The Château de Tiffauges

The Château de TiffaugesThe Château de Tiffauges stands in the centre of a massif of granite rock extending from Mortagne-sur-Sèvre to Clisson in the Vendée. Early settlers recognised the defensive capabilities of this site and it may be right here that the Teifales, barbarian warriors, were recruited to defend the Roman Empire. This would explain the origin of the town’s name: Tiffauges. In the Middle Ages, the powerful lords needed to protect places of key strategic importance such as the very important regions of Poitou, Brittany and Anjou and so it is likely that at this time, the first stone fortification would have been built on the site.

The 12th century was a time of increasing prosperity and a market place was created at Tiffauges. The first parts of the current castle: the donjon, the gate tower, curtain walls and chapel would have been built by the powerful Viscounts de Thouars at this time. The ring of walls which surround the main parts of the castle would have been built much later and basically this fortress resembles a cube with semi-cylindrical turrets strengthening the middle of each of the donjon’s sides. A narrow high gateway is the only way to access the great donjon; this gateway opens onto the inside of the guardhouse which is on the first floor of the gate tower at the entrance to the château. The portcullis was controlled from this very point and trap doors (assommoirs) were used to stop the advance of any enemy forces. Consider this and you realize that the château had a formidable security barrier. Today there is little visible on the inside of the donjon but you can make out the outlines of various doorways and fireplaces.

FThe Château de Tiffauges - Crypturther inside the castle’s ruins you can see the remains of a Romanesque chapel dedicated to St Vincent. Beneath is the atmospheric, old crypt with its two rows of granite columns decorated in carved capitals. Reputed to be haunted, the crypt is on the agenda of most visitors to the site. The one-time owner of the chateau Gilles de Rais became infamous when, as part of an obsession with alchemy, he was found guilty of the murder of hundreds of children in his desperation to make gold.

More about the infamous ‘Bluebeard’ – Gilles de Rais

Trebuchet at the Château de TiffaugesIn the 1200’s a number of hollow towers were constructed to add to the castle walls; these were in the Romanesque style and built to incorporate bowmen’s loopholes (aka embrasures). This allowed anyone defending the chateau to fire sideways to repel any attack on the base of the castle’s walls. Additionally, a lower defensive castle wall was constructed encircling the castle towers and curtain walls which allowed the movement of castle patrols behind the palisade. The latter was a clear response to new techniques of warfare and castle construction being introduced at the time, primarily learned during the Crusades. Up until this point, the point of a castle siege had been to prevent those inside from food and material supplies. However, when mechanically-operated siege weapons came along such as the bricole, the couillard, and the trebuchet (Photo right) things changed. Employing the principles of the catapult and the balance, these new siege engines were capable of tremendous destructive power.

At Tiffauges Castle today one can see faithfully reconstructed examples of these weapons of the Middle Ages built by master craftsmen with dramatic demonstrations of their use.


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