Doullens

Article and pictures by Jeroen van der Werf, all rights reserved.

In the 15th century the rich regions of Picardy, Flanders and Artois were part of the prosperous Duchy of Burgundy. Although the dukes were subjects of France and princes of the blood, they chose their own political paths which often conflicted with the interests of France. In fact, the Dukes of Burgundy played an important role in the English invasion of France during the first part of the 15th century. For a brief period the English kings ruled a large part of France. Thus, apart from being a wealthy state the duchy also formed a threat to the stability of the French kingdom.

When the last Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, died in the battle of Nancy in 1477 leaving no male heir, the French king, Louis XI, tried to seize as much of the duchy as he could through diplomacy as well as warfare, for both political and economical reasons.

Part of this policy was the planned marriage between the future king of France Charles VIII and Mary of Burgundy (granddaughter of Charles the Bold); Mary was to bring Artois and Flanders in as a dowry. When Charles decided to marry Anne of Brittany instead, and was reluctant to return the dowry, war broke out. In the treaty of Senlis in 1493 Artois was returned to Burgundy which was governed by Maximillian of the house of Habsburg, whose grandson inherited the Spanish throne and the duchy of Burgundy, the future Emperor Charles V.

Picardy, also part of the duchy of Burgundy and taken by Louis XI after the death of Charles the Bold, remained French. Doullens, situated in a strategic location along the Artois-Picardy border became the scene of many sieges during the wars between France and Spain until 1659.

Imperial troops tried unsuccessfully to take Doullens in 1521 and 1523. After his visit to Doullens in 1526 king Francis I ordered the construction of a citadel. It was part of a chain of forts defending the northern border of France, which also included Montreuil and Guise. At this time most bastioned'forts were designed by Italians. In the case of Doullens the engineer was Antonio Castello.

The first citadel was a simple square with an arrow-headed bastion'on each corner and two gates. The south gate is defended by a demi-lune'attached to the curtain wall and the north gate faces the town. The citadel is built on a plateau dominating the city. It was finished around 1550.

In 1595 the Imperial troops attacked Doullens from the river/village side. Since this side was dominated by the citadel the attack was not successful.

The troops decided to go round the citadel and attack from the other side where the citadel is dominated by the hills of Amiens. This attack was successful and the citadel was taken. The south western curtain wall still shows the breach; this part of the wall was restored with bricks.

The treaty of Vervins in 1598 returned Doullens to France. The attack in 1595 showed the weakness of the citadel, so Henry IV ordered Errard de Bar-le-Duc'to strengthen this side of the fort.

He built a crownwork'made of bricks on the south western side of the citadel, to reinforce this weak point, which was dominated by the hills of Amiens.

In this period a large portion of the walls of the old citadel were strengthened with an outer layer of bricks, to enhance their resistance to modern artillery and earthwork demi-lunes were added.

In 1655 the citadel was practically finished. When Artois was annexed to the kingdom of France according to the Treaty of the Pyrenees'in 1659, Doullens lost most of its military purpose, since it now stood in the second line of defence.

Visiting Doullens

Although the covered way and the final touches to the citadel are attributed to Vauban'it remains uncertain whether he really took the time to do it because of the decline in importance position of the citadel after the frontier moved northwards.

From 1659 onwards the citadel was used as a prison most of the time. In 1958 the last prison located in the citadel closed its doors. It slowly fell into ruin until in the early 1970s “Les Amis de la Citadelle” began their successful efforts to save the citadel.

It became a monument in 1978 and opened its doors for tourists in 1982. The citadel has not been modernised much in the 17th century and later centuries. It thus gives a nice picture of early bastioned fortification. Most of the extensions built by Errard stand apart from the rest of the citadel so a lot of the early works can been seen in their original state, especially the part facing the inside of the crownwork. Since it wasn’t exposed to direct fire, this section has had no brick walls added to it.

The most interesting aspect of these old fortifications are the souterrains; tunnels that run alongside the circumference of the whole old citadel.

With staircases you can enter the tunnels that run along the foot of the walls. Inside the bastions an underground place d'armes was made and two powder magazine'were located here together with sally ports (small gates) for entering the ditch. The tunnels are very well ventilated by vertical shafts. The draught in the tunnels shows that the system works very well and the tunnels are still dry.

An interesting feature is the firing slots at the foot of the walls, visible from the tunnel running along the inside of the wall (see image below for a view of a firing slot from the outside).

On the outside only one horizontal opening is visible but on the inside the soldiers in the garrison could fire through them from three different directions. Another aspect is the crownwork added by Errand and the reinforcements with bricks of the old walls.

Although not very spectacular they show an aspect in the progression of fortification. Inside the citadel most of the old buildings have been demolished to make place for the prison buildings.

The buildings are in a poor state and do not add much to the visit. During the summer season the citadel can only be visited on a guided tour. Times are available at the local tourist office and their website. The rest of the year the citadel is only open to groups.

The visit is very interesting and is highly recommended, mainly because you get to visit some of the underground parts of the citadel.

Near Doullens you can find another very interesting fort, the fort Rambures. This fort was built in the 15th century and is an excellent example of the transitional architecture; the change from medieval fortress building to the bastioned fortification.

This fort is still very much a medieval castle but has a lot of architectural features to withstand artillery.

Article and pictures by Jeroen van der Werf, all rights reserved.

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