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Castle of Vincennes

Description of the castle

In his "reasoned Dictionary of medieval architecture", the French architect Eugene Viollet the Duc describes with a care meticulous person the incredible fortress of Vincennes. We leave the word with this expert.

1 - Courtines and turns of flanking

Under Charles V one modified the old defense force. One had already small pieces of artillery, which made it possible to lengthen the faces, to move away flankings consequently. It had been recognized that the short faces had the disadvantage, if the two close sides had been destroyed, of ravelling the attacker and to present only one not very wide obstacle to him, counters which it could accumulate his means of attack. As this always against these courtines was narrow, between two turns, as the last operations of a seat concentrated, as soon as as a preliminary one had managed to ruin higher defenses of the turns by fire, if they were composed of hourds, or by large projectiles, if the galleries of the machicolations were covered with a coat of masonry. About 1360, the courtines were thus lengthened; the turns were spaced, took a greater surface, had sometimes right sides, - i.e. these turns were built on rectangular level, - and were crowned by platforms. The castle of Vincennes is a standard fortress in conformity with a new device. The well-known plan of this place presents a large parallelogram flanked of four rectangular turns at the angles, of a tower (carries) also rectangular in the medium of each small side, three square towers on one on the large sides, and by the keep with its enclosure on the other.

The courtines between the turns are approximately 100 meters long, which exceeds the limit of old the escarpes flanked. The turns of angles are planted in such way, that their sides are longer on the small sides of the parallelogram than on the large ones, in order to better protect the doors.

The Turns of angles are equipped with large buttresses resting on a slope going up to the higher cornice, which is only one continuation of broad machicolations. The three stages were arched, and on the last vault rested a platform paved, suitable to receive, or large machines, or pieces of ordnance. A crènelage protected the principal rafters.

Towards second half of XIVe century, one returned to the considerable commands of the turns on the courtines, with the obvious intention to make be used this command for the placement of machines with long range. The higher vault, glaze of a thick shielding of notch (dust produced by the size of the stone and used like matter "plug") under the pavement, resisted all the projectiles launched to the flight, by supposing that these projectiles could rise to fall down rather high on the platform. The tower defends absolutely only top, either by the machines of position, or, against the brought closer attack, by the crènelages and machicolation.

2 - Considerations on the evolution heights of walls

It is curious to follow not does not have, since Antiquity, this constant movement of oscillation, which, in work of defense, sometimes made give to the turns or flankings a command on the courtines, sometimes reduced this command and levelled the top of the turns on the level of the courtines. Nowadays still (at the XIXe century thus) these same oscillations are felt in the art of the fortification, and Vauban itself, towards the end of its career, after having recommended flankings of level with the courtines, had returned to the commands raised on the bastions. It is that indeed, whatever the range of the projectiles, it are only the one relative question, since the conditions of shooting equal for are besieged as for the attacker. If the raised commands are removed, one discovers the attacker of less further, and one allows him to begin his work of approach more closely; if these commands are increased, one gives an easier catch to artillery of besieging. Also we see, during the Average Age, and mainly since the adoption of the pieces of ordnance, the systems to follow one another and float between these two principles. From elsewhere a difficulty emerged formerly as it emerges today.

The layout of a place in flat projection can be rational, and more to be it because of the reliefs. With the raised commands, one can discover with far the countryside, but one threads the ditches and the escarpes by a plunging shooting which does not produce the effective effect of the shaving shooting. The two conditions thus should be met. The castle of Vincennes was thus, for time when it was raised, an attempt which perhaps all the importance was not appreciated. The architect manufacturer of defenses claimed to withdraw the turns from the effect of the parabolic shooting, in their giving a considerable relief, and it claimed to use this command, uncommon then, for the shooting of the new machines with fire, and the large improved machines, such as the mangonneaux ones and precision balances.

Under the reign of Charles V, one nowhere does not find, in France, in Germany, in Italy, in England or Spain, a second example of the provision adopted for construction of the castle of Vincennes. It is an isolated attempt which was not followed. Here is the reason: then (of 1365 to 1370) one started to employ pieces of ordnance of a rather low gauge, or bombard iron short, hooped, clean has to launch stone balls to the flight, as could do it the counterweight machines. It was not believed that the new artillery with fire would replace one century later these cumbersome machines, but whose shooting was very precise and the terrible effect until a range of 150 A 200 meters. The used artillery with fire towards the end of XIVe century in the places, consisted of tubes of iron which sent balls of two or three books at most, or even of stones rounded. These machines replaced with advantage the large crossbows, and could be put out of battery behind merlons turns.

II thus interest had there to increase the relief of these turns, because the shooting of full whip being weak, more one raised it, more it could cause damage with besieging. Moreover, as said we it a few moments ago, it was important to withdraw the top of these turns from the launched projectiles from flown by the old machines. The courtines were, relatively, to have only one less relief, in order to poster the principal rafters which sent their squares of goal in white to approximately 60 meters. The machines and pieces of ordnance of the platforms of the turns covered the countryside of large projectiles in a radius of 200 meters, and thus holding besieging them remotely, the courtines were protected until the moment when, by work of approach, the attackers arrived at the peak of the ditch. In this last case, the principal rafters of the courtines defended of it the approach and those of the turns took in side the columns by storm by a plunging shooting.

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