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Le Château de Guédelon, a medieval castle under construction - Part 2

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As introduced in a previous page of my blog, in Treigny, they are building a XIIIth century fortress (a sister project started in 2009 in Ozark (Arkansas)).

The architecture of the castle is called "Philippian". What is that ?

Well, first, let's go back to November 1st, 1179. On that day, at the Cathedral of Reims, Philippe II Capet is crowned King of France. At that point, the Kingdom of France is very small; he personnally controls only what is now Île de France, around Paris. The eastern half of the rest of the kingdom is owned by Richard the Lion-Heart, King of England. The western half is owned by vassals of Philippe II, their loyalty being fickle, especially the Duke of Burgundy.

Twenty years before, during the reign of his father Louis VII, started what is sometimes called the First Hundred Years War, a conflict between the dynasties of the Capetians and of the Plantagenêts. During his reign, Philippe II, who will gain the surname of "Auguste", through marriage and especially conquests, will expand greatly the Kingdom.

This raises an issue to Philippe II Auguste : how to control and the protect these new territories. Two aspects are at the core of this issue : first, money has become scarce because of the war. City fortifications are very costly.
Second, the previous strategy in fortifications was motte-and-bailey, with a wooden or stone keep, built on easely defensible terrain. However, this "passive" defense strategy is not well suited with control of large areas. After the XIth century, after Foulques Nerra in Anjou, the model for a castle was massive square towers. But the use of catapults and trebuchets has pointed out a vulnerability of such constructions.

During Philippe Auguste's reign, and all the wat to his grandson Louis IX (also known as Saint Louis), the nature of castle construction will evolve to adapt to the new parameters : cost, placement and vulnerability. The solution is the Philippian Castle :

The above diagram is that of the Castle of Guédelon, but holds all the caracteristics of a Philippian Castle :
- a large and tall circular keep, usually in the most vulnerable spot of the future castle. It can be quite high, allowing for visual communication with a nearby ally castle. The circular aspect of the tower will make it harder for the trebuchet to cause damage.
- three slightly smaller circular towers.
- four walls, usually 8 meters high and 40-60 meters long.
- the gate is place between two circualr or semi-circular towers.
- A building is built against the wall, where the lord will live, recieve his guests, store food and other ressources.
- A moat. Instead of paying large amounts of money to have it filled with water, they are instead kept dry. They are 7 meters deep, for a jump to always be harmfull. Pales coated with animal droppings are placed in holes and hidden, caltrops are dispersed, and thorns areallowed to grow above.
- A postern is added to allow for conspicuous exits of defenders, leading to the entry of a tunnel inside the moat. The door of the postern is defended by an arrowslit of the opposing keep.

- Usually, the area around the fortress is "cleaned" over 200 meters around, to avoid any shelter for ennemy soldiers, 200 meters being the range of crossbows.

This structure of castles made sieges and captures quite difficult, as the towers are less susceptible to trebuchet bombardments, and, if the walls still are, every wall is defended and protected by the cross-fires of at least three towers, with no blind spots.

During the XIIIth century, 12 000 of those castles will be built in France. Out of those about 300 reain to this day, usually with many later modifications.

The quality of this "active" defense will become a factor of dissuasion, allowing for an era of peace in France between the two Hundred Years' Wars (from 1259 to 1337).

This model of castle will soon spread to England (where it is known as Edwardian Castle), Germany, and was the model for most of the crusader castles built during the Crusades.


Updated 20-09-2011 at 20:57 by gigau

History tour


  1. SAS's Avatar
    These are very informative, very nice.
  2. gigau's Avatar
    I realise i stil haven't posted the pictures i've taken from the area... shall have to do it sometime...