Chateau de Chinon, the fortress of Henry II of England

The Chateau de Chinon commands the river Vienne and its valley from atop a promontory.

Aerial photo of the Chateau de Chinon
Aerial photo

This exceptional location has attracted men since the Palaeolithic as evidenced by the numerous artefacts uncovered on the site.

The Gauls built their fortress, Kairo, on the promontory; the Romans built a stone fortress.

The Visigoths occupied it when they raided the region during the 5th century.

The fortress became of the strongholds of the House of Blois during the 10th century, then passed to the Counts of Anjou.

Their descendant Henry II Plantagenêt, King of England, built the current fortress, and lived there until his death in 1189.

His eldest son Richard the Lionheart succeeded him, but died shortly after.

His younger brother, John Lackland, became king, but was sentenced to surrender all his French possessions after abducting Isabelle of France to marry her.

The Chateau de Chinon therefore returned to the Crown of France in 1205.

John Lackland tried in vain to recover his territories.

He eventually signed the Treaty of Chinon in 1214, in which he renounced its territorial claims.

Joan of Arc meets Charles VII in the Chateau de Chinon

King Charles VII lived in the Chateau de Chinon from 1427 to 1450.

Chateau de Chinon seen from the south bank
Chateau de Chinon seen from the south bank

Chinon is the place where the 18-year old Joan of Arc came to implore the Dauphin of France (the future Charles VII) to give her an army, claiming that “she was sent by God to drive the English from France”.

The Dauphin was a neurotic and under confident man.

He was also challenged by a coalition of English and Burgundians vassals, who controlled the north of France.

Very suspicious of this young peasant girl, he eventually agreed to receive her.

However, he hid among the people of his Court and asked one of his courtiers to take his place.

Joan refused to speak to the courtier, as she recognized the Dauphin among the crowd.

She was subjected to 3 weeks of cross-examination at the end of which he accept ed that she was ‘sent by God to save France’.

Chateau de Chinon - Former drawbridge
Former drawbridge

After only a few weeks and a few unsuccessful attempts, Joan managed to have the Dauphin crowned King of France in Reims.

She also restored trust and faith among the French Army, who rallied behind her banner.

The English were defeated at Orléans and then lost their French possessions one by one.

Unfortunately, Joan was captured and delivered to the English.

She was burned at the stake in Rouen in 1431; she was canonized in 1920.

The Chateau de Chinon was deserted after the death of Charles VII.

The town continued to grow and thrive for several decades before falling into oblivion.

However, the castle is mostly in ruins, as it served as stone quarry until the 19th century.

A quick tour of the Chateau de Chinon

Château du Milieu

The main enclosure, known as Château du Milieu (Middle Castle), was protected by deep moats.

Chateau de Chinon - Logis Royal
Logis Royal

1- Fort Saint-George defended the eastern side of the Chateau de Chinon, which was accessible by a drawbridge.

2- The current fixed bridge has replaced the drawbridge since the 19th century.

3- The 14th century Tour de l’Horloge marks the entrance to the castle.

Four of its rooms are dedicated to the life of Joan of Arc.

The bell, known by the name of Marie-Javelle, has been striking the hours since 1399!

4- The Great Hall is the place where Joan recognized the Dauphin through a crowd of courtiers; a monumental fireplace is all that remains of it.

5- The 12th century Tour du Trésor was entirely dismantled, with the exception of the vaulted basement.

6- An outdoor gallery connected the royal apartments or Logis Royal to the Great Hall.

There were four rooms per floor; some have retained their splendid Gothic fireplaces.

The walls of the Chambre Nattée, most likely the king’s bedchamber, were covered with tapestry, hence its name.

7- The arsenal is today decorated with 16th century tapestries.

It houses a huge model representing the Chateau de Chinon during the 15th century.

Fort Coudray

8- The moats were dug in the 13th century in order to isolate the Château du Milieu from the Fort du Coudray, which protected the western side of the fortress.

King Philippe-Auguste built the fort’s 25m high defense tower, where Philip the Fair jailed the Knights Templar during their trial in the early 14th century.

Chateau de Chinon - Tour de l'Horloge
Tour de l’Horloge

The graffiti they carved in the walls are witness to their presence.

Joan of Arc was held in the first floor room, now collapsed, during her cross-examination.

The moats hide a secret passageway, also partly collapsed.

Charles VII indeed used it to secretly visit his favourite Agnes Sorel, who lived in town.

9- The upper level of the 12th century Tour de Boissy was the castle chapel.

10- The Tour du Château was the original dungeon.

11- Louis XI converted the 15th century Tour d’Argenton in a prison.

This is where he kept his prisoners in squalid tiny cages, which he nicknamed “his little cuties”.

12- The Tour des Chiens, as its name suggests, housed the royal kennels.

Beautifully restored, it now boasts prime views of the vineyards of Chinon at the rear.

Medieval town

The medieval town was entirely encompassed within thick ramparts, hence its name Ville Fort.

It spreads on the hillside, below the Chateau de Chinon.

Chateau de Chinon - Fortifications and vineyard
Fortifications and vineyard

Timbered houses with corner towers, mullioned windows, carved beams and pitched roofs line the picturesque narrow streets.

1 – La Maison Rouge and Hôtel du Gouvernement (Bailiff’s Court) overlook the Grand Carroi, the market place and historic centre of Chinon.

2- Rue Haute-St-Maurice replaces an old Gallic lane that ran along the hillside, below the Chateau of Chinon.

This is where you’ll find the Hôtel Bodard de la Jacopière and the Hostellerie Gargantua, where the Francois Rabelais‘s father practiced as a notary.

The late 15th century Hôtel des Etats Généraux was named after the French parliament that met there in 1428 in order to vote the funds of war so that Charles VII could continue the war against the English.

It now houses the Musée du Vieux Chinon and de la Batellerie (Old Chinon and River Transport).

3- The Musée Animé du Vin (Animated Wine Museum), in Rue Voltaire, traces the history of wine.

4- It is said that, when Joan of Arc arrived at Chinon to meet the Dauphin, she dismounted in the street that now bears her name.

5- The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) lived in the street that was renamed after him.

6- The 15th century Church of St-Etienne is worth a visit for its beautiful Flamboyant Gothic portal.

7- A steep lane lined with ancient troglodytes dwellings (caves) runs from the Romanesque Eglise St-Mexme and leads to the Eglise Ste-Radegonde.

This church was named after the wife of King Chlotar I (6th century), who often climbed the trail in order to visit an old hermit who lived in one of the caves.

A chapel was later built over the hermit’s grave.

Finally, one of the most popular festivals of Chinon is the medieval market that takes place in the old city in August.

Jugglers, fire blowers, minstrels and many other artists revive the medieval times with a series of lively street performances.

Department of Indre-et-Loire
Coordinates: Lat 47.167862 – Long 0.236657

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