Termes, together with Aguilar, Peyrepertuse, Queribus and Puilaurens were called the 'Five Sons of Carcassonne' when they were utilised as a screen to protect the border between France and Aragon in 1483.  The name has since stuck and is often applied retrospectively.

Termes castle is built on top of a rocky pyramidal hill some 1,500' feet high, that was the caput of a district known as the Termenes.  According to Peter Vaux de Cernay, who saw the fortress in 1210 when he came to besiege it, it was totally impregnable: built upon the summit of a high mountain on a great naturel rock and surrounded by ravines deep and inaccessible, through which flowed torrents which surrounded the castle.  Unfortunately he said little of the castle defences themselves.

The castle was the seat of the Termes family from at least the eleventh century when Oliver Bernard Termes was mentioned in 1061.  The castle itself was mentioned in 1084 and 1093.  Oliver held the castle from the barony of Carcassonne, some 20 miles to the SW.  The lordship of Termes was probably only created after 865 when King Charles le Chauve (d.877) divided Septimania from the Spanish March.  In doing this he divided the Razes into two, the northern half going to the count of Carcassonne, the southern to the count of Urgel.  Within 5 years Count Wilfred the Hairy of Barcelona was holding the Fenolhedes, while the count of Carcassonne retained the rest of the Razes and Peyraperuses.  Within the barony of Termes there seem to have been 4 other castles.  Durfort 2 miles to the north, Auriac 6 miles SW, Palairac 6 miles SE and Villerouge-Termenes just three miles to the east, although the latter castle was disputed with the archbishop of Narbonne.

By 1118 William Raymond Termes was lord of Termes and in 1128 had to make restitutions to Lagrasse abbey.  On 1 November 1163 the three children of Adalme, the wife of an earlier Termes, probably William the younger brother of the Raymond who swore allegiance to Viscount Roger Trencavel in 1137, swore allegiance to Viscount Raymond Trencavel of Beziers (d.1209) for holding Durfort and Termes castles as well as the village of Arques.  These three, Raymond (d.1213), Peter and their sister Ricsovende, were still sharing Termes castle on 17 November 1191, when they entered into an agreement with Viscount Roger of Carcassonne (d.1194) concerning the copper, silver, lead and iron mines that the castle protected.

At the start of the Cathar wars in 1209 the castle seems to have been held by Raymond alone, possibly as the eldest or only surviving sibling.  His sister, Ricsovende, had married William Minerve, the lord of Minerve castle before 1191.  From August to November 1210, Raymond Termes was besieged within his fortress by Simon Montfort (d.1218) in what was said to be the hardest siege of the first period of the Albigensian Crusade.  The young Amanieu Albret (bef.1195-1240) was one of the besiegers.  When the castle fell Raymond was carted off to the dungeons of Carcassonne, but his sons, Oliver and Bernard, seem to have escaped the disaster.  Raymond seems to have had another brother, Benedict, who was a Cathar representative at the Colloquy of Montreal in 1207 and was elected Cathar Bishop of the Razes in 1226 at a council held at Pieusse.

After the Crusaders had failed to take Lastours in 1210, Simon Montfort (d.1218) marched against Termes and besieged it between June and the night of 22/23 November 1210.  The attackers' siege weapons arrived from Carcassonne in August, the journey having been harried for the 20 mile trip by the men of Lastours under Peter Roger Cabaret.  The Crusaders initially used their mangonels to breach the southern walls, although the defenders seem to have repaired the breaches after repelling various attacks.  At this point the attackers took an outwork called le Termenet to the north of the castle, but failed to push home their advantage.  By November the Crusader army was beginning to break up, their times of service expired.  However, in the castle the defenders were short of water due to the exceptionally dry weather during the siege.  This again shows the importance of cisterns for the defence of Southern European castles. 

Finally Raymond Termes agreed to surrender the fortress if not soon relieved.  On the night before the yielding a heavy downpour filled the castle cisterns with water, but the defenders had not cleared these out of rubble and corpses.  This caused the water to be polluted and therefore wasted.  Consequently the castle garrison fled, but Raymond was captured either fleeing or attempting to return to the castle for something he'd left.  Most of the other defenders including several members of his family managed to escape, namely his wife, Ermessinde Corsavy (d.1255), who he had married in 1197, and his two sons, Oliver (d.1274) and Bernard (d.1228+).  They fled south to Aragon.  Raymond was taken a prisoner to Carcassonne where he died three years later.  Raymond also had a brother who survived him, Benedict.  He had been a Cathar representative at the Colloquy of Montreal in 1207 and was eventually elected Cathar Bishop of Razes in 1226 at a council held at Pieusse.

With the fall of Termes, the fortress as well as the nearby Villerouge-Termenes castle, were given to the Crusader, Alan Roucy (d.1221).  Roucy experienced similar problems with the abbots of Lagrasse as Raymond had done.  On his death defending Montreal in 1221, his son with the permission of Amaury Montfort (d.12), the son and successor of Simon (d.1218) as lord of Carcassonne, ceded Termes to the archbishop of Narbonne in 1224, from whom it passed to the young King Louis IX (d.1270) in 1228.

At this point the fight against the crusaders was taken up by Raymond's son, Oliver Termes.  As Oliver only died in 1274, it is to be presumed that he was very young when Termes castle fell in 1210.  He was probably in his early 20s by 1228 and so on 21 November 1228, he and his brother, Bernard Termes, accepted what battle had already decreed and ceded Termes castle to Blanche Castile (d.1252), the mother and regent of the young King Louis IX of France (d.1270).  It is possible that Blanche was responsible for adding to the two round towers to the NE side of the castle.  They certainly bear some similarity to other towers attributed to her, viz: Puilaurens and Tour Regine as well as possibly the north wall of the outer ward at Peyrepertuse.  Despite this, Oliver rose again and joined the army besieging Carcassonne in 1240 in an attempt to re-establish his old overlords, the Trencavels.  After their failure he again submitted to King Louis in 1241 and regained Aguilar castle in 1246, but not Termes.  In 1248 he accompanied his king on his disastrous Egyptian crusade.  Oliver later returned to Languedoc and led the victorious royal army on Queribus castle, which he reduced without a fight in 1255.  In 1257 Oliver made his will, giving his lands to his son, Raymond and asking to be buried at Fontfroide abbey.  In 1260 King Louis IX bought from Raymond his castle of Aguilar as well as Raymond's rights in Termes.  Oliver died a Crusader at Acre on 12 August 1274.

In 1255 the garrison of Louis IX (d.1270) in Termes was 15 sergeants.  This he reduced in 1260
to a mere 8.  Presumably this reflected the more amical relationship with the Termes family.  A survey in 1302, found the castle garrison had once more been increased to include a constable, a chaplain, a look-out, a porter and 15 sergeants.  This was hardly a large garrison for the size of the fortress, but it must be remembered that many would flock to the castle in times of siege and they could augment its garrison.  In 1357 its castellan, Peter Nicolay went over to the English side in the Hundred Years War, but he failed to take the castle with him.  By the sixteenth century the size of the garrison had dropped to just 7 men, although a new castellan was appointed in January 1562, Peter Arse!

The castle remained as a royal outpost near the Spanish border until 1649, when the frontier was pushed further south under the Treaty of the Pyrenees.  Consequently in 1652, Richelieu ordered the castle to be demolished.  During 1653-1654 the walls were damaged by a master mason from Limoux using explosives and then nature was left to take its course.  The total destruction of the round towers may well have been caused by such demolition.

Termes castle stands on a 1,500' high hill top surrounded on three sides by the River Sou.  The most vulnerable side was further protected by the Termenet outpost.  On the summit of the hill, in the centre of the castle, lie the foundations of the great rectangular keep, approximately 35' E-W by 32' N-S.  This had a large buttress in its SW corner which housed steps climbing up to the first floor entrance to the south.  Such keeps are not common in the Pyrenees, although somewhat similar rectangular keeps may be found at Carcassonne, Coustaussa, Fenouillet, Foix, Lordat, Montaillou, Puilaurens, Queribus, Roquefixade, Saissac and Surdespine.  None of these have the corner turret allowing access to the first floor.

Surrounding the keep was a rectangular courtyard rather than a ward.  This had a singular solid round tower to the SW - a unique feature in the Pyrenees.  Most of the enceinte is now merely foundations apart from the much restored chapel with its vaulted basement, set centrally on the west side.  The layout of this part of the castle suggests it grew up piecemeal and that a north curtain, if it existed, was taken down and built over by barely fortified buildings.  If anything this ward somewhat resembles the inner ward at Dryslwyn in Wales.  In the Pyrenees it is more similar to Coustaussa and Fenouillet.  Both of these latter castles are early, while Dryslwyn probably dates to the end of the twelfth century at latest and had heavier defences.  Entrance to the inner ward was gained via a ramp leading to a hole in the wall gate, central in the east wall.  Next to this was a cistern and wash house and beyond it a dwelling which projected dangerously down the slope the ward stood upon.  There was another cistern to the SW, near the round turret and next to a grand staircase which gave access to a paved room against the south curtain.

Surrounding the inner enceinte was a later outer ward, making this into a perfect concentric castle.  This ward was only protected by two even later round towers to the NE and east and a small turret to the NW near a Romanesque postern underneath some steps up to the wallwalk.  The former are probably royal works of the late thirteenth century and resemble the supposedly royal works at Aguilar, Carcassonne, Peyrepertuse, Puilaurens, Quertinheux and Tour Regine.  Centrally to the west was a square latrine turret hanging precariously over the gorge.  To the south was a guard's chamber controlling access from a long barbican on this front.  This was possibly the original entrance.  The early wall between here and the SW corner of the site has been heavily repaired and reinforced.  This strongly suggests that it was here that Simon Montfort (d.1218) launched his artillery attacks in 1210.  This necessitated much rebuilding and the thickening of the wall. 

At the south end of the east wall was another entrance protected by a long barbican and a dog-legged access ramp.  This was probably built after the attack of 1210 as the east wall is further reinforced by the 2 boldly projecting round towers, possibly built by Queen Blanche (d.1252).  The north end of the barbican was commanded by the bossaged tower at the east apex of the site.  This has been mostly destroyed, perhaps by an internal explosion during the castle's decommissioning in the mid seventeenth century.  However, a strongly plinthed base survives and the remnants of 5 deeply splayed crossbow loops at ground level.  Internally a mural stair led to the upper floors.  Externally the masonry was bossaged, just like at Puilaurens and some of the later towers at Carcassonne.  Next to the Romanesque postern to the NW were two odd buttresses which appear to rise into a corbelled out watch turret.  The outer wall is up to 35' high and 11' thick and is further defended by multiple ground level crossbow loops in its surviving portions.  Such loops are not overly common, but exist elsewhere at Adare inner curtain and Dunamase in Ireland, Goodrich and Rochester and England, Beaumaris, Flint, Grosmont and Rhuddlan in Wales, and Aguillar in the Pyrenees.  Beneath the castle was a walled borough which remained in Termes hands until 1260.

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