There is not much to see of the medieval castles that once graced Paris. The Bastille and The Temple were demolished at the Revolution and only part of the early Louvre remains. That leaves Vincennes, a quick metro ride from the centre of Paris.
The castle has undergone many changes, especially the truncating of its towers in the 19th century in order to convert it into an artillery fort. At present it is undergoing a major upgrade and the cleaning of its masonry.
At 52 metres the donjon is the tallest medieval fortified structure in Europe – the work of Philip VI in 1337. One can explore its rooms and be enchanted by medieval music that seemingly issues from angelic musicians carved on the vaulting. (Historic Scotland please note.)
Vincennes has a long history. In 1421 Thomas of Lancaster (brother of Henry V) was killed by the Scots during the rout of the English at the Battle of Baugé. This brought Henry post haste back to France only to contract dysentery and die in the donjon where his room can be visited. Following his death his body was returned to England.
A famous ‘Scotsman’ spent one night at Vincennes – Bonnie Prince Charlie – after he refused a polite request from the French King to leave France. This seemingly did the trick as he left the next day!
During the Revolution the mob began the demolition of the château and it looked likely to go the way of the Bastille until the timely intervention of the Marquis de Lafayette who rounded up and jailed the ringleaders – brave man!
After the Battle of Waterloo General Daumensil held Vincennes with 300 men. When ordered to surrender he replied: "I shall do so when I get my leg back." (He had lost it in battle.) He eventually gave way to the pleas of Louis XVIII after Napoleon’s capitulation.
A tragedy still remained: on 29 August 1944 French police and resistance fighters were formed up in the castle ditch where 29 were shot – one of the last brutal acts of the retreating Germans.
Now restored the château houses the records of the French armed forces.