Siege of Carcassonne by the Crusaders - Capture - Perfidy of legate - Death of the Viscount - Continuation of the war - Churches of New Carcassonne - La Cite - A perfect Mediaeval fortified town - Disappointing - Visigoth fortifications - Later additions - The Cathedral - Tomb of Simon de Montfort.

The Viscount of Beziers was not in the city from which he took his title when it fell. He had hurried on to Carcassonne to prepare that for defence. There he exerted himself with the utmost energy, with rage and despair, to be ready against the bloodthirsty, and yet blood-drunken ruffians who were pouring along the road from smoking Beziers, to do to Carcassonne as they had done there. Pedro, king of Aragon, interfered; he appeared as mediator in the camp of the Crusaders. Carcassonne was held as a fief under him as lord paramount. He pleaded the youth of the viscount, asserted his fidelity to the Church, his abhorrence of the Albigensian heresy; it was no fault of his, he argued, that his subjects had lapsed into error, and he declared that the Viscount had authorised him to place his submission in the hands of the legate of Pope Innocent. But the Crusaders were snorting for plunder and murder. The only terms they would admit were that the young viscount might retire with twelve knights; the city must surrender at discretion. The proud and gallant youth declared that he had rather be flayed alive than desert the least of his subjects. The first assaults, though on one occasion led by the prelates chanting the 'Veni Creator' ended in failure.

Carcassonne might have resisted successfully had it been properly provisioned, or had the viscount limited the number admitted within its walls. But multitudes of refugees had come there from all the country round. The wells failed. Disease broke out. The viscount was obliged to come to terms, to accept a free conduct from the officer of the legate, and he endeavoured to make terms for his subjects.

Most of the troops made their escape by subterranean passages, and the defenceless city came into the power of the Crusaders. The citizens were stripped almost naked, and their houses given up to pillage, but their lives were spared, with the exception of some fifty who were hanged and four hundred who were burned alive. The viscount had given himself up on promise of safe conduct; but no promises, no oaths were held sacred in these wars of religion, and the perfidious legate seized him, cast him into a dungeon, and there he died a few months later of a broken spirit and the pestilential prison air.

The law of conquest was now to be put in force. The lands of the heretic the Pope was ready to bestow on such as had dutifully done his behest. The legate assembled the principal crusading nobles, that they might choose among them one to act as lord over their conquests. The offer was made, successively, to the Duke of Burgundy, the Count of Nevers, and the Count of S. Pol; but they all three declined, saying scornfully that they had lands enough of their own without taking those of another. They were, perhaps, fearful of the perilous example of setting up the fiefs of France to the hazard of the sword. Simon de Montfort was less scrupulous, or more ambitious, and he took immediate possession of the lands that had been acquired. The Pope wrote to him and confirmed him in the hereditary possession of his new dominions, at the same time expressing to him a hope that, in concert with the legates, he would continue very zealous in the extirpation of the heretics.

From this time forth the war in southern France changed character, or, rather, it assumed a double character; with the war of religion was openly joined a war of conquest; it was no longer merely against the Albigenses and their heresies, it was against the native princes of the south of France, for the sake of their dominions, that the crusade was prosecuted.

If it came within my scope to speak about Toulouse, I should be constrained to tell more of this sanguinary story. I am thankful that I need not prosecute the hateful tale; but so much it was not possible for me to withhold from the reader, as it is with these memories that Carcassonne and Beziers must be visited and looked at.

Carcassonne is a double city, a city on a hill and another on the plain, each ancient, but that below with the modern element leavening it, that above wholly steeped in mediaevalism.

In the lower town are two fine churches, very peculiar in design, forming vast halls without pillars, and with small chancels and apses. There can be no question that they look uncomfortable without pillars, that the choir does not grow out of the church naturally, and is devoid of dignity. These two churches are S. Vincent and S. Michael. The latter is of the thirteenth century, and seems to have formed the pattern upon which the other was built in the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. There is no west portal, but it has a fine rose window. The church is entered by a small door on the north. The other and later church, S. Vincent, has a very fine tower, which has, unfortunately, not been completed. It also has no west door, and is entered by a small portal at the side. These churches have their lateral chapels arranged like those in the cathedral at Munich between the buttresses, and the church is lighted by windows above them. Such buildings make admirable preaching-halls, but as churches are not pleasing internally.

To the east of New Carcassonne flows the river Aude crossed by a bridge, with a quaint little chapel recently restored beside it. From this bridge a view of Old Carcassonne, La Cite, as it is called, bursts on the sight. It stands on a height about 125 ft. above the river, and this height has two peaks, one is occupied by the citadel, the other by the old cathedral of S. Nazaire.

The whole of this Cite is surrounded by its walls and towers, quite as perfect as when originally built, for they have been very carefully restored by M. Viollet-le-Duc. Consequently we have before us a French fortified town of the Middle Ages come down to us unaltered. That it is picturesque is unquestionable, that it is eminently picturesque cannot be allowed. The builders had no concern for making a beautiful picture, they thought only of making an impregnable place. It is precisely this that differentiates it from a score of German fortified towns. The burghers of these latter were resolved to make their towns miracles of beauty as well as strong places. Consequently they varied the shapes of their towers, they capped them quaintly, hardly making two alike. Here, at Carcassonne, every tower, or nearly every tower, resembles its fellow, and all have sugar-loaf caps that irritate the eye with iteration of the same form. The citadel has no character of massiveness, no grand donjon to distinguish it from the rest of the fortifications, and the cathedral has only two mean little donkey's ears of towers that are most ineffective, peeping over the walls of the south-western angle of the town. In looking out for a study for a picture one has to get where some of the sugar-loaf towers are eclipsed, and there is only one point in the whole circumference where a really satisfactory grouping is obtainable, and that is at the angle outside immediately below the cathedral platform to the west, where the one respectable turret of the castle stands up boldly from the rock, and the flanking turrets overlap and hide each other.

Interesting, most interesting is Old Carcassonne, and picturesque in its fashion; the regret one feels is that, with its opportunities, it is not more so. I do not think that M. Viollet-le-Duc's restoration is in fault, but that the original architects had no idea of anything better, were men of mediocre abilities, or cared only to make the defences strong at all costs, and to sacrifice everything else to this one consideration.

But the same fault is inherent in all French castle-building and city-fortification of the Middle Ages. It is picturesque when in ruins. On the other hand, the German castles and fortified towns look their very best when in perfect repair. Let the reader take up Albert Duerer's delightful little engraving of the Hermit, and compare the background of a German walled town and castle on a height with La Cite, Carcassonne, and he will see how vast is the difference in quality of picturesqueness between the two.

The Cite is actually enclosed within double ramparts, and a portion of these dates from the time of the Visigoths. Their walls were composed of cubic blocks of stone, with alternate layers of brick, were double-faced, and filled in with rubble bedded in lime, forming a sort of concrete core. The towers were round outside with flat face to the town, and large round-headed windows which were closed with boards. These in later times were built up. The interior walls and towers are the earliest, and were those besieged by the Crusaders. It was in one of the towers of the castle that the unhappy young viscount died. The outer fortifications were erected by Louis IX. and his son, Philip the Bold. The Visigoth walls were defended by thirty-two towers, of which only one was square. Louis IX. constructed a great barbican below the castle, commanding the bridge over the Aude, but that was destroyed some years ago.

The Cite underwent a second siege in 1240, whilst Louis IX. was on his crusade, and Queen Blanche was regent. Very curious letters exist from Guillaume des Ormes, the seneschal to the regent, describing the siege of Carcassonne by the troops of the viscount; but for these, and for a detailed account of the fortifications, I must refer the reader to M. Viollet-le-Duc's account, in his treatise on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages.

The old town of Carcassonne, crowded within the walls, has very narrow streets and tiny squares; the only open space being before the citadel and the cathedral. This latter has a fine Romanesque nave that was consecrated by Pope Urban II. in 1096, with its west end designed for defence, after the customary manner in the south. It is supported by massive piers, alternately round and square. To this plain nave is added a light and lovely choir with transepts, of the beginning of the fourteenth century. Here the glorious windows are filled with rich old stained glass - barbarously restored. And here, on one side of the high altar may be seen a slab of red marble - rightly blood-red - marking the tomb of the infamous Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, the cruel and remorseless right hand of the Pope, with which this fair region was deluged with blood. He was killed on June 20th, 1218, by a stone flung from the walls of Toulouse, which he had been unsuccessfully besieging for nine months. From the south side of the old Cite a delightful view is obtained of the Pyrenees, snow-clad when I was there in April; but the mountain forms of the chain as it approaches the Mediterranean lose boldness and picturesqueness of outline, as they also dwindle in altitude.