'Useless Mouths'

At the siege of Château Gaillard in 1204, the non-combatants caught up in the conflict were forced by the rival commanders out into the cold to endure appalling hardships. Sean McGlynn retells their story and explains the logic of war that made such things possible.

The majestic ruins of Chateau Gaillard lie on a rocky crag high above a bend in the River Seine between Rouen and Paris. In its heyday the castle represented the most scientifically advanced engineering knowledge of the age. Its progenitor, Richard the Lionheart, boasted he could defend it even if the walls were made of butter, so superb was its design. Contemporaries judged the fortress to be invincible.

The castle itself was the centre of an elaborate new defensive complex which included an island fort (L’Ile d’Andely) protecting the new fortified town of Petit-Andelys. This new town lay at the foot of the castle’s steep scarp slope; many of its inhabitants worked in the castle and were related to its garrison. It was these inhabitants that were to be caught up in perhaps the most famous siege of the entire Middle Ages; and it was they who were to be the siege’s greatest victims.

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