Puilaurens, with Aguilar,
Termes, Queribus and Peyrepertuse, were termed
the 'Five Sons of Carcassonne'
when they were fortified to protect the 1483 borders of France with
Spain. The name has since stuck and is often applied
retrospectively. Before the Crusade the castle guarded the
extreme eastern side of the Fenouilhedes and was Catalan in outlook,
until officially subsumed by the expanding French kingdom in 1258.
Beneath Puilaurens castle is evidence of substructures dating back to
the Roman period. The site of the castle was granted to the abbey
of St Michel de Cuxa between 950 and 958 by Count Sunifred Cerdanya
(927-67), the grandson of Wilfrid el Vellos of Barcelona (d.897), as
was confirmed by King Lothaire of France (d.986). The grant also
mentions St Laurence's church on the rock of Laurence (Podio Laurenti),
presumably for a community here in the Boulzane valley which was known
as the St Croix valley when it was part of the area south of Carcassonne known as Razes. The church and castle were again mentioned as St Croix (ecclesiam Sanctae Crucis cum castello)
in a bull of 986 by Pope John XV (985-96). At this time war was
being waged by Count Oliba of Cerdanya (d.990), the brother and
successor of Sunifred (d.967), against Count Roger of Carcassonne
(d.1011). Puilaurens would have been well back from the front
line of this struggle. The occasional mentions of the castles of
Puilaurens, Fenouillet and Peyrepertuse at this time suggests that they were all founded in this period of warfare before 1000.
In 1011 the castle was certainly extant when a bull of Pope Serge IV
(1009-12) confirmed the possessions of Cuxa in St Croix valley.
This included the castle of St Laurence with its church (castrum Sancti Laurenti cum eadem ecclesia).
The castle at this time would have been held by Count Bernard
Tallaferro Cerdanya (d.1020), the nephew of Sunifred (d.967).
Between 1020 and 1070 there was a crisis in the Pyrenees when knights
tended to throw off the rule of their counts and make themselves more
independent. Many castles were built in this period and it seems
likely that Puilaurens broke free from the overlordship of Count
Bernard around now for it does not appear in his will of 1020. As
Puilaurens lay within the lands of Cuxa abbey, it may well have been
against the local lords that excommunication was launched in 1043 at
the seventh council of Narbonne. They had been accused of
attacking the abbey's lands in Fenouilledes and Roussillon. The
fortress nominally passed to Count Raymond Berenger (d.1131) of
Barcelona about 1111 on the death of the last count, Bernard III.
By 1180 it was held by his grandson, King Alfonso II of Aragon (d.1195).
As the castle was Aragonese, even though a part of the Trencavel lands of Carcassonne,
it was initially ignored by the Crusaders during the Albigensian wars
(1209-29). This allowed it to subsequently become a base for the
Cathars and faydits (disinherited), like William Peyrepertuse. He
appears to have held Puilaurens by 1217 when he mentioned Peter Catala
as constable when they both submitted to Simon Montfort. By the
end of the Crusade in 1229 William was excommunicated for holding the
castle against the Crusaders. By this time the abbey of Cuxa had
lost all rights over the castle. In 1263 King Louis exchanged
Puilaurens for Mazuby with Cuxa in exchanged for the claimed loss of
£30 Tours per annum.
After the treaty of Paris/Meaux in 1229 many faydits withdrew to the south with the exiled Count Raymond Trencavel of Carcassonne. Along with Queribus, Peyrepertuse
and certain castles in the Fenouilledes, Puilaurens continued in
Aragonese control. In 1242 its constable was Roger Catala, who
was probably a relative of the Peter of 1217. Cathars were
certainly sheltering at the fortress by 1241 and their numbers
increased after the fall of Montsegur in 1244, making over a dozen heretics at the site. Between 1243 and 1255 Puilaurens and Queribus
were held by the faydit, Chabert Barbaira, under the rule of King James
I of Aragon (1207-76). In 1254 the Cathar, Saurine Rigaud of
Fanjeaux, fled to the castle for refuge. There she found 12 other
heretics. In 1255 Chabert Barbaira was captured by Oliver Termes (d.1274). He consequently surrendered both Queribus
and no doubt Puilaurens to Oliver's sovereign, King Louis IX of France
(d.1270), that May. In August 1255 the king ordered his seneschal
of Carcassonne to fortify Puilaurens,
indicating the fortresses had surrendered shortly before, assuming that
that was the time for a message to have gone from Carcassonne to the
king informing him of their taking and then him replying with his
The new position of the fortress as a border stronghold of France was
ratified by the treaty of Corbeil with Aragon in 1258. This fixed
the frontier until the seventeenth century. By 1260 Puilaurens
was garrisoned by Odo Montreuil with 25 serjeants and a chaplain.
Their rate of pay was increased from 5d to a shilling a day in
1272. The castle was munitioned in 1263 with food and utensils, 7
crossbows, 13,400 quarrels, 18 shields, 5 iron helmets and other
weaponry. Building work continued under King Philip III
(1270-84). Early in the fourteenth century the garrison was
recorded as 16 sergeants, a chaplain, a porter, a watchman and a keeper
of the dogs. The castle was repaired in 1393/4 and was
unsuccessfully attacked by Spain in 1473 and 1495, although it was
taken in 1635. Despite its increasing obsolescence the castle was
restored in 1597 and finally in 1615, when the government allowed for
150 firs to be cut down and £4,000 spent on refurbishments for
the garrison of 18 sergeants. During one of these refurbishments
gun loops and musketry loops were made in teh old fortress, especially
around the old gate. The castle was made redundant in
1659 by the treaty of the Pyrenees, although a token garrison was
maintained until the Revolution.
Standing at 2,300' the castle is one of the highest of the Cathar
fortresses. The outer ward occupies a bow shaped expanse some
330' E-W and 120' N-S, while the inner ward, like a dagger, protrudes
from its west corner, 80' further west. The approach to the
castle is also from the west, overlooked by the projecting inner ward
to the north.
The heart of the castle is a trapezoid tower about 25' square with
walls some 4' thick. This stands upon a rock cut to the tower's
shape to the S&W. This is probably the oldest part of the
castle, although some think it built only after the medieval period as
a habitable tower. All datable features of the keep have gone,
but the ground/first floor entrance to the west, although heavily
rebuilt, appears to have been Romanesque and had a drawbar slot.
The tower is also built of random rubble with corner quoins which is
similar to that of the early rectangular keeps at Miglos, Padern and Saissac. All of these had been modernised and rebuilt in the late medieval period. The rectangular keeps at Surdespine are constructed of better laid rubble. Such simple rectangular keeps are also found at Dolwyddelan I, Manorbier and Usk
in Wales and Hyssington in England. The Puilaurens keep is of 2
storeys with windows on both floors to the south. Between these,
roughly where the intervening floor should have been, is a crude
rectangular window towards the west side. This shows the tower
has been modified at times. The rock the tower uses as a floor
has been cut into and leads down into the caves underneath in the NW
corner. A third storey may have been added of which a crude loop
remains to the south and a possible window to the east.
the keep was the inner or upper ward, an irregular enclosure occupying
the top of the crag. The walls of this have been much
altered. Probably the oldest sections are the east wall and the
central part of the south wall. These are made of reasonably well
coursed rubble and the east wall contains fine Romanesque
windows. Externally these bear some resemblance to those found in
the Roman towers at Carcassonne, although internally they have low
rounded arches of a twelfth or thirteenth century nature. West of
the outer ward wall in the south curtain there are some crude crossbow
loops, while inside the outer curtain they have been blocked.
Half way along the south curtain to the west there is a damaged
projecting section of wall followed by a dramatic change in masonry
style. This masonry is more like rubble ashlar low down and above
has well executed window loops on the ground floor and shoulder headed
windows above. West of this is the anachronistically called Dame
Blanche Tower. This D shaped tower has a bossaged exterior which
may have been grafted onto an older tower. Internally the tower
is vaulted and has what looks like one side of a portcullis groove
running under the vault on the south side. This is thought to be
a communication channel, though why the upper floor would need
communication in such a manner with the lower is unknown. The
upper floor south window is a fine shoulder headed one, like the upper
windows into the adjoining chamber to the SW. On the ground floor
are two shoulder headed loops.
The north front of the ward follows the irregular lie of the crag,
running out to the D shaped north tower. This wall contains 3
wallwalk garderobes emptying over the cliff and was reached via a
flight of steps beginning near the door to the Dame Blanche
Tower. The curtain wallwalk also rises up some steps to reach the
battlements of the tower.
The north tower was probably originally of 2 storeys, which have
rectangular window embrasures and a wooden first floor. At second
floor roof level is a projecting internal string course that obviously
carried a new floor above. This chamber is not as high as the 2
below and had shoulder headed windows. Externally the tower is of
a uniform fine ashlar and has fine unadorned crossbow loops, apart from
to the south where a few of the ashlar blocks are bossaged.
Perhaps this tower started as bossaged and was later largely refaced,
or the expensive embossing was abandoned as unnecessary on this tower
that would rarely be seen by visitors.
Between the keep and the Dame Blanche Tower is a cistern, while on the
north side of the keep, in the NE corner of the ward, is an east facing
gateway. The section of wall this is cut in, appears to have been
refaced in ashlar and facilitates the addition of a portcullis within
the thickness of the wall. From here a path lead off from the
gate, via steps through a barbican and down the crag on which the inner
ward sits, leading to the lower bailey. This route passes over
the main entrance to the lower ward and also allows access via a narrow
stair to the lower ward wallwalk. The entire north wall of the
inner bailey sits on top of the crag and makes a dank reentrant with
the north wall of the outer bailey.
lower ward had two open gorged D shaped towers that were closed at the
rear in the seventeenth century, probably to make accommodation.
The entire ward is bow shaped and contains only two rectangular stone
buildings, one on the north and one on the south wall. The long
northern one, divided into 3, contained a cistern and a postern
gate. The east tower was bossaged and commanded another postern
to its south. The upper floor of the SW tower was raised in
height with bossaged masonry, presumably at the same time as the Dame
Blanche Tower was built. Possibly towards the end of the
thirteenth century, the south curtain was raised, leaving a fossilised
battlement. There is no trace of this internally, which suggests
that the wall was thickened at the same time. The main gateway to
the south is a curious structure dropped beneath interior ground level
and having peculiar internal relieving arches and a wall operated
portcullis. It is similar in style to the inner gate, which, as
has been noted, also appears to have been an insertion.
Externally the outer gate led to a rectangular barbican which
controlled the supposedly sixteenth century approach chicane up the
Why not join me here and at other French
castles? Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly
Paul Martin Remfry