"Qu'elle est belle ma fille d'un an !" ("How beautiful is my one year old daughter") Richard the Lion Heart is said to have commented in front of his fortress, which was built in an exceptionally short time (1197-98). He is also alleged to have added: "Que voilà un château gaillard!" ("This is indeed a fine and imposing castle") the expressive sobriquet which throughout history has eclipsed the castle's official name of Roche d'Andeli.
Having been established at the convergence of the Seine and a small tributary, the Gambon, Château-Gaillard served the function of barring the way from Rouen and overseeing the Vexin region, which was disputed land between the dukes of Normandy and the kings of France and injudiciously ceded by Richard to Philippe-Auguste in 1195.
The castle was in fact merely one piece in a vast array of fortifications sealing off the Seine valley and including advanced forts, the ramparts of the villages of Vieil and Petit Andeli, a fortified bridge and the Royal manor on an island in the river.
Built on an outcrop of the right bank of the river, and isolated on three sides, the building work presents some revolutionary building techniques which made it a masterpiece of military architecture. In particular the scaling back in depth of the defences on a single axis: the keep with an outcrop and solid buttresses carrying the first machicolations; linked on its flanks, its elliptical facing with festooned profile designed to remove any dead angle; and then a trapezoidal curtain wall flanked by four large round towers, with these two walls fitted within each other; finally, at the weakest point, an enormous triangular fortress, supported by high towers at its corners and reinforced at its point by the powerful bastion of La Monnaie. This fortress, a sort of shield isolated by a deep ditch rose up opposite the plateau, from which any attack would come.
This was of course where Philippe-Auguste installed his siege engines, archers and sappers at the end of the summer of 1203. On 6 March in the following year, the fortress capitulated, opening up the road to Rouen and to Normandy.
The death of Richard in 1199, the passivity of John Lackland, the inadequacy of the garrison, but also the presence of the neighbouring plateau where the enemy could array their troops, put paid to the redoubtable and repeated defences of the castle.
This is nonetheless a sort of culmination of Romanesque military architecture (the combination of a keep flanked by towers), and ushered in a new era of fortresses, marked by the close concentric arrangement of fortifications and the contraction of the defensive perimeter.
- Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, articles " Château " et " Donjon ", in Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècles, t.3 et t.5, Paris, 1854-68
- Pierre Héliot, " Le Château-Gaillard ", in Colloque des Andelys, 1962, revue Château Gaillard, études de castellologie européenne, Centre de Recherches Archéologiques de l'Université de Caen, 1964
- Bernard Beck, Châteaux forts de Normandie. Editions Ouest-France. 1986
- Joseph Decaens, " Le Château-Gaillard ", in L'Architecture normande au Moyen-Age, t. 2. Edit. Corlet et Presses Universitaires de Caen, 1997