Saissac is another tenth century or earlier castle.  It was first mentioned in 958 when Gilbert the magistrate of Saissac made a grant to Montolieu abbey.  Lands here had been held by the abbey as early as 950.  Later in 960, it was bequeathed by Bishop Hugh of Toulouse to Count Roger of Carcassonne (d.1011).  Judging from this, the castle could have been founded by the Visigoths of Septimania represented by the viscounts of Carcassonne against Merovingian Aquitaine represented by the counts of Toulouse.  In the 1002 will of Count Roger, he granted Saissac castle with its castellany and magistrates to Vernassonne abbey.  Some time soon after 1030 and probably in 1034, in a statement of faith to his uncle, Bishop Peter of Girona (d.1050), Count Roger of Foix (d.1064) mentioned Saissac castle keep with its fortifications.  By 1070 the castle may have been held by a Hugh Saissac who witnessed a contemporary concord for the count of Carcassonne.  Between 1107 and 1120 a Isarn-Jordan Saissac figured in the Crusades, but in 1124 he and William Saissac revolted against Count Bernard Aton Trencavel of Carcassonne (d.1129) in favour of the count of Barcelona.  Some years later a Hugh (Isarn?) Saissac paid homage to Cecily Provence (d.1150) the widow of Bernard Aton.  Isarn-Jordan seems to have held Saissac as late as 1149, for in that year he founded the abbey of Bonnefont en Comminges.

Catharism is attested early at Saissac with Pons Jaule Castelnaudary being recorded there in 1159.  The troubadour Peire Vidal also stayed at the castle in this era.  Later Bertrand Saissac was charged with eradicating the heretics in his district in 1194, but he did nothing.  He was also one of the guardians of Count Raymond Roger Trencavel of Carcassonne (1185-1209).  He was married to Ava Fenouillet and was still lord in 1209, when the castle was seized on the fall of Carcassonne and given to the Crusader, Bouchard Marly (d.1226).  In 1224 Jordan and Oliver, the sons of Bertrand Saissac, together with Peter Fenouillet (d.1242+), retook their castle.  However in 1229 they were evicted again and the fortress was granted to Lambert Thury after 1234.

The town of Saissac fell to Raymond Trencavel and Jordan Saissac in the rebellion of 1240, but probably not the castle.  Jordan eventually made his peace and received Hautpoul and estates around Mazamet in exchange for Saissac itself.  Louis IX (d.1270) restored some of the lordship to the descendants of Bertrand, but the castle remained with Northerners.  Finally in 1262 Peter Fenouillet's body was dug up and burned for his heresy.

During the reign of King Louis IX (d.1270), a great hoard of over 2,000 coins dating from 1250 to 1270 were hidden near the village in a ceramic pot.  The coins can still be seen within the rebuilt part of the fortress.  Later the castle went to Eustace Levis (d.1327) in 1325 after his marriage to the heiress Beatrix Thury (d.1361).  The Levis had come with the Crusaders from the Ile de France and had been made lords of Mirepoix after its fall to the Crusaders in 1210.  However, the castle left the Levis family with Eustace's only daughter Isabelle (d.1362+) who married Bertrand l'Isle-Jourdain (d.1349).  Bertrand's granddaughter Margaret took the castle to Arnaud Euse Carmain and their son, Hugh Carmain or Caraman by 1410.  Arnaud was nephew to Pope John XXII (1249-1334).

Around 1545 the castle passed to Jean Bernuy though his wife, Margaret Caraman.  The Bernuys then used the fortune they had made in commerce to rebuild the castle during the time of the Wars of Religion (1562-98).  In both 1568 and 1580, Protestant troops destroyed the village overlooking the castle but were unable to take the fortress.  By the end of the seventeenth century it was tending to ruin and by 1759 was described as mostly derelict.  In 1793, during the French Revolution, the castle as confiscated, sold privately and used as a stone quarry.  Finally in 1862 the keep was dynamited during a hunt for treasure.

Unusually the village overlooks the castle, which stands on the edge of a south running ridge at 1,500' above sea level.  The fortress is very long at 330' N-S by a maximum of 100' wide.  That the site is overlooked would suggest that the fortress was founded when artillery was not as strong as it became after 1100.  It is also apparent that the village moved up the hill away from the castle and church.  Possibly this occurred during the Cathar Crusade (1209-29). 

The castle is very rectangular in layout, with its highest ward being towards the church with the village beyond.  At the highest point of the ridge on which the castle stands, lay a great keep.  This area has been recently cleared and it shows a confused network of walls which now stand mostly under 6' high.  This network covered the bulk of the rectangular main ward of the castle, being about 90' E-W and 65' N-S.  The ward itself is definitely composite as the varied thicknesses of the walls and their illogical layout shows.  The original keep appears to have been a rectangle, about 42' E-W by 36' N-S with walls about 10' thick.  The make up of this seems to be semi-herringbone, with some layers rubble laid, and others at an herringbone angle.  One wall ran away from this structure from the southern end of its west wall and ran out beyond the current line of he west curtain.  Its fossilised end can be seen in the exterior of the west curtain.

At a later date, internal to the enceinte, rectangular towers were added to N&S of this.  The masonry of these towers was rubble, but did not contain herringbone.  To the north the NW tower was built upon an earlier curtain.  This can be seen as an external offset that runs from the fossilised wall end to the west, around a right-angled corner and to the site of the keep north wall which it meshes into. This wall facing of the keep would appear to be a replacement, made when the north face of the keep was made into an eperon or spur, probably in the thirteenth century when the internal stair turret was added.  This face of the keep is built upon bedrock which projects some 4' from the current ground level.  The joint between the tower and the upper storeys of the NW tower is readily apparent.

The remaining fragment of keep stands 3 storeys high and has 2 out of 3 straight crossbow loops remaining to the north.  On the summit is a further, later storey with a singular north loop and much thinner walls.  On top are remains of 3 merlons and 3 crenels some 65' above ground level.  On the spur's NE side one loop remains in the top storey and some fragments of others lower down.  At the base to the NW are the remains of one side of a portcullis groove, protected by what appears to have been a murder hole as wide as the portcullis to the exterior.  Presumably the original gate was to east of the keep where the current doorway is at the end of the old wall running east from the SE corner of the keep.  The current gate was therefore inserted when the keep north wall was rebuilt as the eperon.  Internally the space created by the eperon was filled with the pentagonal stair turret. 

To the south of the keep 3 walls ran towards the later curtain which marks the boundary with the middle ward.  To the east a tall curtain revetted the ward and was buttressed to N&S by rectangular towers that were built on the external ground level.  These towers were 2 storeys high from internal ground level, plus a deep basement.  Both housed latrines which emptied at external ground level some 40' below the ward.  To the SW a flight of steps led down into the basement beneath the eastern side of the ward and into the middle ward.  The chambers above this might be as late as the sixteenth century.

The roughly square middle ward contained a logis to the east.  This has recently been rebuilt and now houses a small museum.  From here access was gained to the later lower ward to the south.  This long rectangular ward was further extended south, probably in the Wars of Religion, when two boldly projecting round towers were added with a short stretch of curtain to the SE and SW.  Previously the ward seems to have had an unflanked end some 10' short of the towers.  Another set of lodgings were placed along the west wall.  At the ward's NW corner a hole in the wall gate was protected by projections to N&S and a barbican wall to the west

North of the keep lay the outer ward.  Possibly this was built to allow another entrance to the castle, the west gate being the original method of egress.  This upper ward had two corbelled out circular turrets to the NW and SW and an internal rectangular tower at the NE corner.  South of this tower was another 2 storey set of lodgings.

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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