I visited Montsegur to see the place where the Cathars had made their ‘last stand’ against the besieging forces of the King of France. I was also intrigued about the Cathar treasure many people believe was spirited away during the final days of the siege.
By the beginning of 1240 most Cathar leaders, and almost certainly the Cathar treasure, had taken refuge at Montsegur as the soldiers of the Albigensian Crusade had destroyed many of the other 20 castles in the region. The excuse to attack Montsegur was the assassination of two Inquisitors at Avignonet, which according to the crusaders, was undertaken by troops from Montsegur. The decision to attack Montsegur was taken at the Council of Beziers in April 1243. The siege started one month later and lasted for ten months. The defenders were hoping to hold the castle throughout the long summer and to collect water in the winter as they were convinced the attackers would lift the siege during these long cold months in the mountains. The Cathars were able to maintain communications with the outside world during the siege thanks to a number of hidden paths on the hill where Montsegur stood.
However, the Crusaders went on fighting during the winter and eventually were able to climb one of the cliffs allowing them to bombard the castle with rocks from close range. From this moment the defenders were doomed. A counter attack at the end of February met with no success. The soldiers and the Cathars in Montsegur agreed to ask for negotiations and good conditions for the soldiers were guaranteed after a strong intervention from the count of Toulouse. The castle was then left to the Cathars for a period of 15 days and no one has ever been able to explain why. On March 16th, the soldiers and their families were allowed to leave after confession. The Parfaits had the choice between adjuring their religion or being burned at the stake. All the Cathars chose to die as well as some soldiers and members of their families who first received the Consolamentum.