Blood on the Cross
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Blood on the Cross

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Blood on the Cross

In the Albigensian Crusade of the early 13th century, thousands perished in a bloody conflict that pitted Western Europeans against each other.

In the Albigensian Crusade of the early 13th century, thousands perished in a bloody conflict that pitted Western Europeans against each other.

By William E. Welsh

The garrison soldiers of Beziers gazed down from the ramparts at the Crusader army setting up camp outside their high-walled city on July 21, 1209. Situated directly across the Orb River on the south side of the bridge leading to the city’s main gate was a group of impoverished mercenaries armed mainly with cudgels and shovels. Beyond them were the knights of the Crusader army, whose attendants were pitching their tents on the river plain. With the knights were companies of professional soldiers, such as crossbowmen, sappers, and artillerymen, who were well trained and well paid.

The 3,500 garrison troops serving Raymond-Roger Trencavel, the Viscount of Beziers and Carcassonne, were not worried about their ability to withstand a siege for they had stockpiled supplies and strengthened their defenses. But the shoeless, lightly armed rabble nearest their great city annoyed garrison commanders and burghers alike.

The soldiers on the ramparts had engaged in a series of insults and challenges with the rabble below. When a drunk mercenary strolled onto the bridge and taunted them, an armed group sallied forth from the main gate. Armed with swords and bows, the defenders charged down the steep hill from their fortified city toward the long bridge over the Orb. They continued through the tenements of the Faubourg slum that lay between the escarpment where the city was situated and the bridge.

“They went waving their coarse white linen banners, shouting at the tops of their voices, and thinking to scare the enemy as one might scare birds in a wheatfield,” wrote chronicler William of Tudela. They fired a shower of arrows at the mercenaries. Rushing onto the bridge, they grabbed the boisterous mercenary and stabbed him to death. Afterward, they threw his body into the river.

The mercenaries were “all barefooted, dressed only in shirts and breeches, with a variety of hand weapons,” wrote Tudela. They charged over the bridge to even the score. What they lacked in armor and weapons they more than made up for with their courage and aggression. The mercenaries waded into the group from the town, driving them back through Faubourg and uphill toward the main gate. It is not known for certain whether the mercenaries slipped into the city before the gate closed or whether they managed to batter their way through the gate, but they gained a foothold in the city.

The entire Crusader camp was soon buzzing with activity. Knights, sergeants, and sappers all sprang to action and ran toward the city walls. They threw up scaling ladders and simultaneously began hammering the walls with picks and mattocks.

The Roman Catholic Church persecuted Count Raymond VI of Toulouse for his tolerance of the Cathars.

Raymond VI of Toulouse.

Meanwhile, the mercenaries inside the town ran through the narrow streets hacking down anyone who got in their way. They kicked in the doors of private residences and ransacked them. “The churlish soldiery broke into houses everywhere, finding them full and running over with wealth,” wrote Tudela. The bells in the city’s great churches began tolling. This was a signal for noncombatants to seek refuge inside one of the city’s several churches.

The mercenaries eventually overpowered the townspeople and began to slaughter them. They spared no one, stabbing and slashing men, women, and children with the same awful, cold-blooded fury. The leaders of the Crusading hosts and the powerful knights of the army eventually arrived inside the city. Under threat of force, the nobles and knights, backed by their household troops, forced the mercenaries to pile the loot so that it might be divided among the wealthy at a later time. Furious over having to relinquish the spoils, the mercenaries set fire to the town. Flames licked upward, engulfing the homes and the churches in fire and smoke. Cathar and Catholic died together in the great fire.

Beziers was the first battle in a 20-year war that was fought in six phases in southwestern France. Approximately 20,000 people perished in Beziers as a result of the Catholic Church’s desire to stamp out the Cathar heresy that had thrived for nearly a century in the Languedoc territory of southern France. “Cathar” is the Greek word for “pure,” and the believers considered themselves the “pure ones.” The Cathar Crusade also was known
as the Albigensian Crusade. The word “Albigensian” derives from Albi, a city in the Languedoc where many of the heretics lived.

Pope Innocent III’s Crusade Bull against the Cathar heretics in southwestern France resulted in a protracted religious war.

Pope Innocent III.

The Cathar heresy thrived in the counties of the Languedoc region between the Rhone and Garonne Rivers. One of the most prominent counties was Toulouse, which was ruled by Count Raymond VI, the most powerful of the Languedoc barons. At the time of the Albigensian Crusade, the count of Toulouse was a vassal of King Peter II of Aragon.

The Albigenses, or Cathars, were Dualists who believed in the existence of two gods; one was good and resided in the immaterial and spiritual realm, and the other was bad and existed in the material world. They had inherited the belief from ancient times when Dualism was one of many religions existing in the Near East. It is possible that Crusaders from the Languedoc brought back Catherism when they returned from the Second Crusade in the mid-12th century. The papacy was particularly incensed by the Cathar belief in the existence and acceptance of the idea of an evil entity controlling the material world. Indeed, the intolerant Catholic Church went so far as to assert that the Cathars worshipped Satan, the enemy of what they believed was the one true God.

The heresy was not something that involved just the commoners or the aristocracy. Believers and those who either directly or indirectly sanctioned or provided safe haven to the heretics were found in all strata of society in the Languedoc. Indeed, even Catholic ecclesiastical officials were tainted by the heresy for their halfhearted attempts to suppress it.

Mail-clad Crusaders expel the residents of Carcassonne during the siege of the city in a manuscript illumination from the Grandes Chroniques de France.

Mail-clad Crusaders expel the residents of Carcassonne during the siege of the city in a manuscript illumination from the Grandes Chroniques de France.

In early 1207, Pope Innocent instructed papal legate Peter of Castelnau to excommunicate Raymond of Toulouse. In compliance with the pope’s wishes, he formally excommunicated Raymond in April 1207. By November, Peter had established a league of Languedoc barons to hunt down heretics. Additionally, he encouraged all of the lords of Languedoc to rebel against Raymond. He also took action against the prelates responsible for the region. He not only suspended the bishops of Beziers and Viviers, but also ordered a formal investigation of the activities of Berenger II, the Archbishop of Narbonne and Primate of Languedoc. Count Raymond travelled to St. Gilles in the eastern Languedoc and met with Peter during the second week of January 1208.

Although heated words were exchanged between the two during their meeting, Raymond agreed to submit to the demands of the pope in an effort to have the excommunication removed. On January 14, Peter and his assistants, who a short time before had departed from the Abbey of St. Gilles, were riding mules on their way to the ferry crossing on the Rhone River when they were ambushed by a man-at-arms who ran his lance through the legate’s back, inflicting a fatal wound. After he murdered the legate, the unknown assailant rode away.

The assailant turned out to be a member of Count Raymond’s retinue. Although contemporary sources are unclear whether Raymond ordered Peter’s assassination, evidence indicates that he did not. The death of a papal legate was a capital crime that could not go unpunished. Since Pope Innocent already had excommunicated Raymond, he decided on a more drastic, sweeping action in the wake of the assassination.

Pope Innocent issued a crusade bull in March 1208 against Count Raymond and all Cathar heretics in the Languedoc. His bull provided that those participating in the crusade would receive an indulgence; that is, forgiveness for their previous sins. The heretics’ lands would be confiscated and eventually transferred to a high-ranking noble who would continue to root out the heresy. Innocent appointed Arnaud Amalric, the Catalan Cistercian Abbot of Citeaux and a Papal Legate, to lead those who wished to participate in the crusade. The Crusaders were to assemble at Lyons on June 24, 1209, in preparation for an invasion of the Languedoc.

Lords and knights from northern France jumped at the chance to avoid having to travel to the Holy Land to obtain their indulgences. By the end of June, approximately 10,000 knights and men-at-arms, as well as another 10,000 peasants and camp followers, had assembled at Lyons. Participants came from all parts of France as well as Flanders, Germany, and northern Italy.

Crusaders built a giant pyre in a meadow at Lavaur and burned 300 Cathars in 1211. The presence of Toulousians in the garrison gave Simon the excuse he needed to attack Raymond’s comital city.

Crusaders built a giant pyre in a meadow.

The secular leaders of the crusade were Duke Eudes of Burgundy, Count Herve of Nevers, and Count Gaucher of Saint-Pol. King Philip allowed his vassals Eudes and Herve to each take a maximum of 500 knights. Also in leadership positions were the legates Abbot Arnaud, Master Milo, and Master Theodosius. Included among the high-ranking church officials were Archbishop Peter of Sens, Archbishop Robert of Rouen, and six bishops.

Count Raymond submitted to representatives of the pope at St. Gilles on June 18 and agreed to correct his transgressions against the Catholic Church. Raymond had to appear naked at the church doors for scourging. The papal legate and 20 archbishops and bishops were present. He had to vow to follow the rules of the Catholic Church in all respects. During the meeting, the legate granted him permission to join the crusade. “The Count [was] a false and faithless crusader,” wrote chronicler Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay. “He took the cross not to avenge the wrong done to the Crucifix, but to conceal and cover his wickedness for a period.”

While the Crusaders were en route to Beziers in early July along the Via Domita leading from Italia to Narbonensis, Count Raymond-Roger Trencaval rode into the Crusader camp and met with the Abbot of Citeaux. He volunteered to join the crusade, but the Abbot of Citeaux refused to allow him to participate.

The Crusader army, whose soldiers of Christ typically enlisted for a 40-day term, had marched from Lyons to Beziers in two weeks. A large block of the crusading army consisted of mercenaries who had agreed to participate in hopes of obtaining wealth during the looting and robbing of the heretics and their Catholic supporters. Although the Catholic Church expressly forbade the use of godless mercenaries, the rule was universally flouted. Viscount Raymond-Roger was not on hand to see the Beziers defense as he was hurriedly preparing the defense of other parts of his realm.

When the Crusaders, whose column stretched along the Via Domita for nine kilometers, arrived on July 21, Renald de Montpeyreux, the recently appointed Bishop of Beziers, met with the Abbot of Citeaux. The abbot gave de Montpeyreux the names of 222 prominent residents of Beziers whom the Catholic Church suspected of heresy.

The bishop subsequently met with the burghers of Beziers. He implored them to turn over the suspects or simply leave the town and allow the Crusaders to enter it and arrest the heretics. If they did either one of those things, the bishop said, the Crusaders would protect their lives and property. Otherwise, the Crusaders would take the city by force. The burghers refused both options. They viewed the Crusaders as foreign invaders, and they refused to assist them in their objective.

What followed was a three-hour massacre that ended with the city in flames. Those Catholics who were not killed outright died in the flames. The Abbot of Citeaux made no effort to curtail the slaughter. When asked by a monk how the Crusaders could distinguish the Catholics from the Cathars, the abbot said. “Kill them all, God will recognize his own.” The Crusaders, choking on the smoke of the fires set by the mercenaries, withdrew from the city and let it burn to the ground.

Viscount Raymond-Roger, who had assembled a substantial army consisting of his knights and the garrison troops, awaited the arrival of the Crusaders at Carcassonne, 90 kilometers west of Beziers. He allowed those subjects living in the Aude Valley near the fortified city to take refuge inside its strong walls.

Pope Innocent III (left) excommunicates the Cathar heretics in an illuminated manuscript. With the Papacy behind them, God-fearing northern European knights set about ridding the Languedoc region of the Cathar heresy, which they saw as a malignant threat to the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Innocent III (left) excommunicates the Cathar heretics in an illuminated manuscript. With the Papacy behind them, God-fearing northern European knights set about ridding the Languedoc region of the Cathar heresy, which they saw as a malignant threat to the Roman Catholic Church.

On their way to Carcassonne, the Crusaders accepted the surrender of Narbonne, which lay 30 kilometers from Beziers. After a long march under the hot summer sun, the Crusaders arrived before Carcassonne on August 1. Its sandstone and limestone walls, which were three feet thick, soared as high as 115 feet. Twenty-six towers were placed at intervals around the oval-shaped fortress, and the defenders had constructed wooden galleries between the towers that further enhanced the city’s defense.

On August 4, the Crusaders assaulted the suburb of Castelar on the south side of Carcassonne using scaling ladders in an attempt to get over its low walls. Raymond-Roger had ordered Castelar defended. Skilled crossbowmen on the high ramparts fired bolts at the Crusaders, while other soldiers hurled javelins or dropped stones on them.

Peter II, King of Aragon and Castile, arrived unexpectedly two days later escorted by 100 mounted troops. The King of Aragon, who was the overlord of both Count Raymond of Toulouse and Viscount Raymond-Roger of Trencaval, wanted to settle the conflict diplomatically. Although he was received warmly by the northern barons because of his stature, the Abbot of Citeaux rebuffed his negotiation efforts. Before he departed, King Peter advised Raymond-Roger to reach a settlement with the Crusaders or risk the slaughter of everyone inside the city. The fighting resumed with a vengeance after the king’s departure. On August 7, the Crusaders bombarded Castelar with large stones while a team of sappers rolled a large hide-covered “cat” up to the wall and began tunneling under a section of the wall weakened by their artillery. The sappers worked vigorously throughout the night, and in the morning the wall collapsed in a cloud of dust and debris. The defenders retreated into the city, but not before burning the suburb to deny cover to the enemy.

A week after they had been chipping away at Raymond-Roger’s defenses, the Crusaders had built an impressive array of trebuchets with wood from local forests. The crews working the trebuchets hurled granite stones weighing between 500 and 1,000 pounds at the town walls.

By mid-August the refugees had drunk the city’s wells dry, and the city could not hold out anymore. Although the exact terms negotiated are unclear, Raymond-Roger turned himself over to the Crusaders apparently in exchange for the release of the noncombatants. The leaders of the Crusade wanted to ensure that they were able to take possession of the city’s wealth without the kind of uncontrolled frenzy that resulted in the massacre at Beziers. For that reason, they allowed the noncombatants to leave provided they take nothing of value with them. “Out they came …till there was no one left in the town,” wrote William of Tudela. “Quite unprotected, they rushed out pell-mell in their shirts and breeches; nothing else, not even the value of a button were they allowed to take with them.” The Crusaders gathered the booty from the town into a great pile. “We shall give it all to some powerful lord with whom God’s grace will hold and keep this great country so the wicked heretics can never retake it,” William of Tudela quoted the Abbot of Citeaux as having said.

The Duke of Burgundy and the Counts of Nevers and Saint-Pol each refused the offer. Each said he had abundant land and did not wish the additional territory. They shunned the prospect of taking territory that was far from their home and would require significant manpower and resources to hold in a hostile region. After the siege was over, the majority of the Crusaders returned home since their 40-day service had expired.

The Abbot of Citeaux formed a selection committee, and it decided to give the territory to veteran Crusader Simon of Montfort. He was selected partly because he possessed no great domains whose administration and defense would distract him from the work of the Crusade. He agreed to accept the fief offered to him provided that each of the lords agreed to come to his aid if necessary in the years ahead. They pledged their support and then departed for their homelands.

After locking Raymond-Roger away in a cell in Carcassonne where he would soon perish, Simon proceeded to secure as many castles in his territory as possible before the onset of winter. Nearly all of the castles had a village, known as a castrum, which was enclosed by a single or double curtain wall. The lords of the castles and their castrum oftentimes were Cathars themselves; if not, they were at least sympathetic to the heretics and allowed them to practice unhindered. Some of these castles, such as Cabaret, Minerve, and Termes, would prove particularly difficult to capture because of their remote mountain locations.

In early September 1209, Simon marched against Cabaret Castle, situated on a craggy spur in the Black Mountains 15 kilometers north of Carcassonne. The main castle was protected by two outlying towers, Surdaspina and Quertin- heux, built on the same narrow ridge. Lord Peter-Roger of Cabaret ruled over a mineral-rich area where gold, silver, iron, and copper were mined. He was “an old man rich in years of evil doing,” wrote Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay, adding that he was “a veritable fountain of heresy.” After his initial assault was repulsed, Simon was forced to abandon the siege because his army continued to shrink with the departure of provisional Crusaders. Lord Peter-Roger actively worked against the Crusaders, and Simon was keenly aware that Cabaret Castle was an active base in the resistance.

Simon set out in late August on a month-long reconnaissance of his domains. He secured those villages, towns, chateaux, and castles that voluntarily surrendered to the Crusaders. Simon faced a difficult diplomatic situation in regard to his overlord, King Peter of Aragon. Even though Pope Innocent III had given explicit approval for Simon to become the Viscount of Carcassonne and Beziers, Simon still owed homage to the Aragonese king. Peter remained bitter following his rebuff by the Abbot of Citeaux, and therefore he initially refused to meet with Simon and acknowledge him as his vassal.

In the autumn of 1209, Simon clashed repeatedly with Count Raymond-Roger of Foix, whose lands lay southwest of Carcassonne. The Count of Foix gave safe haven to Cathars, and for this reason Simon regarded his lands as subject to rightful seizure. Sharp clashes occurred at Pamiers and Fanjeaux.

A grisly series of related incidents occurred in November 1209 that set the tone for the barbarous behavior that the Crusaders and their opponents in the Languedoc would use in an effort to intimidate one another. One of Simon’s knights had murdered the uncle of Giraud de Pepieux, a southern French knight who had joined the Crusaders. To appease Pepieux, Simon had the perpetrator buried alive; however, Pepieux remained unsatisfied and launched a brutal attack against the Crusader garrison at Puisserguier Castle 20 kilometers west of Beziers. After slaughtering 50 men, he took two of Simon’s knights to Minerve Castle where they were mutilated and cast out naked as a sinister warning to Simon.

In March 1210, Simon’s army swelled with the arrival of recruits. They trickled in throughout the spring, raising the viscount’s principal army to approximately 4,000 knights, sergeants, and foot soldiers. The influx of new 40-day troops from northern France, Flanders, and Germany was essential to roll back the gains of the opponents of the Crusade. Simon’s army stormed the pro-Cather stronghold of Bram located a day’s march west of Carcassonne. He then proceeded to blind 100 enemy soldiers, but he left one of them with one eye to lead the others to Cabaret. Using terror to his advantage, he swept through the Minervois region, pillaging and burning the lands of any who refused to bow to his authority.

Simon made it a top priority to capture the castles and castrum that abetted the heretics. He led his army to Minerve, a seemingly impregnable fortified village on a gnarled spur of rock that was home to Viscount Guilhem of Minerve. The only access to Minerve was from the northwest as the other three sides of the stronghold were protected by the steep gorges of the Le Brian and La Cesse Rivers. Moreover, the village had a double curtain wall, and the entire mountaintop featured overhanging ledges. On the east side, the castle featured a covered walkway that led to a collection point for the water necessary to the residents’ survival. Simon had ample forces necessary for the siege, and he divided them into four groups.

Each group had one or more trebuchets. The siege engines “smashed openings in the high walls and in the stone-built hall,” wrote William of Tudela. The largest of these, which the attackers named Bad Neighbor, was operated by a crew of 50 men directly across the Le Brian River from the covered walkway. Some of the 200 garrison troops defending Minerve launched a sortie on June 27 to burn Bad Neighbor, but it was discovered before it did serious damage. The Crusaders quickly returned it to working order.

Guilhem requested a parlay with Simon on July 22 because the residents had exhausted the drinking supply. The Abbot of Citeaux arrived at just the right time to take over the negotiations. He told the viscount that if the Cathars would agree to conversion, they would be allowed to go free; if not, they would be burned. Robert de Mauvoisin, one of Simon’s commanders, vehemently protested the offer of freedom. He said he fought to kill heretics, not to grant them merciful terms. “Forget your concern, I believe very few of them will accept conversion,” said the Abbot of Citeaux.

The Crusaders built a great fire, and approximately 140 men and women “perfects,” as the Catholics called the most devout heretics, opted for the pyre. “There was no need for our soldiers to throw them on, since they were so hardened in their wickedness that they rushed into the fire of their own accord,” wrote Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay. William of Tudela painted a more vivid portrait of the horror. “[The Crusaders] burned many heretics, frantic men of an evil kind and crazy women who shrieked among the flames.” The less devout agreed to undergo conversion.

Simon marched in August 1210 against Lord Raymond of Termes, whose stronghold was located in the County of Narbonne. Like Minerve, Termes also was perched on a tall peak surrounded by steep ravines. Simon received a fresh influx of Breton 40-dayers in time for the expedition.

Perched on a tall peak and surrounded by deep ravines, Castle Termes was a daunting objective for Simon de Montfort in 1210. Despite a tenacious defense lasting three months, the Crusaders ultimately prevailed.

Perched on a tall peak and surrounded by deep ravines, Castle Termes was a daunting objective for Simon de Montfort in 1210. Despite a tenacious defense lasting three months, the Crusaders ultimately prevailed.

Raymond was an elderly, veteran warrior, and his strong garrison included troops from Aragon, Catalonia, and Roussillon. The siege dragged on for two months during which time the Crusader siege engines failed to cause any major damage to the castle’s defenses. Raymond’s troops intimidated the Crusaders with their defensive artillery fire. A scorpion bolt on one occasion penetrated Simon’s tent, barely missing him and killing a soldier standing next to him. Lord Raymond ordered frequent sorties against the Crusader positions, which mounted troops sought to burn the Crusader siege engines.

By mid-October the defenders had exhausted their water supply. Raymond opened negotiations with Simon but promptly broke them off when a steady rain filled the cisterns. Simon was on the verge of breaking off the siege when a fresh force of Crusaders from Lorraine arrived at his camp. The new Crusaders helped dig trenches that by the mid-November reached the base of the castle walls. The crew of a large trebuchet by that time was able to reduce one of the castle walls.

On the night of November 22-23, the garrison tried to escape. The Crusaders found Lord Raymond crouching in the bushes. They tossed him in a cell in Carcassonne, where he died three years later. Simon’s tenacity paid off because it compelled Lord Peter-Roger of Cabaret to surrender his castle to Simon in April 1211.

While Simon had been waging war against the Cathars by sword, the Abbot of Citeaux had been waging it against the heretics and their leaders with words. Following the capture of Carcassonne two years earlier, the abbot travelled to Toulouse, where he compiled a long list of transgressions by Raymond VI. During his visit, he put an interdict on the city and also recommended the continued excommunication of Raymond. The interdiction meant that the city’s churches were to be locked and that services were denied to faithful Catholics. In so doing, the abbot hoped to drive a wedge between the count and his subjects. The abbot believed Raymond was insincere in his submission to the Catholic Church, and he intended to do everything within his power to bring about Raymond’s downfall.

Despite this, Innocent III forbade the Crusaders from invading Raymond’s lands, which included the regions of Toulouse, Lauragais, Rouergue, and Quercy, until Raymond committed an overt act of war. His plight worsened at the colloquium held in Narbonne in January 1211, which was attended by Raymond, the Abbot of Citeaux, Master Thedisius, Peter II of Aragon, Viscount Simon, Raymond-Roger of Foix, and various other high-ranking Catholic Church officials in the region.

The Abbot of Citeaux said that he had failed to expel the Cathar heretics. He gave Raymond an exhaustive list of penances he must perform and acts he must take to avoid renewal of the excommunication. In addition to expelling the heretics, he was to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he would have to serve for a period of time in a military order. At the subsequent Synod of Montpelier held on February 6, the Abbot of Citeaux and the other high-ranking ecclesiastical officials in attendance again excommunicated Count Raymond.

From that point forward, no reconciliation was possible for Count Raymond. He no longer had any hope of getting the Catholic Church to lift the censure its leaders had put on him. In the wake of the excommunication, Raymond appealed to the lords of the counties bordering Toulouse for military assistance. This marked the beginning of an organized, formal resistance that included Raymond of Toulouse and his principal allies, the Counts of Foix, Comminges, and Couserans.

Simon de Montfort’s crusaders won a decisive victory over King Peter of Aragon’s army at the battle of Muret in 1213. The open field battle between roughly equal forces was clear evidence of Simon’s skill as a medieval commander.

Simon de Montfort’s crusaders.

With the majority of the strongholds in his domains under Crusader control, Simon set his sights on Toulouse, but he still needed Raymond to commit an offense that would give him just cause to attack the city. In early April 1211, Simon besieged the castrum of Lavaur just 40 kilometers from Toulouse. While Simon was engaged at Lavaur, Raymond-Roger of Foix’s troops ambushed a group of German Crusaders in the Forest of Montgey 40 kilometers east of Lavaur who were on their way to join Simon. In retaliation for the ambush, Simon ordered the 90 soldiers of the Lavaur garrison put to the sword when his troops breached its walls on May 3. The Crusaders built a giant pyre in a meadow at Lavaur and burned 300 heretics who refused the offer to convert. Some of the soldiers who fought Simon at Lavaur had been sent by Count Raymond of Toulouse. This gave Simon the excuse he needed to attack the city of Toulouse.

With his army reinforced by a fresh army of German Crusaders led by Count Theobald of Bar and Luxembourg, Simon marched to Toulouse. Before he arrived, Raymond’s allies in the Pyrenees foothills to the south had heavily reinforced the Toulousian garrison with their best troops. The Crusaders prevailed over the so-called Resistance Army in a preliminary clash at Montrauden in which the Crusaders nearly captured Raymond, but the Resistance troops withdrew safely to Toulouse. After an initial attempt to storm the walls, the Crusaders settled into desultory fighting over the next two weeks. Toulouse’s walls stretched in a circuit for nearly five kilometers, and Simon did not have enough men to surround the city. The Resistance troops conducted frequent sorties, and the Crusader casualties steadily mounted. For these reasons, Simon decided to abandon the siege despite the damage it would do to his military reputation.

On June 29, Simon and Theobald ordered their men to break camp. By abandoning his siege, Simon risked losing the support of local lords and knights throughout Languedoc who had gone over to his side. Simon needed to prove he was still a powerful force in the region in the wake of his failed siege. For that reason, Simon undertook a devasting chevauchee into the County of Foix in which he burned homes and destroyed vineyards. Afterward, he led his mounted force north more than 100 kilometers to secure the important trading hub of Cahors on the Lot River. Despite these shows of force, Simon’s hold on the Languedoc was slipping. By late summer as many as 50 towns, villages, and castles that had been secured by the Crusaders went over to the Resistance.

A major clash occurred in the autumn of 1211 when Simon attempted to occupy the town of Castelnaudaray 60 kilometers east of Toulouse. Control of the town had alternated frequently between the Crusading army and the Resistance forces. Raymond had retaken the town in the aftermath of the Crusaders’ abortive siege of Toulouse but then decided to abandon it. As he did so, Raymond ordered his men to dismantle its defenses as much as possible so that it could not be used as a stronghold by the Crusaders. Simon, however, was not cowed by Castelnaudaray’s lack of defenses. He occupied it with 500 men. Seeing an opportunity to crush Simon and his small army, Raymond arrived with approximately 2,000 men.

After failing to retake Castelnaudaray by storm despite its weak defenses, Count Raymond established a fortified camp nearby. When Raymond learned that a supply caravan was approaching Castelnaudaray from Carcassonne, he dispatched Count Raymond-Roger of Foix to destroy it. Guarding the caravan were the troops of Bouchard de Marly and Martin Algai, a Navaresse mercenary captain, both of whom were allies of Simon. The Count of Foix took up a blocking position on the east side of Castelnaudaray. When Simon learned of this, he sallied forth with 60 mounted troops to reinforce the caravan’s armed escort. Meanwhile, de Marly and his men charged the Count of Foix’s small force. A fierce melee ensued. The Count of Foix was withdrawing when he was charged a second time by Simon’s troops and the routed Resis- tance troops fled the field. Realizing he could not defeat Simon at Castelnaudaray, Count Raymond abandoned his fortified camp and withdrew west.

In the spring of 1212, Simon set off on an expedition to Quercy, where he began retaking strongpoints along the Tarn and Garonne rivers that had reverted to the Resistance. But the city of Toulouse remained beyond Simon’s grasp throughout 1212.

King Peter of Aragon hoped to avoid intervening militarily in the situation involving his vassals north of the Pyrenees. He tried to settle the matter peacefully during the first half of 1213, but neither the pope nor his legates would take strong action against Simon. For that reason, Peter raised an army and in September marched north to Muret, a stronghold 20 kilometers south of Toulouse occupied by a Crusader garrison. Peter already had made an assault on Muret when Simon arrived with his army, but he allowed Simon to enter the garrison unopposed because he did not want Simon interrupting his siege efforts.

The stakes were enormous at Muret for both leaders. Peter established a camp for his mounted troops two kilometers north of Muret. The Toulousian militia bivouacked southwest of Muret on the banks of the Garonne River, where they could easily unload supplies from barges from Toulouse. Peter’s 4,100-man army outnumbered the Crusaders by more than two to one. He was not inclined to conduct a lengthy siege, and therefore he made no effort to encircle the city and starve its garrison. He hoped that Simon would give battle, and that was exactly how it played out.

On September 12 Simon led his 900 cavalry out of a southern gate. He ordered Guillaume de Barres to lead 600 knights and sergeants in a frontal charge against Peter’s cavalry. Simon led the remaining 300 men in a flank march designed to strike the enemy a fatal blow once it was already engaged with the Crusader main body.

Simon de Montfort cheated death many times while leading the Cathar Crusade, but it finally caught up with him when a giant rock fired from a siege engine inside Toulouse struck him during the third siege of the city in 1218.

Simon de Montfort cheated death many times.

Peter deployed his army in a sound manner on a narrow front not far from his fortified camp. His left flank rested on a marsh near the Garonne River, and his right flank was anchored on the Saudrune River. The Count of Foix was in the front rank, and Peter was in the second rank. In an effort to conceal his identity from those who might try to fight their way to his position and slay him, Peter switched armor with a low-ranking knight.

De Barres’ troops formed up in six ranks and charged the Franco-Aragonese army with such force that they shattered its front rank. A swirling melee unfolded between De Barres’ knights and the second rank of the Franco-Aragonese cavalry. Seeing his troops were gaining the upper hand, Simon led his reserve in an unexpected charge that caught the enemy completely by surprise. Hewing and slashing their way through the enemy, Simon’s reserve force so terribly slaughtered the Resistance that it had no chance to rally. The victorious Crusaders sent the survivors flying over the hills to the safety of Toulouse.

Peter was slain in the confusion of the close-quarters fight. If the Aragonese king had been wearing his own armor, it is possible the Crusaders would have tried to take him prisoner and his life would have been spared.

Simon was determined to make his victory a complete one, and his troops subsequently attacked the camp of the Toulousian militia. The startled foot soldiers rushed for their barges, but many were cut down as they tried to escape. The Franco-Aragonese army suffered 1,500 casualties compared the 100 Crusader casualties.

Simon spent the majority of 1214 systematically subjugating the provinces ruled by Raymond, including Armagnac, Quercy, Lauragais, and Rouergue. The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 declared Simon to be the rightful Count of Toulouse since Raymond had failed to meet the outrageous demands imposed on him by the Catholic Church in penance for his harboring heretics. Pope Innocent III, who would pass away the following year, confirmed the decision in a papal bull issued December 14.

When Simon subsequently journeyed to Paris for a ceremony in which King Philip II would invest him with his new title in April 1216, the townspeople of Toulouse revolted against Simon’s authority. Upon his return, Simon quashed the revolt. He ordered all defenses dismantled and levied an indemnity of 30,000 marks on the town. In the interim, Raymond had journeyed to Aragon seeking fresh support from that quarter. On September 13, 1216, Raymond entered the city at the head of an army made up of Aragonese mercenaries and his southern French allies.

To assist Simon, Pope Honorius III eventually announced a new crusade against the Cathars. Simon besieged Toulouse in April 1218, but met his end when a stone flung from one of the massive siege engines inside the city struck and killed him on June 25, 1218. Although Prince Louis of France resumed the siege, he abandoned the effort in 1219.

Simon’s hereditary rights had passed to his eldest son, Amaury Montfort, who ceded his claims in southern France to French King Louis VIII in 1224. Louis led a royal army south to conquer his new territories but made little headway even though most of the southern lords acknowledged his suzerainty.

The Treaty of Paris in 1229 effectively ended the Albigensian Crusade. The treaty between Raymond VII and Louis IX provided that Raymond VII’s daughter Jeanne should marry Alphonse of Poitiers, one of Louis’s brothers. When Alphonse died in 1271, the County of Toulouse passed to the French crown.

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