Lastours is an unusual site, having four castles, Carbaret, Quertinheux, Surdespine and Tour Regine, which are not a single unit, on the same hill top.  The name seems to derive from Les Tours or Des Tours (de Cabaret).  The site history is long and complex, but evidence for the foundation and fortification of the four castle sites is poor.  Around 1,500 BC a young girl known as 'the princess with the necklace' was buried in a cavity near the entrance to the cave on the path up to the castles, directly west of and below Quertinheux castle.  Her body was covered with objects such as amber pearls and jewellery reminiscent of Mycenaean or Egyptian art.  It is possible there was a settlement nearby or that the girl came from lower in the valley and the uplands were then used for funerary practices. 

It is thought the site was first fortified after Rome lost control of this area.  The Romans had been quarrying copper on the opposite hills, the terraces of their work still being visible from the castles.  Gregory of Tours (d.594) mentions Caput Arietis - the Ram's Head, being taken from the king of Burgundy by a son of the Visigothic king in 585.  The Latin name seems to have been later corrupted to 'Cabaret', the name of the lordship which had Lastours as its caput.  The site was between two rivers, the Orbiel to the east and the Gresilhou to the west.  The rocky hill between them was some 2,000' long by 800' wide and may have resembled a ram's head.  Between 1988 and 1991 a dozen graves were excavated confirming occupation in the sixth century.  Any settlement here was apparently still operational in 870 under the name Cabardes when King Charles le Chauve (reigned 843-77) is alleged to have given lands in Cabaret (Cabardense) to Count Oliba of Carcassonne.  The main problem with this narrative is that Oliba, the alleged son of Bello (d.810), died around 821, while King Charles wasn't even born until 823.  In this case his uncle, King Charles II (d.811), might be the monarch meant, or the grant was simply recorded in 870.

Some 200 years later around 1063, the castles which were on the peak called Cabaret (ipsos castellos quae sunt in pic quae vocant Cabarez), were guaranteed by Count Roger Fitz Bernard of Foix
(d.1064) to Count Raymond Roger, the [grand]son of Garsinde [d.1067] of Carcassonne.  In 1067 it was recorded that the castle of Cabarez was held from the counts of Barcelona by Roger, Bernard Assalit, Ademar and William the sons of Guille.  Their importance probably stemmed from the nearby iron mines which had been used since antiquity.  These may have been reaching the end of their usefulness in 1119 when Hugh Cabaret and his nephews gave the iron mines (ferrieres) of Carrus to the church of St Stephen of Cabardes some 6 miles NW of the castles.  Quertinheux (Chertinos) was first mentioned in a charter dating to before 1129.  By 30 July 1137 it seems clear that the 3 castles were already standing when Viscount Roger Beziers of Carcassonne took the homage of Peter Rusticano the son of Lady Diaz, Peter the son of Adalais, Raymond Lauran and Roger his brother the sons of Jordan, with Roger Biterri the son of Cecily for the one of the castles of Cabaret which is called Quertinheux (Certuoz).  The text therefore implies that more than two castles were standing at this time.  It is also noticeable that no Cabaret held rights in this castle, though the ladies mentioned may well have been Cabaret heiresses, which had resulted in the partition of the ownership of the castle.  On April 1144 it was recorded by Count Roger Beziers of Carcassonne that Roger and Miro Cabaret, the sons of the Lady Euos, were lords of Cabaret castle, notwithstanding the claim of Roger Biterri the son of Cecily.  This might suggest that all the castles once belonged to the Cabaret family.  Indeed around this same time, or possibly slightly later, homage was given by the 3 brothers, Peter Raymond, Acfred and Raymond who were the sons of the Lady Adelica, to Count Roger of Carcassonne for the castle of Cabaret that was called Surdespine (Surdaspine).  This would seem to be the same Peter Raymond, who claimed a part of Quertinheux castle in 1137.

By 1145 there was a Sunday market at Cabaret, presumably in the village immediately below Quertinheux castle and clustered around the ruins of the old church.  On 16 June 1153 an agreement was made whereby Roger and Bernard Cabaret could have a market in their castelany of Cabaret on Sundays and they were given licence to build and have a castle in Surdespine
castle just as Count Raymond Trencavel of Carcassonne had granted them a little earlier.  The two brothers were also allowed all the fees that their father had been granted by Viscount Bernard Atton of Carcassonne (d.1129, Count Raymond's father) except for the castles of Salsignano and Aragon.  This agreement may well explain the 2 towers at Surdespine and shows that a bailey existed there then, otherwise the statement that they could build and have a castle in Surdespine castle makes little sense.

It is uncertain where the Cabaret market was held.  Ruins of another vill exist on the north side of the hill under Cabaret castle itself and traces of a third exist at the junction of the routes up the crag to Cabaret and Surdespine castles, due west of the latter castle.  By 1166 more than 22 people of substance are recorded as living in one or more of these vills.  The same year on 23 July 1166, Peter Lauran granted all his pasture in the castellany of Cabaret to Abbot Vitalis of Fontfroide abbey.  Peter was probably a descendant of either
Raymond Lauran or Roger his brother the sons of Jordan, who had held part of Quertinheux castle in 1137.
Cabaret seems to have been an early convert to Catharism, certainly the Cathar Arnaud Hot was preaching there in 1199 and after him
Pierre Isarn and Guiraud Abith.  This would have made the castles a target for the Albigensian Crusade, otherwise known as the Cathar Crusade (1209–1229), apart from the fact that the overlord of the site was the count of Carcassonne.  By this time the three castles built on the rocky outcrop were at least a hundred years old and maybe more.  These were Cabaret to the north, Quertinheux to the south and Surdespine on the highest peak, between the other two and slightly to the east.  It was only after the wars in 1238 that the Tour Regine was added between Cabaret and Surdespine. 

During these wars Peter Roger Cabaret was lord of Cabaret and a supporter of the Cathars against the northern Crusaders.  At the start of the Crusade in 1209, Peter Roger supported his count, even after his capture in August.  After the fall of Carcassonne on 15 August
, Lastours was unsuccessfully besieged by Simon Montfort (d.1218), who had set up camp half a league from the towers.  Apparently some of those who fled Carcassonne city had gone, almost naked, to Lastours as a place of refuge.  The pro-Crusader Song of the Cathar Wars makes no mention of this, but relates what happened in Spring 1210, when one of Simon's captains, Bouchard Marly, the new lord of Saissac castle some 15 miles away, rode out with 50 men and, after being attacked by 90 men from Lastours, was captured.  Meanwhile, the mutilated (noses cropped and upper lip cut off) and blinded survivors of the insignificant Cathar stronghold of Bram, which fell in early April after a 3 day siege, were led to Lastours by their one eyed guide.  This did not induce the garrison to submit, but increased their will to resist the Crusaders. 

A year later, in March 1211, a few months after the fall of Termes castle, in aid of which Peter Roger had led his men of Lastours in a guerilla war, a new crusader army from the Ile de France under Count Peter Courtenay of Auxerre (d.1219), Robert Courtenay (d.1239) and the precentor of Paris, arrived at Carcassonne and Peter Roger decided to submit.  Consequently he released Bouchard Marly of Saissac, who he had been holding in chains, granting him the lordship of Lastours and his complete freedom.  Marly rode in style to Montfort who welcomed him with open arms and then joined his companion in riding back to Lastours and raising his flag from the highest tower (presumably Surdespine).  He then welcomed Peter Roger into the crusader fold, he now being lord of Lastours under Marly, who himself held of Simon Montfort as count of Carcassonne, only 10 miles from Lastours.  Peter Roger remained loyal until 1223 when he rose in revolt against the French king in what became known as the war of Cabaret. 
Otherlords of Cabaret at this time were Peter Lauran (d.bef.1256), probably the descendant of the man of the same name of 1166, rather than the son of Peter Roger Cabaret as has been suggested, and Bernard-Othon Niort (d.1245), who may have been married to Nova Cabaret.

During the Cabaret war, the Cathar bishop of Carcassonne, Pierre Isarn, was given refuge at Lastours castles until 1226, making it the seat of his bishopric.  In 1226 Bernard-Othon Niort and Oliver Termes were among the faydits holding out at Cabaret.  The same year Peter Laurac, who was described as lord of Cabaret, with Peter Roger and Jordan Cabaret surrendered to King Louis VIII (d.1228).  With three of the lords surrendered (and Jordan captured by the count of Toulouse), the fortresses were again besieged in 1227 by Humbert Beaujeu.  The siege proved unsuccessful and the castles only surrendered in 1229 after the council of Toulouse, ended the 'war of Cabaret'.  The barony of Lastours was then confiscated by Humbert and the villages and the castles were wrecked, Queen Blanche (d.1252) deciding for her young son, King Louis IX (d.1270), on the destruction of the three towers and their houses in order to eliminate any prospect of a refuge for surviving Cathars.  Bernard-Othon Niort retreated to his castle of Niort where he continued to resist and offer refuge to other Cathars.  Peter Roger Cabaret must have rebelled again after 1226 for in 1260 he was recorded as a deceased faydit and that his heir was his nephew Jordan Cabaret (d.1267+).  

Lastours was only rebuilt as a royal stronghold in 1238, with the Tour Regine being added as a royal castle amongst the other three now royal castles.  With this the site became the military centre for the six communities of Cabardes.  Despite this royal initiative, the seigneurs of Cabaret briefly regained the castles in 1240 when they supported the Trencavel revolt.  However, they were driven out again by the Crown in 1241.  The castles seem to have been immediately repaired by the Crown for in July 1243 Guinard Arnouville or Noville was recorded as castellan.

During 1260, and no doubt before and after that, the king was keeping garrisons in his castles of Lastours.  These were exceedingly small.  Cabaret had a Castellan Pascal who earned 5s per day, a chaplain and a carpenter
who had a shilling a day each and a serjeant who had 8d.  Detailed costs were then listed as to payments which totalled to £129 80s 2d.  At the Tour Regine (Turris nouae) there was Castellan Peter Fenis who earned 3s per day and 2 sergeants on 16d, which totalled £70 20d in new money. This is the first mention of New Tower of Regine castle, possibly suggesting that it was built by Blanche of Castile (d.1252), the widow of King Louis VIII (d.1226).  Surdespine was garrisoned by Castellan G. Arnaud at 7s 6d a day and 2 sergeants at 16d per day, for a total of £60 24s 2d per annum.  Finally Quertinheux was held by Castellan G. Tilley at 4s per day and 2 sergeants at 16d per day each.  The total cost being £97 6s 8d.  Quite clearly Cabaret by now was the superior site, though where the chapel was within it is now impossible to say.  At this time the new village of Cabaret was called the Riverside Cabaret, presumably to distinguish it from the old Cabaret up on the hill clustered around the bases of the 3 castles.  By 1300 the castellan of Cabaret was being paid £100 per annum against the £40 received by the castellan of the Tour Regine (Tour Neuve).

According to the records of Carcassonne cathedral, by 1269 the village of Cabaret and its church had already been deserted.  This confirms that the chapel for the chaplain mentioned in 1260 was in the castle and not the deserted vill.  In July 1260 Jordan Fitz Jordan Cabaret, the nephew of Peter Roger Cabaret (d.1229+), quitclaimed his hereditary lands around Lastours and received in return the castles of Vilarzel and Vilarlong and his lordships and rights and pertinences in the district of Cabaret (Cabardesio), worth £35 13s 10d Tours.  His family held these 2 castles until 1462, but never regained Lastours.

In 1348 the Plague hit Lastours castles hard, with the castellans of Quertinheux and Surdespine being replaced several times.  In the sixteenth century the castles were occupied by Protestants during the Wars of Religion (1562-98), until they were dislodged in 1591 when Duke Joyeuse seized the castles.  The last recorded castellan of the Tour Regine was Pierre Belissend in 1565.  It is therefore not surprising that in 1632 this castle was shown as uninhabited in the first representation of the site.  Thirty years later in 1663 it was recorded that there were only 2 castles on Lastours.  Judging by the surviving lists of castellans it was Surdespine which had been abandoned, its last known constable being an N. Bouchard in 1632.  By 1778 the last two castles of Cabaret and Quertinheux, at either end of the ridge, had also been abandoned.

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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