Coucy Castle, locally known as Château de Coucy, is situated in the village of Coucy-le-Château-Auffrique in the Aisne department in the Picardy region in France.
The first fortification at this site, though probably nothing more than a wooden keep with a stone base, was built in the 10th century by Hervé, Archbishop of Reims, to protect his territory of Coucy against invasions.
Coucy Castle itself was built between 1225 and 1245 by Enguerrand III de Coucy. Together with the castle he also fortified the town. The castle, situated at the tip of a bluff, is separated from the town by a large moat. Coucy Castle consisted of a large outer ward, again separated from the main castle by a large moat. The main castle showed the pride of its Lord for it had a circular keep of more than 55 meters high, 35 meters in diameter and a wall thickness of up to 7.5 meters. During that time it was the largest keep in existence. Even the four circular corner towers of the main castle were 40 meters high and 20 meters in diameter. They were as big as the contemporary keeps built by the French monarchy.
Enguerrand III had a bold motto; "I am no King, nor Prince nor Duke nor Count; I am the Lord of Coucy!". He was one of the most ambitious and powerful of all the French nobles of that time. He was also an illustrious warrior, having fought in several campaigns, being a notable member of the French army which invaded England to depose King John and participating in the Albigensian Crusade.
In the second half of the 14th century, one of his descendants, Enguerrand VII was Lord of Coucy. He started the transformation of the old fortress of Coucy Castle into a sumptuous palace. He also played a pivotal role in late medieval history notably in the conflict between England and France, as he was a grandson of the Archduke of Austria, son-in-law of King Edward III of England and a faithful vassal of the King of France.
In 1400 Coucy Castle was bought by Louis I, Duke of Orléans, who completed the work begun by Enguerrand VII. This marked the end of the period of medieval construction of the castle as war in the 15th century made further construction impractical. During this century the castle was besieged and taken several times. Although in 1411 it withstood a siege for 3 months when it was besieged by the Count of Saint-Pol, only surrendering when provisions ran out.
In 1498 Coucy Castle became Crown property and during the 16th century the castle was modernized to adapt it to artillery and a new Renaissance dwelling was built in the castle by Francis I, King of France.
In 1652 the governor of the Duke of Orléans refused to give the castle to the royal troops but had to surrender the castle after a siege of three months. Cardinal Jules Mazarin then decided to dismantle the fortress since it had become too much of a threat to the king's power. The gates, the big round curtain of the keep, as well as the vaults of both the towers and the keep were destroyed to render the castle useless for military purposes. After this the castle fell into neglect.
During the French Revolution the remains of Coucy Castle were transformed into a prison. Later it became a stone quarry until 1829 when it was bought for 6000 Francs by a Louis-Philippe. In 1856 the castle became government property. The famous architect Viollet-le-Duc consolidated the keep after it had been damaged by an earthquake.
During World War I Coucy Castle was occupied by German troops. It became a military outpost and was frequented by German dignitaries, including Kaiser Wilhelm II himself. In March 1917 the German army, ordered by the German General Ludendorff, destroyed the keep and the 4 corner towers by dynamiting them with over 25 tons of explosives.
There seems to have been no military reason for this destruction other than to spite Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria who had asked Ludendorff to protect the castle from war damage during the scorched earth tactics employed by Ludendorff.
The destruction caused so much public outrage that in April 1917 the ruins were declared "a memorial to barbarity". In 1923 war reparations were used to clear the towers and to consolidate the walls but the ruins of the destroyed keep were left in place.
At present the ruins of Coucy Castle can be visited for a small fee. This is really one to visit in my opinion. A great ruin of a once mighty castle which came to a very sad end.