Albigensian Crusade Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Albigensian Crusade represented an attempt by Roman Catholic authorities to control French unification in southern Europe, which had long been the crucible of exotic influences.

Summary of Event

Adherents of Manichean or dualist ways of thinking emerged in Languedoc, or southern France, in the eleventh century. This part of Europe was outside the rigid control of the French Capetian Dynasty and the Holy Roman Empire. Remnants of Jewish and Muslim cultures added to a diverse population that absorbed Middle Eastern and North African heritages easily—especially during the era of the Crusades—and wedded such influences into a capricious, often secular spirit. [kw]Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) [kw]Crusade, Albigensian (1209-1229) Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) France;1209-1229: Albigensian Crusade[2230] Government and politics;1209-1229: Albigensian Crusade[2230] Religion;1209-1229: Albigensian Crusade[2230] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1209-1229: Albigensian Crusade[2230] Arnaud Amalric Innocent III Montfort, Simon de (1165?-1218) Peter II (1174-1213) Raymond VI Raymond VII Philip II (1165-1223) Louis VIII

Copy of a thirteenth century bas-relief at the Church of Saint Nazair, Carcassonne, depicting the death of Simon de Montfort at Toulouse.

(Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.)

The Albigensians or Cathari Catharists (purists) apparently drew their numbers from disaffected migrants from Asia Minor (Paulicians) and Bulgaria (Bogomils) who had entered the Balkans and northern Italy. Because the clergy of southern France was notoriously inefficient and disorganized, the region tolerated heterogeneous thinkers whose ideas went beyond the neo-Platonist tendencies evident in other parts of Europe. Thus, the region around Toulouse became a stronghold for Cathari beliefs.

Because all Albigensian writings were destroyed, scholars have found it difficult to ascertain any clear, systematic principles associated with the Cathari. In general, adherents were divided into two groups: ascetics and believers. The priestly class and their adepts were generally considered to be models of stoic behavior. The believers, or “auditors,” however, transformed sacred principles into abhorrent practices, running the gamut from deathbed suicides, infanticide, black masses, to unbridled promiscuity and other scandalous behaviors. As a result, in 1179, the papal authorities in Rome launched a full-scale attack against Albigensians during the Third Lateran Council Lateran Council, Third (1179)[Lateran Council 03] . Some initiates of the Cathari sect became increasingly defiant of Roman Catholic authority, and rumors spread that the Albigensians were infidels who renounced marriage, the family, Christian sacraments, crosses, icons, saints, indulgences, relics, and almost any connection to the Old Testament—presumably the work of Satan, or the Demiurge. According to popular tradition, reinforced by the songs of troubadours, the Cathari held fourteen dioceses and acknowledged their own pope. Furthermore, the Cathari notion of consolamentum (an initiation ceremony) openly challenged the papal decree that crusaders were granted absolution if they died in the cause of Christian perseverance. The general mind-set of southern France, rooted in cultural autonomy, drifted further away from the centrality of Philip II Philip II (king of France) , who was unwilling to challenge the feudal privileges accorded to Raymond VI Raymond VI of Toulouse.

In 1226, Louis VIII crushed the Albigensian resistance, securing the capitulation of several cities in southern France. This fifteenth century miniature from the Chroniques de Hainaut shows him entering Avignon with the pope’s legate after a three-month siege of the city.

(Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.)

Pope Innocent III Innocent III tried to counteract unorthodox tendencies among the Albigensians (borrowed from primitive Christian societies) by sending legates to the local bishops. While leaving the church of Saint Gilles du Gard in Toulouse, one of these legates, Peter of Castelnau, was killed by a knight in the service of Raymond VI. His death provided the pope with a pretext to call a crusade against Languedoc. Arnaud Amalric Arnaud Amalric preached this Albigensian crusade in the name of Saint Dominic, who (ironically) had tried to win over the Cathari by peaceful methods. A Christian army, nominally supported by Philip II of France, gathered at Lyon and laid siege to southern France. In 1209, Béziers was assaulted, and as many as seven thousand people were indiscriminately killed. Many of the victims were unarmed citizens who had taken refuge in the church of the Madelaine. Arnaud Amalric apparently called out, “Kill them all. God will recognize his own!”

After this debacle, Simon de Montfort Montfort, Simon de , a man known for his military acumen and fierce temperament, was appointed commander of the crusading army. Peter II Flanders, 13 II (king of Aragon and Catalonia)[Peter 02 (king of Aragon and Catalonia)] , king of Aragon and Catalonia, sided with his brother-in-law, Raymond VI of Toulouse. Peter led a huge force into southern France and established headquarters at the castle of Muret. Despite being outnumbered, Simon de Montfort maneuvered around the Spanish forces and scored a resounding victory in 1213. Peter was killed and the followers of Raymond VI disbanded.

After learning about the bloodshed at Muret, Pope Innocent III suspended the crusade against the Cathari, who were renowned pacifists, and tried to find a diplomatic solution to what was essentially a political problem. Such diplomacy was conducted under the watchful eye of Philip II, who sent his son, Prince Louis, on a futile mission to force a settlement. Emboldened once again, Raymond VI fortified Toulouse. In 1218, Simon de Montfort died in an attempt to take the city.

After his father’s death in 1222, Raymond VII Raymond VII of Toulouse continued to protect the city from invasion. Backed financially by Pope Honorius III, King Louis VIII Louis VIII (king of France) of France crushed the Albigensian resistance in 1226 through the brutal massacre of the people of Marenaude and by securing the capitulation of Soignon and other cities in southern France. In 1229, a peace agreement was reached by which the management of Languedoc fell under the control of the French king. Caught up in this political dispute, the Albigensians went underground after Pope Gregory IV announced the Papal Inquisition of 1233 against their interest.


Scholars differ as to what contributed to the significant, widespread appeal of the Cathari. Some note a strong attachment among merchants and soldiers, which partly explains the later accommodation of Calvinist ideology. Others insist on the power of a recalcitrant nobility, with secret codes derived from Middle Eastern and North African influences, all posing an obvious threat to northern European hegemony.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burl, Aubrey. God’s Heretics: The Albigensian Crusade. Stroud, England: Sutton, 2002. Explores the crusade against the Cathari and argues that the massacre was the first act of genocide in Europe.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gore, Terry L. Neglected Heroes: Leadership and War in the Early Medieval Period. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1995. A lively account of military techniques in an era of siege warfare.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Madaule, Jacques. The Albigensian Crusade: An Historical Essay. Translated by Barbara Wall. New York: Fordham University Press, 1967. In this informative study, the author reinforces the cultural differences between northern and southern France and the role that the Albigensian Crusade played in the formation of France as a national state.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Petrus, Sarnensis. The History of the Albigensian Crusade. Translated by W. A. Sibly and M. D. Sibly. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell Press, 1998. A translation of the late twelfth-early thirteenth century text Historia Albigensium. Includes maps, genealogical tables, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades. 3 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Places the Languedoc invasion within the context of other crusades and notes that northern extremists moved beyond the authority of the popes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sayers, Jane E. Innocent III: Leader of Europe, 1198-1216. New York: Longman, 1995. Analyzes Innocent III’s attempt to impose a theocratic dominance in Europe over and against secular tendencies such as those that surfaced in Albigensian France.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Strayer, Joseph R. The Albigensian Crusades. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992. Provides a comprehensive study of the political conditions in Europe that contributed to the backlash against the Cathari.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sumption, Jonathan. The Albigensian Crusade. Boston: Faber, 1999. A wide-ranging summary of the linguistic, religious, and political differences between southern and northern France that led to the clash of two cultures.

Categories: History