Castles in Normandy

The Duchy of Normandy was established in 911, as a result of Viking raids into the area and as far in land as Paris. By 1204 Normandy was part of the Kingdom of France. After the Vikings and from the beginning of the 13th century to the end of the 16th century Normandy was a highly contested region. The French and English fought one series of campaigns after another, from the Normandy Campaigns to the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion. These conflicts had a very noticeable impact on the construction of fortresses and castles in Normandy. As rulers and their supporters attempted to defend their positions, castles were built, destroyed and/or damaged, repaired or reinforced. Today William the Conqueror’s castle in Caen, heavily reinforced by Philip II, and Richard the Lionheart’s castle at Andelys are popular attractions.

The imposing walls of Caen Castle.

The western ramparts of William’s castle in Caen.

Château de Caen

The Ducal castle in Caen was built in the 11th century as the principal residence for William, Duke of Normandy. As one of the largest fortified enclosures in all of Europe, the castle has also been used as a fort and housed various military barracks. Today the buildings within the fortifications house two of the city’s museums, namely the Musée de Beaux Arts, which has one of the largest collections of 16th and 17th European paintings in France, and the Musée de Normandie, which exhibits the history of Normandy.
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The entrance to Dieppe Castle.

Château de Dieppe sits on a hill above the medieval town centre.

Château de Dieppe

Founded in 1188, the Château de Dieppe was destroyed shortly after in 1195 and not restored until the 14th century. Later in 1694 much of the town was destroyed from an Anglo-Dutch naval attack but the castle remained in tact. Up until the beginning of the 20th century the castled served as a barracks. Today, still with its spectacular panoramic views over the coast and seaside town, the castle is home to the Château-Musée de Dieppe. Besides exhibitions of a maritime theme, there is also an extensive collection of ivory objects.
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Statue of Prince Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans in Eu in front of the castle.

Prince Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans in Eu © Raimond Spekking/Wikimedia

Château d’Eu

Between 1830 and 1848 the Château d’Eu served as King Louis-Philippe’s summer residence; now the Musée Louis-Philippe. Here the Anglophile king welcomed Britain’s Queen Victoria twice (3 – 7 September 1843 and 8 – 10 September 1845). These State visits were the foundations of what would eventually become ‘Entente cordiale between France and England. Ironic given the older castle (in which Joan of Arc stayed) had been purposefully destroyed to evade capture by the English during the Hundred Years War.
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The castle in Gacé at sunset.

The castle now houses a museum. Photograph © Nortmannus/Wikimedia

Château de Gacé

A 12th century castle built using both stone and red brick, that was then renovated in the late 16th century following a peasant revolt in Normandy. The western, round tower, known as the Talbot Tower, was constructed during the Hundred Years War. Today the castle houses Gacé’s Mayoral offices, as well as the Musée de la Dame aux Camélias – dedicated to the story and background behind the novel of the same name by Alexandre Dumas (junior). The woman who inspired the novel, Marie Duplessis, was born in Gacé.
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Entrance to the keep at Château Gaillard, Normandy.

A modern bridge allows visitors to cross the moat into the keep.

Château Gaillard

A ruined medieval fortress, or château-fort, located high above the town of Le Andelys and overlooking the Seine River. The castle was built for Richard the Lionheart, who was then both King of England and the feudal Duke of Normandy. Construction began in 1196 and was completed within two years. Advanced features common in many later castles were used here. Gaillard, for example, has one of the earliest uses concentric fortifications and one of the first uses of machicolations in the defensive walls.
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An elegant, two-storied 18th century Château in Normandy.

The Italian style 18th century château.

Château de Canon

Canon Castle is an 18th century château built in a typical Italian style, and surrounded by an English garden. Through a series of marriages and rights of inheritance, the land passed through different families. During World War II, the elegant château was used as a hospital by the German SS in the area. And the trees in the garden are said to have provided camouflage for tanks. After the war, the castle housed refugees working on rebuilding the railways. Since then the castle has been lovingly restored, and is open to visitors.
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Two adjoining two keeps at Falaise Castle are sited at the edge of a dramatic cliff.

Two of the three keeps at Château de Falaise.

Château de Falaise

One of the most striking and important castles in Normandy, the Château de Falaise is the birthplace of William the Conqueror. Although there are very few remains of the castle he lived in, a motte and bailey structure. What we see today are the expansions undertaken by William’s descendants and then completed by King Philip II of France after he took the castle from the English in 1204. A popular tourist attraction in Normandy, the castle has recently been extensively renovated, with state-of-the-art multimedia added.
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An aerial view of the ruins of the medieval Château de Gratot.

The ruins of the castle that were restored during the 1960s and 70s.

Château de Gratot

The castle was in the same family from the 13th to the 18th century. And various architectural features were added during the 500 or so years. The towers and the postern date to the 13th century, while the eastern tower and the pavilion were added in the 18th century. In 1777 the castle changed hands and continued to do so into the 20th century, during which the buildings were badly neglected. Following a very dedicated restoration programme, the castle was able to receive visitors again. It is open to the public all year round.
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The tidal island of Mont Saint Michel, Normandy.

A modern bridge allows visitors to cross the moat into the keep.

Mont Saint Michel

There is no castle on the tidal island of Mont Saint Michel. Rather the site is well known for the medieval abbey built on the conical shape of the island. There are also very robust ramparts at sea level. These were built in the early 14th century to protect the village that surrounded the abbey, creating an impregnable fortress that was held by the Duchy of Normandy. This was the start of the 100 Year’s War against the English. Earlier, the island had been in the Marches of Breton, defending the Duchy of Brittany and the Franks.
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