Château Gaillard was a fortress of far other importance than any of the castles which both parties had been so lightly winning, losing, and winning again, during the last ten years.
Continuing Philip Breaks the Angevin Empire,
our selection from John Lackland by Kate Norgate published in 1902. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in six easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Philip Breaks the Angevin Empire.
Place: Plantagenet lands in France
It was by diplomacy that John hoped to parry the attack which he knew he could not repel by force. Early in the year he had complained to the Pope of the long course of insult and aggression pursued toward him by Philip, and begged Innocent to interfere in his behalf. Thereupon Philip, in his turn, sent messengers and letters to the Pope, giving his own version of his relations with John, and endeavoring to justify his own conduct. On May 26th, Innocent announced to both kings that he was about to dispatch the abbots of Casamario, Trois Fontaines, and Dun as commissioners to arbitrate upon the matters in dispute between them.
These envoys seem to have been delayed on their journey; and when they reached France they, for some time, found it impossible to ascertain whether Philip would or would not accept their arbitration. When at last he met them in council at Mantes on August 26th, he told them bluntly that he “was not bound to take his orders from the apostolic see as to his rights over a fief and a vassal of his own, and that the matter in dispute between the two kings was no business of the Pope’s.” John meanwhile had, on August 11th, suddenly quitted his passive attitude and laid siege to Alençon; but he retired on Philip’s approach four days later. An attempt which he made to regain Brezolles was equally ineffectual. Philip, on the other hand, was now resolved to bring the war to a crisis. It was probably straight from the council at Mantes that he marched to the siege of Château Gaillard.
Château Gaillard was a fortress of far other importance than any of the castles which both parties had been so lightly winning, losing, and winning again, during the last ten years. It was the key of the Seine above Rouen, the bulwark raised by Richard Coeur de Lion to protect his favorite city against attack from France. Not till the fortifications which commanded the river at Les Andelys were either destroyed or in his own hands could Philip hope to win the Norman capital. And those fortifications were of no common order. Their builder was the greatest, as he was the last, of the “great builders” of Anjou; and his “fair castle on the Rock of Andelys” was at once the supreme outcome of their architectural genius, and the earliest and most perfect example in Europe of the new development which the crusaders’ study of the mighty works of Byzantine or even earlier conquerors, quickened and illuminated as it was by the exigencies of their own struggle with the infidels, had given to the science of military architecture in the East. During the past year John had added to his brother’s castle a chapel with an undercroft, placed at the southeastern corner of the second ward. The fortress, which nature and art had combined to make impregnable, was well stocked with supplies of every kind; moreover, it was one of the few places in Normandy which Philip had no hope of winning, and John no fear of losing, through treason on the part of its commandant. Roger de Lacy, to whom John had given it in charge, was an English baron who had no stake in Normandy, and whose personal interest was therefore bound up with that of the English King; he was also a man of high character and dauntless courage. Nothing short of a siege of the most determined kind would avail against the “Saucy Castle”; and on that siege Philip now concentrated all his forces and all his skill.
As the right bank of the Seine at that point was entirely commanded by the castle and its neighbor fortification, the walled town — also built by Richard — known as the New or Lesser Andely, while the river itself was doubly barred by a stockade across its bed, close under the foot of the rock, and by a strong tower on an island in midstream just below the town, he was obliged to encamp in the meadows on the opposite shore. The stockade, however, was soon broken down by the daring of a few young Frenchmen; and the waterway being thus cleared for the transport of materials, he was enabled to construct below the island a pontoon, by means of which he could throw a portion of his troops across the river to form the siege of the New Andely, place the island garrison between two fires, and at once keep open his own communications and cut off those of the besieged with both sides of the river alike.
These things seem to have been done toward the end of August. On the 27th and 28th of that month John was at Montfort, a castle some five-and-twenty miles from Rouen, held by one of his few faithful barons, Hugh of Gournay. On the 30th, if not the 29th, he and all his available forces were back at Rouen, ready to attempt on that very night the relief of Les Andelys. The King’s plan was a masterpiece of ingenuity; and the fact that the elaborate preparations needed for its execution were made so rapidly and so secretly as to escape detection by an enemy so close at hand goes far to show how mistaken are the charges of sloth and incapacity which, even in his own day, men brought against “John Softsword.” *
[* Johannem Mollegladium. This nickname is no doubt a translation of one which must have been applied to John in French, though unluckily its vernacular form is lost. It has been suggested that “if the phrase had any English equivalent, it would probably be something embracing a more direct metaphor than ‘Softsword’ — something like ‘Tinsword,’ or, better still, if the thirteenth century knew of putty, ‘John Puttysword.'”]
He had arranged that a force of three hundred knights, three thousand mounted men-at-arms, and four thousand foot, under the command of William the Marshal, with a band of mercenaries under Lou Pescaire, should march by night from Rouen along the left bank of the Seine, and fall, under cover of darkness, upon the portion of the French army which still lay on that side of the river.
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