16 March 1244, 75 miles south of Toulouse, the Cathar-held Château de Montségur surrendered to its French besiegers and 225 heretics were burned.
“The lords from France and Paris, / clergymen and laymen, princes and marquises, / all agreed that at every castle the army besieged / any garrison that refused to surrender / should be slaughtered wholesale / once the castle had been taken by force“ ("Le Chanson de la Croisade", Toulouse, about 1275)
|An Image of Montségur*|
If it was politically prudent of the semi-independent Counts of Toulouse to harbour a heretic sect during the religiously heated atmosphere of the 13th century, especially if they wanted to keep their Occitanian possessions. The French crown had long cast covetous glances at the rich Languedoc, and the alien culture there, with its own language and its troubadours, made the rulers of House Capet north of the Loire raise their eyebrow more than once. That the region was a hotbed of the Cathar heresy was a rather welcome excuse to invade the place and consequently a full-scale crusade was declared in 1209 and 10.000 fighters ravaged the country over the next twenty years. Abbot Arnaud Amalric’s answer how the crusaders were supposed to distinguish orthodox Catholics from Cathar heretics during the sack of Béziers was rather generic: “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.“ ("Kill them all. For the Lord knows those that are His own.")
Even the infamous leader of the crusade, Simon de Montfort, dared to lay a time- and resources consuming siege to some of the Cathar strongholds and after the Peace of Paris in 1229, stubborn local lords still harboured the Parfaits and were soon outlawed. When the “Faydits“, the outlaws, as they were dubbed in the newly created French domains, killed two inquisitors to the delight of the local population, the time had come to for the new authorities to move against the pockets of resistance with a vengeance. In May 1243 1.000 men-at-arms under the command of one Hugues de Arcis, the new royal seneschal at Carcassone, and Pierre Amiel, the Archbishop of Narbonne, were deployed at Montségur, the largest of the Cathar castles, the siege began and the affair proved to be as tough as Montfort had anticipated 30 years before and the 100 Cathar defenders under the Faydit lords Raymond de Péreille and Pierre de Mirepoix held their eyrie high on a limestone rock for 10 long months and sheltered 225 professed Cathar fugitives. When the besiegers finally brought a trebuchet, a mighty stone-throwing catapult, up on a mountain saddle and bombarded the inhabitants of the castle directly, de Péreille surrendered after 15 days.
|A stele in the valley commemorating the Cathars|
The 225 Cathars of Montségur were allowed to leave if they’d renounce their faith. None did and all entered the pyres in the valley below voluntarily and were burned. A stele on the "Prat dels Cremats" (Occitan for "Field of the Burned") commemorates their fate today and the legends began. According to one of the more famous stories, de Mirepoix allowed three or four Parfaits to escape from Montségur with the treasure of the Cathars, allegedly the Holy Grail or the mummified body of Christ or similar fantastic relics. Historically documented is that the last Cathar castle, Quéribus, 20 miles northwest of Perpignan in the Pyrenees, fell in 1255 and the last Parfaits were burned at the stake as late as 1321.
* The image was found on
taken by “Lamecast” in 2010. The walls are not those of the 14th century castle, they were razed after the fall in 1244, but the ruins of a fortress built in the 17th century.
** the image found on http://claire-d-aude.over-blog.com/article-montsegur-ou-le-souvenir-rencontre-la-legende-67514693.html
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