Wednesday, 17 April 2013

An excellent fortress

We like Chinon and we stopped by again earlier this month. We've always liked Chinon from our very first forays into the Loire Valley as tourists in the early 1990's. This despite the fact that every time we approach it from the south side of the river Vienne and pass the SuperU [it wasn't a SuperU then but some other chain] on the left-hand side of the road where it runs between huge plane trees we're reminded of our failure at the time to get to grips with the French custom of closing on the dot of noon for lunch. At least 3 times we were doomed to disappointment at that supermarket, arriving just as the doors were firmly closing.
View of the fortress of Chinon 
The fortress walls as we see them today are mostly due to Henry, Count of Anjou, later King Henry II of England. It was one of his favourite fortresses, which is hardly suprising given its strategic location on the crossroads between 3 regions: Anjou, Touraine and Poitou.

Henry II ruled over a huge swathe of present day France, but found it difficult to manage his sons and the balance of power. Henry had a stormy relationship with them, which we have written about before here. They felt he kept them on too short a rein handing out allowances, but no real power to rule the lands they were nominally in charge of.
Lands [yellow/orange/red] ruled by Henry II of England [wikipedia commons]
Chinon is the backdrop for the final instalment of Henry's regin. In 1189 he was already ill [he had, modern historians think, a bleeding ulcer] during his final acrimonious encounter with the French King and one of his two surviving two sons, Richard [later King Richard the Lionheart] who were again allied in rebellion against him. They met at a place called La Ferté-Bernard in last minute peace talks brokered by the Papacy. These failed and the French King Philip Augustus and Henry's rebellious son Richard attacked. Henry retreated to Le Mans and then Alençon before heading south to his forteress of Chinon.

 Chinon in tiles at Tours station
From there he rode to Ballan, near Tours to meet Philip and Richard and agreed to their terms before being carried back to Chinon on a litter. He was too ill by this time to ride and very clearly dying. Soon after his return to Chinon from Ballan he received word that his other surviving son John had publicly sided with Richard. The desertion allegedly hit him hard and he lapsed into a fever, dying on the 6 July 1189. According to some chroniclers of the time Henry died deserted by most of his court who had gone to seek out Richard once it was clear he had not long to live.

The territories ruled over by Henry II did not remian in the family for long. During the reign of King John, Henry's youngest son [1199 -1216] all, apart from Gascony, were lost to the French King.

16 comments:

Jean said...

We love Chinon and it's almost possible to feel the history all around when walking through its lovely old streets. This period in French history is so fascinating and also confusing....I tend to get it all mudddled up but love reading all about it nonetheless.

the fly in the web said...

I too remember the never open supermarket on our way into Chinon...but I despaired of the wine available and used to nip down to Panzoult to buy.

Susan said...

We recommend to our clients that they watch the Lion in Winter. We reckon it gives you a pretty fair idea of these times.

The Broad said...

I can wax lyrical about Chinon for hours! Love it and envy you the proximity to the town. The history of the period is endlessly fascinating -- but also totally confusing! Lots happened around our area of France in the Lot -- bands of English brigands caused a lot of trouble throughout the area and especially along the Dordogne River.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Jean - it is a lovely place strung out between the river and the castle on the escarpment.

And the confusion is never helped by kings who all have the same names, just different numbers :-)

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - yup we developed a similar strategy.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Susan - Good idea, it does give a good 'flavour' of what it might have been like.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Broad - yes a certain de Montfort left a trail of destruction.
The confusion wasn't helped by the English of the times who were really Angevins, or Normans or ... and spoke French not English :-)

Simon de Montfort is a classic example: French but with English domains.

He's the de Montfort who laid waste to so much of your area [Albegensian Crusade against the Cathars]. He split his estates between his sons. The eldest, Aumary got the French lands and next, another Simon, eventually reclaimed their estates in England [Earldom of Leicester] so you got a split into two families: one staying French, the other 'becoming' English.

Carolyn said...

The Chinon Super U is where I was first struck by how many different chocolate bars are available in France. I estimated 70 feet of chocolate bars. Heaven!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Carolyn - and what's more it's 'proper' chocolate. :-)

Perpetua said...

Ooo, goody - more history! It's hard to imagine a time when an English king ruled half of France, but it's obvious that fortresses like Chinon would have helped a lot. :-) It's the most amazing place.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - Indeed Chinon did and King Philip Augustus took it back for France after a protracted siege in 1204 (I think) during King John's reign.

Craig said...

I'm disappointed to say that I've never been to Chinon and I feel rather deprived!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Craig - it's well worth a visit if you're ever in the area. Chinon wines are pretty tasty too :-).

John Gray said...

Are they cottages hidden behind the trees?

Niall & Antoinette said...

@John - houses. The plane trees are actually quite big and screen the town which runs along the riverside underneath the fortress.