Cathar Castles: Fortresses of the Albigensian Crusade 1209-1300
Marcus Cowper, Peter Dennis
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In the early 12th century AD a large area of present-day France was not under the direct control of the French king. In fact, the French king's direct authority stretched little further than Paris and the area immediately around it, the Ile de France. Many of the other regions were semi-independent duchies and counties, controlled by, amongst others, the King of England and the Holy Roman Emperor. One such area free from direct French control was the Languedoc, the area stretching from the Massif Central south to the Pyrenees, and as far as the river Rhone to the east. This area was under the loose overlordship of the counts of Toulouse, and by the beginning of the 12th century the whole region had become the centre of an early form of Protestantism called Catharism that flourished to an extraordinary degree and threatened the rule of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Innocent III, alarmed at this heresy and the unwillingness of the southern nobility to do much to uproot it, launched a crusade in 1209 against European Christians. The crusading army, represented the established Church consisting predominatly of northern French knights. They saw this as an opportunity both to 'take the cross' and to obtain new lands and wealth for themselves more conveniently than crusading to the Holy land. This, the Albigensian Crusade, became a brutal struggle between the north and the south of France as much as between orthodox Roman Catholic and heretic Cathar.
The inhabitants of the Languedoc had always relied for their safety upon a series of strongly fortified walled cities, such as Albi, Carcassonne, B_ziers, Toulouse and a large number of fortified hill-top villages and castles which dotted the countryside. These so-called 'Cathar Castles' now became the last refuge against the invading crusaders and the conflict developed into a series of protracted and bloody sieges that lasted for over 30 years. The author describes these two very different types of fortification, the walled city and the hill-top castle. He explains why they were positioned where they were, how they were built, and the defensive principles behind their construction, and also reviews how well they withstood the test of the Albigensian Crusade.
The Crusades (Essential Histories)
Medieval Siege Warfare (Elite)
French Medieval Armies 1000-1300 (Men-at-Arms)
of the site, probably around 1260. The medieval castrum of Cabaret was located beneath these four fortifications, lower down the slope by the banks of the River Grésillou. This medieval site was constructed some time in the late 11th and early 12th centuries and consisted of a basic fortification, around 500m2, located on a ridge with a simple keep and a rectangular building attached to it. On either side of this fortification the streets of the medieval castrum led down to the rivers Grésillou
Montségur sits on top of its pog (Occitan for ‘hill’) dominating the surrounding countryside.This view is from the south-west, the direction from which the royal forces tried to attack in 1243/44, without much success. (Author’s collection) This view of one of the streets of Bram around the church strikingly shows the curvature of the circulades. Bram was the site of one of the first massacres of the crusade, when Montfort mutilated the defenders before driving them out and sending them to the
(1197–1249). Raymond inherited the county from his father, Raymond VI, in 1222 and struggled to keep hold of his birthright in the face of northern territorial ambition. He eventually came to an agreement with the French monarchy at the Treaty of Paris in 1229. (AKG-images/Erich Lessing) There was in the town a mangonel built by a carpenter and dragged with its platform from St Sernin. This was worked by noblewomen, little girls and men’s wives, and now a stone arrived just where it was needed
particularly by a German historian called Otto Rahn, who identified the Cathar treasure with the various Holy Grail myths, and had the Cathars, in particular Esclarmonde of Foix, being the guardians of the Holy Grail. Rahn’s later work on the Cathars and racial purity (he was to join the Waffen-SS) have led to spurious associations between Nazism and Catharism, none of which have been proven. The notion of the Cathars as protectors of the Holy Grail was taken further in the book The Holy Blood
had been cut down, apparently on the orders of Raymond VI, Innocent III re-emphasized Raymond VI’s excommunication and launched the Albigensian Crusade against the Languedoc, offering crusading indulgences, as well as the property of the heretics, for all those who took part. The scene was set for the invasion of the Languedoc by northern French nobles and their men, all actively supported by the Catholic Church. c e e 8 s y x, d at e e d e of e al s at y r r n o y, p t o h y s s. t e The