Albigensian Crusade

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The Albigensian Crusade (1209 to 1229) was one of Pope Innocent III. initiated crusade against the Cathar community of faith in Occitania (southern France), which the Catholic Church regards as heretical . The Cathars were also known as the Albigensians because of their early work in the French city of Albi . The Albigensian Crusade ushered in the downfall of the Cathars and, as a political result, brought Occitania into the domain of the French crown. In contrast to other wars waged against the Cathars and other Christian heresies , only the Albigensian Crusade from 1209 to 1229 had the official status of a crusade .


Since the middle of the 12th century, the Cathars, under the protection of many French nobles , had built an opposing church in Occitania and especially in the local province of Languedoc, which the Catholic Church regarded as heretical . The Cathars were particularly supported in the county of Toulouse under Count Raimund VI. This county also included the Languedoc and was largely independent despite the feudal sovereignty of the French king. The French kings, who had previously tried to expand their empire (see English fiefdom in western France ), were very interested in the incorporation of Occitania into their kingdom. The popes, on the other hand, had previously taken various measures to curb the Catholic religion; however, all ventures proved unsuccessful. Also a previous attempt by Pope Innocent III. to win the French King Philip II for a military enterprise failed because Philip was involved in conflicts with the Holy Roman Empire at the time.

Count Raimund VI. von Toulouse also refused any support and was therefore excommunicated in 1207. After the papal legate Pierre de Castelnau was murdered by a follower of the Count of Toulouse on January 14, 1208 , Pope Innocent III called. in the autumn of the same year with the words “Ahead, soldiers of Christ!” on the crusade against the Cathars. The participating crusaders were promised (after a minimum of 40 days) the forgiveness of the penalties for sin ( indulgence ). The conquered areas were to be re-assigned as fiefs by the Pope to aristocratic participants in the crusade .


The conquest of Carcassonne. Illumination in a manuscript from David Aubert's Croniques abregies (Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, 5090, fol. 261v, 15th century)

In 1209 around 10,000 crusaders gathered in Lyon . Count Raimund VI's attempt to turn the tide by assuring the church of his loyalty was rejected. The military leadership of the crusade was initially incumbent on the papal legates. The number of participating crusaders varied widely throughout the company. The crusaders came from both France and the Holy Roman Empire (for example: Duke Leopold VI. ).

On the side of the opponents stood a large part of the Occitan nobility and, closely intertwined with them, the Catholic Church. The actual members of the Catholic Church, the so-called Perfecti , were not permitted to use armed force. The defense was therefore done by the workforce of the nobility, numerous believers ( Credentes ) and recruited mercenaries - the Catholic Church had large funds. The inhabitants of Occitania not only fought for Catharism, but also in the conviction that they had to defend their political and cultural independence (see also: Occitan language ). The crusade was waged with great severity and cruelty.

The first target of the Crusaders was Béziers , which was captured on July 22, 1209. The city was set on fire and cremated and practically the entire population, around 20,000 people, was killed in a massacre. The papal envoy, Abbot Arnaud Amaury , is said to have answered the crusaders when asked how they should distinguish the heretics from the normal inhabitants: Kill them! God already knows his own ( Caedite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius ). Cathars as well as Catholics died in Béziers. Men, women and children alike were killed even after seeking refuge in churches. News of the bloodbath got around quickly, spreading panic and fear.

Expulsion of the Cathars from Carcassonne (medieval miniature)

The next destination was Carcassonne , where the Crusaders arrived on August 1, 1209. The city was overcrowded with refugees. After two weeks of siege , she offered to surrender. When the Crusaders conquered the city, almost all of the inhabitants had fled through underground passages into the surrounding forests. Of the remaining 500 inhabitants, mainly old people, the sick and children, 100 were allowed to leave the city naked, laden with their sins , the other 400 were burned or hanged. After the fall of Carcassonne, Simon IV. De Montfort was elected by the Crusaders as Viscount ("Vice Count") of Béziers and Carcassonne and as the military leader of the Crusade.

After the conquest of Carcassonne, several cities in the region surrendered. Albi , Castelnaudary , Castres , Fanjeaux , Limoux , Lombers and Montréal fell to the crusade troops. Simon IV. De Montfort, who now managed the company from Carcassonne, had to struggle with a shortage of crusaders again and again in the following years. The towns that still resisted continued to be attacked. In 1210, after a long siege, the city of Minerve surrendered . The approximately 400 Cathar residents who refused to convert were burned. When Termez also fell in December, there were few reluctant cities left. With their brutal approach, the crusaders had turned many of the nobles who were originally loyal to the Pope against them. Raymond VI. von Toulouse had given up his will to cooperate with the papal and had been excommunicated again. In his wake, many of the cities that had already been conquered rebelled again.

From 1211 the crusade focused on battles between the Crusaders and the men of Count Raimund VI. The city of Lavaur was captured on May 3, 1211. On September 12, 1213, Simon IV. De Montfort, who had meanwhile received a number of conquered territories as fiefdom, struck a large military contingent under the leadership of Raymond VI. and his brother-in-law, King Peter II of Aragon , in the battle of Muret ; Peter was killed in battle. Raymond VI. had to flee to England in 1214 , but returned to Toulouse in 1217 with a large retinue and to the cheering of the population . A siege of the city initiated by Simon IV. De Montfort ended on July 25, 1218 after Simon was killed by a slingshot. He was succeeded by his son Amalrich von Montfort .

In 1216 Pope Innocent III was also there. died, his successor was Honorius III. In the following year 1219 Toulouse was again besieged unsuccessfully by the son of the French King Philip II , Prince Ludwig .

In the early 1220s, the chances of success for the Albigensian Crusade deteriorated rapidly. There was a shortage of crusaders, conquests were lost and the Cathars dared to go public again. After the death of Count Raimund VI. of Toulouse in 1222, his son Raimund VII took over the leadership of the resistance. The unfavorable situation finally caused Amalrich von Montfort to leave Occitania in 1224. He sold his possessions in the conquered territories to the now King of France, Louis VIII.

In 1226, the French king launched another attack in the south of France. Officially, this war was still part of the crusade proclaimed by the Pope, although the king's interests lay primarily in the annexation of the southern French provinces. Ludwig died that same year, but the war was stopped by his son Ludwig IX. continued unabated in 1227. In 1228 Count Raymond VII of Toulouse gave up the resistance after a grueling and destructive war of almost 20 years. On April 12, 1229 he signed the Treaty of Paris with the French crown. This sealed the incorporation of Occitania into the French state, and Raimund VII suffered major territorial losses. Also in 1229 an ecclesiastical synod took place in Toulouse , which dealt with the further action against the Cathars. This officially ended the Albigensian Crusade.

Peter von Vaux-de-Cernay provides a clear eyewitness account of the first years of the Albigensian Crusade , in a German edition near Söllbach (see below: Literature).


Beginning at the end of the Albigensian Crusade, Occitania with its until then quite independent culture was incorporated into the Kingdom of France. In 1271, the county of Toulouse fell under the direct rule of the French king, but retained some special rights until 1779. The cultural contrast between north and south still shapes France to a certain extent today.

The goal of annihilating the Cathars originally pursued by the Popes, however, was not achieved with the end of this heresy crusade. This task was now taken over by the Inquisition , which was first used nationwide in the Diocese of Toulouse from 1229. The Inquisition and other military campaigns eventually destroyed the Cathars by the end of the 13th century.


  • Arno Borst : The Cathars. Freiburg 2000, ISBN 3-451-04025-5 (Herder Spectrum 5079, first edition 1953).
  • Herbert Grundmann : Religious Movements in the Middle Ages . Olms, Hildesheim 1977, ISBN 3-487-00097-0 (reprograph. Reprint of the first edition 1935).
  • Malcom Lambert: History of the Cathars. The rise and fall of the great heretic movement. Primus, Darmstadt 2001, ISBN 3-89678-401-3 .
  • Jörg Oberste : The "crusade" against the Albigensians. Heresy and Power Politics in the Middle Ages. Primus, Darmstadt 2003, ISBN 3-89678-464-1 .
  • Gerhard E. Sollbach (ed.): Crusade against the Albigensians. The "Historia Albigensis" (1212–1218) / Pierre des Vaux-De-Cernay. Manesse, Zurich 1997, ISBN 3-7175-8228-3 .
  • Song of the Albigensian Crusade : A historical manuscript on the events of that time in Occitania

Web links

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