Saturday, August 16, 2014

I have been to... Chateau de Noirmoutier

Second time at this, as the last time, after two days of editing the post, a slip of the finger resulted in all the text disappearing and then Blogger went and damn well autosaved... grrrrr..... I hate autosave! What really irritates it there is no way of turning the damn thing off.. nil points Blogger!

Anyway - here is the last of the holiday related posts (and it seems like an age since we went )... this time just a little piece on the castle at Noirmoutier.... and littler than it would have been as I simply couldn't summon up the enthusiasm to put in as much detail as I did last time.... So here's the layout from satellite view with orientation - keep at the top, gateway opposite

...not a huge castle internally - about the size of a football pitch (that's soccer to my US reader.. )

The house to the left is a much later addition (50's/60's)

So my varied researches show that the first traces of the castle appeared in about 830AD with the construction of a castrum (a new word to me, but denoting a temporary fortification along the lines of the Roman marching fort - so largely wood and earth) which was built by the by the Abbot Hilbold of the local monastery for protection from the Vikings (and Noirmoutier has the unfortunate legacy of being the location of the first ever Viking attack on mainland Europe, in approximately 799AD).

North wall and moat

The map following shows how remote the island was, and therefore how easy to attack, and difficult to defend... (I was slightly amazed to read that the abbey had already been sacked by the Saracens in 723 or 732AD - sources differ - goes to show how far people were waging war from home even that early in history!).... most historians agree however, that the key to this interest, and the source of all the upheavals and wars in following centuries was the fact that the island along with other locations on this coast was major producer of salt, and in the days before refrigeration this was literally white gold...

Either way, following the building of said earth work the Vikings still made more and more attacks until in the end the monastery was abandoned (for an interesting read about this period I really enjoyed this [clicky]) - the island simply couldn't be defended at high water as no one could get to it except the Vikings who came and went at will in their longships, and the French forces had no navy to counter them.. some resources say that the Vikings came back every two or three years for for almost 40 years!

North wall, keep and moat

The Vikings, and then the Normans, controlled the island for the next two centuries but as the Lords of Poitou (the surrounding region on the mainland) became stronger they forced the Normans to look northward for new territories (that'll be Normandy then!) and by 1060AD the Lords of Garnache (north west Vendee) controlled the land and this continued until 1206. It was Pierre IV of Garnache who built the stone castle that we largely see today (largely unchanged, though at the beginning of the 18th century, the towers were reconstructed and the keep adapted for artillery); the stone keep which was built with rubble, has three floors with the lords' residence at the top, and then an enclosure consisting of two towers, a single gate and two watch turrets in the four corners.

East wall

From 1206 until 1373 the island was controlled from the mainland by Saint Maure, and then the Craon before being sold to the illustrious Tremoille family.

It was the Tremoille family that developed the land, built the dykes and windmills (in 1395 there were 6 windmills by 1682 there were 17 - I suspect some Dutch assistance in this  - see later!) and invested in the salt production.

South west corner

This was however a turbulent period, which included invasions, destruction, looting by pirates and other French, and also by other nations, such as the English, Dutch and Spanish. The castle was attacked many times:
  • the English in 1342 and 1360, and again in 1386 (Hundred Years War) under the command of the Earl of Arundel (a local link for me as Arundel and its castle are just a little up the road)
  • the Spanish in 1524 (Italian War of 1521–1526) and 1588 (French Wars of Religion 1562–1598)
  • in 1674 it was taken by the Dutch troops of Admiral Cornelis Tromp (Third Anglo-Dutch War) a source I have read say that the Dutch left behind engineers and businessmen who lived in the castle and extensively renovated the area building dikes/levies to maximise salt production, and grazing space for cattle.. (the name Jacobssen originates from this period, and who we first heard in that post about the ship in the church).
South east corner and gate

In 1720 the last of the Tremoille family, Annne-Marie [clicky], sold the island and the castle to the Duke of Bourbon [clicky] whose son sold it to King Louis XV for £1,900.00 in 1767.

West wall
During the French Revolution, the region as a whole revolted against the rule of Bonaparte twice.

The first revolt (known as the Wars of the Vendee and known to Hornblower readers from "Mr Midshipman Hornblower") was prompted by Royalist/Catholic opposition to the French governments recent legislation against the Catholic church, and by the imposition of the levy, or conscription.

The island was strategically important to both sides and it changed hands 4 times between March 1793 and January 1794 with considerable loss of life - little consideration was given to prisoners on either side... The Republican army were the final victors and more than 1500 Vendéen soldiers were executed in a couple of days and the island was turned into a prison, and the castle served as a military prison.

Estimates of those killed in the Vendean conflict as a whole – on both sides – range between 117,000 and 450,000, out of a population of around 800,000. It was a truly awful conflict, and many modern historians believe that the actions of the French government amount to almost genocide - a read on the actions of General Louis Marie Turreau's "infernal columns" [clicky] is worthwhile, but disturbing..

South east corner

In the second revolt, in 1815, the region refused to accept Bonparte after his restoration during the 100 days - Bonaparte sent 10,000 troops to pacify the region - troops he badly needed at Waterloo - there's an argument that it was the Prussians and the Vendeen's that won the Duke the battle!

During the 19th century, the castle was used as a barracks, and in 1871, during the Paris Commune, insurgents were imprisoned there.

East wall

During the Second World War the island was occupied by the Germans and the castle was again used for prisoners of war - after the war they were imprisoned in their own prison..

Cannons from the wreck of British warship "Maidstone" [clicky] which sank on July 8th 1747 while on blockade with the British Navy; she was a 1000 ton vessel with 50 cannon and struck a rock while inspecting the Dromadaire a 400 ton merchant vessel and sunk 3 miles off L'Herbaudiere.


  1. Aargh! I know that situation when your blog post disappears and autosaves seconds later well!

    Great post and didn't know that point about the troops being sent there who should have been at Waterloo. Imagine if the French had 10,000 extra troops at Quatre Bras!

  2. Legatus - not only that - but the 10,000 included Young Guard - Bonaparte was clearly worried....