Albigensian Crusade

Albigensian Crusade
Part of the Crusades

Political map of Languedoc on the eve
of the Albigensian Crusade
LocationLanguedoc, France
Result Crusader victory

Papal States

Kingdom of France

County of Toulouse

Crown of Aragon
Commanders and leaders

Simon de Montfort
Amaury VI of Montfort
Philip II of France

Louis VIII of France

Raymond Roger Trencavel
Raymond VI of Toulouse
Raymond VII of Toulouse

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 practising Cathars, but also a realignment of the County of Toulouse, bringing it into the sphere of the French crown and diminishing the distinct regional culture and high level of influence of the Counts of Barcelona.

The medieval Christian radical sect of the Cathars, against whom the crusade was directed, originated from an anti-materialist reform movement within the Bogomil churches of Dalmatia and Bulgaria calling for a return to the Christian message of perfection, poverty and preaching, combined with a rejection of the physical to the point of starvation. The reforms were a reaction against the often scandalous and dissolute lifestyles of the Catholic clergy in southern France. Their theology was basically dualist.[1] Several of their practices, especially their belief in the inherent evil of the physical world, which conflicted with the doctrines of the Incarnation of Christ and transubstantiation, brought them the ire of the Catholic establishment. They became known as the Albigensians, because there were many adherents in the city of Albi and the surrounding area in the 12th and 13th centuries.[2]

Between 1022 and 1163, they were condemned by eight local church councils, the last of which, held at Tours, declared that all Albigenses "should be imprisoned and their property confiscated," and by the Third Lateran Council of 1179.[3] Innocent III's diplomatic attempts to roll back Catharism[4] met with little success. After the murder of his legate, Pierre de Castelnau, in 1208, Innocent III declared a crusade against the Cathars. He offered the lands of the Cathar heretics to any French nobleman willing to take up arms. After initial successes, the French barons faced a general uprising in Languedoc which led to the intervention of the French royal army.

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, organized groups of dissidents, 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,[5] 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.

The theology of the Cathars was dualistic, a belief in two equal and comparable transcendental principles; God, the force of good, and Satan, or the demiurge, the force of evil. They held that the physical world was evil and created by this demiurge, which they called Rex Mundi (Latin, "King of the World"). Rex Mundi encompassed all that was corporeal, chaotic and powerful. The Cathar understanding of God was entirely disincarnate: they viewed God as a being or principle of pure spirit and completely unsullied by the taint of matter. He was the God of love, order and peace. Jesus was an angel with only a phantom body, and the accounts of him in the New Testament were to be understood allegorically. As the physical world and the human body were the creation of the evil principle, sexual abstinence (even in marriage) was encouraged.[1][6][7][8] Civil authority had no claim on a Cathar, since this was the rule of the physical world.

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 greatest success in the Languedoc. The Cathars were known as Albigensians because of their association with the city of Albi, and because the 1176 Church Council which declared the Cathar doctrine heretical was held near Albi.[9][10] In Languedoc, political control was divided among many local lords and town councils.[11] 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 and sent a delegation of friars to the province of Languedoc to assess the situation. The Cathars of Languedoc were seen as not showing proper respect for the authority of the French king or the local Catholic Church, and their leaders were being protected by powerful nobles,[12] who had clear interest in independence from the king.

One of the most powerful, Count Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse openly supported the Cathars and their independence movement. He refused to assist the delegation. He was excommunicated in May 1207 and an interdict was placed on his lands. The senior papal legate, Pierre de Castelnau, seen as responsible for these actions, was killed and his death was attributed to supporters of the count.[3] This brought down more penalties on Count Raymond, but he soon agreed to reconcile with the Church and the excommunication was lifted. At the Council of Avignon (1209) Raymond was again excommunicated for not fulfilling the conditions of ecclesiastical reconciliation.[3] King Philip II of France decided to act against those nobles who permitted Catharism within their lands and undermined secular authority. Though the actual crusade lasted only two months, the internal conflict between the north and the south of France continued for some twenty years.

Military campaigns

The military campaigns of the crusade may be divided into several periods. The first, from 1209 to 1215, contained a series of great successes for the crusaders in Languedoc, with episodes of extreme violence such as the slaughter of the population of Béziers. The forces assembled mainly from the Ile de France and the north of France, led by Simon de Montfort, faced the nobility of Toulouse, led by Count Raymond VI of Toulouse and the Trencavel family that, as allies and vassals of the Crown of Aragon, sought help from King Peter II of Aragon. Peter II was killed in the course of the Battle of Muret in 1213.[13]

The captured lands were largely lost between 1215 and 1225 in a series of revolts and military reverses. The death of Simon de Montfort at Toulouse after the return of Count Raymond VII of Toulouse and the consolidation of Albigensian resistance supported by the forces of the Count of Foix and the Crown of Aragon, resulted in 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, by the terms of which it was agreed that the County of Toulouse would be integrated into 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.[14] In June, Raymond of Toulouse, recognizing the disaster at hand, finally promised to act against the Cathars, and his excommunication was lifted.[15] 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.[16]

Cathars being expelled from Carcassonne in 1209.

Massacre at Béziers

The crusaders captured the small village of Servian and then headed for Béziers, arriving on 21 July 1209. Under the command of the papal legate, Arnaud-Amaury,[17] they started to besiege the city, calling on the Catholics within to come out, and demanding that the Cathars surrender.[18] Both groups refused. The city fell the following day when an abortive sortie was pursued back through the open gates.[19] The entire population was slaughtered and the city burned to the ground. Contemporary sources give estimates of the number of dead ranging between 15,000 and 20,000. The latter figure appears in Arnaud-Amaury's report to the pope.[20] The news of the disaster quickly spread and afterwards many settlements surrendered without a fight.

Fall of Carcassonne

Carcassonne, préfecture of the department traversed by the Aude river.

The next major target was Carcassonne. The city was well fortified, but vulnerable, and overflowing with refugees.[21] The crusaders arrived on 1 August 1209. The siege did not last long.[22] By 7 August they had cut the city's water supply. Raymond-Roger sought negotiations but was taken prisoner while under truce, and Carcasonne surrendered on 15 August.[23] 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 . Simon de Montfort was then appointed leader of the crusader army,[24] and was granted control of the area encompassing Carcassonne, Albi, and Béziers. After the fall of Carcassonne, other towns surrendered without a fight: Albi, Castelnaudary, Castres, Fanjeaux, Limoux, Lombers and Montréal all fell quickly during the autumn.[25] However, some of the towns that had surrendered later revolted.

Lastours and the castle of Cabaret

The next battle centred around Lastours and the adjacent castle of Cabaret. Attacked in December 1209, Pierre Roger de Cabaret repulsed the assault.[26] Fighting largely halted over the winter, but fresh crusaders arrived.[27] In March 1210, Bram was captured after a short siege.[28] In June the well-fortified city of Minerve was besieged.[29] It withstood a heavy bombardment, but in late June the main well was destroyed and on July 22, the city surrendered.[30] The Cathars were given the opportunity to convert to Catholicism. Most did. The 140 who refused were burned at the stake.[31] In August the crusade proceeded to the stronghold of Termes.[32] Despite sallies from Pierre-Roger de Cabaret, the siege was solid, and in December the town fell.[33] It was the last action of the year.

By the time operations resumed in 1211, the actions of Arnaud-Amaury and Simon de Montfort had alienated several important lords, including Raymond de Toulouse,[34] 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.[35] Cassès[36] and Montferrand[37] both fell easily in early June and the crusaders headed for Toulouse.[38] The town was besieged, but for once the attackers were short of supplies and men, and Simon de Montfort withdrew before the end of the month.[39] Emboldened, Raymond de Toulouse led a force to attack Montfort at Castelnaudary in September.[40] Montfort broke free from the siege[41] but Castelnaudary fell and Raymond's forces went on to liberate over thirty towns[42] 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.[43]


In 1213, forces led by King Peter II of Aragon, came to the aid of Toulouse.[44] The force besieged Muret,[45] but in September the Battle of Muret led to the death of King Peter,[46] and his army fled (this battle also marks the end of Catalan influence north of the Pyrenees and the definitive separation of the two geographical areas, Languedoc and Catalonia).

It was a serious blow for the resistance, and in 1214 the situation became worse: Raymond was forced to flee to England,[47] and his lands were given by the pope to the victorious Philip II, a stratagem which finally succeeded in interesting the king in the conflict. In November the always active Simon de Montfort entered Périgord[48] and easily captured the castles of Domme[49] and Montfort;[50] he also occupied Castlenaud and destroyed the fortifications of Beynac.[51] In 1215, Castelnaud was recaptured by Montfort,[52] and the crusaders entered Toulouse. Toulouse was gifted to Montfort.[53] In April 1216 he ceded his lands to Philip.

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 three months; the efforts of Montfort to relieve the town were repulsed. Montfort then had 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 retook Toulouse while Montfort was occupied in the Foix region. Montfort hurried back, but his forces were insufficient to retake 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, which allegedly, was operated by some women and girls from the town. [54] Popular accounts state that the city's artillery was operated by the women and girls of Toulouse.[54]

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 besieged Marmande 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 retaken from Montfort. He again besieged the town in July 1220, but it withstood an eight-month assault. In 1221, the success of Raymond and his son continued: Montréal and Fanjeaux were retaken and many Catholics were forced to flee. In 1222, Raymond died and was succeeded by his son, also named Raymond. In 1223, Philip 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 Bourges, Raymond, 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.[55] 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 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 V de Beaujeu. Labécède fell in 1227 and Vareilles in 1228. While besieging Toulouse, the crusaders systematically laid waste to the surrounding landscape: uprooting vineyards, burning fields and farms, slaughtering livestock.[56] 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 the 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 the event that they did not have issue, as eventually proved to be the case. Raymond agreed and signed the Treaty of Paris at Meaux on April 12, 1229. He was then seized, whipped and briefly imprisoned.

After 1229

The Inquisition was established in 1234 to uproot the remaining Cathars.[57] Operating in the south at Toulouse, Albi, Carcassonne and other towns during the whole of the 13th century, and a great part of the 14th, it succeeded in crushing Catharism as a popular movement and driving its remaining adherents underground.[57] Punishments for Cathars who refused to recant ranged from cross wearing and pilgrimage to imprisonment and burning.

From May 1243 to March 1244, the Cathar fortress of Montségur was besieged by the troops of the seneschal of Carcassonne and the archbishop of Narbonne.[58] On 16 March 1244, a large and symbolically important massacre took place, where over 200 Cathar Perfects were burnt in an enormous pyre at the prat dels cremats ("field of the burned") near the foot of the castle.[58]


Pope Innocent III excommunicating the Albigensians (left), Massacre against the Albigensians by the crusaders. (right)

Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide, referred to the Albigensian Crusade as "one of the most conclusive cases of genocide in religious history".[59]

Mark Gregory Pegg writes that "The Albigensian Crusade ushered genocide into the West by linking divine salvation to mass murder, by making slaughter as loving an act as His sacrifice on the cross".[60] Robert E. Lerner argues that Pegg's classification of the Albigensian Crusade as a genocide is inappropriate, on the grounds that it "was proclaimed against unbelievers... not against a 'genus' or people; those who joined the crusade had no intention of annihilating the population of southern France... If Pegg wishes to connect the Albigensian Crusade to modern ethnic slaughter, well—words fail me (as they do him)."[61] Laurence Marvin is not as dismissive as Lerner regarding Pegg's contention that the Albigensian Crusade was a genocide; he does however take issue with Pegg's argument that the Albigensian Crusade formed an important historical precedent for later genocides including the Holocaust.[62]

Kurt Jonassohn and Karin Solveig Björnson describe the Albigensian Crusade as "the first ideological genocide".[63] Kurt Jonassohn and Frank Chalk (who together founded the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies) include a detailed case study of the Albigensian Crusade in their genocide studies textbook The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies, authored by Joseph R. Strayer and Malise Ruthven.[64]

Colin Tatz likewise classifies the Albigensian Crusade as a genocide.[65]

Historian Christopher Tyerman stated "the crusades did not destroy a region".[66] With the exception of the massacre at Beziers the destruction waged in the region was comparatively modest in scale.


  1. 1 2 Frank Leslie Cross, Elizabeth A. Livingstone (editors), Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article "Cathari"
  2. Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Albigenses
  3. 1 2 3 Weber, Nicholas. "Albigenses." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 14 Oct. 2013
  4. VC Introduction: The historical background
  5. VC §5
  6. Peter Lock, The Routledge Companion to the Crusades (Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-1-13513137-1), pp. 162-164
  7. Helen J. Nicholson, The Crusades (Greenwood Publishing Group 2004 ISBN 978-0-31332685-1), pp. 54-56
  8. The Voice of Pleasure: Heterosexuality Without Women by Anne Callahan. p. 32
  9. Mosheim, Johann Lorenz. Mosheim's Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern 385 (W. Tegg 1867)
  10. See also the Third Lateran Council, 1179
  11. cf Graham-Leigh
  12. VC §8-9
  13. Wolff, R. L.; Hazard, H. W. (ed.), The later Crusades, 1189-1311, Chap. VIII: "The Albigensian Crusade", p.330, University of Wisconsin Press, 1969
  14. VC §84
  15. PL §XIII
  16. VC §88
  17. MD Costen (1997-11-15). The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade. Manchester University Press 1997. p. 121. ISBN 0-7190-4331-X.
  18. VC §89
  19. VC §90-91
  20. According to the Cistercian writer Caesarius 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...
  21. VC §92-93
  22. VC §94-96, PL §XIV
  23. VC §98
  24. VC §101
  25. VC §108-113
  26. VC §114
  27. VC §115-140
  28. VC §142
  29. VC §151
  30. VC §154
  31. VC §156
  32. VC §168
  33. VC §169-189
  34. VC §194
  35. VC §215
  36. VC §233 PL §XVII
  37. VC §235
  38. VC §239
  39. VC §243
  40. VC §253-265
  41. VC §273-276, 279
  42. VC §266, 278
  43. VC §286-366, PL §XVOO
  44. VC §367-446
  45. VC §447-484, PL §XX
  46. VC §463, PL §XXI
  47. PL §XXV
  48. VC §528-534
  49. VC §529
  50. VC §530
  51. VC §533-534
  52. VC §569
  53. VC §554-559, 573
  54. 1 2 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
  55. Richard Kay, The Council of Bourges, 1225: A Documentary History (Brookfield, Vermont: Ashgate) 2002.
  56. Zoe Oldenbourg. Massacre at Montsegur. A History of the Albigensian Crusade. (1961). Phoenix, 2006. p. 215. ISBN 1-84212-428-5.
  57. 1 2 Sumption (1999), pp. 230-232.
  58. 1 2 Sumption (1999), pp. 238-40.
  59. Raphael Lemkin (2012). Steven Leonard Jacobs, ed. Lemkin on Genocide. Lexington Books. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-7391-4526-5. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  60. Mark Gregory Pegg (28 January 2008). A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom. Oxford University Press. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-19-988371-4.
  61. Lerner, Robert E. (2010). "A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom (review)". Common Knowledge. 16 (2): 292.
  62. Marvin, Laurence W. (October 2009). "A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom (review).". The Catholic Historical Review. 95 (4): 801–802. doi:10.1353/cat.0.0546.
  63. Kurt Jonassohn; Karin Solveig Björnson. Genocide and Gross Human Rights Violations: In Comparative Perspective. Transaction Publishers. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-4128-2445-3. The Albigensian Crusade was the first ideological genocide and it is included here because it gave rise to the Inquistion–an instutiton which developed many of the techniques of persecution that are still in wide use today.
  64. Frank Robert Chalk; Kurt Jonassohn; Institut montréalais des études sur le génocide (1990). The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies. Yale University Press. pp. 114–138. ISBN 978-0-300-04446-1.
  65. Colin Martin Tatz; Winton Higgins (31 March 2016). The Magnitude of Genocide. ABC-CLIO. p. 214. ISBN 978-1-4408-3161-4. The papacy and the French king rounded out the Crusaders' genocidal achievements with their thirteenth-century Albigensian crusade against the Cathars in southern France—a rampage that resulted in some 200,000 more victims, and constituted yet another "completed" genocide.
  66. Christopher Tyerman, God's War: A New History of the Crusades Belknap Press (February 28, 2009) p. 604


  • 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 Puylaurens, Chronique 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

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