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Château-Gaillard castle's Useless Mouths

Château-Gaillard | Andy Hay / CC-BY
Castle Siege Philippe II Augustus Château-Gaillard

September 1203. King Philippe Auguste had enough: he wanted to besiege Château-Gaillard castle and to recapture the place to expel the English.

Well, it won’t be easy: a 4 months siege would begin...

And during this siege, a famous episode happened: the one of the Bouches inutiles, "the Useless Mouths".

Horror in the ditches

People from Les Andelys village (1500 souls) suffered the siege head on. They were scared.

They took shelter behind the castle’s walls for a while.

But the English finally expelled them. Why? They had not enough supply for everybody.

So women and men had to turn back towards Les Andelys...

The French let 1000 of them go through, but the last ones were not allowed to cross their lines, at the end.

So, stuck in the 2nd surrounding wall, pushed away from the two sides, they died, starving and freezing cold.

Slowly. Very slowly, in the castle’s ditches. There even were cannibalism scenes!

Achille Deville in his book Histoire du Château-Gaillard (1829) described all the dreadful scenes taking place in the ditches. All those poor people ate what they found: moss, grass, stray dogs.

One day, a hen crossed the French lines and fell on the ditch. The survivors devoured her "with her feathers and droppings in her intestine".

One other day, a woman gave birth. They took the baby away from her and ate him piece by piece!


Meanwhile, on the French side, soldiers faced facts: Château-Gaillard was impregnable.

Sergeant Pierre Bogis studied the castle’s plans and suggested one thing: the only way to force the fortress’ entrance was to pass by the latrines.

And the latrines’ door was located... below the chapel.

Yes, even period chroniclers like Guillaume Le Breton said it was a funny and weird location. Not very respectful of the place’s holiness!

But latrines or not, the French troops invaded the castle and the siege finally ended.

Cock-a-doodle-doo, Normandy became French again!

Château-Gaillard will be safe until the Hundred Years War... and this time, I promise: no siege by the latrines!

About the the author

I'm fond of strolls and History, with juicy and spicy details!