The Siege of Termes from the Song of the Cathar Wars (1210)
From: The Song of the Cathar Wars: The History of the Albigensian Crusade
Translated by Janet Shirley
The text known as "La Canso", or "The Song of the Cathar Wars", is written in verse by two authors, originally in occitan. The first portion was written by William of Tudela (Guilhem de Tudèle), who was a supporter of the Papacy and the crusaders, although he does not like the consequences : war and persecutions. A second, anonymous author continues the work about half way through. He was a supporter of the southern French forces, and the lord of Toulouse, who fought the crusaders.
This extract of "La Canso", allows to have some first hand information about the siege of Termes, by a contemporary author of the events of 1210, William of Tudela. There are some "errors" and exaggerations bound to the poetic work and style (like the "9 months" of siege... near 4 truly...). But the text gives a good information and is worth reading !
For another account of this siege, please see the "Historia Albigensis", by Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay.
The Siege of Termes planned
Early on a Thursday morning the count [Simon de Montfort] joined the barons and princes in a palace, and it was decided to lay siege to Termes up in Termenes. This is a wonderful castle, and before it falls many souls will quit their bodies, dying unconfessed, and the siege will cost many a mark and many a penny of Tours. Horses and palfreys will be won, and much wealth, much fine armour, by men on either side to whom it is predestined.
The count de Montfort entered the palace with the countess and all his lords, and they took their seats on a carpet of silk. Robert of Mauvoisin and Sir Guy the Marshal had been summoned and were there side by side, and so was Sir William of Contres, for in the whole viscountcy there was no more powerful or more valiant lord. He was born, I am told, in Burgundy, two leagues from Nevers. These recommended that siege should be laid at once to the castle of Termes, and many other good men supported this proposal.
William of Contres to command in Carcassonne
The council broke up after a short meeting; then, after a brief interval they had dinner and returned for another session. The count de Montfort was very anxious to choose the right man to defend Carcassonne, but in the end he was advised to appoint either Sir Lambert of Crecy, a powerful and respected baron, or Sir Rainier of Chauderon. Both these were chosen, but neither of them would stay in that country, not for a kingdom, so hostile did they perceive it to be. But then they begged William of Contres to take on the task, and he, having considered it, agreed to do so. The count de Montfort, though, was very angry at this, and would not have left him in Carcassonne if he had had anyone else to put there, for in the whole land there was no wiser man nor a better or more reliable knight, more courteous, more valiant or more loyal, so God grant me his blessing!
Having listened and reflected, Sir William of Contres said:
`In the name of Jesus Christ and St Mary, I will stay here since each of you asks me to do so.' But the count de Montfort would not have left him there if he had had any alternative, yet in the end since no one else would stay, he reluctantly agreed.
The men of the host, the knights and the countess all wanted Sir William appointed. And for companions the count de Montfort gave him Crespi of Rochefort, a very courteous man, and Sir Simon the Saxon, may Jesus bless him, his brother Sir Guy [brother of Simon de Saxon], whose very face shows his courage, and many other nobles of his host from Burgundy, France and Normandy. Then they separated and the count set off with his great lords to lay siege to Termes. Sir William of Contres parted from him the same day in the meadows by Pennautier and reached Carcassonne before moonrise and before it was fully dark.
Siege engines attacked
William of Contres left Pennautier, rode hard for Carcassonne and arrived there just as the townspeople were getting up from supper and about to go to bed. The castle servants ran to help him unarm; they lit the fire in the fireplace up in the great hall, prepared plenty of beef, pork and other food for them to eat, then made up the beds in the place where they were to sleep, for they would all have to get up at dawn next day in order to guard the mangonels and other engines which they were taking to Termes in carts for the attack on the castle. This was at Count Simon's command; he had ordered them most urgently to send the siege engines and to guard the city; any other needs must take second place. The engines were to be closely guarded for those three days and when they arrived he would have them set up. Sir William of Contres immediately had them dragged out of the town onto the ground beside the River Aude and loaded promptly onto horse-drawn carts.
A spy left the host and went quickly to Cabaret, where he immediately told them that the count had sent wretched and useless men to transport the siege engines and that their escort would not number more than a hundred, horse and foot. When they heard that, they were delighted. They rode out of Cabaret by moonlight, captained by Peter Roger, if the account is correct, and by William Cat, I Raymond Mire and all their kinsmen. More than three hundred of them there were, each outriding his neighbour and galloping full tilt for Carcassonne.
Brave Sir William of Contres had the carts and siege engines under careful guard. When these guards saw the knights spurring towards them they shouted out, `To arms! To arms! Shame on any who turn away!' Sir William heard these shouts, and quietly told his knights to hurry to arms, and that quickly; if glorious Jesus, the Father Almighty and the blessed mother Mary willed it, he would fight these men, and soon. Why make a long story of it? Sir Peter Roger and his men did not flinch, they dismounted, smashed the mangonels in the sight of all the bystanders, and used straw to set them alight. The fire blazed up, and if there had been a breath of wind all the engines would have burned at once, but God did not want this.
William of Contres heard the voices and instantly shouted, `To arms, knights!' He had at least eighty sergeants with him, not counting the other knights, and they had the gates opened in blessed Mary's name and attacked Peter Roger's men there in the meadow. These saw them coming and did not despise them but rode boldy forward to meet their charge. Ah God, what good lances were shattered that day, what mighty blows struck on helmets from Pavia! Sir William of Contres spurred his Hungarian warhorse and charged raging and angry, may God bless me, into the thickest of the fight. He rode into the River Aude and there in the water thrust through the melee. He encountered one of Mir's men and struck him so hard on his flowered shield that his hauberk was no more use to him than a rotten apple; down into the water he went, as all could see. Next he overtook a wretch in flight and struck him from the side with his bright sword; and he struck down another man at this time. Nor did Crespi of Rochefort or Simon hang back: no one they hit ever needed a road to walk on again.
They pressed home this attack for some time, and in the end Sir Peter Roger and all his men had by far the worst of it. Not one of them but cursed him for the way it had turned out. Defeated and fewer in number they rode away. Sir William of Contres gathered his men and went back into Carcassonne. They were all delighted at having saved the siege engines and the whole troop rejoiced at their victory.