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Posted on Feb 27, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Military History in Gaming: Chateau Gaillard

Jim H. Moreno

Game screenshot of the interior and the main bailey.

Chateau Gaillard

A lifetime of fighting wars can teach a person a great many things. Richard I was an apt pupil, and he brought all his knowledge, skills and abilities to bear in the battles against Philip. Included in his combat repertoire was an advanced knowledge of castle engineering and design. While he built a few castles throughout his territories for their protection, it was into Châ´¥au Gaillard that Richard poured all he had learned over the years.

As in the case of Richard I, the life of Chateau Gaillard is a study in military history itself, but, like The Journeyman Project: Buried In Time, I’ll only divulge a few facts here in hopes of whetting your appetite for further self-paced study. 


Chateau Gaillard (?saucy castle’) was built in a single year, 1197-1198. Richard himself designed its layout, and upon completion, remarked about how beautiful his one-year old daughter was. There followed a bit of medieval smack-talking between Richard and Philip after the castle was built. Philip remarked that he would take the castle if its walls were made of iron. Richard sent back a reply saying he would hold it though its walls were made of butter. That’s the stuff of history, indeed.

Chateau Gaillard is often referred to as the finest of all the medieval castles, and rightly so. For the first example, take a look at where (and why) Richard chose to build it: on an island, in the middle of the Siene River, at the base of the Les Andelys Mountains, overlooking the French city of Rouen. Some readers may recognize these names and their strategic importance to military history before and after the late 12th century:

  • Rouen was the capital of Normandy, at the time under English control. It was also where Joan of Arc would later live out her last days.
  • Richard set Chateau Gaillard here as it denied access to all of Normandy, which, for one reason or another, has seen military actions since the Vikings in the 8th century.
  • With Chateau Gaillard sitting amidst the Siene River, Richard controlled all traffic thereupon, while the river acted as a natural defense for the castle.

Early diagram of Chateau Gaillard’s layout.

Present day photo, with the Siene River in the background.

Arriving on the Gaillard scene in the game, and provided a player has acquired him from the space station mission, Arthur immediately begins to comment on the surrounding activities. Starting from a walkway around the inside perimeter of the castle walls, Arthur gives his comments when prompted as the player makes their way down to ground level.

During this phase of the game, Arthur comments on the castles’ design, and what made it such an important defensive structure. A wooden walkway ran the perimeter of the outer wall on the inside, giving defending archers the high ground. These walkways were made in sections easily separated, so if attackers ever made it over the wall, the walkway could be broken down to slow their progress. A wooden cover ran the length of the walkway, slanted down toward the outside, giving defenders protection from incoming projectiles.

Game screenshot of the covered walkways.

The outer wall was made of very smooth stone, to inhibit potential climbers. The wall was also built with large grooves running from top to bottom. Used in conjunction with the slanted walkway cover, these grooves would help aim dropped objects, giving them better accuracy on their way to ground targets. Arrow loops were cut at an angle from the inside to the outside of the wall, giving defending archers a greater range of fire and protecting them from attacking missile weapons.

Present day photo showing the wall design.

Present day photo of a tower. Notice the sloping base, another anti-climbing measure.

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1 Comment

  1. Awesome article! Thanks for giving such a thorough and interesting insight into the history of gaming and gaming history! Keep up the great stuff, this is exactly why I keep coming back to Armchair General!