The castle of Arques crowns a narrow promontory, isolated on the west by a deep ravine and in the east by the wide and humid Varenne and Béthune valley.
In c. 1038 William the Conqueror gave the land and comté of Talou (north of the territories of the Caux region) to Guillaume d'Arques, his uncle. The latter built here an initial fortress: a great palisaded oval wall, isolated on the escarpment by a deep ditch and opening in the south onto the plateau. And from this lair was to stand against authority for fifteen years, until his capitulation and exile in 1054.
The reconstruction of the castle was the work of Henri I Beauclerc in the beginning of the 12th century, who replaced the wooden defences with a solid square keep (20.2 m square), twenty or so metres high, supported on the outside by powerful buttresses, internally divided in two by a partition wall and consisting of four successive floors housing cellars, residential quarters and guard rooms according to the usual scheme for these large Romanesque edifices. Access was via the first floor from a fore part and access on the inside by stairs and corridors accommodated within the thickness of the walls.
This keep is abutted in the south against a large oblong curtain wall, flanked very irregularly by round or square towers from the 12th or 13th centuries. Viollet-le-Duc saw in this the prototype of the great medieval castles and suggested a reconstruction of it.
At the beginning of the 16th century a large fortified bastion, flanked by four round towers, was added to the point of the spur to protect the castle from artillery fire and the last floor of the keep was transformed into a platform for its cannons. These arrangements which were initially of little value, in 1589 contributed decisively to the success at the battle of Arques which was won by Henri IV against the troops of the Ligue and the Duke of Mayenne.
Having been dismantled in the 18th century, the castle is now no more than a romantic ruin, despite everything still an imposing one.
- Eugène Viollet-le-Duc : article " Donjon ", in Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècles, t.5, Paris, 1854-68. Reprints : Dictionnaire de l'Architecture médiévale , Mardaga, 1980, et Inter-Livres-Bibliothèque de l'Image, 1997.
- Bernard Beck : Châteaux forts de Normandie. Editions Ouest-France. 1986.
- Joseph Decaens : " Le château d'Arques ", in L'Architecture normande au Moyen-Age, t. 2. Edit. Corlet et Presses Universitaires de Caen, 1997.