Le Château de Gisors - France

Le Château de Gisors

The name “Gisors” is derived from two Gaulish words: “geso” meaning “the edge” and “ritu” meaning “the ford”. In the 10th century the name was Latinised into “Gisortis”. Gisors as a site was probably founded during the Gallo–Roman period but it was in 1087, that a motte was created at Gisors by William Rufus (William II), the third son of William I of England. Accordingly it was at this time that the first wooden buildings appeared on the site. Above: The Castle


The castle became a key fortress of the Dukes of Normandy in the 11th and 12th centuries . It was of strategic importance in the defence of the Anglo-Norman Vexin territory from the agression and advances of the Kings of France. The fortress marked the eastern border of Normandy and is one of the many fortifications along the valley of the River Epte which was the natural border between the two kingdoms.

The castle was put under the control of the Templars between 1158 and 1160 by the French king but ironically it was to become the final prison of the Grand Master of the Order, Jacques de Molay. To this day there have been legends of vast hordes of treasure being hidden away at this chateau by the Templars but so far none has been found.


Sometime during the first half of the 12th century, Henry I of England, Duke of Normandy, added an octagonal stone keep to the motte to replace the wooden fortified structure which by now was surrounded by a palisade. The frail palisade became a stone wall with a chapel and a kitchen.


During the Plantagenet reign of Henry II (1160 – 1189), more building work took place with an 800m long wall and the towers being erected around the central keep. The towers employed many architectural innovations for example a four sided tower, a U-shaped tower and a circular tower with three levels of loopholes.


The castle was in the hands of King Richard the Lionheart, Henry's son, away on Crusade, when it was taken by King Graffiti of Passion of ChristPhilippe Augustus of France in 1193 and although it was retaken by Richard on his return from the third Crusade, upon the Lionheart's death, it once again fell under the control of Philip Augustus. By the beginning of the 13th century, after King John Lackland of England had given up any claims to it, it underwent major changes with the addition of the Barbican overlooking the town and a second keep, cylindrical in shape, called the Prisoner's Tower (tour du prisonnier), was added to the outer wall of the castle, following the French conquest of Normandy. This tower is similar to the keep in the ancient fortress of the Louvre in Paris in that the walls of the dungeon are covered with graffiti carved by prisoners between the 16th and 18th centuries.

Right: Prisoner graffiti of the Passion of Christ


Further reinforcement was added during the Hundred Years' War when the fortress was taken over by the English between 1419 and 1449. The cellars were enlarged, a bulwark was built and various earthen works were carried out.


Today the Château de Gisors is listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.


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