Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Heretics - The Albigensian Crusade

The Cathars

Raymond of Toulouse
The popularity of a new religion in the south of France in the early years of the thirteenth century, which had the support of the powerful Count of Toulouse, Raymond VI , resulted in Pope Innocent III calling for a crusade against the Cathars, or pure ones as they called themselves. Innocent was determined to crush the Cathars, whose beliefs were declared heretical, in order to maintain the supremacy of the church in Rome.

This offshoot of Christianity had its roots in Albi and origins in Zoroastrian beliefs. The Cathars held that there were two gods, a benevolent one in the spiritual realm and a malevolent one in the physical world. Salvation depended on separating oneself from the flesh. It followed that a church should not enrich itself. Cathars hated the cross, so important to Christians, considering it blasphemous[i], and thought of the Catholic mass as sacrilegious[ii].

Among the Cathars themselves only a few of the believers, known as parfaits[iii] led lives of extreme self-denial. The majority of believers, or credentes, relied upon taking the sacrament of consolamentum[iv] before death. Women parfaits were given the same reverence as male parfaits.
‘Men may invent heresies but it is women who spread them and make them immortal.’[v]
Toulouse had been a stronghold of heretical beliefs for over one hundred years.

Responding to the Threat
The Pope was determined that there was to be no deviation from the teachings of the church. And he was horrified by attacks on the church’s wealth by the rising merchant class in Languedoc, Lombardy and Provence. This wealth was also viewed with antagonism by the nobility[vi] bringing both classes into conflict with the church hierarchy.

The spread of the new religion was also aided by the poverty of ideas in the priesthood and the negligence of that priesthood in succouring their flocks. Contacts with the Moors in Spain produced a climate of tolerance to other religions in Provence and Languedoc.

St Dominic
The Cathars had bishops in Albi, Toulouse, Carcassonne and Agen. Innocent was aware of the problems within the Catholic church in the region and deposed seven bishops. He also sent Dominic Guzman[vii], of Osma Cathedral, to convert the Cathars; Dominic failed in his mission.

Innocent called on the local magnate Raymond VI to take action against the Cathars, he failed to do so, despite a promise in 1205. Innocent had written to Philip II, king of France on 10th March 1204
‘It is your responsibility to harry the Count of Toulouse out of those lands which at present he occupies; to remove this territory from the control of sectarian heretics; and to place it in the hands of true Catholics who will be enabled, under your beneficent rule, to serve Our Lord in all faithfulness.’[viii]

Philip II of France
Determined to overthrow the Catholic church, in 1207 the Cathars in Carcassonne ejected the Catholic bishop from the city. The Papal Legate Peter of Castelnau created a league of barons in the region to hunt down heretics and Raymond was asked to join; this he refused to do.
Following a meeting with Raymond VI, Peter was murdered by one of Raymond’s men on 15th January 1208. Peter had already excommunicated Raymond for failing to join the league and his lands placed under interdict;
‘He who dispossesses you will be accounted virtuous, he who strikes you dead will earn a blessing.’[ix]
The murder gave the Pope a causus belli to act against the heretics in the midst of Christendom, and a war it was most certainly going to be.

Raising the Crusade

Innocent III
On 10th March 1208 Innocent sent forth a call to Christendom asking for help in his fight against the evils of Catharism. The Cathars were accused of unnatural vices[x];
‘These heretics desecrated Communion chalices and asserted that by receiving the Sacred Host one swallowed a devil; they uttered blasphemies against the Saints, declaring that they were all damned.’[xi]
The call was accompanied by the promise of redistribution of the heretics’ property.

Frederick II
The King of France demanded a declaration from the King of England that he would not attack French domains if he joined the crusade. He was also wary of the intentions of the German king, Frederick II, who was allied with Raymond VI. Innocent wanted to use Philip as a secular agent of the church, in an attempt to divert attention away from the fact that this was a war of religion.
‘It is to you that we especially entrust the cause of God’s Holy Church. The army of the faithful that is forming to combat heresy must have a leader to whom its members must owe unquestioning obedience.’[xii]
It may also be possible that Philip was wary of attacking Raymond VI, one of the major French magnates, on his home ground. The fact that Raymond VI was related to the French royal family probably did not enter into his calculations. The kings of France were intent on bringing the whole of France under their control and the Languedoc was, like Normandy before it, semi-autonomous. For Philip the prize would be, not the crushing of the Cathars, but the crushing of the power of the counts of Toulouse and the nobility of the region and bringing it under his direct control.

Franks against Franks
In June 1209 Raymond VI was scourged and became solemnly reconciled with the church in the presence of three archbishops and at least nineteen bishops. The army, that was to descend upon his lands and peoples, was ready to march. Raymond decided to join the invading crusader army, thus protecting his own lands[xiii]. The church had no time to lose[xiv].

The Cathars, these crusaders were about to fight, had taken no precautions since the demand for assistance by Innocent III in March the previous year. There was no agreement amongst the Cathars about how to respond to the threat, apart from offers of submission. They probably did not realise that the war, about to descend upon them, was a war of eradication not conquest. Raymond VI wrote to his nephew Raymond-Roger, the Count of Béziers, begging him
‘Not to make war upon him, not to quarrel with him; let both stay on the defensive.’[xv]
Notwithstanding the centuries old history of strife between the two families.

A Quick Campaign
In early July the crusaders marched towards Languedoc under the leadership of the Papal Legate Arnald-Amalric, Abbot of Cîteaux. Not all the soldiers were crusaders, the church was also employing mercenaries.

In Valence the crusade was joined by Raymond VI and his men and they reached Montpellier by the 20th. They were now just fifteen leagues from Béziers, one of the major cities of the region. The crusaders besieged and sacked the city and massacred the inhabitants.
The will of their opponents was paralysed by the atrocities visited upon the city. The head of the Cathars defending troops was the city’s count. He had not stayed to be caught in the inevitable siege, but hurried to his capital at Carcassonne. When the crusading army arrived outside the walls of Carcassonne Raymond-Roger called upon his liege lord Peter II, the king of Aragon, for assistance.
Arnald-Amalric[xvi] agreed that, as the Viscount was innocent, he and twelve of his knights would be granted safe-conduct out of the city. The remainder of the citizens would be treated as they deserved. The siege commenced. At this point, Raymond-Roger panicked and according to one account offered himself as a hostage, as long as the citizens of Carcassonne were allowed to go free.

Another version says that the Viscount of Béziers, having been given the safe-conduct, was tricked into attending a meeting with the Papal Legate; he said of himself.
‘He had given himself up as a hostage of his own free will, and had been out of his mind to do so.’[xvii]
He was dead by the 10th November, dying in his own dungeons of either poisoning or dysentery. The loss of their commander gave the people of Carcassonne little choice but to surrender. They left their homes and possessions to the rapacity of the crusaders. Within ten days of Raymond-Roger’s death his wife agreed to dispossess her two year old son receiving a lump sum and annuity[xviii].
The Cathars expelled from Carcassonne
It took barely two months to dispossess the Viscount of Béziers and eradicate two of the Cathar strongholds. The crusaders were jubilant.
Mopping up the Pieces
Raymond-Roger’s lands were now hawked around potential leaders of the next phase of the crusade, as Arnald-Amalric looked for a good Catholic to be overlord in the region. As Raymond-Roger had not been found guilty of heresy, the nobles amongst the crusaders were uneasy at this casual dispossession of Raymond-Roger’s son.

‘No-one could fail to feel himself dishonoured by accepting these domains.’[xix]
The Duke of Burgundy, the Count of Nevers and the Count of Saint-Pol are reputed to be among those who turned down the offer from the Papal Legate. Eventually it was a man with few lands of his own[xx] who accepted the task of expanding the terror amongst the remainder of the Cathar infected territories. That man was Simon de Montfort, who was elected Captain-General of the crusaders in 1209.

De Montfort, a friend of Dominic Guzman of Osma[xxi] and himself a devout follower of the church, now set about bribing those he would need to rely in the coming war. He placed garrisons in all the major towns and raised a levy from each household of three deniers as his personal tribute to the pope.
The army, that had brought success to the church’s crusade, now split up to go their separate ways as all the crusaders had fulfilled their forty days service. By September 1209 de Montfort was left with just twenty-six knights to prosecute a war that had only just begun.

Bibliography
Massacre at Montségur – Zoe Oldenbourg, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1989

Saint Louis – Frederick Perry, AMS Press Inc, 1978
The Thirteenth Century – Sir Maurice Powicke, University of Oxford Press 1988

The Templars – Piers Paul Reid, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 2000
The Monks of War – Desmond Seward, the Folio Society 2000

King John – WL Warren, Yale University Press 1997
www.wikipedia.en


[i] The cross depicted suffering divinity
[ii] Because of the claim that the bread became the body of Christ
[iii] Also known as the Bonhommes or perfecti; they did not eat food of animal origin
[iv] Which washed away sin
[v] The Templars - Reid
[vi] Many of whose ancestors had given lands and monies to the church
[vii] Later Saint Dominic, founder of the order of Dominican Monks
[viii] Massacre at Montségur - Oldenbourg
[ix] Ibid
[x] A stock in trade accusation freely bandied about for perceived enemies of the church, including the Templars over a century later.
[xi] Massacre at Montségur - Oldenbourg
[xii] Ibid
[xiii] A crusader’s lands were inviolable
[xiv] Crusaders only had to follow the Cross for forty days of active service
[xv] Massacre at Montségur - Oldenbourg
[xvi] A churchman who appeared to have little sympathy for those not in complete agreement with him
[xvii] Massacre at Montségur - Oldenbourg
[xviii] 25,000 Melguil sous as a lump sum and 3,000 livres annuity
[xix] Ibid
[xx] His lands in Leicester having been seized by King John
[xxi] Who in turn was a friend of Francis of Assisi

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