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Albigensian Crusade


The Albigensian Crusade was directed against Christian heretics in southern France. It was a bitter conflict that had the characteristics partly of a civil war, partly of a persecution, and partly of an invasion. It lasted for twenty years and had repercussions that lasted for far longer. Even though the Albigensian Crusade had little to do with the crusades to the Holy Land, which is the focus of our course, it had an important impact on the theory of crusading and the role of the Church in calling and directing crusades, so it is worth a closer look.

The Cathari

The heretics called themselves Christians, arguing that they were the only true practitioners of the faith. To others, however, they were known as Cathars, a word whose origin is not clear. The crusade against them is called the Albigensian because the town of Albi was one of the centers of the movement.

Characteristics of the heresy


  • The spiritual realm was the realm of heaven, the realm of God
  • The temporal realm was the realm of Satan and the flesh
  • The real heresy, though, was that the Cathars believed both worlds and both powers to be co-equal


  • Denied the priesthood
  • Denied the sacraments
  • Denied the Nicene trinity. They believed that God created Christ and the Holy Ghost, and that Jesus was never truly man.
  • Believed in the possibility of personal salvation
  • Apostolic poverty
    • no oaths
    • simplicity of life
  • No resurrection
  • No Purgatory
  • Prayer was ineffective and the veneration of images was useless
  • One of the worst sins was to perpetuate the world of the flesh
  • Abstain from sex
  • Refrain from eating sexually produced foods -- meat

The Cathar Church

  • Had its own bishops and deacons
  • Had its own liturgy
  • consolamentum: the laying on of hands to pass spiritual power and authority
  • Had itinerant preachers who preached in "safe homes"
  • The body of believers was divided into
    • credentes - those who believed in the Cathar tenets but who were still in the world of the flesh
    • perfecti - the perfected ones (that is, the completed ones), who were spiritually pure and one their way to heaven

Development of the Church

  • Very hazy, because the records were suppressed
  • Took hold in the 11th century in southern France
  • Spread vigorously in the 12th century
  • Was anathematized at the Third Lateran Council, 1179
  • In 1184 the pope and emperor agreed to use the State to root out heresy


Origins of the Crusade

Raymond VI of Toulouse, 1194-1212

Toulouse regarded itself as virtually independent of the crown, as did most of the other southern French provinces. Indeed, the very word "French" to these southerners meant northern France. The south was called Provence or Languedoc.

Raymond ruled a wealthy county, but his authority within his territory was weak, and many of his vassals went their own way. These lesser barons were insulated from the king and from the local count, and defended their independence jealously. As the storm blew up around the Cathars, Raymond was caught in the middle between local traditions and an ambitious papacy. He was also weak in character, indecisive or unconvincing at critical points--traits not well-suited to the circumstances. Mostly, though, he was overwhelmed by events.

Innocent III, 1198-1216

Greatest of all the medieval popes

  • Recognized the Franciscans and the Dominicans, so he was not averse to innovation and reform
  • Preached crusades several times
  • A lawyer, with a legist's mind; ambitious, with a high opinion of the powers of the papacy

A crisis develops

  • 1199 Innocent appointed legates to root out heresy in Languedoc
  • It didn't work. In 1204 he sent in Arnold Amalric, the abbot of the prestigious abbey of Cîteaux
  • In 1206, St. Dominic was there. He learned preaching techniques from the Cathars that he used when he founded his own order.
  • In 1207 Innocent asked King Philip II to eradicate the heresy
    • Philip was concerned only with royal power and did not see how this effort would extend his authority but only how it would drain his treasury
    • His support was never more than lukewarm
    • Plus, he was locked in his struggle with England, which culminated in the Battle of Bouvines in 1214.
  • In January 1208, Peter of Castlenau was assassinated
    • It was widely believed that Raymond engineered this
    • He protected the murderer, claiming the Church had no right to prosecute
    • May 1208, Raymond was excommunicated
    • Innocent called a crusade

Course of the Crusade

The crusading bull

  • Those who went were promised the lands of the conquered

Raymond leads the crusade

  • Many knights from all over joined the land rush
  • Raymond saw that his only hope of preserving his county was to try to take charge of the crusade himself
  • Arnold Amalric, convinced Raymond is a heretic, imposed severe conditions
  • Raymond finally agreed to this and was publicly reconciled to the Church in June 1209 at St. Gilles

Short overview: six phases

  • 1209-1211: conquest of all the Trencavel lands
  • 1211-1213: conquest of the Toulousain
  • 1213: Peter of Aragon and the Battle of Muret
  • 1213-1215: Simon of Montfort. Resistance collapses
  • 1215-1225: the counter-attack of the southerners
  • 1225-1229: conquest by Louis VIII

Phase One

A large crusading army assembled July 1209. Its first target was Bèziers. Raymond-Roger Trencavel, one of the leaders of the resistance, fortifies Carcassonne

Mass slaughter at Bèziers ends only when the fire drives the crusaders out. When the crusaders asked Arnold-Aimery whom to kill, he said "Kill them all. God will know his own."

Terror seizes the land. Narbonne submits, and the army passes through a series of empty, abandoned towns.

Carcassonne was invested in August. The city submitted after a short, brutal siege. The citizens leave, "taking nothing with them but their sins."

The conquered lands were given to Simon of Montfort. At the end of 40 days, the bulk of the army goes home. Simon is left with a few mercenaries in a hostile land. Simon is able, ambitious, zealous and unscrupulous.

Phase Two

Raymond is consistently closed out by the legates, being led on only to have outrageous demands made. He finally decides he'll have to fight. Throughout, towns and castles submitted to Simon only to go over to Raymond again after the levy returned home. Simon conquered the Toulousain, leaving Raymond isolated in Toulouse

Phase Three

Peter of Aragon, King of Aragon, was also suzerain of some lands in France. He was trying to preserve and extend his holding without looking like a heretic or a supporter of heretics. Simon's conquests endangered Peter's interests. His attempts at conciliation were rebuffed, so he threw in with Raymond.

The two invest Muret, twelve miles south of Toulouse. Raymond advises caution, Peter wants to attack, so Raymond refused to participate.

12 September 1213, Battle of Muret. Peter attacks with knights alone, leaving the Toulousain militia still assaulting the walls of the city. The crusaders caught the allies unprepared; Simon flanks them. Peter, dressed in ordinary armor, is killed because no one recognized him. Then, Simon falls upon the unsuspecting foot, slaughtering them.

Aragon is eliminated as a factor. It was the only major power that could oppose the French crusaders.

Phase Four

Simon now systematically destroys all that he cannot garrison, because he doesn't have enough men to hold all the towns and castles he has captured. He continued to appeal to France for help.

In 1215 Prince Louis VIII fulfilled his crusading vow. He marched around Languedoc, tearing down the walls of Narbonne and Toulouse, then went home.

December 1215 Raymond is formally deprived of his lands, most of which were given to Simon. Raymond's son, Raymond VII, got Provence.

In 1216 Philip Augustus confirmed Raymond VII's rights

Phase Five

At Beaucaire in 1216, near Avignon, Raymond VI triumphs, holding off Simon. Town after town now goes over the Raymond.

Siege of Toulouse. Simon re-takes the city, imposing harsh conditions, but Toulouse goes over to Raymond again in 1217. Simon lays siege to the city again. Exceptionally brutal, with few prisoners taken.

25 June 1218, in a sharp battle, Simon is killed. Amalric, his 26 year old son, succeeded, but he lacked his father's abilities and charisma. Amalric lifts the siege and retires to Carcassonne. Much of the Midi now falls to the southerners, especially to Raymond VII.

Raymond VI died in 1222, but the resistance does not falter. Amalric, desperate and uncertain, tries to turn his lands over to Philip, but the king refuses. Raymond VII, too, tries to be reconciled, but the legates and new bishops maneuvered against him.

Late in 1225, Raymond VII was deprived of his lands and excommunicated as a heretic. Pope Honorius III calls a new crusade.

Phase Six

Louis VIII takes command of the new crusade. Avignon fell in September 1226 after a three-month siege. This led to Provence declaring for the king. Eastern Languedoc and Quercy and others follow suit.

This left Toulouse. The king proceeded methodically. Louis died 8 November 1226. The Midi is tired of war. The Crusade is now conducted systematically by Humbert of Beaujeu.


Peace of Paris - 12 April 1229

Raymond is reconciled. Swears loyalty to the king (Louis IX, 12 years old); to obey the Church; to dismiss his mercenaries; to do five years of fighting for the Church as penance; to grant amnesty to his enemies. He received most of the pre-Crusade comtal lands, except Toulouse itself and lands west of the Rhône and south of the Tarn. He lost Provence but regained it later. Was required to destroy 30 fortified points and to reduce Foix. Paid a huge indemnity of 20,000 marks.

This treaty brings Toulouse and much of the south under the crown for the very first time, a notable expansion of French royal control.



What happened to the major players

  • Simon of Montfort was killed in battle. Amalric, his son, died at Otranto, having been the Constable of France, a crusader along with Tibald of Champagne, and a captive in Cairo.
  • Arnald-Aimery died bitter and disillusioned.
  • Innocent III was stripped naked after he died.
  • Raymond VI died and was buried in unconsecrated ground.
  • Raymond VII fought to evade the treaty but failed. The House of St. Gilles was forever reduced to minor status.
  • Peter of Castlenau was the first of thousands of martyrs on both sides. At the height of the Crusade, hundred were being burned at the stake at a time.

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Copyright 1999, Ellis L. Knox This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.