Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229)PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Roman Catholic Church vs. the Albigensian heretics
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Southern France
DECLARATION: 1208, by Pope Innocent III
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Albigensian opposition to the Roman Catholic Church
OUTCOME: Nobles of southern France accepted Catholic French rule
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Unknown
TREATIES: Treaty of Meaux, 1229
The Albigensians were Christian heretics (mainly Catharists)
concentrated in southern France (Languedoc) who
formed an antisectoral party opposing the Roman church.
Influenced by the multicultural makeup of the shipping
ports in the region, the Albigensians were exposed to and
adopted Catharism, a dualistic variation on more orthodox
Christian belief that stressed eternal conflict between the
forces of good and evil, and that held the material world to
be evil. In 1208, after repeated attempts at the pacific conversion
of the heretics, Pope Innocent III (1161–1216)
declared a military crusade against them, offering papal
fiefdoms in Toulouse to anyone who would participate.
Catholic nobles from all over the north of France raced
The crusade pitted the Catholic nobles of northern
France, led by Simon IV de Montfort (c. 1160–1218),
against the Catharist nobles of the south, commanded by
the count of Toulouse, Raymond IV (1156–1222). A major
battle at Muret in 1213 proved to be the turning point of
the crusade. Albigensian forces, aided by Pedro II of
Aragon (1174–1213), besieged Montfort’s headquarters at
Muret and appeared to have bottled him up there. However,
Montfort managed to escape the tightening grip of
the southern forces, redirect his troops, and accomplish
the rout of the unsuspecting Albigensians in a bloody
ambush. Pedro II was killed, a significant loss because his
death completed the split between Aquitaine and Aragon.
By this time, clearly, the conflict had became a political
rather than a religious war; obviously, Pedro II had had no
intention of defending heresy.
22 Albigensian Crusade
Montfort proceeded to Toulouse and in 1215 declared
himself count of the former Albigensian stronghold. In
1218 Montfort was killed, but the inquisition he instituted
against the heretics had already taken a heavy toll. The
population was systematically persecuted and the countryside
sacked and pillaged. The doors of southern France
had been forcibly opened to Catholic France, and construction
of churches and monasteries had already begun
on a large scale. By 1229 the magnificent Provençal civilization
created by the Albigensians was largely in ruins.
That same year the crusade formally ended with the signing
of the Treaty of Meaux, by which the independent
kingdoms of the south accepted Catholic French rule.
Thus, the French Crown emerged from the bitter “crusades”
as the only real victor, having gained control over
Languedoc. As for Catharism, it slowly eroded along with
its social base.
Further reading: Aubrey Burl, God’s Heretics: The
Albigensian Crusade (London: Sutton Publishing, 2002);
Joseph R. Strayer, The Albigensian Crusades (New York:
Dial Press, 1971); Jonathan Sumption, The Albigensian
Crusade (London: Faber and Faber, 2000).