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Massacre at Montségur: A History of the Albigensian Crusade

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In 1208 Pope Innocent III called for a Crusade - this time against a country of fellow Christians. The new enemy: Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, one of the greatest princes in Christendom, premier baron of all the territories in southern France where the langue d'oc was spoken. Thus began the Albigensian Crusade, named after the town of Albi. It culminated in 1244 at the In 1208 Pope Innocent III called for a Crusade - this time against a country of fellow Christians. The new enemy: Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, one of the greatest princes in Christendom, premier baron of all the territories in southern France where the langue d'oc was spoken. Thus began the Albigensian Crusade, named after the town of Albi. It culminated in 1244 at the mountain fortress of Montségur with the massacre of the Cathars, or "pure ones" - a faith more ancient than Catholicism. At stake was not only the growth of this rival religion right in the heart of the Catholic Church's territory, but also the very survival of the Languedoc itself as an autonomous and independent region of France.


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In 1208 Pope Innocent III called for a Crusade - this time against a country of fellow Christians. The new enemy: Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, one of the greatest princes in Christendom, premier baron of all the territories in southern France where the langue d'oc was spoken. Thus began the Albigensian Crusade, named after the town of Albi. It culminated in 1244 at the In 1208 Pope Innocent III called for a Crusade - this time against a country of fellow Christians. The new enemy: Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, one of the greatest princes in Christendom, premier baron of all the territories in southern France where the langue d'oc was spoken. Thus began the Albigensian Crusade, named after the town of Albi. It culminated in 1244 at the mountain fortress of Montségur with the massacre of the Cathars, or "pure ones" - a faith more ancient than Catholicism. At stake was not only the growth of this rival religion right in the heart of the Catholic Church's territory, but also the very survival of the Languedoc itself as an autonomous and independent region of France.

30 review for Massacre at Montségur: A History of the Albigensian Crusade

  1. 4 out of 5

    John

    What a great history book this was; great pace, exciting, bloody anecdotes mixed in at just the right times. And it covers a lot more ground than the last book I read about this stuff. This is really one of the most interesting little corners of history if you are at all curious about the history of France or of the Christian church. If you haven't ever heard about the Albigensian Crusade (where have you been? living under a rock?), let me give you a rundown. Round about the year 1200, the Pope What a great history book this was; great pace, exciting, bloody anecdotes mixed in at just the right times. And it covers a lot more ground than the last book I read about this stuff. This is really one of the most interesting little corners of history if you are at all curious about the history of France or of the Christian church. If you haven't ever heard about the Albigensian Crusade (where have you been? living under a rock?), let me give you a rundown. Round about the year 1200, the Pope was feeling pretty good about his ability to send great big crusading armies to do his bidding, usually in the holy land. The crusading armies were fond of crusades, because they got all their sins forgiven and no one could bother them about debts or things while they were off fighting. But they were sick of having to get all the way to Jerusalem. (In fact, the last time, they had given up halfway and sacked Constantinople instead). So the Pope decided to use a crusade to stamp out a particularly feisty sect of heretics called "Cathars", who had built a sort of rival Christian faith in an area of Southern France. Now the Cathar faith had really grown impressively by 1200, they actually outnumbered Catholics in many areas. They had been noticeably around in France for over two hundred years. But having a crusade against them wasn't exactly fair. The Muslims were a little more prepared for this kind of thing. The Cathars were vegetarian pacifists. The higher-ups weren't allowed to kill anything, not even a chicken. So, as you could imagine, this was something of a bloodbath. There were several instances of armored knights hacking small cities of men, women and children into little bits. And once the original crusade kinda wrapped up, the church started an inquisition to hunt down heretics. The author is of the opinion that this is the point where the Catholics kinda sold their souls and started down a bad road that lead to the spanish inquisition and other awful things, and I can see that. What's really interesting about this to me is that this is a real turning point in history. If this crusade had never happened, the cathars could have grown even larger, and they had a lot of the same goals that the protestants ended up having. Maybe the reformation never would have happened. If the northern French knights hadn't basically subjugated this whole area of what is now Southern France, maybe it wouldn't have ended up as France at all. It could have ended up as part of Spain, or as its own country. (it spoke its own language, which by now is close to dead). The other great thing about this book is that it's filled with this kind of dry wit. I actually laughed sometimes, which is odd in a history book about a crusade. I don't know if this is Oldenbourg or the translator, but it keeps the book interesting.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    A motley militia led by warlords professing extreme religious views rampages across land legitimately held by others, murdering, torturing, and dispossessing the inhabitants in the name of a narrow, intolerant version of a religion whose basis is supposedly peace and universal brotherhood. All very familiar. And yet this is not the self-proclaimed 'Islamic State' of the 21st century in Syria and Iraq, but the self-proclaimed Catholic Church of the 13th century in the Languedoc, southern France. A motley militia led by warlords professing extreme religious views rampages across land legitimately held by others, murdering, torturing, and dispossessing the inhabitants in the name of a narrow, intolerant version of a religion whose basis is supposedly peace and universal brotherhood. All very familiar. And yet this is not the self-proclaimed 'Islamic State' of the 21st century in Syria and Iraq, but the self-proclaimed Catholic Church of the 13th century in the Languedoc, southern France. Zoe Oldenbourg's classic 1959 study of the Church's cynical and bloody crusade against the Cathars brings vividly to life this deeply unedifying episode of political machination and institutional religious powerplay. On its original publication such benighted savagery, which saw thousands put to the sword, mutilated, or burnt alive for 'heresy', must have seemed like a distant memory. Indeed, although the official (that is, the Church's) historical records on which her book is based clearly demonstrate how important Catharism must have been in the civilisation of southern France at the time, Oldenbourg admits that there survives very little of the Cathars' own records, or even much knowledge of what it was they believed, such was the thoroughness with which they were exterminated by French baronial forces and their mercenaries, led initially by Simon de Montfort and backed by the Pope. Catharism appears to have been a firm of Gnostic Christianity, heavily influenced by Manichaean dualism, and at the end of the 12th century a major contender to Catholicism as the principal religion of the Languedoc. It would certainly seem to have been closely bound up, along with the regional language, the Langue d'Oc itself, as a national symbol, and for this reason the local nobility, while not necessarily devotees themselves, were assiduous in protecting their 'heretical' vassals and townsfolk against interference by both the Church and an expansionist French state. Interestingly, it appears that pacifism was a tenet of the Cathars' belief, so it was lucky that their lords were not particularly pious ! Among the several extraordinary players in this sordid, real-life game of thrones, the Counts of Toulouse, Raymonds VI and VII, stand out as cunning, daring, and - the odd massacre aside - almost sympathetic in their swashbuckling and somewhat creative attitude toward swearing allegiance to Catholicism and the King, which both did several times before abjuring their oaths in order to defend their lands against these foreign powers. De Montfort himself gets short shrift from the author, as do most of the Catholic bishops and Papal Legates involved, for their preoccupation with earthly power at the expense of the burned bodies of religious dissenters. Most sinister, however, was St Dominic, whose very rapid canonisation after his death in the middle of these horrible events seems to have been earned mainly by his assiduousness in sending his fellow humans to the stake. The Pope was evidently so impressed he gave his order of preaching friars a new job as an Inquisition...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    Not "currently reading" so much as "slogging through" - fascinating historical period and region, but terribly dense writing. Peter Green is not the author but the translator; author is Zoe Oldenbourg.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dave Clarke

    One of those books that has sat on my book shelves for years unread, waiting to be picked up, finally got its turn, and now I regret not having done so years ago! I knew relatively little about the history of the region, beyond the perspective of the Plantagenet kings of England, and tall tales of lost treasure and mystical sects, so this tome was highly informative, not only for the whys and wherefores, but also the wider geopolitical landscape of Europe in the 1100's. A well researched walk One of those books that has sat on my book shelves for years unread, waiting to be picked up, finally got its turn, and now I regret not having done so years ago! I knew relatively little about the history of the region, beyond the perspective of the Plantagenet kings of England, and tall tales of lost treasure and mystical sects, so this tome was highly informative, not only for the whys and wherefores, but also the wider geopolitical landscape of Europe in the 1100's. A well researched walk through the events leading up to the massacre, where the Catholics massacred hundreds in a massive pyre at the walls of the castle of Montsegur, having already burnt many thousands more in the decades leading to this awful conflagration, and all the major players on all sides are presented warts and all, this book does not reflect well on the actions of the catholic church, from its popes to the inquisition, led by the hypocritically pious followers of st Dominic, who himself tried preaching to the cathars to dissuade them from what they (the catholic church) saw as heresy, even engaging in a debate with them ... and helps put to context the continuing conflicts that smoulder in the regions, when the country we know as France was a much smaller nation, based in Paris and the North, and the political game her Kings made to encourage a crusade against what was, for all it's 'heresy' a country of people who worshipped the same sky fairy, but only paid token fealty to him, as the Count of Toulose and his vassals playing the holy roman empire, along with the kings of Aragon, England and France against each other in order to keep their own autonomy ... The massacre itself is played out in the final chapter, the preceding chapters give the context of how it got to that place, and shows the links of intermarriage, that bound them all together ... and in that regard, it is most rewarding IMHO ...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Spiros

    Grim stuff. It's amazing to think how religion can justify setting people on fire to proclaim God's glory. And of course Oldenbourg correctly points out that Abbot Arnald-Almaric probably never actually said of the citizens of Beziers "Kill them all, God will look after his own": there wouldn't have been time, since Beziers fell because a few of the citizens decided to sally forth in front of the town and taunt the armies besieging them, as in Monty Python and the Holy Grail; whereupon the Grim stuff. It's amazing to think how religion can justify setting people on fire to proclaim God's glory. And of course Oldenbourg correctly points out that Abbot Arnald-Almaric probably never actually said of the citizens of Beziers "Kill them all, God will look after his own": there wouldn't have been time, since Beziers fell because a few of the citizens decided to sally forth in front of the town and taunt the armies besieging them, as in Monty Python and the Holy Grail; whereupon the mercenaries chivied the citizens, stormed the castle, and put all the citizens to the sword, and for good measure burned the town down before the knights and nobles could plunder the town's wealth.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David Newell

    A stirring (if often list-ish) recount of one of the many tumultuous periods of French and papal history. The tone of this book very much paints the Cathars in a positive light, but it's well sourced and provides a fascinating read

  7. 5 out of 5

    Don

    Too scholarly for me. Too much info that was uninteresting to me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Googoogjoob

    A decent, mostly readable account of the Albigensian Crusade and its aftermath, but brought down a ways by a few issues. First, the writing is very dense. I'm not sure how much of this is Oldenbourg's own doing and how much is attributable to the translator (who really likes the term "dead letter"). The text seems to range back and forth across the same topics many times successively, each time only layering on a thin new patina of meaning and interpretation. It can get very tiring to read, and A decent, mostly readable account of the Albigensian Crusade and its aftermath, but brought down a ways by a few issues. First, the writing is very dense. I'm not sure how much of this is Oldenbourg's own doing and how much is attributable to the translator (who really likes the term "dead letter"). The text seems to range back and forth across the same topics many times successively, each time only layering on a thin new patina of meaning and interpretation. It can get very tiring to read, and it feels like maybe a third of the book could be cut without losing much. Second, as odd as it seems to say, the author is pretty heavily biased in favor of the Cathars. On the one hand, it would definitely be strange NOT to feel sympathy for these people who were persecuted, often to the death, for their beliefs; however, the author goes rather farther than a historian should, I think. She portrays the Cathar perfects as superhumanly noble and wonderful people, and repeatedly emphasizes their willingness to die for their faith, while glossing over the many who turned traitor and snitched to the Inquisition, and ignoring any evidence that they were fallible humans. (The last known Cathar perfect in Languedoc fled home after killing a man, before becoming a perfect. Later he got his lover pregnant, convinced a friend to marry said lover, then dissolved the marriage, making it look like his friend was the father. His story is maybe not typical, but it shows that the Cathar priesthood was just as capable of engaging in sordid antics as the Catholic one.) Third, Oldenbourg makes the mistake of believing the present castle at Montsegur to be the one the Cathars used. There's a sketch of the castle in the front matter, and in the text she describes its construction, and makes deductions about the course of the siege from its position and shape, etc. She also engages in a little speculation based on supposed solar alignments in the construction. In reality, the Cathar castle was torn down after the siege, and the present castle on the site dates to several centuries later. This is a pretty fundamental error to make, especially for someone writing a history book. The book's narrative ends abruptly with the surrender of Montsegur, which makes for a dramatic and obvious ending, but it doesn't go into any detail at all about the following century of the Inquisition's efforts to weed out the remaining Cathars, and it says nothing about the heretics of Northern Italy. On a lesser note, it'd be nice if the book had better maps. There's one little map at the front of the book, but it doesn't show anything east of Beziers or north of Toulouse, and omits many places mentioned in the text (eg Avignonet, which is a pretty important place in the narrative). In all, I don't really regret reading this book, but I also don't feel like I've read anything near a definitive book on the subject.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Philip Rowe

    Still slogging along, it is a good read but has to be taken in small bites. 8/3/13 - So this is not a summer book, or prehaps I am just a summer reader, I have not abandoned this book, just put it on hiatus, besides, I was seduced by Sara Gran, almost finished with her Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead. Back to history in the fall, my only history fig leaf is I am also reading Bring Up the Bodies, good enough for summer history.

  10. 5 out of 5

    H. P. Reed

    Zoe Oldenberg stands high among historians of her time for the combination of meticulous research, clear and classy writing, unusual subjects and popular appeal. This book is no exception. If I have time I'd like to re-read it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    We are planning to visit this area of France on our next trip to Europe. This is a history of the Cathars, a Christian religion that was wiped out by the Catholic Church. Religious intolerance has a long history.

  12. 5 out of 5

    John Robertson

    A comprehensive analysis of the Cathar Hersey in southern France; very scholarly work, tonnes of details, covers key characters, battles with a solid background and context to the crusade. Not an introduction but certainly for those who want to get their teeth into the period.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth

    I registered a book at BookCrossing.com! http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/12008529

  14. 5 out of 5

    Chris Mcmanaman

    Sad. Hate the Catholic Church

  15. 5 out of 5

    David

    An excellent read from start to finish.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    Not for the casual history reader

  17. 4 out of 5

    Norm

    A new chapter in history for me. I never knew what heresy was or how vicious the Catholic church was in suppressing alternative views of Christianity.

  18. 5 out of 5

    David Tavernier

  19. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Esposito

  20. 4 out of 5

    Deby M

  21. 4 out of 5

    William Bailey

  22. 5 out of 5

    John Chamberlain

  23. 5 out of 5

    Steph

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dirk Janssens

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Hart

  26. 4 out of 5

    Justin

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bea

  28. 4 out of 5

    J.A.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Thimel

  30. 5 out of 5

    Hank Willett

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