Villerouge-Termenes is a small lowland castle, around 900' above sea level, in stark contrast to the high-lying ‘Cathar' castles.  Before 1962 the village was simply Villerouge in Termenes.  The vill was first mentioned before 1079 as a property of Archbishop Guifred Cerdagne of Narbonne (d.1079).  He held it as one of the 11 baylies of the archbishopric, although this was challenged by the lords of Termes who claimed the fortress as their own.  After Guifred's death, Bishop Peter of Rodez seized the vill and granted it to Berenger Peter of Peyrepertuse, who held it until 1081 when Archbishop Dalmace of Narbonne reclaimed it.  Before this happened Peter Oliver Termes contested the possession of the vill with the result that Berenger Peter gave him a part of the lordship with the hand of his daughter in marriage.  The Archbishop threatened both with excommunication.  Peyrepertuse gave homage to the archbishop, but Termes refused and died excommunicated by the bishop.  His son proved just as obstinate, until, near to death, he repented in 1112 and did homage to Archbishop Richard Millau (d.1121) for his part of Villerouge.

As the Termes family were constant supporters of the 
Trencavels of Carcassonne, the Crusaders soon came against Termes castle and its lords.  Consequently, after the successful siege of Termes in 1210, Villerouge was seized by Simon Montfort and given to the Crusader Alan Roucy (d.1221) together with Termes.  The archbishop of Narbonne complained of this injustice, although it was not until 1216 that Montfort was forced to return the castle.  From then on the castle belonged solely to the archbishops.  In 1321 the last parefait, William Belibaste, was burned to death in the vill and in 1380 the archbishop ordered the townsfolk to guard the castle both day and night against the English.

In 1347 a survey found that the castle consisted of an archbishop's chamber with a chapel, a hall, a dinning room, a kitchen, various chambers and a bakery.  The armaments consisted of plate armour gorgets and shoulder pieces, lances and crossbows for one foot with 1504 quarrels; there was also a crossbow a tour, a powerful weapon, probably mounted in the keep.  The castle was kept fit for defence into the eighteenth century when it housed 6 cannon in 1725, yet soon afterwards the keep was relegated to a prison, while the rest of the castle went to ruin.

The castle consists of four round towers in a rectangle made pentagonal by a projecting pair of walls on the south side.  This appears to have been done to follow the line of the rock on which the castle was built, making the castle roughly 100' E-W and 80' N-S.  The same prow-shaped curtain occurs at Goodrich castle on the Welsh frontier, although there is no postern as at Villerouge.  This postern has an external Romanesque arch, but internally the roofing and passageway to it is more fourteenth century.  The castle wall is built of ashlar and contains many loops and small windows for the internal buildings.  Some of these are Romanesque and still have iron grills protecting them.  Above the postern, which is some 5 feet above the rocky surface, are the remains of machicolations built to defend this point of egress.  The battlements on the eastern section of wall are well preserved and have a loop in each merlon.

The north face of the castle contains a slightly projecting gatetower which is little more than a pair of rectangular flanking buttresses joined some ten feet above the top of the gateway with a Romanesque arch to form a single tower with a loop in the open-backed chamber within.  This has clearly been added as an extra defence for the simple hole in the wall, Romanesque gateway.  Although the added gatetower could have contained a portcullis, all it provides is a large murder hole over the entrance and crossbow loops in the battlements.  The high open-backed chamber has a Romanesque arch over its singular crossbow loop, the ceiling of the structure looks much more twelfth century and is somewhat similar to the back of other gatehouses at Rhuddlan and Chepstow in Wales and Gisors in Normandy.  Below the gate chamber the internally projecting original inner arch of the first gateway is decidedly Romanesque.  The walls on this front, and the two northern towers, are all rubble built.  Neither tower is large, the NW one being little more than a turret, although the NE tower is well equipped with loops on its upper floor at curtain battlement level.  The west and NW curtains are much pierced by lights for the internal buildings.

The two northern towers are smaller than the southern two, of which the SE is the biggest and reckoned the keep.  This is built of superior quality blocks in a rubble ashlar formation.  The summit of the tower has putlog holes as if for a hoarding, but these clash with the crossbow loops immediately under the remains of the battlements.  Obviously some rebuilding has gone on here.  The keep was originally reached via a low first floor Romanesque entrance which probably dates the tower to the eleventh century.  Access to the upper floors was via a curving stair built into the thickness of the wall.  Again this is generally an early feature as is the small Romanesque window facing SE.  The internal vaulting is superb.  At first floor level an external wooden passageway ran around the giving access to the Romanesque doorway.  The loops in the tower are narrow and only that covering the postern has a ball base - a twelfth century feature.  The superior quality of the stonework suggests that the castle south front is a rebuild, as too does the irregular junctions of the curtains to the keep.

Buildings cover all the interior curtain walls, except for at the gateway and the access to the postern.  These have been rebuilt and part now houses a restaurant.  Within the buildings are recreated frescoes from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries.

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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