Loches



The keep was allegedly commenced by Fulk Nerra (d.1040), however Loches had been in the hands of the counts of Anjou since the early tenth century when Count Fulk (d.942) married the heiress Roscille Loches.  Her father, Warner Loches, had received the castle from his father, Adelaudus, who had been given it and 2 other castles, Villentrois and Le Haye-Descartes, by King Charles the Bald (d.877).  Fulk Nerra (d.1040) removed Lord Noaster from Loches and installed Lisois Basogerio in his place and also gave him Amboise.  Lisois was nephew to the viscount of Sainte Suzanne.  In, or soon after 1037, Geoffrey St Aignan was strangled in Loches by his own men who had betrayed him to Fulk.  In an apparent reward for this Fulk granted Lisois the niece of Supplicius the treasurer of Amboise as his wife.

Loches descended to the first Plantagenet, Count Geoffrey of Anjou (1151), when his father, Count Fulk, went on Crusade in 1129.  In 1193 the castle fell to Philip Augustus and was confirmed to him with Chatillon sur Indre and Pont L'Arche by the treaty of 8 July 1193 negotiated by Queen Eleanor.

In the spring of 1194, on his return from imprisonment in Germany, King Richard I undertook a lightening reduction of England and then set sail for Normandy on 12 May 1194.  The Anglo-Welsh army Richard had formed landed at Barfleur on 12 May and the king marched directly against Philip and forced him back from Verneuil before the end of May.  Then he struck at the great strategic castle of Loches, capturing it on 13 June with a force of Brabanters and Navarrese. 

The king of England next hastened with all speed to Loches castle, passing by Tours castle, where he received 2,000 marks (£1,333 6s 8d if English money is meant) from the burgesses as a voluntary gift.  The knights of Navarre, however, and the Brabanters, laid siege to Loches castle...  On the king of England arriving before Loches, he found there the Navarrese and Brabanters, amid watchings, and hunger and other hardships, labouring in vain at the capture of that castle; on which immediately with his own men and the others who were there, making assaults upon it day and night, he at length took it by force of arms and captured in it five knights and 24 serjeants, on the second day of the week after 11 June.

In 1199, when Count John left Brittany, where he had been meeting Prince Arthur at the time of Richard's wounding, he came to Richard's funeral at Fontevraud, and there the English seneschal of Anjou, Robert Turnham, handed over to him the fortresses of Chinon and Loches.  At this point John went to Rouen to be inaugurated duke, while Eleanor and Robert marched along the Loire valley to oppose Prince Arthur who had taken Tours after marching from Le Mans.

In 1205, after the fall of Chinon, William Roches took Loches at the head of an army of Poitevins, Angevins and French.  King Philip then granted it to Drogo Mello, the son of the constable of France, together with Chatillon sur Indre.  Loches remained his until his death in December 1249 when his nephew sold his rights there back to the Crown.  Later it became a favourite residence of Charles VII of France (1403-61), who gave it to his mistress, Agnès Sorel (1422-50), as her residence.  It was converted into a State prison by his son, King Louis XI (1423-83) who had lived there as a child but preferred the royal castle in Amboise.

During the American Revolution, France financed and fought with the Americans against England and King Louis XVI (1774-93) used the castle as a prison for captured Englishmen.  At the time of the French Revolution in 1789, the château was ransacked and severely damaged.  Some major restoration began in 1806, which has continued intermittently ever since.

Description
The castle is really the entire city with the fortress itself only consisting of the great tower and some walls forming a weak and much altered enclosure of 3 wards.  The main city site consists of a cursus shaped rock on which a curtain wall has been built at the cliff edge.  Particularly to the south this wall has been reinforced with round turrets.  This was probably done when this was the weak side before the great rock cut ditch was made.  The early city is said to be only accessed by the Porte Royale, a D shaped twin towered gatehouse built in the thirteenth century and rebuilt some 100 years later.  However, there is a twin rectangular shaped gatehouse to the SE of the city walls which appears once to have been the castle entrance.  Other castle entrances were to the N&S and later in the fourteenth century one was added to the west.  To the NE of the city is a fortified suburb with solid D shaped turrets giving extra protection to the late Medieval Logis and St Overs church.  This suburb has at least one twin D shaped gatehouse to the north towards the River Indre.  There may have been another gatehouse to the east.  The west side of the city was also covered by a later suburb fortification.  Both these suburbs may date to the Hundred Years' War.

The Castle
It is hard to decide where the early castle actually was.  The gatehouse to the east, La Porte des Roches, probably led from outside the city directly into the castle.  There was almost certainly an early castle gatehouse to the north, though all these early defences have now gone.  If the northern defences have been removed they presumably ran from the solid round turret to the west, through the site of the fifteenth century barbican to the other round turret in the east wall of the city, thus including the now blocked east city gatehouse, Porte des Roches.  An irregular wall is said to have run from this tower to the boldly projecting round tower from the SE corner of the keep.  Such a boldly projecting round tower is similar to that found on the keep at Falaise and has been attributed to Philip Augustus (d.1223) post 1205.  If there was a curtain here then this round tower would have lain astride it, rather than projecting into the field.  This would be unusual and therefore it seems most likely the tower was built after the curtain was demolished.

From the east gatehouse, Porte des Roches, the curtain follows the line of the rock, although this cliff face has been man made as can be seen by the cliff opposite.  From the SE corner of the city/castle site the curtain loops gently around to the SW corner.  This south front if fortified with at least 6 solid round turrets.  The 2 southernmost ones still have fighting platforms upon their summit.  Between these 2 are the remains of a blocked gateway with a stone bridge support pillar in front.  Next to this gate is a boldly projecting almond shaped tower.  This has a further pair of similar, but not standardized towers to either side of it protecting this front.  They are allegedly built by Henry II (d.1189).  The west side of the castle enceinte has been much altered, although one round turret still survives between the 2 later fourteenth century works.

Covering the keep to the south is a low curtain wall with a rectangular twin towered gatehouse to the NW side.  Its original form is now difficult to guess at, but the junction with the keep to the SW suggests that this wall is now at only half its original height.  To the east this makes a near right angled turn to run towards the keep where it then turns again to butt against the keep's SE corner.  The Philip Augustus tower has been projected out of this junction on the site of an earlier, rectangular? tower. 

Keep
The massive square keep was reputedly started by Count Fulk of Anjou (d.1040) and recent dendrochronological dating of timber found in the upper floor confirms it was built before 1030.  It measures 76' by 51' and has walls 9' thick.  Its four storeys stand 121' high, while each floor was a single room.  The lower 2 floors are the original hall block, raised at an early date to make a tower keep of 4 floors.  In more modern times it was divided to serve as cells for political prisoners.  To the NE an integral smaller tower contained the forebuilding.  This currently stands 3 stories high as its upper floor has been destroyed, although the toothing still remains.  The entire structure is reinforced by rounded pilaster buttresses apart from to the west where there are only two corner buttresses.  The keep was entered through the forebuilding via a door to the west.  From here steps led around the wall to the main first floor doorway into the keep.  The chapel was in the room above in the forebuilding.  At this level a circular vice in the east facing loop of the keep led to the upper floors.  Mural steps existed in the SE corner.  At third floor level a wooden walkway ran around the exterior of the tower.  A similar design was used at Trim castle in Ireland.  Similar hall keeps, without the upper walkway, exist at Langeais, Lavardin and Montrichard, although there are many others.

The fifteenth century modifications to the castle included La Tour Ronde to the NW and Le Martelet to the SW.  The 80' high Tour Ronde or Tour Louis XI (d.1483), was originally a prison.  The current entrance lobby to the east of it, the fourteenth century Logis du Gouverneur, accesses it.  A spiral staircase links the round tower's three floors, while the downstairs room, or Salle de la Question, served as a torture chamber.  This is linked by the north curtain to the fourteenth century square castle gatehouse.  The externally 90' high Martelet Tower was built over a network of ancient underground quarries.  Internally, where the tower stands, it is less than half that height.  Beside it to the south is a tall fifteenth century gateway.  Roughly on the site of original castle gatehouse stands La Caponnière, a fifteenth century barbican built on a triangular base with D shaped towers to E&W.  This was designed to deploy artillery during the Wars of Religion.




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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