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  Queribus
Surrendered 1255
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Surrendered 1244
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Surrendered 1244
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Ceded 1255
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Surrendered 1210
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Fell 1211
  Carcassonne
Surrendered 1204
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Surrendered 1211
  Peyreperteure
Surrendered 1217
  Puivert
Surrendered 1210
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Surrendered 1216
Termes
Surrendered 1210


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Updated: June 13, 2004


The formidable and impressive Cathar castles which still conserve their aura of mystery can be discovered in magnificent sites. Amongst them are the 'five sons of Carcassonne': Peyrepertuse, Quéribus, Puilaurens, Aguilar and Termes. The occitan region endured sieges, massacres and the Inquisition during the bloody Albigensian crusade in the 12th and 13th centuries and Ariège was spared little of it. The spiritual movement called catharism developed in reaction to the corruption and disarray of the Church at that time. In late June 1209, responding to Pope Innocent III's call for a Crusade to be started (1209) following the assassination of his legate, Pierre de Castelnau, an army assembled at Lyon. The soldiers were promised remission of their sins--the same indulgence earlier crusaders had received as they set out to fight in the Holy Land. This crusade, however, was aimed at heretics known as Cathars in the Languedoc region of southeastern France. The Crusaders, under the command of Simon de Montfort, destroyed the city of Béziers, Carcassonne, and despite the protection of Raymond VI, the Count of Toulouse, the legitimate Lords of the region were defeated in Muret (1213) and in Toulouse (1218). This destructive war in which Louis VIII took part, ended with the Regency of Blanche de Castille (Treaty of Meaux, 1229). Suppression of the heresy was marked by more than a century of violence, atrocities, and the birth of the Inquisition. The forces of the Pope and French monarchy eventually crushed the Cathars, culminating in 1244 with the siege of the fortress castle at Montségur, where 205 Perfects chose to be burned to death rather than renounce their faith.
Broadly there are five categories of "Cathar Castle".
Genuine Cathar Castles, advertised as Cathar Castles:  There are very few of these, although you may find a few vestiges near to existing structures (eg Peyreperteuse, and Puivert).  Carcassonne probably has the best claim, but this is strangely underplayed, followed by Cabaret (Lastours). 
Later French Castles built on the site of Cathar strongholds, advertised as Cathar Castles:  Coustaussa,  Puilaurens,  Montsegùr ,  Queribus,  Termes,  Aguila.
French Castles with no Cathar connections, advertised as Cathar Castles:  Arques.
Cathar Castles, not generally advertised as Cathar Castles:  Pieusse,  Le Bézu,  Usson.
Sites of Cathar Castles:  Béziers,  Toulouse,  Bram,  Marmande,  Lavaur,  Minerve,  Beaucaire,  Castelnaudry.

The castle of Quéribus perched on a rocky crag, 2200 feet high above the village, like a finger pointing stubbornly at the sky, witness to the fact that it was the last of the Cathar strongholds to fall, in 1255. . This site was first recorded in 1020 and was a Cathar stronghold in the 13th century and was the last refuge. Quéribus is one of the "Five Sons of Carcassonne", along with Aguila, Pierrepertuse, Termes and Puylaurens: five castles strategically placed to defend the new (1659) French border against the Spanish.The castle can be seen from far away as it dominates the plain, rising as it does on the top of the rock on which it stands. Queribus can be seen from far but can also see far away. Even before the Cathars it was commandeering the whole region. Queribus resisted long after Montsegur had already becomes a legend. The ruins are still in a relatively good state and we can appreciate what it must have been when it was in full operation. It is heavily fortified and difficult to take as the crusaders realised soon. In 1255 a French army was dispatched to deal with them, but they slipped away without a fight, propably to Aragon or Piedmont, both regions where Cathar beliefs were still common, and where the Occitan language was spoken. Quéribus was the last defence of the Cathars. Afterwards Catharism only existed clandestinely to finally disappear under the new King rules and the power of the Inquisition. After the fall of Montegùr in 1244 surviving Cathars gathered together in another mountain-top stronghold on the border of Aragon. Quéribus is high and isolated. It stands on top of the highest peak for miles around. From a distance it can be seen on the horizon, sticking up like a finger pointing at the sky.

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The castle of Usson. This Cathar stronghold hidden in "les Gorges de l' Aude" was left out of the Albigean crusade. Its castle is now more or less forgotten. It was practically dismantled after the revolution. The few ruins left do not allow us to guess what it was at the time of the Cathars. Four Cathars escaping from Montsegur took refuge here in 1244. The legend says that they were carrying the Cathar treasure.Up-stream from Axat in the Aude Gorge, carved out of the foothills of the Pyrenees, is the little known castle of Usson.  It dates from the eleventh century (perhaps earlier) and during the Cathar period marked the eastern boundary of the territories of the Counts of Foix. In the twelfth century this was the capital of the Donezan region.  Before the Défilé was cut through the mountains to link Quillan to Axat, this was an innaccessible outpost providing succour for faidits and other persecuted Cathars.  The Cathar bishop of Toulouse Guilhabert de Castres is known to have taken refuge here. Towards the end of the wars against the Cathars this was one of the last sancturies, providing support for Montsegur.  The seigneurs of Usson, Bernard d'Alion and Arnaud d'Usson sent arms and supplies to their besiged comrades there.  On 15th March 1244, the day before 225 Cathar Parfaits were burned alive at Montsegur, four other Parfaits left the castle there for Usson, where the Cathar treasure had been evacuated a few months earlier.  What this treasure was, and what happened to it, no-one knows.  This mystery has fed a number of fantasies about the equally mysterious treasure supposedly found at Rennes-le-Château in the nineteenth century. 

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The castle of Montségur ( Montsegùr). A building on this site sheltered a community of Cathar women at the end of the twelfth century. Early in the thirteenth, Ramon de Pereille the co-siegneur and Chatelain, was asked to make it defensible, anticipating the problems to come. From 1232 it became the headquarters of the Cathar community in the Languedoc, and a refugee centre for "faidits" - outlaws who had been stripped of their lands and goods by the Roman Church. These faidits, exact counterparts of the more recent maquis, continued to wage a guerilla war against the invaders.After the failure of the uprising against the French invaders, the defeat of Henry III of England by Louis IX of France, the events at Avignonet, and the capitulation of Ramon VII, all in 1243, the Council of Beziers decided to destroy the last vestiges of Catharism. The Cathar sympathisers responsible for killing the Inquisitors at Avignonet were known to have come from Montsegùr. The Council therefore decided to "cut off the head of the dragon" by which they meant to taking of the château there, the last remaining major centre of Cathar belief. The château, perched on top of a majestic hill (called a pog), had already been reinforced. The castle was besieged later in 1443 by Hughes des Arcis, Seneschal of Carcassonne for the King of France. For months the siege was uncuccessful but shortly before Chrismas a group of Basque mercenaries scaled a seemingly impossible sheer cliff face, and overran a forward position. From here, under the direction of a Catholic bishop specialising in war machines, the French were able to construct catapults. The garrison surrendered on 2 March 1244 having negotiated a truce of two weeks, this spelled the end of all hope. Montségur was not the largest slaughter of the crusade but the most important one, because most leaders of catharism together with more than 200 heretics would have to .abjure their faith or burn alive were thrown into an enormous fire at the 'prat des cramats' near the foot of the castle on March 16, 1244. From May 1243 to March 1244, Montségur was besieged by the troops of the seneschal of Carcassonne and the archbishop of Narbonne. The word Montsegur means "mont segur" or "safe mountain". This castle is built at 1207 meters above sea level on a rock called "Pog". At the request of the Cathar Church renovations took place in 1204 and by 1232 it was the strong fortress that we know. Raymond de Péreille was the local Knight. He was at first undecided: on one hand he wanted to help the Cathars who were very strong in the region. On the other he did not want to go against the Catholic Church that was becoming impatient and threatening to start a crusade. Finally he decided for the Cathars and Montsegur became one of the main site of the Cathar religion. It resisted to the end to the crusaders and was the site of a horrible massacre. Some writers say that built-in features indicate the directions of the sunrise on the first day of each of the four seasons. This is difficult to accept as the Cathars were against such material thinking. Parfaits blessed the many Cathar believers who came in pilgrimage to this temple of their faith. About five hundred people lived in the castle or in Montsegur village itself. Most of them were Cathars. As the crusade against them went under way many Cathars, and most of their leaders, hid in this fortress. They thought it to be strong enough to resist any invasion. However it fell in to the Albigensian Crusade in 1244 and 200 Parfaits and Parfaites refused to abjure their faith and were were martyred, burned at the stake, on the hill below the castle. A small monument built in "Le Prat des Cremats" (the Field of the Burned) recall their sufferance's. The castle was given to Guy de Lévis by Louis IX and became a Royal Fortress. The present castle was built after the crusade in the 14th century. It was still a strong fortress. After the fall of the citadel of Montségur, the treasure of the Cathar church is said to have been put into a safe place. According to Imbert of Salles' evidence before the Inquisition tribunal, the treasure was hid into the Lombrives cave or into a Spoulga of Sabarthès (Ornolac, Bouan ?) by 2 men who were in charge of the mission : Mathéus and Bonnet.

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The castle of Puilaurens  (Puèglaurenç). The castle date from the 11th century but was finished in the 12th century. Puylaurens is at about the same level as Montsegur but it looks higher. It is about 700 meters overlooking a typical French village. The castle here had belonged to the Abbey of Saint-Michel de Cuxa before it was acquired by the King of Aragon in 1162.  It has tall towers and is fairly well preserved. It was a typical strong fortress of the time. In 1243 after the death of his knight, Pierre de Fenouillet, it had Chabert de Barbaira as his chief. He was a fervent Cathar and he resisted well to the attacks of the crusaders. As Aragonese property it was outside the territory ravaged by the Crusaders during the Cathar wars.  Like Queribus it therefore provided a refuge for those fleeing from the invading forces.  Those who took refuge there included both Cathars and faidits, that is to say those who had forfeited their property because of their opposition to the invaders.  These faidits included high nobles, such as Guillaume de Peyreperteuse. It is not known how, Puilaurens was ceded to the French some time before 1255 and entered into the King's possessions.. In the 13th, it belonged to the Lords of Fenouillet. Defended by Pierre Catala and, more importantly, by Guillaume de Peyrepertuse, it withstood attack by Simon de Montfort and his successors until the end of the crusades. After 1243, its owner was Roger Catala, Pierre's son, but it was defended, like Quéribus, by Chabert de Barbaira, a Cathar military commander who was the last person to defend the Occitan cause. Numerous Cathar deacons sought refuge here after the fall of Montsegur. It is thought that the castle was finally forced to surrender (probably around the same time as Queribus) c.1255. At the end of the 13th Century, Puylaurens became, with Peyrepertuse, Quéribus, Aguilar and Termes, one of the « Five Sons of Carcassonne », royal fortresses protecting the frontier between France and Spain. After 1258 its possession by the French crown was ratified by the Treaty of Corbeil, when the Aragonese border was moved south. In 1260 it was garissoned by 25 sergeants.  It was taken by Spanish troops in 1635, but lost all strategic importance after the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 when the border was moved even further south to its present position along the crest of the Pyrenees. In the 13th century it belonged to the Lords of Fenouillet. Defended by Pierre Catala and, more importantly, by Guillaume de Peyrepertuse, it withstood attack by Simon de Montfort and his successors until the end of the crusades. After 1243, its owner was Roger Catala, Pierre's son, but it was defended, like Quéribus, by Chabert de Barbaira, a Cathar military commander who was the last person to defend the Occitan cause. What we see now is the result of renovations made after the Cathar period that is when it was used by the King's army to protect the Spanish border. Renovation works are in progress that should make it beautiful to visit. The castle was abandoned in the 16 th century but it was used later as a prison and a shelter for bandits and shepherds.

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Minerve was where that cathars took refuge after the massacre of Beziers. In June 1210, the crusaders arrived before the impressively positioned (flanked by deep gorges) fortress of Minerve. They brought four siege machines (trebuchets and/or mangonels), which, along with their sizable stone shot, had to be positioned in the mountains surrounding the town. The fortress town was commanded by Guilhem de Minerve. Though he was not a Cathar, he felt compelled to support his lord de Trencavel. The intense bombardment managed to destroy the staircase to the otherwise secure water well. On 27 June, a number of the besieged population made a night sortie and set fire to the machine, which they named 'Malvoisine' and believed had destroyed their well. Thurst forced Minerve to surrender on 22 July 1210 following a six-week siege. Arnaud-Amaury refused any negotiated terms. Three women of the town agreed to convert and were spared. Reportedly 150 Cathar men and women were burned alive when they refused to abjure their faith died at the stake. This was the first burning at the stake in the crusade. The Cistercian Vaux de Cernay noted that it was not necessary to throw them to the flames, for they went voluntarily.  They claimed that "neither death nor life can separate us from the faith to which we are joined". Their behaviour seems to have impressed some of their persecutors, but not enough to raise qualms about killing them.

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Lavaur: In May, de Montfort attacked and quickly seized Lavaur, the castle of Aimery de Montréal, a lord who had revolted against Montfort. The town fell on 3rd of May, 1211 after a siege, following which the French crusaders excelled even themselves in cruelty and disregard for the accepted rules of war. Aimeric-de-Montréal and 90 knights were hung and about 300 to 400 Cathars burned. As in all other cases, Cathar parfaits declined to abjure their faith.  400 cathars were burned by the crusaders, "with great joy" as de Cernay noted.  (The crusaders generally burned people alive with great joy - cum ingenti gaudio).  One parfait allegedly renounced his faith.  The rest sang canticles as they were being led to the pyres. Aimery's sister, the chatelaine Giralda (or Geralda) de Laurac, was reportedly turned over to be abused by Montfort's soldiers, then having her hands tied behind her back was thrown alive into a well, which was then filled with stones until her screams could no longer be heard During Montfort's attack on Lavaur, the comtes de Foix and Comminges managed to attack a host from Germany that was coming to join the crusaders.

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Carcassonne ( Carcassona). Between the Black Mountains and the Pyrénées, Carcassonne lies on important routes connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterannean Sea, and Spain to France and Italy.   Signs of Pre-Roman (Iberian) habitation in this area date from the 5th century BC.  For over a century, between 1082 and 1209 the city of Carcassonne enjoyed tremendous influence under the Trencavels , a family closely related to the family of St-Gilles, Counts of Toulouse.  The Trancevals were Counts of Albi, Carcassonne, the Razés, Béziers and Nîmes, but they ceded their possessions for political reasons to the King of Aragon and recieved them back as Viscounts. The medieval period also saw the rise of the Cathar religion. Raymond Roger Trencavel, Viscount of Carcassonne was sympathetic to this religion and offered Cathars refuge on his lands.   The young Count was not wise enough to enter into the alliance offered by his uncle, Ramon VI of Toulouse, nor to distrust the duplicity of the Catholic Crusaders. Within the city walls is a castle, once the home of Raymond-Roger Trencavel. Although the outer curtain wall of the city is French, and the whole site has been substantially restored, this building has a strong claim to be called a "Cathar Castle". It was besieged from 1st to 15th of August 1209. The city and its castle were taken by deceit, when Roger-Raymond came out to talk terms with Arnaud Amery during the siege.   The Crusaders expelled the inhabitants with a day's safe conduct, so that they could loot at leisure. Arnaud wrote to the pope to explain why on this occasion no-one had been killed. It is at this stage that Simon de Montfort is appointed to hold Raymond-Roger's territories. Soon afterwards, on the 10th November, Roger-Raymond died in his own prison, aged 24. The Cité's outer ramparts, complete with turrets, towers, and crenellations, were built during the reign of Louis IX.  His son, Philip III, continued the work.  He also added a main gate, called the Porte Narbonnaise, to the inner walls.  The Porte is the only entry into the Cité by road.  It is guarded by two flanking towers and a double barbican. Château Comtal. 12th century castle belong to the Counts.  It is located within the Cité's ramparts.   Its fortifications are among Europe's finest medieval remains.  You can take a guided tour, but don't expect too much by way of historical expertise.

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Lastours (or Cabaret) North of Carcassonne Lastours is actually 5 castles, 4 of which are left standing. Cabaret(the most complete), Tour Regine, Surdespine and Quertinheux.Built on the summit of a 300 m high rocky ridge, at equal distances from each other, this location ensured complete control over one of the main incoming routes to Cabardès and the Montagne Noire (Black Mountain) with a dominating view over the Orbiel river and the Grésilhou torrent. This fortification belonged to the Lords of Cabaret, who held in fief from the Trencavels.  In the thirteenth centuruy there were three towers here, built on the same rocky outcrop.  They are called Cabaret (to the north), Quertinheux and Surdespine (to the south).  The towers stand on a hill crest above the village of Lastours, flanked by the River Grésilhou to the west and the River Orbiel to the east. The Seigneurs of Cabaret recieved troubadours here, including Raimon de Miraval and Peire Vidal, who dedicated verses to the Cathar Ladies of the place. During the Cathar Crusade this was one of the most ardent centres of resistance to the French Crusaders, In 1209 it was besieged unsuccessfully, by Simon de Montfort.  It was here a year later that a line of a hundred men appeared on foot, having snaked their way from Bram, their eyes torn out, their noses cropped and their lips cut off by the Catholic soldiers of Christ. In March 1211, after the fall of Termes, Pierre-Roger de Caberet, negotiated the surender of the chateau, under diplomatic rather than military pressure.  In 1223 he recovered his property.  Once again Cabaret became the foremost centre of resistence against the French invaders.  The Cathar bishop of Carcassonne, Pierre Isarn, was given refuge here until 1226. After the Council of Toulouse in 1229 the Seigneurs of Cabaret were obliged to abandon their stronghold.  They regained it, briefly, when they accompanied their liege Lord, Tranceval, in his reconquest in 1240. 

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Peyreperteuse (Cucugnan) one of the least-ruined castles of the area built high on a rocky crest in the 12th-century. The ruins are spread along a 900-1000 foot long ridge. Peyrepertuse was never subjected to siege or attack during the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars; it fell nevertheless to French forces in November 1240, through negotiation rather than force of arms. The King (Louis IX) naturally appreciated the virtues of its defensive position and it was he who had San Jordi and the steps linking it to the main fortress constructed. Peyrepertuse was now a base used to harass the remaining Cathars in the region. The name Peyrepertuse is derived from occitan and means "pierced rock".  The castle ruins are impressive, set high on a defensive mountainous crag. There are in fact two castles here, the later one added to an original, pre-French one. The lower castle was built by the kings of Aragon in the 11th century on a site dominating the Corbières and the sea.  The main part, resembles the prow of a ship, running along the top of an 800m (2,600 ft) high crag.  It houses the church of Sainte-Marie and the governor's residence. It was never subjected to attack during the Crusade against the Cathars.  Nevertheless, it was surrendered to the French Crusaders 22nd of May 1217, reclaimed again as the balance of power chamged, but surrendered definitively in November 1240, towards the end of the fighting. Louis IX ("Saint Louis") appreciated the value of its defensive position.  He built the higher castle of San Jordi. (Saint George) further along the ridge.  It includes the chapel and the donjon San Jordi.  The two buildings are linked by the huge staircase of Saint Louis and surrounded by a curtain wall.  The staircase is flight of more than 60 steps carved from the rock, winding from the curtain wall to the citaldel.  Along with Aguilar, Quéribus, Termes, and Puilaurens, Peyrepertuse became one of the "five sons of Carcassonne" protecting the French border with Aragon.  The fortress was garrisoned with only fifteen or so men (governor, sergeants, lookouts, and men-at-arms).  Its importance declined after the treaty of Pyrenees (1659) and it was abandoned altogether at the time of the French Revolution. The castle lies on a 730 meter high rock and when the weather is clear you can see the Mediterranean sea from it. Peyrepertuse is the largest of the Cathar fortresses in the South of France. Unlike Montségur Peyreperteuse was never illuminated by the flames of the bonfires on which Cathar perfecti were burned alive. Subsequently, along with Aguilar, Quéribus, Termes, and Puilaurens, Peyrepertuse became one of the "five sons of Carcassonne" protecting the frontier with Aragon. A small force was garrisoned there until the French Revolution.

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Puivert Castle - 14th century castle keep remains of this Cathar stronghold. Puivert, in the French pyrennes, was another Cathar castle toped with a signal platform to communicate with Montsegur. During the Middle Ages it was the scene of the famous "Romantic Courts" made famous by the minstrels songs. Puivert certainly is one of the best preserved. In 1210 the castle was taken after a 3-day siege by the army of Simon de Montfort controlled by Pons de Bruyères.With its 35 meters high keep in which four splendid rooms are superimposed, its 6 towers incorporated in its enclosure wall, this castle dominates the old glacial lake of Puivert below. To the west there is Castle Montségur with the summits of the Pyrenees behind it and to the east of the peak of Bugarach.

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Béziers: On 21 July, the crusaders reached Béziers and demanded that the Cathars in the popularion be handed over. This was refused even by the Roman Catholics of the town. The tradition of Cathar strength in this town went back to 1167, when they murdered their vicomte, Raymond-Roger I de Trencavel, in revenge for one of his knights having killed a Cathar. In return the vicomte's son, Raymond-Roger II, had the town ransacked in 1169. Domingo de Guzmán and Pierre de Castelnau had attempted to confront the popularion in 1206.
On the afternoon of 22 July, the town launched a sortie which, when forced back into the town, was closely persued by a band of the crusaders. Once inside the walls of the town, the crusaders seized Béziers within an hour. Immediately there began a mass slaughter of Catholics and Cathars, alike. When asked by one of the crusader warriors about the possible killing of Catholics along with the heretic Cathars, Arnaud-Amaury is supposed to have delivered his nefarious statement "Kill them all! God will recognize His own!" Accounts vary as to the numbered slaughtered (10,000 to 20,000, with just over 200 estimated to have been Cathars) in this, the bloodiest and first, battle of the crusade. The massacre frightened many other towns to surrender without resistance. Present among the crusaders was a Cistercian monk, Pierre des Vaux-de-Cernay, who ten years later would write his chronical Historia Albigensis of the campaign.

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Termes was besiged for four-months between 22nd of August and November 1210. Arnaud-Amaury remained relentless in his goal to eradicate the heretics. In January 1211, he accused several prominent citizens of Toulouse as heretics. When Raymond VI refused to prosecute them, he was again excommunicated by Arnaud-Amaury.
Pedro II d'Aragón was present when Arnaud-Amaury presented his ultimatum to Raymond VI, and expressed his resentment of the outragous demands and actions of the crusaders. Raymond VI was encouraged with the Aragón king's support and began to organize a coaltion of neighboring lords (comtes de Foix and de Comminges) who were threatened by the obvious land-grabing of Montfort.Towards the end, the besieged were running dangerously shoert of water, and terms of surrender were being negotiated when a downpour refilled the water cisterns.  Unfortunately, the demoralised defenders had failed to anticipate this, and had not cleared the empty cisterns of dead animals.  Disease swept the Château, and the seigneur Raymond de Termes decided to evacuate the garisson through a secret escape tunnel.  He was captured, and died in prison three years later. Termes is one of the "Five Sons of Carcassonne", along with Aguila, Pierrepertuse, Queribus and Puylaurens: five castles strategically placed to defend the new (1659) French border against the Spanish. In early August, de Montfort began his siege of Termes, whose lord was a devoute Cathar. However, he was hampered by Pierre-Roger de Cabaret raiding his wagon rain. One attack seriously damaged the wooden siege engines. In another attack, Pierre-Roger decimated Montfort's rearguard and mutilated those captured as a response to what Montfort had done to his captives at Bram. The siege lasted until December, when the defenders ran out of water. The Cathar lord was placed in the Carcassonne dungeon, where he eventually died.

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