The castle was allegedly built in the seventh century on an earlier Roman or even Phoenician site.  Certainly the caves within the limestone rock the castle stands upon have been used since prehistory.  Away from legend and in history the castle was first mentioned in 987.  It was bequeathed to Bernard (d.1038) the youngest son of Count Roger I of Carcassonne (d.1011) in 1002.  Consequently in 1034 the castle became the caput of Foix County, Roger Foix (d.1064) being the first family member to use the title of count.

In the Cathar wars Count Raymond-Roger of Foix (d.1223), was a defender of Toulouse, despite the fact he had actually Crusaded in the Holy Land with King Philip Augustus in the 1190s.  Consequently the fortress was besieged by Simon Montfort in 1211, 1212 and 1213, but held out on each occasion.  In trying to avoid further attacks the lordship and castle was granted to the custody of Pope Innocent, but was returned to Count Raymond-Roger (d.1223) on the election of the pacific Pope Honorius III in 1216.  Before this the counts of Foix had owed allegiance to the counts of Toulouse and Barcelona, after the Crusade they held directly from the French Crown.

In 1272 Count Roger-Bernard III Foix (d.1303) rebelled and King Philip III (d.1285) marched against Foix with an army to personally besiege the castle, which surrendered after just 3 days.  Despite this, in 1278 the count became co-prince of Andorra.  Later Roger-Bernard added Bearn to the family estates through marriage in 1290 on the death of his father-in-law, Gaston VII.  He named his eldest son Gaston in his honour.

During the 100 years war Foix was held for the French kings by Count Gaston III (d.1391) as a bulwark against Gascony.  During his time Froissart (d.c.1405) recounted a banquet at which he had assisted in the castle in 1381:

And this was what I saw in Foix County: The Count [Gaston III, d.1391] left his chamber to sup at midnight, the way to the great hall being led by twelve varlets, bearing twelve lit torches.  The great hall was crowded with knights and esquires, and those who would supped, saying nothing meanwhile.  Mostly game seemed to be the favourite meat, and the legs and wings only of fowl were eaten.  Music and chants were the invariable accompaniment, and the company remained at table until after two in the morning.  Little or nothing was drunk.
However things then went downhill as the count killed his own son on the same night - a tragic ending to the banquet.
"Ha! traitor," the count said in the local patois as he entered his sleeping son's chamber; "why do you not sup with us?  He is surely a traitor who will not join at table."  And with a swift, but gentle drawing of his coutel (knife) across his successor's throat he calmly went back to supper.

So ended Gaston's only legitimate son, another Gaston.  With no legitimate heir to succeed him Gaston III granted his lands to his overlord, King Charles VI (d.1422).  Charles in turn passed the lands on to Matthew Foix (1398), a great grandson of the original Count Gaston Foix (d.1315).  On his death Count Archambault Grailly (d.1413), the husband of Matthew Foix's sister, Isabella (d.1426), seized the castle and barony.  Their great grandson, Francisco Febo Foix became king of Navarre in 1479 and Foix passed via his sister, Catalina (d.1517), on his death in 1483, to the Albret kings of Navarre.  Despite this the castle was captured in 1486 and dismantled with the cisterns being filled in to render the site indefensible.

When Catalina's great grandson became King Henry IV of France (d.1610) Foix became a part of the royal domain of France.  Henry's son, King Louis XIII (d.1643), planned to further demilitarise the castle, but was persuaded not to by Richelieu himself.  During the reign of his son, Louis XIV (d.1715), the castle was used as a prison, barracks and archive and remained in use as a prison until the end of the nineteenth century when the fortress was cleared of prison buildings and the walls heavily over-restored by Paul Boeswilwald, the son in law of Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.

The rock on which the castle stands has a summit roughly 360' N-S by 250' E-W at its maximum extant.  The inner ward of the castle from tower to tower is about 220' N-S by about 90' E-W.  The heavy restoration of the castle makes it very difficult to decide which part dates to which age and indeed which part is castle and which later revetmenting.  The three great towers are traditionally dated, with the north rectangular one, known as the Arget Tower and some 100' high, being said to be eleventh century.  If this is true, then only the bottom two storeys are likely to be of this age or older.  This can be judged as the north wall is twice the thickness at the base, the bottom section being part of a north curtain wall, supposedly of fifteenth century date.  Certainly the ‘wallwalk' passes through the building as can be seen by the NE doorway ending in space at first floor level.  The curtain to the NE that this once fed into has now gone, although the toothing for it is still clear.  On the other side of the tower soil is packed up within a rectangular walled enclosure, perhaps indicating the site of an old motte, or more likely representing soil clearance from the nineteenth century. 

Entrance to the Arget Tower was gained at first floor level to the south where there is what appears to be a shoulder headed doorway of the thirteenth century residing within a Romanesque doorway with a tympanum.  This is clearly a restoration as it is surrounded by the new stonework that has replaced the original quoins.  Within the quoins on the south face are the original stones of the tower, small rectangular blocks, similar to that found at Carcassonne city and thought to be Roman.  A floor above the doorway this stonework changes and every few lines of masonry, a line of 3 red 'Roman' tiles appears.  This too is possibly 'restoration' and is a feature on all 4 sides of the tower.

The basement of the Arget Tower
is a cistern, which with the first floor might be be ancient.  The two upper floors are possibly thirteenth century, or even as late as the rebuilt fifteenth century battlements, though they appear to contain much brickwork.  Internally the tower had wooden floors and no stairways, while the north wall interally loses a third of its thickness on each of the top 2 floors.  It is noticeable that the tower and north curtain are on a separate alignment to the rest of the castle remains, which may again suggest an early date for both, rather than the late date suggested for the curtain.  The north face of the tower shows 'early' rubblework to the NE side of the lower portion of the tower, but a mass of irregular rubble where the tower and curtain 'join' to the NW.  No doubt this is mostly 'restoration'.

South of the Agret Tower is the middle rectangular tower.  This is of two storeys and a basement and has a probable window on each upper level facing the north.  They have both been blocked with brick.  The three windows to the south all have Romanesque relieving arches, while there is a small bricked up window arch on the top floor, next to the open modern window.  The tower is claimed to be twelfth century and both it and the north tower appear on the seal of the counts from 1215.  It is therefore logical that both towers predate 1215, even if the stylised depiction does seem to show two equal towers with ground floor doors in their wooden western faces.  As on the seal, between both towers is a hall block that currently stands only one floor high.  This has modern windows to the east and double-splayed loops to the west.  The middle tower basement is entered from a doorway from the hall at ground floor level.  The basement
is vaulted as are the 2 floors above, the middle one having carved corbels of busts.  From the first floor north entrance a spiral vice in a projecting stair turret to the NE leads to the upper floors and battlements. 

Surrounding the hall block and its 2 rectangular towers is a much damaged curtain wall that is best preserved on the E&W fronts.  This shows a thin wall, although the west wall has one section
opposite the middle tower that is three times the normal thickness.  This section also contains two triangular headed latrine chutes partially made up with Roman tiles and set in modern concrete.  Possibly only this section is authentic medieval.

The entrance to the inner enceinte originally seems to have been from the east and runs up a long barbican to a destroyed entrance next to the north tower.  The east wall is of a universal thinness and has what seems to have been a small, backless square turret to the SE.  The south corner of this enceinte is taken up by the later round tower.  This great round tower is some 140' high and is said to date from the fifteenth century.  Its extra height against the other two towers is somewhat nullified by it occupying a lower place on the crag that makes up the inner enceinte.  The tower consists of four storeys and a basement, entered by a modern doorway to the north.  It also has a spiral stair in its north wall by its first floor Romanesque entrance.  Its north and east faces are otherwise unbroken by apertures, unlike the other two sides.

Surrounding this inner enceinte was an outer ward which ran around the crag's edge.  This is possibly the oldest part of the castle and roughly takes the form of a fat horse's head, with the mouth to the south and the top of the head to the SW.  The castle was originally entered from the town to the NE via a rectangular barbican.  There seems to have been several lines of defence as the entrance path wound its way up the crag to the main enceinte.  On the east front is a small rectangular projecting turret with a boldly projecting plinth.  Further east than this a small solid D shaped turret has been added to the curtain.  To the west is another entrance next to a chatelet, both probably dating to the fifteenth century.  As another rocky hill castle, Foix is quite dissimilar to other rock castles in the district, like Termes or Roquefixade.

Beneath the crag was an abbey in its own lower defences and a large fortified town to the S&E.

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

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