Arques was an early lordship, but there is little trace of an early fortress here.  Certainly a lord, Bernard-Amiel Arques, was witnessing grants by the counts of Carcassonne in 1011.  In 1118 the holdings of Count Bernard Aton in Arques vill, as well as the church and its tithes, were granted to Chaise-Dieu abbey.  By the twelfth century Arques was controlled by the lords of Termes.  At some point the castle was sub-infeudated to a family that took its name from its main holding, thus in 1217 there was mention of the faidit Beranger Arques being an associate of William Peyrepertuse when they surrendered to the Crusaders.  Alternatively Beranger was a descendant of the Bernard-Amiel of 1011.  Whatever the case, he had lost control of Arques by 1217 and never regained it.

In 1210, during the second year of the Albigensian Crusade, Simon Montfort (d.1218) occupied Arques after having taken the lordship castle, Termes, which was some 10 miles away.  The Crusaders then burned the village situated on the banks of the River Rialsesse and granted much of the area to Peter Voisins, who was recorded as a lord holding faidit lands in 1231.  Possibly he began the lowland castle around this time outside the village once held by his faidit enemies.  In 1246 Oliver Termes (d.1274) reclaimed the castle, but then sold it back to Peter in 1260 when the latter was confirmed as lord by Louis IX (d.1270).  By this time Peter must have been over 70 if he took part in the 1209 Crusade.  His son, Giles Voisins (d.1290), is said, apparently without evidence, to have made a bastide at Arques in 1268 and begun a castle in 1284.  Likewise, the keep is said to have been altered and completed in 1316 by his son, another Giles.  Around 1304 the castle was merely described as a tower beside the road to Arques and held by Giles.  In 1305 the Cathars of Arques were pardoned by Pope Clement V.  Presumably they lived the town and not the castle.

The castle was strengthened in 1355 when the Black Prince marched against Carcassonne.  In 1373, Jean Voisins was arrested for his dealings with local pirates.  Finally, in 1518, Françoise, the last of the Voisins, married Jean Joyeuse, taking the lordship to that family.  Soon afterwards the castle was abandoned in favour of Couiza, although in 1546 it survived the passing of a Spanish army which burned the town.  Regardless of this, the castle was attacked by Protestants in 1575 when only the keep survived the assault.  By 1789 the castle had fallen into ruin.

The castle consists of a rectangular enceinte with a central square keep with four turrets at the corners.  The enceinte (170' x 180') has a mostly internal gatetower towards the east side of the south wall.  The outer arch has a keystone with the Voisin arms - Gules, 3 fusils or, a label of 4 or.  To E&W on the enceinte rectangular residential towers remain, but of all the other buildings around the enceinte little remains.  The SW tower, with decorative thirteenth century corbels to its vault, is totally internal to the enceinte, as is its hexagonal stair turret, while the SE tower only projects to the south and is probably of a later build.  Their style makes them mostly residential and not military.  The SE tower, now a home, seems to have been a chapel and north of it lay what was probably the hall with at least one fireplace.

The 80' high, 33' square keep has four storeys (the lower two vaulted) and a stair vice in the 8' internal diameter SE turret.  Mural passageways in the 6' thick walls make some of them very thin for a defensive structure.  Quite clearly the tower is a two phase affair.  The lower portion with hexagonal corner turrets may be the thirteenth century work of Peter Voisin (d.1290), while the upper main section, with shoulder-headed windows, is probably fourteenth century.  Indeed, judging from the plinth at the base of the round towers, it seems likely that the old basement was meant to be emmotted, but the motte has subsequently been removed, or was never constructed.  A pointed first floor entrance was to the south close by the SE turret.  The crossbow loops in the second and third storeys were long, although the top floor has been much rebuilt.  This was part of the heavy reconstruction that took place in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Why not join me here and at other French castles?  Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry

  • Index

  • Home