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1.7 The End of the Cathars

The Cathars were pacifist so it is difficult to understand how they could resist the crusaders. The answer is very simple: the Cathars did not fight. The local knights and Nobles did the fighting because they did not want to submit to the King of France. (e)

As the Cathars grew in strength in the Languedoc, the Vatican began to worry and decided that this heresy could not be tolerated. Not only the future power and credibility of the Roman Catholic Church were threatened but also the whole base of the European feudal system were in danger. The main enemy was Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, brother in law of the King of England and cousin of the King of France. The Pope asked him to keep his vassals in line and to resolve the heretic problem. The Pope Innocent III appointed Peter of Castelnau in 1203 as his Legate in Languedoc. His orders were to purge the Languedoc of the heresy. He organised a league against the Cathars and excommunicated Raymond VI for refusing to joint it. In 1208 a knight killed the Legate as he crossed the Rhone. Raymond VI was thought to be responsible and a crusade was organised for the first time against a group inside Europe or Christendom. (e)

a. The facts

In July 1209 the army commanded by Arnaud-Amaury, the Abbey of Citeaux took Beziers and massacred around 30,000 local people (or 100,000 according to another source). The defence was under the command of Raymond-Roger Trenceval III, Viscount of Beziers and Carcassonne. He tried to negotiate before the battle but he did get anywhere. He also asked in vain the help of his uncle the Count of Toulouse, Raymond VI. On July 21 the invading army, about 20.000 strong, surrounded Beziers. The bishop of Beziers tried again to negotiate. He was asked to give a list of 222 heretics in exchange for stopping the attack. The people -Catholics and Cathars- refused the offer. It was though that the siege would last a long time. However a local skirmish degenerated in full-scale battle and the city was invaded the next day, 22 July 1209. The houses were ransacked, the people killed without distinction of age, sex or religion and the town finally was put to flame. Trenceval retreated to Carcassonne. (e)

When the Pope decided to call a crusade he had first to find its leader. Many nobles refused the Pope’s offer.
Finally the choice fell on an English-French aristocrat, Simon de Montfort who accepted. Simon de Montfort came from a well-known family that controlled many castles in the Ile de France and Normandy. He was also English by his mother and there was known as the Earl of Leicester. His reputation as a good general was well known. He was above all a good strategist. He was also a very religious man. This did not prevent him to be ruthless in battle. (e)

The City of Carcassonne fell within 15 days although it was considered impregnable. Trenceval refused a safe conduct to escape. He was taken prisoner and died in captivity, of dysentery according to the Crusaders. Many people on the other side thought instead that he was murdered. Raymond-Roger’ son, Raymond-Roger VII, led a resistance movement in 1224. He was briefly restored as Viscount of Carcassonne but the town was attacked again and fell a second time. (e)

Simon de Montfort was made Count of Beziers and Carcassonne. He led the crusade until his death. The fall of Carcassonne led other castles to surrender quickly. Minerve fell in 1210. It was the next important stronghold to be taken by Simon de Montfort. The siege began on 20 June 1210 and lasted seven weeks. The defeat can be blamed on hunger and thirst. After it was the turn of Termes, Lavaur and Lastours. (e)

A legend has it that many Parfaits were lowered down from the castle over the cliff. They took the Cathar treasure with them. It is not known if this treasure consisted of gold and silver or of writings and other Catharism documents. A story says that this treasure was hidden in caves near Tarascon.

The fall of Montsegur was the end of organised Catharism in Languedoc. It went on in isolated village and in the mind of some people but it had lost its strength and thread to the Catholic Church. Montsegur remains the symbol of Cathar heresy. The Church and the King of France took the castle. (e)

Simon de Montfort attacked four times the castle of Foix but without success. It is the only castle to remain free of the crusaders. (e)

Puylaurens was attacked and taken by Simon de Montfort in 1209. (e)

Simon de Montfort besieged Toulouse in 1211 and was met by a strong resistance. This attack did not succeed. In 1212 Peter, King of Aragon, came to help Count Raymond VI. He was defeated at the battle of Muret, 20 km from Toulouse in 1213. The Pope delayed the siege of Toulouse until 1218 for political reasons. The Pope excommunicated Raymond VI in 1215 and Simon de Montfort became Count of Toulouse. However Raymond VI and his son went on fighting. A first attack was made in 1216 but was not completely successful even if Simon de Montfort took the castle. But he was forced to leave to fight an uprising in Provence and Raymond VI took back the City in September 1217. Simon de Montfort besieged again the town in October 1217 and the real battle started in 1218. The attackers committed a lot of atrocities. A stone bullet killed Simon de Montfort in June 1218. Simon was succeeded by his son, Amaury de Montfort who retreated to Carcassonne and asked the help of the King Louis of France. They first took Marmande and killed, as usual thousand of innocent people. They then attacked Toulouse again but without success. King Louis VIII launched a second crusade in 1226. He did not attack directly Toulouse but used the technique of burning the ground. Finally Raymond VII was forced to negotiate for peace. He had to submit to the King of France, went to jail for sometime and lost two thirds of his lands. After the death of Raymond VII Toulouse became part of France. Toulouse became with Carcassonne one of the two main centres of the Inquisition. The town people rebelled against it, in particular against the exhumation of corpses of dead heretics who were then burned. In 1234 an appeal was made directly to the Pope based on the reject by the people of Toulouse of the methods used by the Inquisition. The destruction of houses and properties of presumed heretics were not acceptable in the social climate of Languedoc at that time. Moreover the Inquisition conducted its inquiries in great secrecy and did not mention the name of the witnesses. This was against the local laws. In 1234 Raymond VII complained directly to the Pope under the influence of his people. He accused the Inquisition to use illegal procedures. Finally the Inquisition was suspended in 1238. (e)

The King of France joined the crusade and Simon de Montfort became Count of Toulouse, Duke of Narbone and Viscount of Beziers and Carcassonne.

By the beginning of 1240 most Cathars leaders took refuge at Montsegur as the crusaders had taken most of the other castles. The excuse to attack Montsegur was the assassination of two Inquisitors at Avignonet that, according to the crusaders, was done by troops of Montsegur. The final decision to attack it was taken at the Council of Beziers in April 1243. The siege started one month later and lasted ten months, longer that anywhere else with the exception of Toulouse. The defenders were hoping to hold the long summer and to collect the needed water in the winter. They were also convinced that the attackers would lift the siege during the long cold winter months. Communications with the outside world went on during the siege. However it was easier for the crusaders to change their troops and bring the needed supplies.

The Montsegur castle was under siege since May 1243. Two hundred soldiers were defending it under the leadership of Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix. In addition there was the Cathar community composed of 180 men and women under the spiritual guidance of Bertrand Marti. Moreover there were the wives and girl friends of the soldiers. The Crusaders, against all expectations, went on fighting during the winter. They moved their bases closer and closer to the castle and were able to send big gun pellets on the defences. From January 1244 the defeat was obvious. The defenders counter attacked at the end of February but without success. The soldiers and the Cathars agree to ask for negotiation and it is granted under good conditions for the soldiers after a strong intervention of the count of Toulouse. The castle was then left to the Cathars for a period of 15 days, that means until March 16. At that date the soldiers and their family were allowed to leave after confession. They were hardly punished. The Parfaits had the choice between adjuring their religion and being burned at the stake. All the Cathars chose to die as well as some soldiers and members of their family who received first the Consolamentum. On the morning of March 16, after a religious service, 205 Cathars, men and women, walked to their horrible death singing. They were burned together in a field nearby known at the present time as “Le Champs des Crémats”. The catholic priests among the crusaders were singing too: a Te Deum of shame. From that day Montsegur became the symbol of oppression. (a)

Montsegur was the last major defeat for the Cathars but Queribus was the last to fall in 1260. No, Cathars perished here. They escaped to Aragon. (e)

b. The story of the Albigean crusades

Many princes who were quite independent from the central power of the King of France ran the Languedoc. Among the more important we will mention Raymond VI de St Gilles mainly to the West, Pierre II of Aragon at the East and Trencavel, Viscount of Beziers in between. To the North the King of France, Philip August tried to enlarge his kingdom. In addition the Pope Innocent III was afraid of the Cathar heresy. Agen, Albi, Carcassonne and Toulouse were the four more important centres of the Cathar religion. Some local knights helped the heretics as they had imposed themselves by the good work of the Parfaits. These were not very numerous, one thousand at the most. But even if only about 10 to 15 % of the population were real Cathars, the large majority of the inhabitants supported them. The Pope Innocent III saw in it a risk for the unity of the Christian world. Starting in 1206 the Canon Dominique Guzman (the future St Dominic) started to preach against the heresy in all the Languedoc but he was not very successful. At the beginning of the 13th century the Pope Innocent III nominated two legates -Pierre de Castelnau and Brother Raoul, both monks of the Abbey of Fontfroide- to reform the local clergy and fight the heresy. Pierre de Castelnau was assassinated in 1208 near St Gilles. The Pope reacted immediately and accused the count of Toulouse, Raymond VI de St Gilles to have ordered the murder and he excommunicated him. He also preached a crusade against the Cathars in the Catholic world. This was considered to be a saint war. The soldiers who would die fighting would have their sins redeemed and be insured to go to Paradise. What is more the land of the knights known to have been heretics would be given to the first one who would conquer them. Philip August saw this as interference in his rights and refused to join the crusade but he authorised his vassals to decide to join or not. Most of the crusaders were northern knights who were expecting to win some more land. Many mercenary soldiers as well as the usual bandits who joined these kinds of expeditions for the pleasure of stealing and killing accompanied them. Arnaud Amaury, abbot of Citeaux and the Pope Legate, was the religious head of this expedition. The crusaders went south following the Rhone valley. Raymond VI of Toulouse foresaw what was coming and joined the crusade. Trencavel wanted to do the same but the crusaders refused him. On 21 of July 1209 the crusaders arrived at Beziers while Trencavel was in Carcassonne. The population refused to hand over the Cathars and the siege began. It was though that it would last a long time but the first attack succeeded. The crusaders killed all the people, Cathars and Catholics alike. Arnaud Amaury is credited with saying: “Tuez les Tous! Dieu reconnaitra les siens”? Beziers was supposed to be an example. The crusaders thought that the other towns would surrender without fight and abandon them without damage. At the beginning of August 1209, the crusaders were in front of Carcassonne. Trencavel had organised the defence. The crusaders attacked from the North and took the water reservoirs. The defenders suffered a lot during the hot summer. Trencavel tried to negotiate but he was taken prisoner and died in jail on the 10 November 1209. The story said that he was poisoned. He was 24 years old. Carcassonne was soon taken and the inhabitants who were not killed had to flee leaving all their possessions. Raymond VI of Toulouse assisted to these sieges as spectator among the crusaders. Most knights refused to take Trencavel land for not creating a precedent. Finally a little known knight of “Ile de France”, Simon de Montfort, accepted the land and the title of the Viscount of Carcassonne. Simon de Montfort now at the head of the crusaders attacked and took Montreal, Fanjeaux (where he met St Dominic), Limoux, Castres (where the first Cathars were burn at the stake), Cabaret (that he did not succeed to take), Mirepoix, Pamiers, Saverdun, Lombers and Albi. In the spring of 1210 he also took Alzonne. Bram resisted 3 days but was defeated. At that point he ordered to torture in a horrible way 100 prisoners and let them go, led by a soldier who had been spared one eye, to induce Cabaret to surrender. Cabaret decided to continue the fight. (l)

The fortresses fall

In June 1210 Simon de Montfort began the siege of Minerve defended by well-prepared troops under Guillaume de Minerve. Here again it is the lack of drinking water that leads to the surrender after six weeks of hard fighting. One hundred and forty Cathars who refused to renounce to the beliefs were burned at the stake. In fact the story says that they walked themselves into the flames. Simon de Montfort next attacked the big fortress of Termes. He succeeded to take it after four months of fighting. Raymond de Termes headed the garrison. Here again the surrender was linked to the lack of water. Termes fell when many men suffered from dysentery. Puivert was taken after 3 days. After the fall of Termes and Puivert the knight Pierre Roger de Cabaret renounced to fight at Lastours and gave his castles to the crusaders in the spring of 1211. Simon de Montfort was now ready to attack the counts of Toulouse and Foix, the most powerful of his enemies. The crusaders arrived before Lavaur in the spring of 1211. It was a hard fight but on 3 May the crusaders entered into the town. The inhabitants suffered a lot. Eighty had their throat cut as the gallows collapsed under the weight of Aymeri de Montreal. Dame Guiraude was thrown in a deep well filled later with stones. Three or four hundred Cathars were burned at the stake, the largest single number of the whole crusade. Sixty more Cathars were burned a few days later at Cassés. Simon de Montfort then attacked Toulouse but he was thrown back under the joint defence of Raymond VI and the count of Foix, Roger Bernard who decided to join their forces after the fall of Lavaur. This was the first coalition between the knights of the South of France. The main battle was fought in September 1211 at Castelnaudary. Both camps said that they won but the southern coalition was frail and did not survive this battle. In September 1213 Simon de Montfort attacked the castle of Muret. It was a long siege and the crusaders did not receive anymore the replacement they badly needed. Pierre II, king of Aragon and Count of Barcelona afraid of loosing lands joined the fight on the side of Raymond VI. The fight started on September 12,1213 and during the violent attacks, Pierre II was killed. Raymond VI went back to Toulouse. Simon de Montfort had won again. As a result of the disaster of Muret the South collapsed. Foix, Narbonne and Comminges fell and the crusaders entered into Toulouse. Raymond VI and his son, the future Raymond VII, went to exile in England. In July 1216 the Pope Innocent III died. Raymond VII renewed fighting and the population of Toulouse threw the crusaders out. On 17 September 1217 Raymond VI came back to Toulouse. Simon de Montfort started a second siege in 1218. After a few months of hard fighting a stone hit Simon de Montfort’s head and he died. His son, Amaury, took over from his father but he had to lift the siege. The crusade suffered a hard blow from this death and the southern knights took back part of their lands. Amaury de Montfort gave all the lands his father had conquered to the King of France. He left definitely Carcassonne on 15 January 1224 taking the corpse of his father with him. The Albigean crusade was fading away and the Cathar faith was growing in importance. (l)

The King’s crusade

Philip August refused to participate personally in the crusade. His son Louis VIII had not the same mental restrictions. He organised his own crusade to fight his enemy Raymond VII. When his crusade arrived in Languedoc most towns submitted to the King including Carcassonne. Toulouse, Foix, Narbonne and Fenouillèdes remained independent. After Louis VIII’s death his wife, Blanche de Castille, went on to lead the fight. In 1229 Raymond VII met Blanche de Castille at Meaux and he surrounded to the Queen and the Church accepting all their conditions. He even joined the fighting against the Cathars. In order to insure the respects of the clauses of the Treaty of Meaux, the Pope Gregory IX created the Inquisition in 1233. The Courts of law were under the responsibility of the Dominican monks, an Order created by St Dominic. Their duty was to find and condemn the heretics. The normal punishment was the stake. This was already used before but without legal base. (l)

The Cathar resistance

A resistance movement gets underway around the big fortresses as Montsegur and Queribus. At Montsegur the Cathars asked Raymond de Pereille to organise his castle to serve as a refuge for purchased Cathars. The Cathars fled to the castles of Puilaurens, Queribus and Peyrepertuse that were assumed to be safe. The Parfaits, as Guilhabert de Castres, still went out to give the Consolamentum to dying people. In 1240 the young Viscount Raymond de Trencavel, son of Raymond Roger de Trencavel, assembles a new army and tried to take back his old lands. He had some success but he failed with Carcassonne and fled to Montreal then to Aragon. On 16 November 1240 Guillaume de Peyrepertus surrender his fortress to the King of France. The Inquisition was still ruthless and in 1242 soldiers coming from Montsegur assassinated two Great Inquisitors in Avignonet. Blanche de Castille and Louis IX attacked again Languedoc. The Count of Toulouse, Raymond VII, was attacked. In January 1243 he had to ask for the King’s pardon and to swear to submit to him in the future. The Inquisition wanted revenge and it was decided to take Montsegur. In the spring of 1243 the King’s army was before Montsegur. It was assumed that the 400 or 500 defenders were safe but treason helped the crusaders to climb in the fortress at night. The fortress was taken on 2 March 1244. The heretics who refused to confess were burned at the stake. Those who agreed to confess their fault were set free. The Parfaits were burned on 16 March 1244 on the mountain slopes. Queribus and Puilaurens fell to the king’s army in 1255.

The Albigean crusade started as a religious war and finished as a political conquest. The king of France saw his domain of influence to increase. In 1249 Raymond VII died without male children and his land went to his daughter married to Louis IX’s brother, Alphonse de Poitier. They died without children in 1271 and the Languedoc became part of France. At the beginning of the 14th century the heresy died in Languedoc. The last Parfait, Guillaume Belibaste, was burned to death in Villerouge-Termenès in 1321. We are left with the ruins of the Cathar castles, symbols of a certain idea of perfection and freedom. (l)