Last week we reviewed Crac des Chevaliers, the premiere episode of Battle Castle. Although the series isn’t airing in the U.S. yet the kind folks at Battle Castle sent over an advanced copy of episode 2: Chateau Gaillard. Does it hold up to the quality of the Crac des Chevaliers episode? Let’s find out…
Chateau Gaillard is the site of an epic struggle between two powerful medieval kings. King Richard I “the Lionheart” of England and King Philip Augustus of France. Host Dan Snow leads us through the construction of the castle and history of the siege. And as with the first episode they don’t rely on merely telling us how to build the castle walls, they send Dan on a field trip to Guédelon, France to demonstrate. During his time in France Dan learns to make medieval mortar and gets a chance to pick, shape and place a stone in the Guédelon castle wall. It adds a bit of realism that helps the modern world understand the hard work involved in castle building. And Chateau Gaillard is a rare castle in terms of construction. Richard wanted the castle completed as quickly as possible and it was finished in one year! Crac des Chevaliers took over 20 years to build.
…as the king drew near, and urged on the work, suddenly a shower of rain mixed with blood fell, to the astonishment of all the bystanders who were present with the king, as they observed drops of real blood upon their garments, and feared that so unusual an occurrence might portend evil: but the king was not dismayed at this, nor did he relax in promoting the work in which he took so great delight, that (unless I am mistaken) if even an angel from heaven had persuaded him to desist, he would have pronounced anathema against him.
~ William of Newburgh
Dan makes another trip to Caerphilly Castle to see how a mangonel works. The mangonel or ‘engine of war’ is a small catapult used in castle sieges. King Philip used it against Chateau Gaillard and Richard had them atop the castle towers. The final trip Dan takes is to Poland to examine a full size siege tower. Standing atop the tower it is easy to see just how vulnerable the attackers were. They may be able to get close to the castle but success is far from certain.
The history is this episode is top notch. It focuses on one of the many battles that Chateau Gaillard witnessed and probably the most legendary. Unfortunately, or fortunately, King Richard would not live to see the outcome of the siege. Richard was struck by a crossbow bolt and died in 1199. Actually he didn’t live to see the beginning either. It was his death and his successors inaction that bolstered the French. Richard’s little brother, John Lackland became King and Philip seized the opportunity. Philip’s first tactic was to attack the smaller English fortifications in Normandy, effectively isolating Chateau Gaillard from any help. King John made a few small attempts to aid the castle, all failed and it was up to the castellan Roger de Lacey to defend the castle.
King Philip began the siege of Chateau Gaillard in September 1203. It took six months to penetrate the outer bailey. Once inside Philip wanted to press the defenders and found a way into the inner bailey. Legend has it the French knights climbed up the toilet chute into the chapel and then let the other soldiers into the bailey. Roger de Lacey surrendered Chateau Gaillard on 08 March 1204.
Losing Chateau Gaillard was more than a change of power in Normandy, it changed the very fabric of England. King John was already unpopular and losing Normandy only served to further upset the barons. The animosity between the barons and King John would continue to grow giving rise to the First Barons War and the signing of the Magna Carta.
Chateau Gaillard would remain an important fortress for the next 300 years. It was the home of exiled King David II of Scotland in the 1330s and changed hands numerous times during the Hundred Years War. In 1599 the castle was in a state of disrepair and King Henry IV of France, believing it a threat to the local citizens order the castle be demolished.
How do you showcase a castle that is mere fragment of its once majestic self? CGI of course. And this week they had their work cut out for them. But the CGI looked great! As Dan talks the magnificent castle materializes behind him, into what it looked like when Richard ruled Normandy. The cinematography is fantastic with great sweeping views of the French countryside.
Battle Castle is an outstanding program with a compelling host, excellent history and a wonderful use of technology. The hands-on demonstrations in Guédelon, France and Caerphilly Castle add to the experience of the show. With a second exceptional episode Battle Castle is setting a new standard for historical documentaries. There are four castles left to explore and I for one cannot wait to see whats in store. The sereis doesn’t end on TV though. Battle Castle uses social media with great effect. They send out trivia bits and behind the scene videos all week leading up to the show.
Tune in tonight on History Television Canada at 2100 ET to watch Battle Castle: Chateau Gaillard.
Check out the Web Comic below, its one of the ‘extras’ they put out this week.