… splendid, a huge Norman keep in excellent preservation …’ wrote Lawrence in a letter home. The medieval fortress and town of Loches stood on a high rocky plateau and were encircled by a many-towered curtain wall (enceinte). From time to time Loches featured in the bitter feud between the Plantagenet kings of England and Philippe Auguste of France, being taken and re-taken. However, after being bought by King Louis IX in 1249, Loches remained in French hands, even during the Hundred Years War. Over the centuries its structures have often been strengthened and modified, sometimes protecting a royal residence and, in modern times (until 1926), serving as a state prison.

The keep, 37 metres high with 2.8 metre thick walls, is one of the tallest and most dramatic in France (Fig. 28). Wood as well as stone was used in its construction between 1010 and 1035. This dating derives from dendrochronological studies of its original timber beams. Not far from the keep is a Royal Dwelling (Logis du Roi), part-fourteenth century, part-sixteenth century. It was in the Great Hall of this impressive building, in 1429, that the charismatic peasant girl, Jeanne d’Arc, fresh from her unexpected victory over the English at Orléans, met the Dauphin and urged him to be crowned in Reims cathedral as Charles VII, true King of France. The same building is famously associated with the memory of beautiful Agnès Sorel, his official mistress, who was an influential figure in the French court for about eight years until her death in 1445 at the age of 28.

Fig. 28 – Donjon of Loches, Touraine