Albigensian Crusade: We should not Forget, to Ensure, Separation of Church and State

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Albigensian Crusade
Part of the Crusades
Cartes Occitanie.png
Political map of Languedoc on the eve of the Albigensian Crusade
Date 1209–1229
Location LanguedocFrance
Result Crusader and French victory
France Ancient.svg Kingdom of France
Blason Languedoc.svg Counts of Toulouse
Escudo del reino de Aragon.png Crown of Aragon
Commanders and leaders
France Ancient.svg Simon de Montfort
France Ancient.svg Philip II of France
France Ancient.svg Louis VIII of France
Blason Languedoc.svg Raymond Roger Trencavel
Blason Languedoc.svg Raymond VI of Toulouse
Escudo del reino de Aragon.png Peter II of Aragon 

The Albigensian Crusade or Cathar Crusade (1209–1229) was a 20-year military campaign initiated by Pope Innocent III to eliminate Catharism in Languedoc, in the south of France. The Crusade was prosecuted primarily by the French crown and promptly took on a political flavour, resulting in not only a significant reduction in the number of practicing Cathars but also a realignment of Occitania, bringing it into the sphere of the French crown and diminishing the distinct regional culture and high level of Aragonese influence. The Cathars were a medieval Christian sect with a neo-manichaean philosophy. It originated from a reform movement within the Bogomil churches of Dalmatia and Bulgaria calling for a return to the Christian message of perfection, poverty and preaching. They became known as the Albigensians as it gained many adherents in the city of Albi and surrounding area in the twelfth and thirteenth century.[1]

When Innocent III‘s diplomatic attempts to roll back Catharism[2] met with little success and after the murder of the papal legate, Pierre de Castelnau, Innocent III declared a crusade against Languedoc, offering the lands of the Catharheretics to any French nobleman willing to take up arms. The violence led to France’s acquisition of lands with closer linguistic, cultural, and political ties to Catalonia (see Occitan). The pope declared that all Albigenses “should be imprisoned and their property confiscated”.[3]

The Albigensian Crusade also had a role in the creation and institutionalization of both the Dominican Order and the Medieval Inquisition.




By the 12th century, more organized groups such as the Waldensians and Cathars were beginning to appear in the towns and cities of newly urbanized areas. In Western mediterranean France, one of the most urbanized areas of Europe at the time, the Cathars grew to represent a popular mass movement[4] that included religion and politics, and the belief was spreading to other areas. Relatively few believers took the consolamentum to become full Cathars, but the movement attracted many followers and sympathisers.

Accurately understanding both beliefs is problematic as sources rely largely on the records made by the Inquistors written from the perspective of medieaval Christianity.[5] The Cathars are regarded as dualistic, believing in two, equal and comparable transcendental principles; God, the force of good, and Satan, or the demiurge, that of evil. They held that the physical world was evil and created by this demiurge Rex Mundi (Latin, “King of the World”), who encompassed all that was corporeal, chaotic and powerful. Their understanding of God was entirely disincarnate: a being or principle of pure spirit and completely unsullied by the taint of matter. He was the god of love, order and peace. As the physical world and the human body was the creation of the evil principle, sexual abstinence (even in marriage) was encouraged.[6] Civil authority had no claim on a Cathar, since this was the rule of the physical world. The goal of a Cathar was to become perfect. Cathar missionaries would point out examples of clerical immorality and would contrast that behaviour with the uprightness of their own actions. They took special attention to point out the grievances the people of the south received from the French kings, and exalted a local sense of nationalism and independence. Thus, the religious movement moved into the political arena. The Catholic Church was deeply concerned by the spread of Cathar teachings and its developments.

This Pedro Berruguete work of the 15th century depicts a story of Saint Dominic and the Albigensians, in which the texts of each were cast into a fire, but only Saint Dominic’s proved miraculously resistant to the flames.

Deriving from earlier varieties of gnosticism, Cathar theology found its most surprising success in the Languedoc and the Cathars were known as Albigensians, because of an association with the city of Albi, and because the 1176 Church Council which declared the Cathar doctrine heretical was held near Albi.[7][8] In Languedoc, political control was divided among many local lords and town councils.[9] Before the crusade there was little fighting in the area and a fairly sophisticated polity. Western Mediterranean France itself was at that time divided between the Crown of Aragon and the county of Toulouse.

On becoming Pope in 1198, Innocent III resolved to deal with the Cathars. The Cathars did not recognize the authority of the French king or, evidently, the Catholic Church, and so initially a delegation of friars was sent out to assess the situation in the province of Languedoc. The Cathar leadership was protected by powerful nobles,[10] who had clear interest in independence from the king.

The powerful count Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse refused to assist, and openly supported Cathars and their independent movement, so he was excommunicated in May 1207 and an interdict was placed on his lands. The Church senior legate,Pierre de Castelnau, responsible for these actions was murdered by fanatical supporters of Count Raymond of Toulouse, which brought down more penalties on him, and he soon reconciled with the Church. The French king, Philippe II Augustus, decided to act against those nobles who permitted Catharism and undermined the obedience owed to secular authority. The actual crusade lasted only two months, but the internal conflict between the north and the south continued for some twenty years.

Military campaigns

The military campaigns of the Crusade can be divided into several periods: the first from 1209 to 1215 was a series of great successes for the crusaders in Languedoc. There were episodes of extreme violence like the killing of Béziers, when the forces assembled by vassal lords of the Capetian (mainly from Ile de France and the north of France and led by Simon de Montfort), faced the nobility of Toulouse (led by Count Raymond VI of Toulouse) and the family Trencavel that, as allies and vassals of the king of Aragon (Peter II the Catholic), invoked direct involvement in the conflict of the Aragonese monarch – who was defeated and killed in the course of Battle of Muret in 1213.

The captured lands, however, were largely lost between 1215 and 1225 in a series of revolts and military reverses. The death of Simon de Montfort at the site to Toulouse after the return of Count Raymond VII of Toulouse and the consolidation of Occitan resistance supported by the Count of Foix and Aragonese crown forces decided the military intervention of Louis VIII of France from 1226 with the support of Pope Honorius III.

The situation turned again following the intervention of the French king, Louis VIII, in 1226. He died in November of that year, but the struggle continued under King Louis IX and the area was reconquered by 1229; the leading nobles made peace, culminating in the Treaty of Meaux-Paris in 1229, which was agreed the integration of the territory Occitan in the French crown. After 1233, the Inquisition was central to crushing what remained of Catharism. Resistance and occasional revolts continued, but the days of Catharism were numbered. Military action ceased in 1255.

Initial success 1209 to 1215

By mid-1209, around 10,000 crusaders had gathered in Lyon before marching south.[11] In June, Raymond of Toulouse, recognizing the disaster at hand, finally promised to act against the Cathars, and his excommunication was lifted.[12] The crusaders turned towards Montpellier and the lands of Raymond-Roger de Trencavel, aiming for the Cathar communities around Albi and Carcassonne. Like Raymond of Toulouse, Raymond-Roger sought an accommodation with the crusaders, but he was refused a meeting and raced back to Carcassonne to prepare his defences.[13]

Cathars being expelled fromCarcassonne in 1209.

In August 1209 the crusaders captured the small village of Servian and headed for Béziers, arriving on July 21. Under the command of the Papal Legate Arnaud-Amaury[14] they started to invest the city, called the Catholics within to come out, and demanded that the Cathars surrender.[15] Both groups refused. The city fell the following day when an abortive sortie was pursued back through the open gates.[16] The entire population was slaughtered and the city burned to the ground. Contemporary sources give estimates of the number of dead ranging between fifteen and twenty thousand. The latter figure appears in Arnaud-Amaury’s report to the Pope.[17] The news of the disaster quickly spread and afterwards many settlements surrendered without a fight.

The next major target was Carcassonne. The city was well fortified, but vulnerable, and overflowing with refugees.[18] The crusaders arrived on August 1, 1209. The siege did not last long.[19] By August 7 they had cut the city’s water supply. Raymond-Roger sought negotiations but was taken prisoner while under truce, and Carcasonne surrendered on August 15.[20] The people were not killed, but were forced to leave the town — naked according to Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay. “In their shifts and breeches” according to another source[who?]Simon de Montfort now was appointed leader of the Crusader army,[21] and was granted control of the area encompassing Carcassonne, Albi, and Béziers. After the fall of Carcassonne, other towns surrendered without a fight. Albi, CastelnaudaryCastresFanjeauxLimouxLombers and Montréal all fell quickly during the autumn.[22] However, some of the towns that had surrendered later revolted.

The next battle centred around Lastours and the adjacent castle of Cabaret. Attacked in December 1209, Pierre-Roger de Cabaret repulsed the assault.[23] Fighting largely halted over the winter, but fresh crusaders arrived.[24] In March 1210, Bramwas captured after a short siege.[25] In June the well-fortified city of Minerve was invested.[26] It withstood a heavy bombardment, but in late June the main well was destroyed, and on July 22, the city surrendered.[27] The Cathars were given the opportunity to return to Catholicism. Most did. The 140 who refused were burned at the stake.[28] In August the crusade proceeded to the stronghold of Termes.[29] Despite sallies from Pierre-Roger de Cabaret, the siege was solid, and in December the town fell.[30] It was the last action of the year.

When operations resumed in 1211 the actions of Arnaud-Amaury and Simon de Montfort had alienated several important lords, including Raymond de Toulouse,[31] who had been excommunicated again. The crusaders returned in force to Lastours in March and Pierre-Roger de Cabaret soon agreed to surrender. In May the castle of Aimery de Montréal was retaken; he and his senior knights were hanged, and several hundred Cathars were burned.[32] Cassès[33] and Montferrand[34] both fell easily in early June, and the crusaders headed for Toulouse.[35] The town was besieged, but for once the attackers were short of supplies and men, and so Simon de Montfort withdrew before the end of the month.[36] Emboldened, Raymond de Toulouse led a force to attack Montfort at Castelnaudary in September.[37] Montfort broke free from the siege[38] but Castelnaudary fell and the forces of Raymond went on to liberate over thirty towns[39] before the counter-attack ground to a halt at Lastours, in the autumn. The following year much of the province of Toulouse was captured by Catholic forces.[40]

In 1213, forces led by King Peter II of Aragon, came to the aid of Toulouse.[41] The force besieged Muret,[42] but in September Battle of Muret led to the death of King Peter,[43] and his army fled (this battle also marks end of Aragonese foothold north of the Pyrénées). It was a serious blow for the resistance, and in 1214 the situation became worse: Raymond was forced to flee to England,[44] and his lands were given by the Pope to the victorious Philippe II,[citation needed] a stratagem which finally succeeded in interesting the king in the conflict. In November the always active Simon de Montfort entered Périgord[45] and easily captured the castles of Domme[46] and Montfort;[47] he also occupied Castlenaud and destroyed the fortifications of Beynac.[48] In 1215, Castelnaud was recaptured by Montfort,[49] and the crusaders entered Toulouse. Toulouse was gifted to Montfort.[50] In April 1216 he ceded his lands to Philippe.

The yellow cross worn by Cathar repentants.

Revolts and reverses 1216 to 1225

However, Raymond, together with his son, returned to the region in April 1216 and soon raised a substantial force from disaffected towns. Beaucaire was besieged in May and fell after a three-month siege; the efforts of Montfort to relieve the town were repulsed. Montfort had then to put down an uprising in Toulouse before heading west to capture Bigorre, but he was repulsed at Lourdes in December 1216. In September 1217 Raymond re-took Toulouse while Montfort was occupied in the Foix region. Montfort hurried back, but his forces were insufficient to re-take the town before campaigning halted. Montfort renewed the siege in the spring of 1218. While attempting to fend off a sally by the defenders, Montfort was struck and killed by a stone hurled from defensive siege equipment.[51] Popular accounts state that the city’s artillery was operated by the women and girls of Toulouse.[51]

Innocent III died in July 1216; and with Montfort now dead, the crusade was left in temporary disarray. The command passed to the more cautious Philippe II, who was more concerned with Toulouse than heresy. The crusaders had taken Belcaire and besiegedMarmande in late 1218 under Amaury de Montfort, son of the late Simon. While Marmande fell on June 3, 1219, attempts to retake Toulouse failed, and a number of Montfort holds also fell. In 1220, Castelnaudary was re-taken from Montfort. He reinvested the town in July 1220, but it withstood an eight-month siege. In 1221, the success of Raymond and his son continued: Montréal and Fanjeaux were re-taken, and many Catholics were forced to flee. In 1222, Raymond died and was succeeded by his son, also named Raymond. In 1223, Philippe II died and was succeeded by Louis VIII. In 1224, Amaury de Montfort abandoned Carcassonne. The son of Raymond-Roger de Trencavel returned from exile to reclaim the area. Montfort offered his claim to the lands of Languedoc to Louis VIII, who accepted.

French royal intervention

In November 1225, at a Council of BourgesRaymond, like his father, was excommunicated. The council gathered a thousand churchmen to authorize a tax on their annual incomes, the “Albigensian tenth”, to support the Crusade, though permanent reforms intended to fund the papacy in perpetuity foundered.[52] Louis VIII headed the new crusade into the area in June 1226. Fortified towns and castles surrendered without resistance. However, Avignon, nominally under the rule of the German emperor, did resist, and it took a three-month siege to finally force its surrender that September. Louis VIII died in November and was succeeded by the child king Louis IX. But Queen regent Blanche of Castile allowed the crusade to continue under Humbert de BeaujeuLabécèdefell in 1227 and Vareilles in 1228. Systematically, the crusaders while besieging Toulouse laid the surrounding landscape in waste, rooting up vineyards, burning fields and farms, slaughtering livestock.[53] Raymond did not have the manpower to intervene. Eventually, Queen Blanche offered Raymond a treaty: recognizing him as ruler of Toulouse in exchange for his fighting Cathars, returning all Church property, turning over his castles and destroying the defenses of Toulouse. Moreover, Raymond had to marry his daughter Jeanne to Louis’ brother Alphonse, with the couple and their heirs obtaining Toulouse after Raymond’s death, and the inheritance reverting to the king in case they did not have issue, as actually happened. Raymond agreed and signed the Treaty of Paris at Meaux on April 12, 1229. He was then seized, whipped and briefly imprisoned.


The castle of Montségur was razed after 1244. The current fortress follows French military architecture of the 17th century.

The Languedoc now was firmly under the control of the King of France. The Inquisition was established in Toulouse in November 1229, and the surviving elements of Catharism were eliminated from the region, largely due to the infamous inquisitorBernard Gui and his order of Dominicans. Under Pope Gregory IX from 1233 the Dominican Inquisition was given great power to suppress the heresy. The Inquisition proceeded by investigation, always seeking to implicate further heretics by identifying sources[citation needed]. Medieval judicial procedures were developed. The accused, whose guilt was assumed, had no right to see the evidence against them, or their accuser or even know their names. They were not always told what the charges were against them. They had no right to legal counsel, and if exceptionally they were allowed a legal representative then the representative risked being arrested for heresy as well. This does not amount to providing a defence in any sense we would understand the term today. Although the majority found guilty of heresy were given lighter penalties, these were not the die hard Cathars as the latter would not swear fidelity to the Catholic Church holding it as an apostate institution. Eleven percent of offenders faced prison on a first offence of heresy but death on a second offence. Even the incarceration though included being immured in the infamous wall of Carcassonne, the conditions of which were barbaric and often led to death or as some described it a living death. A letter from the Consuls of Carcassonne in 1285 to Jean Galand, an Inquisitor describes it thus:

“Life for them is an agony, and death a relief. Under these constraints they affirm as true what is false, preferring to die once than to be thus tortured multiple times … they accuse not only themselves but also others who are innocent, in order to escape their suffering in any way … those who so confess reveal afterwards that what they have said to the Brother Inquisitors [Dominicans] is not true, but false, and that they have confessed out of fear of the peril of the moment. To some of those [witnesses] that you cite you promise immunity so that they will more freely denounce others without fear”.

However, since most Cathar parfait (male) or parfaites (female) refused to recant and embrace orthodox Catholic doctrine they were burnt to death as a matter of course. And this was specifically as a result of their religious beliefs as judged heretical by the Dominican Inquisition – not due to revolt against the temporal order. The latter resulted in thousands more being executed as at the siege of Béziers in 1209 – 7000 in total amounting to the entire population. Arnaud Amoury, the Cistercian abbot-commander wrote to the Pope:

“Today your Holiness, twenty thousand citizens were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex.”

Any recanting Cathars, (first offenders only) were required to wear two yellow crosses on their clothing for the rest of their lives. Half of a Cathar’s property was seized by the Church. This included the property of the deceased whom the Dominican Inquisition would exhume, try and then burn posthumously for heresy which allowed them to seize assets and property from their heirs.[54] Many still resisted, taking refuge in fortresses at Fenouillèdes and Montségur, or inciting small uprisings. In 1235, the Inquisition was forced out of Albi, Narbonne, and Toulouse. Raymond-Roger de Trencavel led a military campaign in 1240, but was defeated at Carcassonne in October, then besieged at Montréal. He soon surrendered and was exiled to Aragon. In 1242, Raymond of Toulouse attempted to mount a revolt in conjunction with an English invasion, but the English were quickly repulsed and his support evaporated. He was subsequently pardoned by the king.

Cathar strongholds fell one by one. Montségur withstood a nine-month siege before being taken in March 1244. The final hold-out, a small, isolated, overlooked fort at Quéribus, quickly fell in August 1255. The last known burning of a person who professed Cathar beliefs occurred in Corbières, in 1321.[55]


  1. ^ The Voice of Pleasure: Heterosexuality Without Women by Anne Callahan. pgs.31-32 [1]
  2. ^ VC Introduction: The historical background
  3. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 1, page 268
  4. ^ VC §5
  5. ^ The Cathars of Languedoc as Heretics: by Anne Bradford Townsend. Pages 48-49 [2]
  6. ^ The Voice of Pleasure: Heterosexuality Without Women by Anne Callahan. p.32 [3]
  7. ^ Mosheim, Johann Lorenz. Mosheim’s Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern 385 (W. Tegg 1867) [4]
  8. ^ See also the Third Lateran Council, 1179
  9. ^ cf Graham-Leigh
  10. ^ VC §8-9
  11. ^ VC §84
  12. ^ PL §XIII
  13. ^ VC §88
  14. ^ MD Costen (1997-11-15). The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade. Manchester University Press 1997. p. 121. ISBN 0-7190-4331-X.
  15. ^ VC §89
  16. ^ VC §90-91
  17. ^ According to the Cistercian writer Caesar of Heisterbach, Arnaud-Amaury, when asked by a Crusader how to distinguish the Cathars from the Catholics, answered: “Caedite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius” – “Kill them [all]! Surely the Lord discerns which [ones] are his”. On the other hand, the legate’s own statement, in a letter to the Pope in August 1209 (col.139), states:

    while discussions were still going on with the barons about the release of those in the city who were deemed to be Catholics, the servants and other persons of low degree and unarmed attacked the city without waiting for orders from their leaders. To our amazement, crying “to arms, to arms!”, within the space of two or three hours they crossed the ditches and the walls and Béziers was taken. Our men spared no one, irrespective of rank, sex or age, and put to the sword almost 20,000 people. After this great slaughter the whole city was despoiled and burnt, as Divine vengeance miraculously…

  18. ^ VC §92-93
  19. ^ VC §94-96, PL §XIV
  20. ^ VC §98
  21. ^ VC §101
  22. ^ VC §108-113
  23. ^ VC §114
  24. ^ VC §115-140
  25. ^ VC §142
  26. ^ VC §151
  27. ^ VC §154
  28. ^ VC §156
  29. ^ VC §168
  30. ^ VC §169-189
  31. ^ VC §194
  32. ^ VC §215
  33. ^ VC §233 PL §XVII
  34. ^ VC §235
  35. ^ VC §239
  36. ^ VC §243
  37. ^ VC §253-265
  38. ^ VC §273-276, 279
  39. ^ VC §266, 278
  40. ^ VC §286-366, PL §XVOO
  41. ^ VC §367-446
  42. ^ VC §447-484, PL §XX
  43. ^ VC §463, PL §XXI
  44. ^ PL §XXV
  45. ^ VC §528-534
  46. ^ VC §529
  47. ^ VC §530
  48. ^ VC §533-534
  49. ^ VC §569
  50. ^ VC §554-559, 573
  51. a b Paul MEYER, La Chanson de la Croisade Contre les Albigeois Commencée par Guillaume de Tudèle et Continuée par un Poète Anonyme Éditée et Traduite Pour la Societe de L’Histoire de France‘TOME SECOND’, 1879, p 419
  52. ^ Richard Kay, The Council of Bourges, 1225: A Documentary History (Brookfield, Vermont: Ashgate) 2002.
  53. ^ Zoe OldenbourgMassacre at Montsegur. A History of the Albigensian Crusade. (1961). Phoenix, 2006. p. 215. ISBN 1-84212-428-5.
  54. ^ Christopher Tyerman, God’s war: a new history of the Crusades, 2006, p 602
  55. ^ Website of Stephen O’Shea The victim was the Cathar Perfect, William Beliaste.


  • VC: Sibly, W. A. and M. D., translators (1998). The history of the Albigensian Crusade: Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay‘s Historia Albigensis. Woodbridge: Boydell. ISBN 0-85115-807-2
  • CCA: Martin-Chabot, Eugène, editor and translator (1931–1961). La Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise éditée et traduite. Paris: Les Belles Lettres. His occitan text is in the Livre de Poche (Lettres Gothiques) edition, which uses the Gougaud 1984 translation for its better poetic style.
  • PL: Duvernoy, Jean, editor (1976). Guillaume de PuylaurensChronique 1145-1275: Chronica magistri Guillelmi de Podio Laurentii. Paris: CNRS. ISBN 2-910352-06-4. Text and French translation. Reprinted: Toulouse: Le Pérégrinateur, 1996.
  • Sibly, W.A. and Sibly, M.D., translators, The Chronicle of William of Puylaurens: The Albigensian Crusade and its Aftermath, Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge, 2003, ISBN 0-85115-925-7

Further reading

  • Barber, Malcolm (2000). The Cathars: Christian Dualists in the Middle Ages. Harlow.
  • Graham-Leigh, Elaine (2005). The Southern French Nobility and the Albigensian Crusade. Boydell. ISBN 1-84383-129-5.
  • LeRoy Ladurie, Emmanuel (1978). Montaillou, an Occitan Village 1294-1324. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-005471-5.
  • Mann, Judith (2002). The Trail of Gnosis: A Lucid Exploration of Gnostic Traditions. Gnosis Traditions Press. ISBN 1-4348-1432-7.
  • Strayer, Joseph R (1971; reprinted 1992). The Albigensian Crusades. The University of Michigan Press.
  • Sumption, Jonathan (1978). The Albigensian Crusade. London: Faber. ISBN 0-571-11064-9.
  • Weis, René (2001). The Yellow Cross, the Story of the Last Cathars 1290-1329. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-027669-6.
  • Pegg, Mark (2008). A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-517131-0.

External links

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