Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Heretics - The Albigensian Crusade III

A Minor Diversion

King John
n the period 1215-7 the focus of the French king and his heir was not on the south of France, but on an expedition under the Dauphin, Louis; an invasion of England in an attempt to supplant
King John in the First Barons War. Louis came at the invitation of the English barons, frustrated by their king’s refusal to abide by the conditions of Magna Carta.

The death of John in October 1216 had much to do with the ability of the new king’s regent, William Marshal, to persuade the barons to renege from their alliance with Louis and swear allegiance to Henry III. In early 1217 Louis decided to return to France to organise reinforcements, but had to fight his way to the coast. Following a series of inconclusive fights and sieges Louis signed the Treaty of Lambeth on 11th September 1217, whereby he accepted that, despite a proclamation to that effect in the summer of 1216, he had never been king of England and gave up all pretensions to ruling the country.

A Change of Cast

Pope Honorius
On 16th July 1216 the author of the war died, and war it was for all the supposed piety of calling the fighting a crusade. His replacement was Honorius III; a compromise candidate; Honorius hoped to spiritually reform the church and institute another crusade to the Holy Lands.
In 1217 Raymond VI returned to Toulouse and de Montfort besieged the town. In the ninth month of the siege de Montfort died on 25th June 1218; his head smashed by a stone thrown from a mangonel on the city walls. His death was greeted with great pleasure by his opponents. The leadership of the crusade was now taken on by Simon’s son Amaury de Montfort. But Amaury was not the leader that his father was and the crusade was to fade away.

On 12th November 1220 Honorius crowned Frederick Hohenstaufen as Holy Roman Emperor[i]; replacing Otto of Brunswick who had been enthroned by Innocent III. When Otto invaded Italy Innocent had him excommunicated.

Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse
Raymond VI died on 2nd August 1222; he was replaced by his son Raymond VII as Count of Toulouse. Raymond VII had been involved in the fighting against the crusaders, active at the siege of Beaucaire in 1216 and the fight to recapture the family’s possessions in Toulouse.
Philip II of France died on 14th July 1223 and was succeeded by his son Louis VIII. Louis now focussed on the crusade against the Cathars in the south. He died just over three years later and was replaced by Louis IX[ii] on 8th November 1226.

Pressing for the Fifth Crusade[iv] Honorius turned to Frederick Hohenstaufen, his former pupil. Frederick had already promised to take the cross, but it was not until August 1227 that Frederick finally departed for Outremer[v].
Pope Gregory IX
Honorius III died on 18th March 1227 and the man chosen to replace him as pope was Gregory IX. Like his cousin Innocent III, Gregory IX was a fervent supporter of the supremacy of Rome and in 1237 instituted the Papal Inquisition to aid the suppression of theologies in conflict with the Catholic Church[iii].
Hunting Heretics
In 1225 Raymond VII was excommunicated by the Council of Bourges. His lands had been scourged by the crusaders, vineyards uprooted and crops burnt on numerous occasions throughout the period of the crusade. There had also been large number of men, women and children killed; many of those left alive had no means of support. Languedoc was weary of war.

Blanche of Castile
On 28th January 1226 Raymond’s sentence of excommunication was confirmed and at the same time Amaury de Montfort sold his rights and titles in Languedoc to the king. By the end of the year Louis VIII was dead and his wife Blanche of Castile was the guardian of their son, then a child of twelve.
Louis VIII had left an army to hold onto his possessions in Languedoc and his widow was determined to protect her son’s inheritance. The Seneschal Humbert de Beaujeu ravaged the Tarn countryside in the summer of 1227 and the following year he attacked the lands of the Count of Foix.

The French were determined to ensure that the lands of Occitan would cease to be able to defend themselves and wreaked deliberate devastation around Toulouse, egged on by the Bishop of the city;
‘The Crusaders heard Mass at dawn………..They began their work of destruction on the vineyards nearest to the town, at an hour that the inhabitants were barely awake; then they would retire in the direction of their camp……still pursuing their work of destruction….till the devastation was more or less complete.’[vi]
Raymond VII was aware of the desperation of his people and this must have been one of the major factors that persuaded him to try and come to terms with the king.

Alphonse as Count of Toulouse
The Treaty of Paris was signed on 12th April 1229 between Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse and Louis IX, through his mother. By its terms Raymond VII formally ended Occitan political autonomy. Half Raymond’s lands were ceded to the French king. His daughter and heir Joan was to marry Louis’s brother Alfonso, who would rule his lands on Raymond VII’s death. Raymond was gratuitously imprisoned for a further six months after the signing of the treaty.
‘In the hope that we shall persevere in our devotion to the church and our loyalty to his person, the king has graciously consented to receive from us our daughter, whom we shall deliver into his care to be given in marriage to one of his brothers.’[vii]
But the fight against the heretics did not end and the Cathars were able to survive, despite the best efforts of the Inquisition. In 1233 the Cathars were given permission to make Montségur the seat of their church. In 1241, in an attempt to impress the Catholic Church with his piety, Raymond VII made an abortive attempt to take Montségur.


On 28th May 1242 two members of the Inquisition were murdered at Avignonet by about fifty men from Montségur. It is believed that Raymond VII gave his approval for the affair, as he was now in revolt against his overlord.
In response an army was sent to raze the citadel. In May 1243 the Seneschal Hugues des Arcis led an army of ten thousand against the fortified town, which had about one hundred fighting men. The town held the perfecti and credentes, many of whom lived in caves and huts outside the walls.

Failing to starve the defenders out; they were supported by many of the local population; the attackers found a position above the town that enabled them to attack the defenders from above. One of the results of this was the overcrowding of the town with those who had formerly lived in the surrounding countryside.
In March 1244 the besiegers, having been shown how to gain access to the barbican, took it and were able to start bombarding the town from there twenty-four hours a day.

‘No rest was given to the besieged, either by day or by night.’[viii]
Failing to dislodge the enemy from the barbican meant that the defenders had little option but to negotiate a surrender.

The End
Shortly before the fall of the fortress at Montségur, the contents of the Cathar treasury disappeared[ix]. It may have been hidden outside the fortress; there are suggestions that it came into the hands of the Knights Templar[x].

‘What was this treasure of the Cathars? How much gold and silver could three perfecti carry? It could not have been monetary…….it had to be something else, something that had been held in Montségur until the very last moment, something that had been essential for the ritual that took place on the vernal equinox, the day before the castle capitulated.’[xi]
After the fall of the fortress about 210 perfecti and credente were burned to death on 16th March 1244. The Cathars never recovered from this setback; some adherents fled to Spain or Italy, where ironically conditions were less oppressive at the time, than in southern France under the sway of the Inquisition.

Gerald of Wales - Robert Bartlett, Tempus Publishing Ltd 2006

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

[i] The Holy Roman Emperor had to be crowned by the pope, otherwise his empire lacked the necessary moral or religious authority
[ii] Later to be canonised as Saint Louis
[iii] In part to root out any remaining Cathars
[iv] Which had been approved by the Lateran Council in 1215
[v] One of the names for the Holy Lands of Jerusalem and the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean
[vi] Montségur - Oldenbourg
[vii] Ibid
[viii] ibid
[ix] Believed to contain documents and relics as well as items of financial value
[x] This cannot be substantiated; Reid mentions a belief that this may have been the head known as Baphomet and described as the head of Christ, allegedly worshipped by the Templars pp305-6.
[xi] The Templars - Reid

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