Aragonese-French War (1209–1213)
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Aragon vs. France
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Southern France
DECLARATION: Pope Innocent III called for a crusade
against heretics in southern France (some of which was
under the control of Aragon) in 1203.
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: France’s Philip II used the
excuse of the Albigensian Crusade to establish hegemony
over southern France; Aragon’s King Pedro I joined the
so-called “heretics” to protect his own feudal holdings in
OUTCOME: Pedro was killed, and the crusade went on.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
Spanish and heretics combined, 34,000; French (at that
point), a few thousand
One of the more important events of the early 13th century
in Europe was a crusade launched against the Albigenses,
a sect of religious reformers in southern France
that had been branded heretical by the Roman Catholic
Church. French kings used the crusade to greatly expand
their control and power over the south at the expense of
local barons. As the crusade degenerated into a civil war
between France’s northern and southern nobility, Aragon’s
King Pedro II (1174–1213) became caught up in the partisan
cause of his brother-in-law, Raymond VI (1156–1222),
count of Toulouse, against Simon IV de Montfort (c.
1160–1218), leader of the northern French cause.
The centers of the religious reform movement were
Toulouse and the stronghold at Albi, where the Catholic
clergy’s failure to convert the heretics led Pope Innocent
III (1161–1216) to proclaim the ALBIGENSIAN CRUSADE.
France’s Philip II (1165–1223) did not engage in the crusade
personally, but he strongly urged his factotum, the
half-English Montfort, to raise a substantial force among
the northern barons, who campaigned across western
Languedoc, destroying most of the south’s military, and
capturing most of its strongholds. At Albi and other
heretical towns Montfort ruthlessly slaughtered the inhabitants.
By 1213 only the cities of Toulouse and Montaubin
still held out, and the counts of Toulouse, Foix, and Commings—
all in the South—were the only nobles still daring
to defy Simon. Other than Simon, most of the northern
barons had returned home, leaving him to mop up the
conquest and conversion.
Christian crusaders from the recently ended Fourth
CRUSADE had helped Aragon’s King Pedro destroy a Muslim
kingdom at Valencia in 1209. Now they marched into
Provence, an Aragonese holding in France, where heretic
Albigensians were gaining a following, to join the Albigensian
crusaders. Watching developments carefully, Pedro
grew concerned over the increase in French royal power
in southern France. Anxious to protect his own feudal
holdings north of the Pyrenees and despite his own
staunch Catholicism, he led a Spanish army into Languedoc
to join the heretics and the followers of his brother-inlaw.
With a combined army of about 4,000 heavy cavalry
and 30,000 foot soldiers, King Pedro and Count Raymond
captured several of Montfort’s fortified posts, then laid
siege to Muret, one of the most important of Count
Simon’s strongholds, garrisoned by 700 men. Just as Pedro
and Raymond arrived at Muret, Montfort and some 900
heavy cavalry joined the garrison.
Aware that Muret was low on supplies, and knowing
that he could not expect timely relief from the north,
Simon launched a daring if desperate plan. He enticed the
besiegers to attack an apparently poorly defended gate on
the city’s southeast, and as the attackers rushed in Montfort
and his cavalry ambushed them. Then, while all attention
was turned to the slaughter at the gate, Montfort’s
cavalry suddenly dashed out into the open, leading the
besieging generals to assume he was trying to escape.
Instead, riding around low hills to the west, Montfort
turned north, crossed the Longe River just north of Muret,
dispersed a small force protecting the far bank, and surprised
and smashed a much larger force under the Count
of Foix. Pedro and his Aragonese were warned, but by the
time they could form a line of defense they were hit by a
violent frontal charge from two-thirds of Simon’s small
force. Outnumbering the French 30 to one, the Aragonese
quickly engulfed them, only to be charged from behind by
Montfort and 300 of his cavalry, who had just completed a
wide sweeping envelopment. The Spanish broke and fled,
suffering many casualties, not the least being King Pedro
himself. Montfort’s brilliant strategy paid off; Raymond’s
forces, the only portion of the heretical army so far not
engaged in the battle, were quickly overwhelmed and all
but annihilated. The Aragonese-French War was over. The
Albigensian Crusade would continue for more than a
decade, as Simon, urged on from Paris, rounded up heretic
See also ARAGONESE-FRENCH WAR (1284–1285).
Further reading: Raymond Carr, Spain: A History
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Bernard F.
Reilly, The Medieval Spains (New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1993); Joseph R. Strayer, The Albigensian Crusades
(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992).