Post-classical history

Chapter Thirty-Six


The Birth of the Inquisition

Between 1215 and 1229, the Fourth Lateran Council calls for crusade, the Albigensian Wars end, the Franciscan and Dominican orders are recognized, and the Council of Toulouse authorizes a new form of inquiry

THROUGHOUT 1215, priests and bishops had been making their way to Rome: singly, in pairs, in bands, arriving at the great city and taking up temporary lodgings. The newly appointed Latin patriarch of Constantinople was among them. So were the senior churchmen from Acre and the other Crusader cities in the east. Ambassadors from the kings of France, England, Germany, and a score of other sovereigns joined them. Innocent III had summoned a church council, and the entire Western world had responded.

On November 11, the Fourth Lateran Council began.* There were, says Roger of Wendover, more than eight hundred abbots and priors in attendance, and over four hundred bishops and archbishops. Dominic de Guzman, who had tried fruitlessly to convert the Cathars by preaching to them a decade earlier, was present. So, in all likelihood, was an obscure Italian monk from Assisi named Francis; he had gathered together a small band of devout men who had followed his call to strictly observe Matthew 19:21 (“If you will be perfect, go, sell all that you have, and give it to the poor”), and five years earlier Innocent III had given him permission to establish his own monastic order. They called themselves the Lesser Brothers, or Minor Friars; eventually they were nicknamed the Franciscans, after their founder.1

Innocent III intended for the Fourth Lateran Council—the greatest church assembly in a century—to address matters of doctrine and heresy. But the exiled Raymond of Toulouse was also present, along with his son and a handful of his supporters; he had come to plead for the restoration of his lands, currently in the hands of Simon de Montfort.

Contemporary accounts suggest that Innocent III was inclined to give Toulouse back to the count; Simon de Montfort had not proved to be a righteous ruler of the conquered lands. “He destroys Catholics just as much as heretics,” Innocent is said to have complained to his legates, “[and] serious complaints and bitter accusations reach me every month.” But the majority of the priests present objected, arguing that Raymond would once again give shelter to heretics. Saving his firepower for doctrinal issues, Innocent III yielded. Simon de Montfort was given permanent dominion over Toulouse, with only Raymond’s family lands in Provence held in reserve for his son.2

With Toulouse disposed of, the Fourth Lateran Council went about its business, confirming a staggering seventy articles of doctrine (all of them, says Roger of Wendover, were read aloud to the full council, “which seemed agreeable to some and tedious to others”) and issuing, as had almost become routine, a call for yet another crusade to the Holy Land. As far as Innocent was concerned, the Albigensian Crusade was at an end. But the wronged Raymond of Toulouse was not resigned to his exile. Simmering with fury, he left Rome and made his way to Avignon, in Languedoc, where he began to collect an army.3

Simon de Montfort was, by now, deeply unpopular in southern France, and Raymond had no trouble assembling a sizable band of supporters. He occupied the lands east of the Rhone without difficulty, and more than one town opened its gates to him willingly. Simon de Montfort, alarmed, hired additional knights (“with the promise of high rates of pay,” says Pierre des Vaux de Cernay) from France. But Raymond advanced steadily; and Montfort was fighting near the Rhone when the city of Toulouse itself revolted against him and sent Raymond an invitation to reenter as count and lord. Raymond marched into Toulouse in triumph on October 1, 1217.4

Meanwhile, Innocent III had died suddenly of an embolism, aged fifty-six, while visiting the central Italian town of Perugia. The cardinals of Rome went immediately into conclave to elect his successor, neglecting to bury the dead pope’s body; two days later, the theologian Jacques de Vitry found Innocent III’s body decomposing in the church of St. Lawrence, stripped of its gold-trimmed robes by thieves. His successor, the Roman priest Honorius III, immediately put most of his energies into the proposed Crusade, paying little attention to Languedoc except to authorize the creation of a new monastic order led by Dominic Guzman. This Order of Preachers, soon known simply as Dominicans, renewed Dominic’s efforts to conquer the Languedoc heresy by converting, rather than murdering, its inhabitants.5

Simon de Montfort laid siege to Toulouse, but his constant assaults on the city’s walls were always driven back by the citizens, who joined Raymond’s knights in building new defenses and operating the mangonels, catapults that hurled boulders over the city’s walls at the attackers: “Knights and citizens handled the stones,” says the contemporary Song of the Cathar Wars, “as did noble ladies and their daughters, young men, little girls and boys, everyone, great and small, and they sang songs and ballads as they worked.” Nine months into the siege, a stone pitched from a mangonel worked “by little girls and men’s wives” struck Simon de Montfort between the eyes and shattered his skull. A knight nearby hurriedly covered the body with a cape, but word of Montfort’s death spread at once, and his men immediately abandoned the siege.6

Toulouse rejoiced, but when Honorius III heard the news he announced a revival of the Crusade against Languedoc. Philip II of France sent a sizable force of archers and knights under the command of Prince Louis (newly returned from his unsuccessful bid to seize the English throne) to join Montfort’s son Amaury, aged twenty-three, in a renewed attack on the rebellious southern provinces.7

This campaign failed, disastrously. In one of the first engagements of the resurrected Albigensian war, Louis and Amaury besieged and captured the small town of Marmande. Probably hoping to terrify the rest of Languedoc into surrender, the two men authorized the massacre of Marmande’s inhabitants. “No one was left alive, man or woman, young or old,” says an eyewitness account. “Limbs and bodies, flesh and blood, broken fragments of human organs lay in every open place. The ground, the streets . . . were red with blood.”8

The strategy backfired. Resistance stiffened. Prince Louis took his army on to Toulouse and laid siege to it, but after six weeks Louis decided that the city was far too strong. He lifted the siege and went home. “He had achieved little,” writes William of Puylaurens, and Honorius agreed: “A miserable setback,” he wrote, of Louis’s defection.9

With Louis gone, Amaury de Montfort had no hope of retaking his father’s conquests. When Raymond of Toulouse died in 1222, after nearly seventy turbulent years of life, his son claimed his countship as Raymond VII.

The following year, Philip II Augustus of France also died. He had ruled France for over forty-two years, and in that remarkably long reign had doubled its territory, extended the power of the throne to unheard-of lengths, reduced the independence of its dukes, counts, and barons. Philip II had turned Western Francia into the nation-state of France.

Louis, inheriting the throne as Louis VIII, lived only three years before dying of dysentery, aged thirty-eight. His twelve-year-old son was crowned Louis IX; and Blanche of Castile became Louis’s regent, effective ruler of France. To bring peace to the south, Blanche offered the younger Raymond of Toulouse a treaty. If he tore down Toulouse’s newly constructed defenses, yielded several castles, and swore to fight Catharism, the French throne would recognize him as the rightful ruler of Toulouse. In addition Raymond would have to spend four thousand silver marks to establish a new university in Toulouse where right theology and proper doctrine would be taught.

Raymond VII agreed to the deal, which was signed in Paris in 1229. The Treaty of Paris brought Toulouse more firmly under the control of the French throne, but it also brought peace to the young count’s battered domains.

As further proof of his willingness to exterminate heresy, Raymond played host to a church council that met in Toulouse late in 1229. The council affirmed the establishment of the new University of Toulouse and laid out exactly how the extermination should proceed. “We appoint,” the council’s written canons explain, “that the archbishops and bishops shall swear in one priest, and two or three laymen of good report . . . in every parish . . . who shall diligently, faithfully, and frequently seek out heretics in those parishes.” When heretics were located, their houses were to be burned; if they repented “through fear of death,” they would merely be exiled and forced to wear crosses of colored cloth sewn onto their garments.10

This method of searching out heretics by appointed committee diffused the hunt out among both priests and laypeople: both were now authorized to inquire into the orthodoxy of their neighbors. Young Raymond had brought an end to the Albigensian Crusade; but in doing so, he had allowed the Council of Toulouse to establish the Inquisition.


36.1 The World of the Inquisition


*“Lateran councils” were those held in Rome itself, at the hall known as the Lateran Palace.

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