Sunday, February 01, 2009

Simon de Montfort
Some Thoughts

Between 1209 C.E., and 1229 C.E., the south of France was convulsed with the war known as the Albigensian Crusade. The Crusade was formally against the so called Cathar heretics of southern France1 but turned rapidly into a mass pillaging campaign in which northern French nobility sought to gain fortune and fame.

The main leader of the Crusaders during the first part of this Crusade was Simon de Montfort, (1160-1218 C.E.). Simon was born near Paris and was the inheritor of the Montfort estates near Paris upon his fathers death in 1181 C.E. Simon de Montfort went on the infamous 4th Crusade although he did not reap much benefit from his participation.2

Drawing of a Stained Glass Portrait of Simon de Montfort

Simon’s great claim to fame is his military leadership of the Crusade against the Cathar heretics in southern France, which turned into a campaign of conquest and looting of the southern French nobility.

Map of Southern France before the Crusade

Simon’s extraordinary military ability was in evidence through much of this time period along with his iron determination to succeed. His greatest victory was his incredible victory in the Battle of Muret in 1213, which he achieved over Pedro II of Aragon, (who was killed) and the southern nobility and city militia of Toulouse.3

To quote:

(466) After this – and the death of about twenty thousand of the enemies of the faith, some by drowning, some by the sword – our most Christian Count walked barefoot from the place where he had dismounted to the church, to render thanks to Almighty God for the victory He had been granted, since he recognized that this miracle had been wrought by God’s grace and not the efforts of men His horse and his armour he gave as alms for the poor.4

So speaks Peter about his near “perfect” Christian hero after the battle.

Unfortunately Simon’s great military ability was not matched by much ability in the realm of statecraft or administration and the organized looting, disinheriting and exploitation of the domains that Simon conquered soon earned Simon a great deal of hatred and the almost extraordinary brutality of the crusade did not help. For example:

(227) Soon Aimeric, the former lord of Montreal, of whom we spoke above, was led out of Laveur with up to eighty other Knights. The noble Count [Simon] proposed that they all should be hanged from fork-shaped gibbets. However, after Aimeric, who was taller than the others, had been hanged, the gibbets started to fall down, since through excessive haste they had not been properly fixed in the ground. The Count realized that to continue would cause a long delay and ordered the rest to be put to the sword. The crusaders fell to this task with great enthusiasm and quickly slew them on the spot. The Count had the Dame of Laveur, sister of Aimeric and a heretic of the worst sort, thrown into a pit and stones heaped on her. Our Crusaders burnt innumerable heretics, with great rejoicing.

Another account of the same event.

(ch. 16) Having thus achieved the unconditional surrender of Laveur. Count Simon had the noble lord Aimeric hanged, together with a few knights; he put to the sword some other nobles and certain others who had mingled with them in the hope that knights would be spared, about eighty in all. He consigned about three hundred robed heretics to everlasting fire by having them consumed by the flames of the material world. He had Giraude the mistress of Laveur thrown into a pit and stones heaped on her. The ordinary people were spared, on conditions.

A final account of the same events.

(s. 71) They had taken this place, [Laveur] as the book says. There they burned at least four hundred evil heretics, heaping them all onto one great funeral pyre. Sir Aimery was hanged, along with many other knights – four Score they hanged there like thieves on the gibbets, some here, some there. Lady Girauda was taken and she shrieked and screamed and shouted. They held her across a well and dropped her into it, I know this for certain, and threw stones on top of her. This caused great dismay. But the other noblewomen were all set free by a kind and courteous Frenchman.5

What makes those reports even more damning is that they are from sources that approved of that sort of horror, and thought of Simon has a great hero. Unfortunately this sort of atrocity was hardly unusual but very common indeed during the Crusade.6 Indeed Peter especially is notorious for excusing and exalting in the murderous, vile atrocities of the Crusaders but if the southerners respond in kind he is quite indignant and angry. A rather interesting example of hypocrisy, but one so blatant and barefaced that I doubt that Peter was even aware in any sense of it being hypocrisy. After all his attitude seems to have been its all right if my side does it but utterly evil and wrong if the other side does it. William of Puylaurens seems to have been if pro-crusader much less of an apologist for their crimes and aware that excesses didn’t help the crusader cause.

Well sometimes in human affairs the wicked are punished, Despite Papal approval of the dispossession of Count Raymond of Toulouse, Raymond VI and his son, who became Raymond VII, continued to fight back. Toulouse, despite capitulating, to Simon was restive under his rule. Previously to quell the inhabitants of Toulouse Simon had sacked the city and razed its walls to the ground.

On the 13th of September 1217 C.E., Count Raymond VI with a tiny group of supporters entered Toulouse after a long ride from the border of Aragon. Toulouse rose in rebellion in support of the Count. To quote a contemporary account:

(s. 182) When the count [Raymond VI] entered through the arched gateway all the people flocked to him. Great and small, lords and ladies, wives and husbands, they knelt before him and kissed his clothing, his feet and legs, his arms and fingers. With tears of delight and joy they welcomed him, for joy regained bears both flower and fruit.


“Now we have Jesus Christ!” They said to each other, “now we have the morning star risen and shining upon us! This is our lord who was lost! Through him worth and paratge are freed from their graves, are healed and restored, and our whole kinship regains power for ever!”7

Page from a Manuscript of The Song of the Cathar Wars

Thus speaks an unabashed supporter of the southerners. Peter has a different view of the matter.

(s. 600) For at this time the citizens of Toulouse – perhaps we should say “the deceivers” - were inspired by the Devil to secede from god and the Church and revolt against the Count de Montfort. They welcomed into their city Raymond, their erstwhile Count and lord, who had been deservedly deprived of his possessions and exiled on the authority of the Pope and the Second Lateran Council.8

In October of 1217 C.E., Simon appeared in front of Toulouse and he besieged the city for eight months. The siege was fought with great determination on both sides. The Toulousians amazingly where able to rebuild their walls to a defensible state in the short time before Simon arrived.9

Despite repeated attempts Simon fails to take Toulouse and in the meantime his grip on his possessions throughout the south is slipping. On June 25 1218 C.E., while fighting a sortie from Toulouse Simon is killed. To quote The Song of the Cathar Wars:

(s. 205) As Sir Guy [Simon’s brother] was speaking and beginning to shout and yell, there was in the town a mangonel built by a carpenter and dragged with its platform from St. Sernin. This was worked by noblewomen, by little girls and men’s wives, and now a stone arrived just where it was needed and struck Count Simon on his steel helmet, shattering his eyes, brains, back teeth, forehead and jaw. Bleeding and black, the count dropped dead on the ground.


But a messenger brought the news [Count Simon’s death] into Toulouse and such was the joy that all over the town they ran to the churches and lit candles in all the candlesticks and cried out, “Rejoice! God is merciful and paratge shines forth, victorious forever! The cruel and murderous count is dead, dead unshriven because he was a man of blood!” Trumpets, horns and universal joy, chimes and peals and clamouring bells in belfries, drums, tabors and slender clarons rang through the town tell every paving-stone re-echoed.10
An allegoric painting of the Lamb of the Languedoc killing the Lion of de Montfort

A popular ballad was composed at this time by the southerners and it goes as follows:

Es mort
Es mort
Es mort!
Viva Tolosa
Ciotat gloriosa
et poderosa!
Tornan lo paratge et l'onor!
Es mort!
Es mort!
Es mort!

A translation into English is:

Is dead
Is dead
Is dead!
Hooray for Toulouse
Glorious city
and powerful!
Honour and paratge return!
Is dead!
Is dead!
Is dead!11
Peter, not surprisingly, has a different response to Simon’s death and composed the following epitaph.

(612) Suddenly a stone from an enemy mangonel struck Christ’s knight on the head. The blow was lethal. Twice beating his breast he commended his soul to God and the Blessed Virgin. Like St. Stephen – and stoned to death in that Saint’s city – he went to rest in the lords keeping. Before he received the fatal wound the Lords brave knight – say rather, if we are not mistaken, his most glorious martyr – was five times wounded by the enemy archers, like the Saviour for whom he now patiently accepted death, and by whose side he now lives in sublime peace, as we believe.12

William of Puylaurens says the following:

(ch. 28) So, the man who inspired terror from the Mediterranean to the British sea fell by a blow from a single stone; at his fall those who had previously stood firm fell down. In him, who was a good man, the insolence of his subordinates was thrown down. I affirm that later I heard the Count of Toulouse (the last of his line) generously praise him – even though he was the enemy – for his fidelity, his foresight, his energy and all the qualities which befit a leader.

God then gave a signal that those who arrogantly sought to govern unwilling subjects and gave no thought to purging the land of heresy (for which the whole enterprise had been started), had departed from his way.13

That is the semi-positive verdict of William of Puylaurens who is also, we must not forget, a whole hearted supporter of the inquisition and hater of heretics / heresy.

In the end despite the subsequent recovery by the southerners of virtually everything from the Crusaders and the abandonment of the whole enterprise by Simon de Montfort’s son it was all for naught. The intervention of the King the France beginning in 1226 finally broke southern resistance and in 1229 C.E., forced the Count of Toulouse, Raymond VII son of Count Raymond VI, (who had died in 1222 C.E.,) to sign a humiliating peace, (Peace of Paris 1229 C.E.,). Subsequently the Inquisition was introduced into the south and Catharism brutally suppressed. In the end the lands of the Count of Toulouse were incorporated into the royal domain of the French king.14

So in the end all did not turn out well but an alternative epitaph exists for Simon de Montfort and it is entirely appropriate unlike the epitaphs of William of Puylaurens or Peter. Both of whom, especially Peter, are far too enamored of the brave fighter against heresy. It is from the Anonymous contributor to The Song of the Cathar Wars, that we get the words that damn Simon de Montfort for all time, and they go as follows:

(s. 208) Straightway they bore him to burial in Carcassonne, and celebrated the funeral service at the monastery of Saint-Nazaire. And those who can read may learn from his epitaph that he is a saint and a martyr; that he is bound to rise again to share the heritage, to flourish in that state of unparalleled felicity, to wear a crown and have his place in the Kingdom. But for my part I have heard tell that the matter must stand thus: if one may seek Christ Jesus in this world by killing men and shedding blood by the destruction of human souls; by compounding murder and hearkening to perverse counsel; by setting the torch to great fires; by destroying the Barons and dishonouring Parage; by winning lands through violence, and working for the triumph of vain pride; by fostering evil and snuffing out good; by slaughtering women and slitting children’s throats – why, then he must needs wear a crown, and shine resplendent in Heaven.15

Tombstone of Simon de Montfort at Carcassonne16

1. For accounts of the Cathar “heresy” see The Perfect Heresy, Stephen O’Shea, Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver, 2000, pp. 17-31, Massacre at Montsegur, Zoe Oldenbourg, Phoenix Press, London, 1961, pp. 28-81, The Cathars, Malcolm Lambert, Blackwell Pub. Ltd., London, 1998, pp. 131-170, The Cathars, Malcolm Barber, The Cathars, Longman, Toronto, 2000, pp. 6-33, 71-126, The Origins of European Dissent, 2d edition, R. I. Moore, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1985, pp. 197-240, The Medieval Manichee, Steven Runciman, The Viking Press, New York, 1947, pp. 116-170. See also The Birth of Popular Heresy, R. I. Moore, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1995, pp. 9-26, 113-154. for an interesting collection of essays about aspects of "Heresy" and "Crusading" see Crusaders and Heretics, 12th - 14th Centuries, Malcolm Barber, Variorum, Aldershot, Britain, 1995.

2. See Wikipedia article Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester at Here.

3. For contemporary accounts of the battle see The History of the Albigensian Crusade, Peter de Les Vaux-de-Cernay, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, England, 1998, pp. 206-219, (s. 453-486). (Peter accompanied Simon on the Crusade has a chronicler). A copy in Latin can be found Here. The Song of the Cathar Wars, William of Tudela & Anonymous, Scolar Press, Aldershot England, 1996, pp. 67-71, (s. 133-141). (This is from the part written by Anonymous who is very anti-Crusader and almost certainly attached to the court of the Counts of Toulouse) A copy can be found in French Here. The Chronicle of William of Puylaurens, William of Puylaurens, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, England, 2003, pp. 43-49, (ch. 20-21) (William of Puylaurens was an aide to Bishop Fulk of Toulouse and then to Fulk's successor in the period 1225-1260.) A copy can be found in Latin Here. Modern accounts are O’Shea, pp. 132-149, Oldenbourg, pp. 165-170.

4. Peter, p. 213.

5. The Three quotes in order are from, Peter, p. 117, Williams of Puylaurens, p. 40, Song of the Cathar Wars, William of Tudela section, p. 42. Laveur fell in 1211 C.E.

6. See O’Shea and Oldenbourg for more of the disgusting details.

7. Song of the Cathar Wars, Anonymous section, p. 122-123.

8. Peter, p. 270.

9. The best account of this siege is in Song of the Cathar Wars, pp. 122-176, (s.182-207).

10. Song of the Cathar Wars, Anonymous, p. 172.

11. Oldenbourg, p. 201. Translation by Pierre Cloutier.

12. Peter, p. 277.

13. William of Puylaurens, pp. 61-62.

14. For the unpleasant story see William of Puylaurens, pp. 64-125, (ch. 30-50), For the Treaty of Paris, 1229, a copy can be found in Chronicle of William of Puylaurens, pp. 138-144, For more discussion of these events see Oldenbourg, pp. 207-309, O’Shea, pp. 179-238.

15. I use the translation of this passage from Oldenbourg, pp. 199-200, which I like the best. The passage can also be found in Song of the Cathar Wars, Anonymous, pp. 176. The passage can be found on the website Languedoc at Here. Positive accounts of Simon de Montfort are few and far between An example of this is Simon de Montfort (1165-1218), His Life and Work: A Critical Study and Evaluation based on the Sources, Robert John Kovarik, Phd, St Louis University, 1963, a copy can be found Here. Aside from excusing, rationlizing Simon's behavior and attitudes. (The old saw about the "times" etc., ignoring the tolerance of the South for example). The author quite selectively uses data. For example he quotes (p. 348), the first part of Anonymous' epitath but excludes all of the stuff from "But for my part..." The author also manages to elide all the stuff indicating the great hatred with which Southerners regarded Simon de Montfort.

16. The body of Simon de Montfort is no longer there. Simon's son removed it in 1224 C.E., to prevent it from being violated by the resurgent southerners. See Oldenbourg, p. 207.

Pierre Cloutier


  1. Anonymous6:18 pm

    Excellent historical citations!

    The term "Cathars" derives from the Greek word Katheroi and means "Pure Ones". They were a gnostic Christian sect that arose in the 11th century, an offshoot of a small surviving European gnostic community that emigrated to the Albigensian region in the south of France.The medieval Cathar movement flourished in the 12th century A.D. throughout Europe until its virtual extermination at the hands of the Inquisition in 1245.

    There are an ever increasing number of historians and other academics engaged in serious Cathar studies. Interestingly, to date, the deeper they have dug, the more they have vindicated Cathar claims to represent a survival of the Earliest Christian Church.

    Thank you!

    Brad Hoffstetter
    Communications Division
    Assembly of good Christians

    May we also suggest the following online scholarly sources:

  2. Thank you for kind words, and for the url's you listed. This is indeed a fascinating time period. I'm planning to in the near future publish in my blog a translation of the complete summary of a Cathar Council that allegedly took place at St. Felix in 1167. The Document supposidly dates to 1223.

    Regarding the origin of the term Cathar. That has been debated for years. A great many scholars disagree with the suggestion that you use and instead find the origin in a German term about cats that denigrates the so called "Heretics". I use the term because it has become one of the established terms.

    I don't know about the Cathar belief system being a survival of the earliest Christian Church. I do however think it is likely descended from a early version of Christianity.


  3. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.