Falaise, the capital of the Duchy of Normandy

Falaise Castle
Falaise Castle

Falaise is located in the department of Calvados in Lower Normandy.

The town stretches below an imposing fortress perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the river Ante and its fertile valley.

Falaise was aptly named.

Indeed, texts dating from 1066 referred to the rocky promontory as Falesia, a word meaning cliff.

Robert le Magnifique made Falaise the capital of the Duchy of Normandy.

Chateau de Falaise, William the Conqueror’s birthplace

Falaise Castle fortifications
Fortified keeps

The Chateau of Falaise is also known as the Chateau Guillaume le Conquérant, as it was there that William Duke of Normandy was born around 1027.

His father Robert le Magnifique fell in love with Arlette (Herleva of Verprey) when he caught sight of the young woman washing clothes at a fountain.

Arlette was the daughter of a furrier of Falaise.

La Fontaine d’Arlette is now a classified Historical Monument.

Fontaine d'Arlette in Falaise
Fontaine d’Arlette

William is also known as William the Bastard as he was considered the illegitimate son of Robert.

Robert had indeed married Herleva (the Danish custom then allowed polygamy).

The Duchy of Normandy had been founded in 911 on the condition that the Vikings converted to Christianity (and monogamy!).

They did, however, many kept following their ancestral customs.

Robert was apparently one of those, and taking more than one wife didn’t really go down very well with the Church of Rome, even then!

The three keeps

A first fortress was built in the 10th century.

This highly fortified Chateau de Falaise in one of Normandy’s oldest stone castles.

It was built in three phases and has three keeps!

Falaise Castle entrance

1- The first tower, Grand Donjon, was built in the 12th century on the foundations of the primitive dungeon.

This square-shaped tower was the ducal palace of Henry I Beauclerc, the fourth son and successor of William the Conqueror.

2- The second tower, Petit Donjon, was also square based and probably built in the late 1150s by Henry II Plantegênet, Duke of Normandy and King of England.

The king of France Philippe-Auguste built the 3rd dungeon in the early 13th century, during his conquest of the Duchy of Normandy.

3- The Tour Talbot, as it is known, is an imposing round defense tower that overlooks the valley.

Chateau de Falaise

The Chateau de Falaise was left to fall into ruins from the early 17th century until 1840.

It was then classified Historical Monument and restored by the architect Victor Ruprich-Robert.

It is a miracle that the castle shouldn’t have been destroyed during the bombings of August 1944, when the Allies drove back the German troops in the Falaise Pocket.

Falaise Castle fortifications
Falaise Castle fortifications

The office of the Historical Monuments undertook the much needed extensive restoration of the keeps between 1987 and 1997.

However, some architectural elements, rebuilt to the identical but with contemporary materials, were subject to controversy… and still are.

The fortifications were restored thereafter in order to highlight the three keeps and the majestic beauty of the Castle of King William!

Thanks to technology, a digital tablet – HistoPad – has been available to visitors since 2013; it allows them to discover the interior of the Chateau de Falaise the way it looked like in the time of the Dukes of Normandy.

A true time travel to the court of William the Conqueror!

Department of Calvados
Coordinates: Lat 48.893548 – Long -0.201956

Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Castle and 3 keepsFortified towers – Entrance – Fontaine d’Arlette

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