Castle of the Week 78 – Château de Fougères – Castle of Ferns
For this castle of the week, we travel to the French province of Bretagne, known also as Brittany, to the medieval town of Fougères. It lies on the border of Brittany half-way between Maine and Normandy and its medieval fortress has been the proud defender of the border of Brittany for over 1000 years.
This fantastic testament of military architecture is one of the best preserved fortified castles in Europe. If you observe the medieval city walls along with the castle, it may remind you of Carcassonne in the south. The castle has a spectacular layout seen in this aerial view, showing its 13 towers.
The Fougères you see today closely resembles what it looked like in the last half of the 15th century; its layout, showcased within its three enclosures, is a brilliant example of medieval defenses.
The first enclosure serves to protect the castle and keep attacking enemies at a minimum. The second enclosure was an area where everyday life was carried out in times of peace; it also was an area the people fled to in war. The third enclosure protects the keep. The castle has a moat, curtain walls and the tide ditch of the forecastle could be flooded for defense.
In the 10th century, Fougères begins as a simple donjon protected by high palisades on a rocky outcrop in a basin of the River Nançon. Ancient Roman trade roads meet in the lower valley and monoliths from an era forgotten in time are also close by. It would be two centuries later before the castle becomes a formidable stronghold.
In the summer of 1166 the Plantagenêt Empire was expanding and Henry II, King of England, bolstered with holdings from his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was off to conquer Brittany. Fougères was valiantly and aggressively defended by Raoul II but, despite the castle’s efforts, Henry II destroys the castle and the keep is razed. Raoul II , knowing the military significance of Fougères, defiantly rebuilds the castle into a high walled stronghold that defies time and turbulence.
The castle will continue to be fought over as it withstands sieges and attacks. In 1231 the King of France will send troops to aid Raoul III and personally come to the castle after deflecting an attack by Mauclerc. In1256, Fougères is peaceful. Jeanne de Fougères and her husband, Hugh de Lusignan, are Lord and Lady of the castle. During this time of peace, construction of the Mélusine and Gobelin towers takes place. The Mélusine tower was named after the mythical fairy whose marriage to Raymond started the Lusignans’ bloodline. In 1307 the barony of Fougères is taken over by the King of France. In 1428 it is sold to the Duke of Brittany by Jean II of Alençon to pay for his ransom asked for by the English.
The castle as it ages will know times of peace. Writers and painters will come to it and be inspired by the atmosphere of ages. Notable names such as Hugo, Balzac and Chateaubriand have graced Fougères. Peace leaves again in the 20th century as it sees more fighting, Fougères takes a severe bombardment on June 9, 1944 as the Allies fight to free it from four years of German occupation.
There are many memories held in Fougères; the valiant who died defending it are remembered. The castle today can be visited; what a wonderful place to experience the history of the Middle Ages. It would definitely be on my list of places to visit.