The story of William the Conqueror begins at the Château de Falaise, some 35 kilometers (22 miles) south of Caen in Calvados, Normandy. Born in Falaise either in 1027 or 1028, ‘William the Bastard’ as he was known to his contemporaries, was the illegitimate son of Robert I, aka Robert the Magnificent. The Dukedom of Normandy, created in 911 by Rollo the Viking, was by William’s birth, a powerful force in northern France.
William grew up in Falaise Castle, one of the main residences of the Dukes. It stood high above the surrounding rolling countryside on a hilltop or 'falaise', a force to be reckoned. Here was the source of power, leadership and might.
Falaise Castle still stands high above the small town. Once a huge collection of buildings resembling a small town, today it consists of long defensive walls, the Talbot Tower built in 1207, the lower keep built around 1150 and the Great Square Keep built in 1123 by Henry, William’s son. It was modeled on the Tower of London that William began constructing in 1067, which was the perfect medieval fortress.
The castle saw prosperous times and disasters; intermittent fighting in the interminable Hundred Years War between the English and the French from 1337-1453, and again in August 1944 when bombing raids obliterated 80% of Falaise and much of the surviving castle during the final battle of Normandy.
The Castle has been imaginatively restored but it’s not a restoration full of reconstructed rooms with furniture. Take the audio-visual tour on headphones, or better still, take one of the guided tours and let your imagination take over.
To visit, you walk along the side of the defensive wall up to a brutal looking entrance, designed originally to impress visitors and alarm attackers.
Inside, the rooms are furnished barely with contemporary furniture and the place comes alive with stories, pictures and music, conjuring up feasting and entertainment, councils of war, worship, and fighting.
Methods of fighting in the Middle Ages are explained in the Talbot Tower, where the only entrance is from the inside of the castle. There’s also a small garden with plants of the time.
At the end of the visit, an audio visual presentation explains the story of William, his wife Matilda, daughter of Count Baldwin of Flanders and his heirs, and places the Conqueror in context.
Tip: If you’re going with children, buy the William the Conqueror Activity Booklet (3 euros in English for 7 to 12 year olds). It’s a great introduction to the times, covers Bayeux, Caen and Falaise and keeps them occupied with objects to spot and tick off. I have to admit that I found it a wonderful quick ready reference as well.
La Falaise Practical Information
Place Guillaume le Conquerant
14700 Falaise, Calvados, Normandy
Tel.: 00 33 (02) 31 41 61 44
There is a good shop in the castle.
Opening times and prices
From February to December (except December 25th and January 1st) daily 10am-6pm
July and August daily 10am-7pm
Guided tours (free) Weekends and holidays English 11:30am; French 3:30pm
July and August: Daily English 11:30am anmd 3:30pm; French 10am and 2pm
Adult 7.50 euros; children 6-16 years 3.50 euros
Family pass (2 adults and child between 6 and 16 years) 18 euros
Falaise Tourist Office
Boulevard de la Libération
14700 Falaise, Calvados, Normandy
Tél.: +33 (0)2 31 90 17 26
Falaise Tourism Website
Where to Eat in Falaise
La Fine Fourchette
52 rue Georges Clemenceau
14700 Falaise, Normandy
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 31 90 08 59
A welcoming, friendly local restaurant, family run with father and son turning out very good dishes, particularly fish. Set menus from 16 euros and a good a la carte.
Directions to Falaise
- From Paris: 290 kilometers (180 miles) on the A13 (via Caen)
- From Caen: 35 kilometers (22 miles) south on the N158
- From Portsmouth to Ouistreham by ferry, D154 to Caen then N1589 south to Falaise is 50 kms (31 miles)