History of Montsegur
earliest signs of human settlement in the Montsegur area date to
the stone age, around 80,000 years ago. It was also occupied by
the Romans. Evidence of Roman occupation, including Roman currency
and tools have been found around the site. The Occitan name Montsegùr
(French Montségur) comes from Occitan mont ségur (Latin
mons securus) which means "safe hill". In the Middle
Ages the Montsegur region was ruled by the Counts of Toulouse, the
Viscounts of Carcassonne and finally the Counts of Foix. Little
is known about the fortification until the time of the Albigensian
Crusade. Archaeologists call this early castle Montsegur I.
The name in French is spelled Montségur, and in Occitan,
In the early thirteenth century the lordship of Montsegur was shared
between two cousins, Raymond de Péreille and Pierre-Roger
de Mirepoix. In about 1204, Raymond de Péreille decided to
rebuild the castle, which had been in ruins for 40 years or more.
This as a prescient act in view of the Crusade launched against
the people of the Languedoc just a few years later. Rebuilt, the
castle became a centre of Cathar activities, and home to Guilhabert
de Castres, a Cathar bishop. This castle is known to archaeologists
as Montsegur II and has the strongest claim of any castle to the
title "Cathar Castle".
In the first half of the thirteenth century, the fortress at Montsegur
was the object of four sieges. The first in 1212, led by Guy de
Montfort, brother of Simon IV de Montfort was unsuccessful, as was
the second in 1213, led by Simon IV de Montfort himself.
In 1215 , the Lateran Council cited the fortress at Montsegur as
a den of heretics. It became a refuge for dispossessed Cathar families
("faidits") seeking shelter from the depredations of the
Catholic Crusaders. The role as a shelter for faidits from the Cathar
Church grew in 1229 following the Treaty of Meaux-Paris under which
more Occitan nobles were dispossed, including Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix,
cousin of Raymond Péreille, who became the military commander
In 1233 Montsegur became "the seat and head" (domicilium
et caput) of the Cathar church. It provided a refugee for morer
"faidits" - lords who had been stripped of their lands and goods
by the Roman Church. These faidits, counterparts of the more recent
maquis, continued to wage a guerilla war against the invaders.
Montségur housed about 500 persons within the castle precincts
and in the adjacent village perched on the mountainside.
Under pressure to comply with the requirements of the Church, Raymond
VII made a token attempt to capture Montségur in July 1241
- apparently to demonstrate his orthodoxy to the King of France.
This was the third unsuccessful siege of montsegur since 1212.
1242 a putative uprising was organised as part of a coordinated
plan against Louis IX of France agreed by Henry
III, King of England. The Holy Roman Emperor, The King of Aragon
VII the Count of Toulouse, the Count of Foix, and the dispossessed
Viscount of Carcassonne. For various reasons the whole enterprise
fizzled out, and almost the only notable achievement was a raid
by 50 or so warriors from Montsegur who killed two inquisitors,
William Arnald and Stephen de Saint-Thibéry, along with their
retinue, at Avignonet on 28 May, 1242.
Following the massacre at Avignonet,
the Council of Béziers
in 1243 decided to destroy the last vestiges of Catharism. The Cathar
sympathisers responsible for killing the Inquisitors at Avignonet
were known to have come from Montségur. The Council therefore
decided to "cut off the head of the dragon" by which they meant
to take the château at Montsegur, the last remaining major
centre of Cathar belief. The château, perched on top of a
majestic hill (called a pog), had already been reinforced.
May 1243, a year after the Massacre at Avignonet, Montsegur was
besieged by a fourth time, on this occasion by Pierre Amiel the
Archbishop of Narbonne, and Hughes des Arcis, Seneschal of Carcassonne
for the King
of France. Together they represented the Pope and the French
King joining forces once again to eliminate heretics.
Hugues Des Arcis led about 10,000 royal troops against Montsegur
which was held by about 200 faidit fighters. Also inside were around
300 others - around 200 parfaits and parfaites who as pacifists
took no part in the fighting, and 100 or so other refugees, generally
family members (non-Parfait women and children).
The initial strategy was to besiege the castle in expectation that
water and supplies would run out, a strategy that had worked well
for the crusaders at Carcassonne, Minerve and Termes. The defenders
at Montsegur were well supplied and in spite of the presence of
10,000 - 20,000 besiegers, kept their support lines open, supported
by many of the local population. For months, defenders were free
to come and go, allowing reinforcements into the castle.
Throughout the Summer and Autumn, the siege was unsuccessful. Eventually
the French forces decided to attack the castle directly, a difficult
task due to its well protected location high on a massive limestone
rock. After many failures, Basque mercenaries skilled in mountain
climbing, scaled a cliff face on the eastern side of the summit
during the night. The climb had seemed impossible so the position
on top had not even been provided with a look-out. From here it
was possible to haul up further men and weapons - enough to take
the strategically critical nearby post at a tower (French tour,
Occitan tor) at a point known as the Roc de la Tour. From the Roc
de la Tour the French slowly fought their way a mile or so up a
slope towards the castle.
Trebuchet "bullets" being recovered,
By the end of January, under the direction of a Catholic bishop
specialising in war machines, the French were able to construct
trebuchets to bombard the defenders' outer barbican. The defenders
summoned an engineer to build a trebuchet in an attempt to destroy
the attackers' trebuchets, but to no avail. By mid February the
French had taken the barbican, allegedly facilitated by the tretchery
of a local. They now dismanted their trebuchets, reconstructed them
on the barbican, and started to bombard the castle itself. [Incidentally
we know this by piecing together sketchy written records and physical
surviving evidence - trebuchet stones and crossbow quarrels, and
even some skeletons]. Meanwhile, the refugees living in houses outside
the walls of the castle were forced to move inside, making living
conditions even more difficult.
Two weeks later the crusaders made an attack which only just failed.
The defenders accepted that their position was impossible. The two
Lords of Montsegur, Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix and Raymond de Péreille
negotiated the surrender with the French maréchal Guy de
Lévis (who would become the new Lord of Montsegur after its
rendition). They surrendered on 2 March 1244 having negotiated a
truce of two weeks, after which the Parfaits
would have to abjure their faith or burn alive. During this two
week truce, two to four perfects (sources disagree about the number)
escaped over the castle walls, taking with them the Cathar "treasure".
Nothing more is known about the nature of this treasure, a lacuna
that has been filled by a large amount of fanciful speculation,
mainly on the part of mystics whose knowledge of Catharism is less
For the perfects at Montsegur, these last two weeks were spent
praying and fasting. A number of the garrison and others decided
to join the ranks of the 200 or so perfects, and received their
consolamentum on 13th March, bringing the total number of Cathar
believers destined to burn to around 225. The most moving part of
later Inquisition records about this period recount the parfaites
giving away their personal possessions to their non-parfait friends
and relatives - clothing, jewellery, spices and so on.
At the end of the two-week truce, all those trapped in the castle
were allowed to leave except those who would not adopt the Catholic
faith, which, as at other defeated Cathar strongholds, meant all
of the Perfects. On 16 March all of the parfaits, led by Bishop
Bertrand Marty, left the castle and went down to a field where a
pyre had been erected. There were too many victims for individual
stakes so a pen had been built with piles of firewood inside. The
perfects mounted the pyre and perished, passing, according to one
Catholic source, from the flames of this world directly to the flames
of the next. The nobles among the victims were all related to each
other. They included three generations of the seigneural family
- grandmother, mother and daughter. As always on such occasions,
churchmen song hymns of joy and gave thanks to God.
the terms of the surrender, the remainder of the defenders, including
some who had participated in the murder of the inquisitors at avignonet
two years earlier, were allowed to leave. Among them was Raymond
de Pereille. Like all other survivors he was questioned by the Inquisition
(one reason we know as much as we do about events here).
Catharism continued in the Languedoc for many decades but it had
lost its head and seat, and, under the pressure of the Inquisition,
adherents moved to other places, notably Aragon or what is northern
Italy, where conditions were less oppressive, at least for the time
being. Montsegur II was destroyed and a new French castle, a royal
fortress, was built on the site. This one, known as Montsegur III,
guarded France's new border.
Today's ruins are those of the French border fortress Montsegur
III. Despite this, you may well hear alleged experts on the Cathars
expounding theories not only that the Cathars built this castle,
but that for religious reasons they built it as a solar temple,
in a perfect alignment with the rising sun. - perhaps
a distorted version of the fact that the keep and and one wall are
aligned on a South-east - North-west axis.
At the base of the mountain, in the "Prat dels Cremats"
("Field of the Burned" in Occitan) a modern stele commemorates
the death of the victims. It is inscribed "Als catars, als
martirs del pur amor crestian. 16 de març 1244" (Occitan
for "The Cathars, martyrs of pure Christian love. March 16th,
Another monument stone by the road reads in French
| EN CE LIEU
LE 16 MARS 1244
PLUS DE 200 PERSONNES ONT ÉTÉ BRULÉES.
ELLES N'AVAIENT PAS VOULU RENIER LEUR FOI.
| IN THIS PLACE
ON 16th MARCH 1244
MORE THAN 200 PEOPLE WERE BURNED
THEY CHOSE NOT TO ABJURE THEIR FAITH.
The story of the siege of Montségur is one of the most moving
of all the tragedies associated with the war against the Cathars.
Even the most hostile writers were struck by the significance
of events at Montségur, when against expectation the
ranks of the doomed Parfaits
increased during the two weeks' truce.
The Castle has been listed as a monument historique by the French
Ministry of Culture since 1862. The puòg (or pog) on which
it sits was listed in 1883, and archaeological remains and the outer
lines of defense were classified in 1989.
aerial view of Montségur
Montségur stele memorial
view of Montségur
The Massacre of Montsegur
by Forrester Roberts
The De Levis were alleged to represent
the elder branch of the Virgin Mary's family. In an old
painting in the Chateau de Mirepoix, an ancestor is shown
taking off his hat to the Queen of Heaven, as she sits enthroned
in the clouds. "Couvrez-vous, mon cousin," she
says, with the deference due to the head of her family.
"C'est pour ma commodite', ma cousine," he answers,
remaining courteous, but careful not to compromise his dignity.
Raymond de Pereille au cachot, 1960,
by Jacques Fauché,
oil on wood, 73 x 54cm
Raymond de Pereille, Lord of Montségur,
stele at Montsegur
Reconstruction of Montsegur II
The Siege of Montsegur, 1243-4
The Siege of Montségur refers to the nine-month siege of
the Cathar-held Château de Montségur by French royal
forces starting in May 1243.
Although the Albigensian Crusade had been concluded with the Treaty
of Paris-Meaux in 1229, local resistance continued. The Cathar Church
was still able to operate and oppose the terror of the Inquisition
that pervaded the Languedoc.
In 1233, the Cathar Bishop Guilhabert de Castres asked Raymond
de Pereille for permission to make Montségur "the seat
and head" (domicilium et caput) of the Cathar Church. As a
safe haven for Cathars, Montségur gained symbolic and strategic
importance in the resistance fight against the Catholic Church and
the French forces in subsequent years. In 1241 Raymond VII made
a token attempt to capture Montségur, possibly to impress
the King and the Catholic Church. At that time Montségur
housed about 500 people.
In May 1243 the seneschal Hugues des Arcis led the military command
of about 10,000 royal troops against the castle that was held by
about 100 fighters and was home to perfecti (who as pacifists did
not participate in combat) and civilian refugees. Many of these
refugees were Cathar credentes who lived in houses outside the castle
but within the castrum on the mountain. The initial strategy was
to besiege the castle in expectation that water or supplies would
run out, a strategy that had worked for the crusaders before. The
defenders were well supplied and able to keep their support lines
open, supported by the local population; some reinforcements even
arrived to supplement the defense. Eventually it was decided to
attack the place directly, a difficult task due to its well protected
location high on a massive limestone rock. After many failures,
mercenaries were able to secure a location on the eastern side of
the summit across a depression which allowed the construction of
a catapult. This forced refugees living outside the walls of the
castle to move inside, making living conditions more difficult.
Apparently by treachery, a passage was found to gain access to the
barbican, which was conquered in March 1244. The trebuchet was moved
now closer and the living situation inside deteriorated under the
day-and-night bombardment. When an attempt by the garrison failed
to dislodge the invaders from the barbican, the defenders gave the
signal that they had decided to negotiate for surrender.
Surrender conditions were quickly decided on: All the people in
the castle were allowed to leave except those who would not renounce
their Cathar faith, primarily the perfecti. A two-week truce was
declared. A number of defenders decided to join the existing perfecti
and received their consolamentum bringing the total number of Cathar
believers destined to burn to around 215.
On March 16, led by Bishop Bertrand Marty, the group left the castle
and went down to the place where the wood for the pyre had been
erected. No stakes were needed: they entered a purpose-built staked
enclosure and perished in the flames.
The remainder of the defenders, including those who had participated
in the murder of the inquisitors, were allowed to leave, among them
Raymond de Pereille who was later, like others subjected to the
Catharism continued in the Languedoc for many decades but it had
lost its organization, and, under the pressure of the Inquisition,
adherents if not captured moved to other places, such as Spain and
Italy, where conditions were less oppressive. Montsegur Castle was
destroyed; today's ruins are a remnant of the French border fortress
of a later time.