The Château de Vincennes is a massive 14th and 17th century French royal fortress in the town of Vincennes, to the east of Paris, now a suburb of the metropolis.
The fortress is located near the capital, about eight kilometers from the Ile de la Cité. Unlike the majority of castles, it is not located on a mound, a hill or on the top of a cliff, but on a limestone plateau. It is not near a river, just a small stream, rue de Montreuil, stream descending from the plateau of Montreuil which fed the moat whose overflow then went to Paris and threw itself in the lake of Saint-Mandé.
In the Middle Ages, time of construction, the site was covered by a forest full of game. Since the 14th century, around the castle are urbanized, nothing remains of the forest that the Bois de Vincennes.
This fortress has more the appearance of a vast fortified city or a “royal fortified residence” 2 than a castle. If this castle is at the beginning only a simple manor, it has very early vocation to shelter, during long periods, the royal family with all its domesticity, a part of the administration of the kingdom and the necessary army for his defense.
It consists of a long wall, flanked by three gates and six towers 42 meters high, which develops over one kilometer and protects a rectangular area of several hectares (330 × 175 m). The protected square is occupied by the keep 52 meters high above the floor of the court, civil, administrative and military buildings and a chapel. In the Middle Ages, the ensemble allowed to live on the spot to several tens of thousands of people. When Jacques Androuet du Cerceau draws the castle in the album The first volume of the Most excellent buildings of France, in 1576, the enclosure is congested; “It encloses a real city”. The dungeon was designed to house the King of France in case of danger. He alone is a stronghold. Large moats, a castle and two drawbridges ensure its defense. The lowest level serves as a reserve of water and food. The first and second floors are the royal apartments. The other three higher levels welcome servants and the military.
Like other more famous châteaux, it had its origins in a hunting lodge, constructed for Louis VII about 1150 in the forest of Vincennes. In the 13th century, Philip Augustus and Louis IX erected a more substantial manor: Louis IX is reputed to have departed from Vincennes on the crusade from which he did not return.
The simple hunting lodge, designed by Louis VII around 1150 in the forest of Vincennes, became a royal residence (mansion) in 1180 during the reign of Philippe Auguste. The castle was remodeled in the xiv th century mainly by Charles V. In the middle of the Middle Ages, Vincennes was more than a military fortress: Philip III (in 1274), in his second marriage, married there and two kings of the xiv th century died there: Louis X (1316) and Charles IV(1328). Around 1337, Philip VI of Valois decided to fortify the site by building a donjon to the west of the manor. Charles V was born in this fortress, made it his residence, the seat of his government and his high administration. He commissioned the works decided by Philip VI, adding thereafter the monumental enclosure with its doors and towers. The keep and its enclosure were completed in 1371, and the wall with its walkway, surrounding dungeon, manor, Sainte-Chapelle and residential buildings, was completed in 1380. The work lasted two generations.
In addition, the relics of the crown of thorns that were kept in Vincennes having been transferred to the Sainte-Chapelle of Paris, the work of building a new chapel was entrusted to Raymond du Temple and began in 1379. The Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes was to receive a fragment of the relic remaining in Vincennes. At the death of Charles V in 1380, Charles VI gave the order to continue the work, which was interrupted several times. When Louis XI made Vincennes his residence, he left the royal apartments of the dungeon for a new single-storey pavilion, built in 1470 in the south-west corner of the castle. It also relaunches the construction site of Sainte-Chapelle.
The construction and beautification of the castle continues under the Valois. François I st was redevelop the pavilion built by Louis XI to reside during his stay in the capital. Henry II, who had transferred the seat of the order of Saint – Michel to Vincennes, entrusted the completion of the work of the Saint – Chapelle to his favorite architect, Philibert Delorme, and the chapel was finally inaugurated in 1552. In February 1574, the court took refuge in the castle of Vincennes where Charles IX, seriously suffering, died May 30 in the royal apartments of thekeep. François d’Alençon and the King of Navarre, assigned in residence to the court, become the forced guests of the castle.
The young Louis XIII was installed, after the assassination of his father Henry IV, in Vincennes in the former pavilion of Louis XI, and spent part of his youth there.
The castle became the third royal residence. Louis XIV was at Vincennes when, on the April, 1655 He went according to historians “in hunting suit” the parliament of Paris, to the bed of justice to enforce its edicts tax.
The architect Louis Le Vau built for Louis XIV the wings (wrongly called “flags”) of the King and the Queen. He erected the wing of the Queen [Mother] in 1658 and the wing of the King in 1661, the two wings connected by a portico to the north and south surrounding the royal court. The Cardinal Mazarin died there on March, 1661 and his body was exposed in the Sainte-Chapelle.
It was considered to replace the pavilions built by Marie de Medici, but the reconstruction work was however abandoned, because Versailles concentrated all efforts. The castle, however, preserved some examples of early Louis XIV style in the large apartments. The gardener Le Nôtre also practiced by landscaping French gardens and the approach of the Bois de Vincennes, in front of the new south entrance marked by a monumental door in ” arc de triomphe “.
Prison and Royal Manufacture
The dungeon was converted into a state prison (for high birth prisoners). His ability did not allow him to house more than fourteen inmates. The Duke of Beaufort, chief chief of the ” Cabal of the Important “, imprisoned on the orders of Anne of Austria, escaped in 1648. The Cardinal de Retz went meditate on the Fronde in the former bedroom of Charles V. Nicolas Fouquet, who had launched the architect Le Vau, was also entitled to the honors of the prison of Vincennes, following his trial three years (1664) and before his transfer to the royal stronghold of Pignerol.
The castle was permanently abandoned as a royal residence when the King moved to Versailles (around 1670). Louis XV stayed there only a few months (he was sent there on the death of his great-grandfather Louis XIV, in September 1715, the air was considered healthier than at Versailles, the regent – Philippe d ‘ Orleans – then took him to Paris). Louis XVI made no stay there.
In the 18th century, it housed the Vincennes factory dedicated to the production of porcelain, which later became that of Sevres. The dungeon remained a state prison. Among them were Voltaire, the Marquis de Sade (from September 1778 to February 1784) and Mirabeau. Diderot meanwhile was not imprisoned in the dungeon but in a building adjoining the Sainte Chapelle and now destroyed.
In February 1788, in order to raise the finances, an edict of the Council of the king of France, signed Louis XVI, puts on sale several domains, with the castle of Vincennes, the castle of Blois, the castle of Muette and the castle of Madrid, by authorizing the buyers to proceed with their demolition. Only the latter will be redeemed and destroyed.
February 28, 1791, the workers of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine not wanting a new Bastille, try to storm the dungeon to demolish. But the arrival of Lafayette troops to support the National National Guard in Paris helps save the dungeon.
Despite the regime change, the dungeon will find its destination in the xix th century. Only penitentiary conditions will radically harden. Thus, following the days of February 23 to 25, 1848, will remain many left-wing Republicans as Barbès, Blanqui and Raspail (which will come out in favor of his election in Parliament and whose writings testify his stay in the former chapel of Charles V).
In 1796, the castle was converted into an arsenal, housing since then the historical section of the army. It was deeply reworked at this time. The remains of the original hunting lodge dating from the time of Saint Louis were destroyed. New military buildings were built that still exist today. In 1804, the Duke d’Enghien was shot in the moat of the castle on the orders of Napoleon.
Appointed governor of the castle by Napoleon, General Pierre Daumesnil defended it fiercely during the occupation of Paris by Russian and Prussian troops in 1815. These last ones, who wanted to seize the arsenal of the castle, met a relentless resistance. With fewer than 200 men, the general refused to surrender, insensitive to pressures and attempts at corruption, braving the siege of the fort for more than five months. He finally surrendered on the orders of Louis XVIII, but left the fortress brandishing the tricolor flag.
Description of the Château
Only traces remain of the earlier castle and the substantial remains date from the 14th century. The castle forms a rectangle whose perimeter is more than a kilometer in length (330 x 175m). It has six towers and three gates, each originally 13 meters high, and is surrounded by a deep stone lined moat. The keep, 52m high, and its enceinte occupy the western side of the fortress and are separated from the rest of the castle by the moat. The keep is one of the first known examples of rebar usage. The towers of the grande enceinte now stand only to the height of the walls, having been demolished in the 1800s, save the Tour du Village on the north side of the enclosure. The south end consists of two wings facing each other, the Pavillon du Roi and the Pavillon de la Reine, built by Louis Le Vau.
The castle was one of the first buildings in history to use steel to reinforce the walls.
The Château de Vincennes falls under both the Ministry of Culture (the site is classified as a historical monument in 1993 and 1999, and the Departmental Service of Architecture and Heritage is located there), and the Ministry of Defense (the Castle houses the Historic Defense Service, SHD).
Since 1988, an extensive renovation program has been undertaken. Threatened with ruin, the dungeon is closed in 1995, and after extensive work of general consolidation of its structure, the dungeon with its royal apartments reopens to the public in 2007. In 2008 – 2009, the Royal Chapel also underwent a major restoration, necessitated by the 1999 storm.
For several years, local elected officials have been trying to speed up the renewal of the site, notably by obtaining a reorganization of the current governance of the castle and by developing patronage. Thus was born, at the initiative of the city of Vincennes, the “Association for the radiation of the castle of Vincennes”, currently chaired by Françoise Sampermans.
The “Escale plan” would be an evacuation plan of the Elysee Palace, in case of a hundred-year flood in Paris. And the presidency would have prepared in this eventuality a retreat on the castle of Vincennes, deemed safe and easily convertible.