French Templar Castles: Chinon

French Templar Castles: Chinon

Chinon Castle in France’s Vienne River Valley is an important place at several stages in French history. A fortified pile of some sort has existed on this plateau overlooking the river ever since the Romans wandered through (and back when “all Gaul was divided into three parts”). In the fourth century, it was a monastery, but it was expanded into an extensively fortified castle. 

Over the centuries, it has been held by both English and French kings. England’s King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their son King Richard the Lionheart were buried nearby. And followers of the Joan of Arc story know it as the place where the young Joan recognized the dauphin as the heir to the throne, Charles VII, and implored him to declare himself King of France.

What makes Chinon important to Templar mavens is that its dungeon, known as the Coudray Tower (or keep), was where King Phillip IV tossed many members of the order — including Grand Master Jacques de Molay — when they were arrested in 1307. The cylindrical structure still stands today, and graffiti attributed to the knights can barely be made out among the modern defacement of centuries of tourists.

In 1308, Pope Clement V ordered a team to travel to Chinon and interrogate the Templars. The results of their questioning and subsequent absolution of their confessed sins were revealed in a document referred to as the Chinon Parchment, which remained hidden from researchers until the 1700s. Templars were kept at Chinon for seven years, as King Phillip slowly meted out torture and death sentences, and Clement did nothing to stop him.

The castle later became a state prison for more than 200 years.