation of the kingdom stir you. For either truth deceives, or "every kingdom divided against itself will be destroyed [Luke 11]." Truly, this desolation cannot be stopped by the lord king but by his sons and their allies.

Against all women and out of childish counsel, you provoke disaster for the lord king, to whom powerful kings bow the neck. And so, before this matter reaches a bad end, you should return with your sons to your husband, whom you have promised to obey and live with. Turn back so that neither you nor your sons become suspect. We are certain that he will show you every possible kindness and the surest guarantee of safety.

I beg you, advise your sons to be obedient and respectful to their father. He has suffered many anxieties, offenses and grievances. Yet, so that imprudence might not demolish and scatter good will (which is acquired at such toil!), we say these things to you, most pious queen, in the zeal of God and the disposition of sincere love.

Truly, you are our parishioner as much as your husband. We cannot fall short in justice: Either you will return to your husband, or we must call upon canon law and use ecclesiastical censures against you. We say this reluctantly, but unless you come back to your senses, with sorrow and tears, we will do so.

In Autumn 1173 Henry struck from Chinon, marching south to Poitiers forcing Eleanor to flee to Faye-la-Vineuse, where she found her uncle had already fled to Paris.  Consequently she continued her flight towards Chartres, but was intercepted and taken back to her husband in Chinon castle as a
prisoner.  Of her escort it is said some were condemned to foul death, others blinded and others forced to flee.  The chronicler Gervase of Canterbury recorded that:

having changed from her woman's clothes she was apprehended and detained in strict custody, for it was said that all these happenings were prepared through her scheming and advice, for she was an extremely astute woman, of noble descent, but flighty. 

Eleanor left her prison at Chinon and Joan and John their school at Fontevraud when the king took them across the Channel on 7 July 1174, the king for London and his wife for prison in Old Sarum castle.  Forced to accept the old king's victory, the Young King found himself transformed from a king to a knight.  The 8 year old Prince John in consequence went up in the world, receiving Nottingham and Marlborough in England as well as the great 4 unnamed castles in France. 

At the Le Mans Christmas court of 1182, King Henry asked Geoffrey and Richard to perform homage to the Young King for their lands.  Geoffrey consented, but Richard refused on the grounds that he had already paid homage to King Philip of France.  Henry was still with his sons Richard and Geoffrey that September at Chinon, presumably when the Young King had already left for Paris and war.  The full scale war came early in 1183, with Henry II and Richard versus Henry III and Geoffrey.  As ever the Young King outspent himself and plundered the lands he had come to ‘protect' from Richard.  The Young King then died of dysentery.  Of him the chronicler William Newburgh wrote that his popularity was only explained by the fact that ‘the number of fools is infinite'.  On 25 January 1185, Count Richard was back at Chinon when he gave 1,000s Poitou to Fontevraud for the redemption of his soul and also those of his parents and ancestors, which he did with the assent and by the will of his father and mother.

In 1187 Count Richard, allied with King Philip of France, but feigning loyalty to his father, entered Chinon castle, pillaged the money and arms there and prepared Poitou for war against his father, although he later repented.  Henry often used the castle as a residence and struggled south from Le Mans against hostile French forces and set himself up in the castle in June 1189.  After surrendering to King Philip at Ballan near Tours on 4 July - his last words to his son were alleged by the highly dishonest Giraldus to be ‘May the Lord spare me until I have taken vengeance upon you'.  When Richard allegedly immediately related this to the French barons it caused great amusement.  With that King Henry II retreated again to Chinon and died there in the castle chapel after having confession on 6 July 1189.  After hearing from the Marshall of the intended burial of the king at Fontevraud, Richard joined the funeral procession between Chinon and the abbey.  This of course ruins Giraldus' well known fable of Henry's nostrils bleeding when Richard entered the king's chamber to see his body.

King Richard was at Chinon with Queen Eleanor in June 1190 making his dispositions for his lands before departing for the Holy Land.  Eleanor herself went on to Saumur to rule on a dispute between the town mayor and the abbess of Fontevraud.  Richard was back in Chinon on 24 June 1190 when made a further grant of £35 yearly to the abbey from his London exchequer.  However, by 1197-99, Richard wrote to the counts of Auvergne that ‘you know that there is not a penny at Chinon'.  Thus Richard's reign ended with him stoney broke, having emptied the reserves of the Angevin ‘empire'.

King John, like his father, used Chinon as a main base.  His first duty was to remove the unreliable Aimery Thouars from custody of the castle and pass it to William Roches.   John was making charters at Chinon in June 1200 before his marriage to Isabella of Angouleme on 24 August at Bordeaux.  Isabelle and John came to Normandy in May 1201, visited King Philip in Paris in July and then Isabelle joined John's sister-in-law, Queen Berengaria at Chinon, before spending Christmas 1202 in Caen.  When war broke out later that year the insurgents besieged Isabelle at Chinon.  King John got word of this in January 1203 and set off to break the siege but after a supporter defected to King Philip, he instead sent a detachment of mercenaries led by Peter Préaux to break the siege.  After this Isabella spent more time with her mother before returning to England in December of 1203.  In 1204 the castle was attacked by William Roches, who went on to take Loches.  It was only in 1205 King Philip Augustus (d.1223) finally captured Chinon after a siege that had lasted several months.  At the end of the siege, the emaciated garrison decided on a last ditch sortee rather than a meek surrender.  In the ensuing fighting the castle captain, Hubert Burgh, was so badly wounded it was thought that he would die.  He did live and went on to defend Dover castle against Prince Louis (d.1228) in 1216 and build the Trilateral castles in Wales.  When King Philip IV accused the Knights Templar of heresy during the first decade of the fourteenth century, several leading members of the order were imprisoned in Chinon

The castle was used by Charles VII (d.1461) and the count of Richmond was installed here by the king in 1424 as constable of France and lord of Anjou.  After his rebellion Charles moved back and met Joan withing the fortress when she was housed in the Coudray tower and interrogated as to her virginity, honesty and visions.  Chinon became a prison in the second half of the sixteenth century but then fell out of use and was left to decay, though briefly occupied by the rebels during the Vendee war of 1793.

Chinon castle consists of 3 main parts, extending over 1,600' along the ridge.  The heart of the fortress is a highly irregular rectangular ward, flanked to the east by the Fort St Georges and to the west by the main castle or Fort du Coudray, both lying at lower levels from the middle ward, which itself has its highest point towards the east.  The main ward seems to be of several builds and was always entered along the ridge from the east.

The Clock Tower and entrance is supposed to have been built towards the end of the twelfth century, when it was the main gateway to the main ward or as it is now known, the Middle Castle.  The tower's name came from the clock installed in it at a much later date.  The current remains show what may be the remnants of either a thick curtain wall entrance or more likely a small rectangular tower like that seen at Hay on Wye.  This is most clearly seen from the west, internal face, where the entrance has been lowered in height.  The original gateway may have been similar to those at Gisors and Chepstow north gate, both attributed to Henry II.  The masonry of the early work is larger and less well formed than the fifteenth century work, when the tower was raised to 115' and 5 storeys high.  If it was a simple hole in the wall gate then it was covered by the nearby tower of the great gate.  Before the tower to the SE was a small rectangular barbican with matching turrets at the front.  The battlements were reached via a flight of steps, from which a drawbridge may also have been operated.  The bridge led to a large round tower opposite.  This controlled access to the main ward from the Fort St Georges.  Behind the clock tower a thick internal wall ran parallel to the south wall of the main enceinte making a long inturned entrance or barbican.  This ends at a rocky knoll on which are the remains of what appears to be the south side of a large rectangular tower.  Possibly this is the site of the original gatehouse and the current Clock Tower is the old barbican of the early castle.  Only the lower portions of the outer faces of the rectangular tower now remain.  Internally steps rise up to the rear of the tower.

The main ward is approximately 575' E-W by 230' N-S at its maximum extent.  Within this ward were a multitude of buildings of which only fragments remain around the enceinte.  It is suggested that there was once a great tower at the summit of the site, roughly north of where the main entrance is.  No trace of this has ever been uncovered, but then again no excavation has taken place here.  The walling of the enceinte definitely dates to several phases and it is difficult to judge to which eras especially in the early phases.  It would appear to the NW that the entire interior of the curtain was built at ground level and the interior has been raised in height by 20' or more making the curtain appear move of a revetment than an enceinte.  The same may well be true of the south side.  Possibly the site was once hog-backed and the sides of the ridge were then filled in at some point to make a level interior.  Certainly the great rock cut ditch at the west end of the middle ward cuts through the ridge which would suggest this, although the original sides of the cut rock cannot be seen as this is now covered by the enceintes of the middle and Coudray wards.

In enceinte of the middle ward are many towers.  Running west from the purported rectangular gatehouse there are two projecting rectangular buttresses before the rectangular Treasury Tower (Tour du Tresor) is reached.  This has been cut down at inner ward level, although some older features can be made out lower down.  Only the part projecting south beyond the curtain wall remains and this has 2 sloping buttresses on the south face corners and a more central pilaster buttress.  The tower seems to have been infilled, although the basement lights are still visible to the exterior.  Possibly originally this was a rectangular keep.  Moving west from here was another small rectangular buttress and then a deeply splayed plinth of a D shaped tower, now part of the hall complex or logis.  Beyond this is the much rebuilt SW corner of the enceinte.  The only projection on the west front is a rectangular turret at the south end, part of the later logis.  This may be on the site of the early hall block.  These building ran from at least here to the Treasury Tower.

At the north end of the west curtain is the fifteenth century Argenton Tower.  This was built soon after 1477 when King Louis XI (d.1483) put the fortress under the control of his biographer Lord Philip Commynes of Argenton.  He immediately set about building the new and more robust 3 storey tower.  The walls are 16' thick and at the lowest level there are embrasures for cannons.  Around the summit were fine fifteenth century machicolations, of which traces still remain.  These spread east onto the older curtain.  In all probability the entire site was probably topped in these during that century.  To take the tower the west front of the middle ward has been pushed westwards into the great ditch.

The north enceinte of the castle is clearly of several ages and in places still stands up to 50' high.  Just east of the Argenton tower is an unusually boldly projecting round tower.  This is totally beyond the curtain, but attached to it. Then comes another large tower, the Dog Tower.  This is a large D shaped structure of 3 storeys said to be one of those built during the reign of Philip Augustus (1180-1223).  However, unlike other towers attributed to him, viz the Coudray Tower here or the round keep at Gisors, this is not circular and the rounded side is in fact demi-hexagonal rather than rounded.  It owes its unusual name to the nearby fifteenth century royal kennels.  The tower has three vaulted levels surmounted by now destroyed battlements.  Access was gained from the raised level of the middle ward on its middle floor.  This indicates that the curtains must predate it, assuming as conjectured above that the curtains original stood at ground level and the interior of the castle was then raised some 20-30' in height.  The tower loopholes are offset from one level to another providing effective defence and in order not to unduly weaken the wall structure.  Between the first and second floors are latrines, while a bread oven was inserted into the middle floor probably in the fifteenth century.

Running east from the Dog Tower is an apparently solid D shaped tower.  This has boldly projecting spur buttresses which make the base rectangular.  After this, some 80' west of the Watch Tower or  Echauguette Tower in the NE corner of the middle ward, the old original curtain ends where there is a rectangular turret with a slightly projecting buttress to the NE.  This turret is not aligned with the curtains on either side of it.  The section of curtain from here to the east end of the site has been heavily rebuilt and butts at an unnatural angle with the heavily ruined round Watch Tower.  The outer face of this tower has gone but there are remains of a mural stair in the remaining internal portion.  The stub of the early east curtain can still be seen projecting from the badly damaged centre of the tower.  Presumably the original north curtain similarly left from the centre of this tower.  This would certainly match with the line of the curtain running east from the Dog Tower.  Why the curtain was advanced some 6' to the north in this section is currently unknown.

The east face of the middle ward was the shortest of the 4 sides, being only some 130' from the Watch Tower to the curve of the curtain above the Clock Tower, which, being a barbican, was outside the original middle ward enceinte.  Despite the shortness of the front there were 2 towers at this end of the castle.  Roughly central in the front, if the Clock Tower is included, was the Tower of the Great Gate.  This was a D shaped tower similar to the Dog Tower, but it is now mostly gone.  The entire rounded front has fallen and only part of the rectangular rear remains.  Presumably the front of the tower was cut away in the fourteenth century when the new finely plinthed east wall was added.  This contained ground level crossbow loops to better cover the entrance and barbican to the Clock Tower

At the west end of the middle ward is a rock cut ditch that separated it from the inner castle now known as Fort Coudray.  This ward seems to have been D shaped and probably originally consisted of two round towers at the NE and SW extremes with three open backed D shaped turrets and a rectangular turret between the two round towers. What existed on the S&E fronts is less certain.  The 3 turrets and the NE tower are all now merely revetments to the ward, though their external walls still stand some 30' high.  They should have stood at least another 10' higher.  Allegedly the medieval name comes from the hazelnut trees (coudres) that grew in the Fort.

In the SW corner of the enceinte is the Moulin Tower, called this as it supported a windmill in the late Middle Ages.  The tower is 26' in diameter and 65' high.  It was allegedly built in the twelfth century and has an unusual segmented domed roof.  The Romanesque doorway at ground floor entrance and the similar one that once led onto the north wallwalk might suggest that it is older, the idea that all round towers must be thirteenth century or later having been shown to be foundationless, viz the round towers in Britain at Bronllys, Buckenham and Longtown and those in France at Freteval and Chateau-Renault.   The Moulin Tower is set on a projecting rectangular stone plinth and is of 3 storeys above the fort ground level, including its odd battlements.  The tower is entered at ground level from Fort Coudray, but there is no access to the first floor except via the north wallwalk.  The modified summit has six large windows and is accessed via a staircase built into the thick wall.  Immediately east of the Moulin Tower is a small projecting rectangular postern/latrine tower.  Running from the south side of the rock base of the tower is a curtain wall that runs down to a small rectangular turret.  Beyond this is what appears to be the town wall which runs down to the river.  From the rectangular turret a revetment wall runs around the Moulin tower to the SW corner of a strong projecting square tower north of the Moulin.  The purpose of this enclosure is unknown, but it still retains battlements to the south.  The square tower was not quite solid, having a small square chamber within its thick walls.  Probably this, and the thick curtain behind it running back to the Moulin tower, are additions to the original Fort Coudray.  This is discerned as the level behind the tower drops away sharply to the Moulin Tower which logically should also be an addition to the original fort.  However the fact that the tower is not bounded to the curtain at first floor level where the Romanesque doorway onto the north curtain stands, may suggest that the tower is actually older than the fort.

In the SE corner of the fort is the Boissy Tower.  This is an irregular D shaped structure commanding the south face of the Middle Ward, the great ditch and the royal logis.  It has a rectangular buttressed base that morphs upwards into the semi-circular tower.  The tower may have been constructed during the thirteenth century, possibly during the time of Saint Louis (Louis IX, 1226-1270) and stands 100' high, although it is named after the lords of Boissy, governors of the castle in the sixteenth century.  The first floor seems to have been a chapel judging by the elegantly sculpted arches.  The basement has loops covering the valley and the great ditch, while a stairway allows access to the roof and a postern to the base of the ditch.  During the early fifteenth century the tower was made to connect to the logis via a walkway on a curtain over the ditch.  South of the Boissy tower the curtain seems to have been destroyed and replaced by a modern wall which leads to the turrets before the Moulin tower at the SW corner of the site.

Moving north from the square tower north of the Moulin tower are two D shaped towers in a gently curving section of curtain revetment.  Both have strong spur buttresses and appear solid up to interior ground level where the south one appears backless.  The north one has an entrance in its back towards its north side.  On its SW side, against the curtain, the circular wall has been cut back to make a flat surface.  Probably this is the base of a drop from an overhanging garderobe in the destroyed section of the tower above.  From here the curtain makes a single gentle turn near the remains of the circular NE tower.  Presumably this was once like the Moulin Tower.  From here the revetment curtain runs back to the Boissy tower along the edge of the great ditch. 

Roughly centrally in the east front of the fort is the Coudray Tower.  This is said to have been built by Philip Augustus after he captured the fortress in 1205.  It is 40' in diameter and 80' high, containing 3 floors.  The tower commands the modern bridge over to the fort which was entered via a simple hole in the wall gate which was protected by a drawbridge and portcullis.  The first 2 levels of the tower are covered by Gothic vaults, while access to the roof was gained via a mural stair, rather than a vice.  The embrasures at ground floor level are shoulder headed (ie.1250-1350).  Entrance is gained via steps up to the south curtain wallwalk.  In the basement a rock cut passage leads towards the gatehouse beneath the Moulin Tower.  The tower was used as a prison for various Templars in 1308 and Joan of Arc stayed here in 1429.  Immediately north of the keep are the remains of what appears to be a rectangular gate tower, similar to the one at Chateau sur Epte with two boldly projecting corner buttresses on its remaining east face.

At the opposite end of the ridge to Fort Coudray is the enigmatic Fort Saint George.  It is claimed that around the year 1160, King Henry II decided to add new buildings to the east of the old fortress, although for what purpose is unknown.  This rectangular ward probably takes its name from the rectangular chapel of St George towards the SE corner of the site.  The ward is again a revetment with 2 surviving rectangular solid turrets to  N&S.  There is also a D shaped tower, with buildings behind it to the east.  Entrance to the middle ward was gained via a bridge from a projecting round tower to the SW.  This led to the barbican in front of the current clock tower.  Today the west end of Fort St George houses the new reception hall for the fortress.  This probably covers the original entrance to this ward as no gatehouse is discernable on the other 3 sides.

Why not join me here and at other French castles?  Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry

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