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 instructions.

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.

Surrounding 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.

The 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 mountain.

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