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The Albigensian Crusades: Wars Like Any Other?
By Malcolm Barber
Dei gesta per Francos: Etudes sur les croisades deditees a Jean Richard, eds. Michel Balard, Benjamin Kedar and Jonathan Riley-Smith (Ashgate, 2001)
There are three great clichés in our view of the Albigensian Crusades which most historians find hard to resist. These are, first, the words supposedly spoken by Arnaud Amalric, the papal legate, during the crusader attack upon Beziers on 22 July 1209, where, according to his fellow Cistercian Caesarius of Heisterbach, in response to a question from the soldiers, he was supposed to have replied, “Kill them. For God will know those who are his”; secondly, the hurling of Girauda, dame of Lavaur, down a well where she died under a barrage of stones, after the fall of her town to the crusaders on 3 May 1211; and, finally, the ironic gloss on the epitaph on Simon of Montfort, the leader of the crusade, killed besieging Toulouse on 25 June 1218, as set down by the anonymous continuator of William of Tudela’s Chanson, which, in powerful rhetoric the original author could never have matched, culminates in the lines “if by kindling evil and quenching good, by killing women and slaughtering children, a man can in this world win Jesus Christ, certainly Count Simon wears a crown and shines in heaven above.”
Although only the second of these is of any real value for the historian attempting to reconstruct the events of the Albigensian crusades, the unavoidable collective impression is that this was a conflict in which all the normal conventions of warfare in the early thirteenth century were abandoned and that the prime responsibility for this belongs to northern crusaders whose brutal demeanour created a depth of bitterness between the Languedoil and the Languedoc which still has echoes today. A typical consequence has been, for example, the treatment of Pierre Belperron’s La Croisade contre les Albigeois (published in 1942), in which he argued that this was a war no more brutal or bitter than any other conquests of the kings of France and that it had been sentimentalised by certain persons for their own purposes. In 1998 Pierre Martel’s sarcastic comment was that “we do not advise anyone who wishes to know about Catharism to read Belperron; but if they wish to understand how l’ideologie petainiste functioned, his contribution seems to us fundamental.”