Post-classical history


When Statesmen gravely say ‘We must be realistic’ The chances are they’re weak, and therefore pacifistic: But when they speak of Principles, look out: perhaps Their generals are already poring over maps.

W. H. Auden, Collected Shorter Poems

The Lateran Council over, Henri de Marci, now a cardinal, crossed the Alps in the spring of 1181 to take up again the struggle against heresy. He came as a papal legate, the first in history to raise and lead an army on a military expedition in a Christian territory. Henri had taken his vows at Clairvaux in 1156, three years after the death of Bernard, became abbot of one of its important daughter houses (Hautecombe in the Savoy) only four years later and returned to Clairvaux as abbot in 1176. What he had seen in 1178 in Toulouse – to him ‘the mother of heresy and the fountain-head of error’ – gave substance to the nightmare that he had inherited from Bernard of ‘the order of heretics, an army of apostates, irreverently reviling the troops of the living God, impiously presuming to blaspheme against the majesty of the Lord’. Henri had been influential in preparing the Lateran decree against heresy, and he and his successors continued to regard the campaign against it in this region as a special responsibility, and popes to entrust them with it. In consequence the Cistercians largely moulded both the church’s perception of the nature of heresy in the region at the end of the twelfth century and, through their letters and reports, modern understandings of it.

The mission of 1178 had been dispatched in response to an appeal for help from Raymond V of Toulouse against those whom he called heretics and their patrons. His real target was a political alliance formed against him after his occupation of Narbonne the previous year. The war that he had triggered by this action had raged intermittently ever since, and would continue until the mid-1190s. It was conducted by mercenary soldiers employed on all sides:

the Brabanters, Aragonese, Navarrese, Basques, Cotereaux and Triaverdins, who practise such cruelty upon Christians that they respect neither churches nor monasteries, and spare neither widows, orphans, old or young nor any age or sex, but like pagans destroy and lay everything waste.1

Thus Lateran III had condemned these mercenaries in the same canon as the heretics and imposed the same penalties on ‘those who hire, keep or support them’. According to Stephen of Tournai, travelling through the region on his way to meet the papal legate, ‘we see nothing but the burned villages and ruined houses; we find no refuge; all threatens our safety and lays ambush for our lives.’ Afterwards he remembered how ‘passing there not long ago I saw the terrible fiery image of death, churches half destroyed, holy places in ashes, their foundations dug up. The houses of men had become the dwellings of beasts.’2

The misery and devastation that Stephen witnessed were real and his horror genuine, but by this time the armies of every king and prince in Europe were made up of mercenaries like these. Armies were no longer composed, if they ever had been, of gallant knights giving loyal service to their lords. What Stephen saw and the council had condemned was not a new evil but the sight of familiar forces out of what they regarded as proper control, compounding the miseries of the countless petty wars and feuds endemic in a deeply fragmented society, too many of whose young men had nothing to lose but their ‘honour’.


Cardinal Henri’s army laid siege to Lavaur, a stronghold of Vicomte Roger Trencavel of Béziers currently under the command of his wife, Adelaide. Roger immediately agreed to stop protecting heretics and made a start by handing over Bernard Raymond and Raymond de Baimac, who had taken refuge in Lavaur after their encounter with Peter of St Chrysogonus in Toulouse in 1178. Brought before a council of the church at Le Puy, they were so moved by the eloquence of Henri de Marci (he recounted) that they broke down, undertook to reveal the secrets of their sect and were allowed to return to Toulouse as canons respectively of St Etienne and St Sernin. Both were reported still to be leading praiseworthily religious lives in those positions six or seven years later; Bernard Raymond witnessed several acts of the chapter of St Etienne between 1184 and 1197.

These events, including the confession, were described by Henri de Marci in a letter now lost but used by the Limousin chronicler Geoffrey of Vigeois, who died in 1184, and another Cistercian abbot, Geoffrey of Auxerre, three or four years later.3 The account of Geoffrey of Vigeois contains two important novelties. He was the first to describe the heretics as Albigensians, meaning specifically heretics living in the area of Albi. After the Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209, this became the name commonly used by northerners for all adherents of the (supposedly) dualist heresy against whose protectors it was directed, and by historians until the term ‘Cathar’ came into vogue in the second half of the twentieth century.

Geoffrey of Vigeois’s report of the confession itself is more sensational. Having described the heresy which the two converts recanted at Le Puy as rejecting, predictably enough, the teaching of the Roman church on the sacrifice of the Mass, the baptism of infants, marriage and the other sacraments, he quotes them as saying that it taught that

Satan, the Great Lucifer, who because of his pride and wickedness had fallen from the throne of the good angels, is the creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible, and of the evil spirits. It was he who had given the law of Moses. Christ had only the appearance of humanity; he did not experience hunger, thirst or other bodily needs; he did not undergo the passion, was not crucified, did not die and has not risen again. Everything claimed by the Gospels and the apostles is fantasy.

Raymond and Bernard also claimed that the heretics indulged in sexual orgies and justified abortion and infanticide on the ground that giving life was the work of the devil. For good measure Geoffrey of Vigeois throws in the story that the wife of a local noble who had left her husband to join the heretics was initiated by being vigorously debauched by fifty of their senior members. Geoffrey of Auxerre adds that, according to Bernard and Raymond, the heretics dismissed infant baptism as valueless because adults must undergo their own ritual imposition of hands from their elect, and that they attacked alms to churches and condemned prayers for the dead as a mercenary racket invented by clerks.

Thus far Bernard and Raymond had reiterated for the most part a familiar combination of anticlerical and anti-ecclesiastical sentiments deriving from literally understood biblical precepts whose implications were exaggerated either by the heretics themselves or their accusers. It was embellished by the routine monastic invective that Henri de Marci had used to describe the Toulouse he entered in 1178, in which every form of pollution, from heresy to leprosy, sodomy and bestiality, was merged into a single diabolically inspired menace to the divine and social order.

In its vivid and explicit description of Satan as the creator of the earth and the giver of the law of Moses, on the other hand, the confession made a major contribution to the emerging account of the heresy as not merely another set of doctrinal errors springing from apostolic enthusiasm and anticlericalism but a counter-church with its own ritual and hierarchy and a theology and mythology based on the belief in two principles. That such a counter-church indeed existed in the lands between the Rhône and the Garonne has often been inferred, with varying plausibility, from some of the earlier accusations discussed in this book. It is here asserted directly and explicitly for the first time. It became henceforth the model for Cistercian accounts of the Albigensian heresy and was eventually taken up by the inquisitors of the thirteenth century. But it is not clear where it came from. It is possible that as repentant heretics Raymond and Bernard were simply reporting what they knew from experience to be true, but it is also possible that they hoped to win pardon and favour (as, in fact, they did) by confirming the expectations of their interrogators. If so, they would have been neither the first nor the last converts to do so.

It was not the tradition of Bernard of Clairvaux, whose interest was in the moral and sacramental consequences of heresy rather than its theological basis, that led Henri de Marci to look for dualism. Nor are the rumours of dualist preaching in Toulouse before 1178 substantiated by the accounts of the mission of that year, though they had been reported, as rumours, by Peter of St Chrysogonus. It would have been in Peter’s retinue, rather than that of Henri de Marci, that we would expect to find clerks from the Paris schools, where rebuttal of the ‘Manichaean’ heresy, based on the descriptions of it by St Augustine and other early fathers of the church, was by now a routine academic exercise. Be that as it may, it looks as though it was from the mission in 1178, though not directly from his own experience or observation during it, that Henri de Marci learned to anticipate the abomination that in 1181 he confirmed to his own satisfaction and fed into a regular place in the rhetoric of his order.


A direct link between the Paris schools and developing Cistercian insistence on the dualism of the heretics was provided by a famous master and teacher who joined the order towards the end of his life, Alan of Lille. Alan was a prolific author, whose treatise On the Catholic Faith is thought to have been written around 1190. Its first book, purportedly addressed to ‘the heretics of our time [who] say that there are two principles of things, the principle of light and the principle of darkness’,4 has often been taken as describing the Albigensians from direct experience, largely because it was dedicated to Count William VIII of Montpellier. This does not follow. William had spent most of the 1180s resisting the claim of Raymond of Toulouse to the lordship of Montpellier and, after reaching a reluctant settlement with Raymond in 1190, was very much in need of legitimisation for his bastard sons. Both circumstances provided him with excellent reasons to show himself a good catholic, as the patron of a comprehensive defence of the faith by one of the most celebrated Parisian masters of the day. There is nothing in Alan of Lille’s disappointingly undocumented life to connect him with the Languedoc or to confirm that he ever visited the region in any capacity. His treatise is directed not only against heretics but against Jews and infidels, and attributes to the ‘heretics’ of the first book not a coherent set of beliefs but a series of propositions that Alan rebuts, in the standard order established by his teacher Peter Lombard, in such a way as to construct his own statement of catholic orthodoxy. Like the Summa against the Heretics that he had written as a young man, it is a scholastic exercise, based on the writings of the church fathers, in a tradition of disputation going back to the days of Peter Abelard of which Alan was a famed exponent. The ‘heretics’ it describes are another example of ivory-tower dualism.

Whether he wrote On the Catholic Faith before or after he left Paris for Cîteaux, Alan of Lille was ideally equipped to provide the intellectual buttressing that would show how the rumours and reports circulating so disturbingly among his new or future brethren fitted into the ageless struggle between the church and its eternal adversary. There is, however, no basis for supposing that he had been in direct contact with the Evil One’s current representatives. Nor does Alan represent the only contact between the Cistercians and the schools. Recent studies of manuscripts from Cîteaux show that the order’s early distrust of scholastic theology had by 1200 given way to a realisation that academic sermons and commentaries on the Bible, as well as collections of quaestiones – model discussions of theological issues – could form part of their armoury against irreligion and unbelief. Or, to put it another way, they could provide spectacles through which to view and interpret the theological errors found in circulation among uneducated people.


Henri de Marci and Geoffrey of Auxerre played a major role in making another substantial religious movement that began in this region into a heresy. The Waldensians worried them less than the one deserted by Bernard Raymond and Raymond de Baimac, but the manner in which they dealt with them, and the consequences of their doing so, were in some respects more typical of the way in which the thirteenth-century war on heresy came about. The Waldensians began, like the Humiliati in Lombardy with whom the bull Ad abolendam confused them, as a group of pious catholic laymen:

At the Roman council under Pope Alexander [i.e., Lateran III] I saw some Waldensians, simple illiterate men, called after their leader Waldo [or Valdès], who was a citizen of Lyon, on the Rhône. They offered the pope a book written in French in which was contained, with a gloss, the Psalter and many of the books of the two Testaments. They pressed very earnestly that the right of preaching should be confirmed to them, for in their own eyes they were learned, though in reality they were barely beginners.

The request was refused, and Walter Map, whose account this is, was satisified that as one of those who questioned them on behalf of the council he had assisted in a conclusive demonstration of the palpable ignorance of these presumptuous laymen. Nevertheless, he saw them as a threat to the clerical order. ‘These people have no settled abodes’, he continues; ‘they go about two and two, barefoot, clad in woollen, owning nothing but having all things in common, like the apostles nakedly following the naked Christ. They are now beginning in a very humble guise, because they cannot get their foot in; but if we let them in we shall be turned out.’5

Writing forty years later, another chronicler described Valdès as a rich usurer who, inspired by the story of St Alexis (the son of a Roman noble who fled his wife and inheritance to devote himself to the Christian life, living disguised as a beggar in his father’s house6), gave away his considerable property, to the understandable dismay of his wife. Thenceforth he lived on alms, gathering disciples with whom he took to preaching ‘both against their own sins and those of others’ – that is, of course, the clergy. It was a story sure to appeal to the age of Francis of Assisi, and became famous. Scrutiny of the strictly contemporary circumstances, however, suggests something much more reminiscent of the conflicts of the earlier twelfth century, and more consonant with a Lyon still relatively backward and commercially undeveloped. Archbishop Guichard, like the city, was old-fashioned – in fact, the oldest surviving Cistercian abbot, having become abbot of Pontigny in 1137. He had been elected in 1167 to an archbishopric long plagued by conflict between noble factions for control of its lands and revenues. When his attempt to introduce the common life – that is, to reform the cathedral chapter – was bitterly opposed, he turned for help to the pious lay people who had so often provided the impetus to reform in those circumstances. One of them was Valdès, who employed a young scribe named Bernard Ydros to copy translations of the scriptures that he had commissioned from a teacher and canon of the cathedral named Stephen of Anse, the books that were later produced in Rome.7

The Lateran Council approved the Waldensians’ way of life but permitted them to preach only with the approval of local clergy. In 1181, however, Valdès was summoned before a council at Lyon and required to make a profession of faith. The council was presided over by his patron, Archbishop Guichard, but it had been summoned at the initiative of Henri de Marci and Geoffrey of Auxerre. Although both were Cistercian abbots, Guichard and Geoffrey were old adversaries, having clashed many years before over Guichard’s willingness to give refuge at Pontigny to Thomas Becket, in exile from the wrath of King Henry II. Geoffrey had been the loser; he had resigned his abbacy of Clairvaux in consequence, and made himself thereafter custodian of the legend of St Bernard, and especially of St Bernard as a prophet against heretics. Hence the suspicion that the oath administered to Valdès was a defensive move on Guichard’s part, to vindicate his sponsorship of the preaching of Valdès and his companions. The zealous outsiders’ contempt for the local clergy was also shown in the deposition at this time of Archbishop Pons d’Arsac of Narbonne and several senior members of his cathedral chapter. There is no reason to think of Pons as a particularly incompetent or scandalous prelate; on the contrary, unlike most in the region, he had remained on good terms with the lord of his city, the Countess Ermengard, and her ally Roger of Béziers, keeping the peace and winning patronage for his church from both of them by doing so. Perhaps that was the problem. Or perhaps, as the only member of the 1178 mission who actually knew the region and understood its politics, his view of what really lay behind the heresy accusations and counter-accusations of that year had failed to conform to the expectations of its leaders.8

Guichard’s protection availed Valdès little, for a year later both Guichard and Pope Alexander were dead, and Guichard had been replaced as archbishop of Lyon by John ‘of the Beautiful Hands’, bishop of Poitiers. John had been a member of the mission to Toulouse in 1178 and had also been offered, but declined, the vacancy at Narbonne following the removal of Pons d’Arsac; he died a Cistercian. One of his first actions in Lyon was to expel Valdès and his followers, presumably because they had refused to give up preaching. Certainly, dispersed through Provence and Lombardy, they continued to preach, maintaining that they were required to do so by the command of the apostle James that ‘the man who knows the good he can do and does not do it is a sinner’ (James 4: 17). They still travelled in pairs, as Walter Map had described them, at first barefoot but later wearing sandals, living in apostolic poverty and simplicity, and were reported as far afield as Toul in 1192 and Metz in 1200. They were condemned by the archbishop of Narbonne in or soon after 1185, and by the archbishop of Montpellier before 1200, and were the object of legislation by King Alfonso II of Aragon in 1194 and his successor, Pedro II, in 1197. Pedro’s was the first to prescribe death by fire for convicted heretics.

The Waldensians’ success in Lombardy was reputedly considerable, but obscure. It was reported much later to papal inquisitors that in 1218 a meeting of representatives of French (Leonist) and Lombard ‘Poor Men’ at Bergamo had failed to repair a long-standing division between them. They had agreed to the election of a single superior and to the ordination of ministers among them, that baptism in water was necessary for salvation, and that marriages could not be dissolved without mutual consent. The Lombards, however, would not accept that Valdès and one of his companions were certainly in heaven, or that the Mass could be consecrated by a lawfully ordained but sinful priest.9

The traditional acceptance, by both catholics and Waldensians, that all these incidents and accounts refer to the same people, members of a single movement in which the modern Waldensian church originated, is bedevilled by the familiar problem of establishing how far they were lumped together by the terminology of Ad abolendam – which lumped them also with the Lombard Humiliati, with whom they were clearly not identical – the perceptions of the authorities, and hindsight in the sources. Scholarly opinion is sharply divided.10 More relevant here is the extent to which the followers of Valdès remained free of doctrinal heresy in spite of their exclusion from the church and consequent persecution. The confession of faith avowed by Valdès himself in 1181 added to the template on which it was based an affirmation of the unity of God and the humanity of Christ, a sign of the anxieties of those who administered it. The fact that Valdès subscribed to it without demur merely confirms his freedom from a variety of errors and his obedience to the church. Their refusal of the church’s authority to license preaching long remained the only charge against him and his followers, of whom a group led by Durand of Osca (either Osques in the Rouergue or Huesca in Aragon) returned to the church in 1205 and continued their mission as Poor Catholics. In the light of their experience the bitter hostility to the church of Rome and its hierarchy always reported of the Waldensians is hardly surprising. Even so, as late as 1218, it would appear, the Poor of Lyon (as they continued to be called, at least by the inquisitors) refused to take so early a step along the heretical road that we have regularly travelled in these pages as to deny the ability of sinful priests to confer the sacraments.


In proclaiming the depth and depravity of the heresies that they uncovered in and around the lands of the count of Toulouse, Henri de Marci and his successors spoke to a world willing to listen. Bernard of Clairvaux had been shocked in 1145 to find a land of ‘churches without people and Christians without Christ’ where the changes that had been bringing more regular and better-organised parochial services to the parts of Europe that he knew best had hardly begun to take hold. In the fifty years after Bernard’s visit the disparities with the much more rapidly developing lowland regions of western Europe became still greater, in secular as well as in religious life. It was in the second half of the twelfth century that the social transformation that had been gathering since the millennium and before really took off. More intensively and efficiently cultivated fields in cleared forests and on drained marshes supported rising agricultural productivity, the volume and variety of trade grew apace, both locally and over long distances, markets proliferated, the scale and quality of building soared, towns mushroomed, and the number of their inhabitants and the diversity of their skills and occupations multiplied accordingly. Slowly and fitfully, but inexorably, the authority of kings and princes was being translated into effectively exercised power, peace more regularly secured, order better maintained. By the 1180s the transformation – including the stresses and tensions revealed in the last chapter – was visible everywhere, and most spectacularly in Lombardy and Tuscany, in the Low Countries and the valleys of the Rhine, the Seine and the Thames.

The lands between the Rhône and the Dordogne were not untouched. Toulouse, Narbonne and Montpellier had grown, and their citizens had become somewhat more inclined to assert themselves. But they were still small towns dominated by their territorial lords – lords whose flamboyant splendour belied the fact that their estates were far less ample and their followers far less effectively controlled and deployed than those of their northern counterparts. Even more important in setting the region apart was its lack of participation in the common developments that were building in Europe a common culture under the direction of an increasingly cohesive clerical elite. Superficially that is not obvious. The gaze of posterity – like the age itself – is easily distracted by the glamour of the warrior aristocracy and its amusements. The southern nobles were prominent in the crusades and supported their share, or more than their share, of courtly culture, especially in the songs of the troubadours, which rank in any valuation among the greatest artistic achievements of one of Europe’s most creative centuries. But by the harsher measure of what directly changed the world, what constituted usable power, the warriors were no longer dominant. Military power still ruled, of course, and always would, as we shall have grim occasion to observe. But it no longer resided in the valour and courtesy of the perfect knights who rode their magnificent chargers so valiantly through the nostalgic pages of the romances. It rested on the steady streams of revenue secured by the ruthless, limitless ingenuity of the clerks who flocked to the courts of princes and great lords, spiritual and temporal. That was how the mercenaries everywhere so bitterly complained of were paid for.

The advance in the dominance of the clerks is reflected in the contrast between the two missions from the outside world that had done so much in 1145 and again in 1178 to construct the image of the partes Tolosae as a seat of heresy and disorder. The mission of 1145 was led by a papal legate, but its directing force was the ragged and emaciated Bernard of Clairvaux, the most famous holy man of the day, its weapons against the heretics his eloquence and the fame of his miracles. The expedition of 1178 was also led by a papal legate and also starred the abbot of Clairvaux, but it was staffed by bureaucrats who turned against the heretics, to much greater effect, the administrative techniques that they had been honing in the service of their royal masters. In the intervening three decades clerks like these had multiplied in number and influence throughout northern Europe precisely for the reason illustrated by that contrast, because they could offer better solutions to the problems of their lords.* These included maximising traditional sources of revenue and identifying new ones (such as the fines that could be levied on heretics and their supporters) certainly, but the process of change went much deeper, to a subtler and more flexible understanding of the nature and use of power itself.

The great engines of this change were the schools of Paris and Bologna. Not yet formally constituted as universities (this would come in the early years of the thirteenth century), they had established in essentials their curricula and teaching methods by the 1140s, and as we saw in Chapter 9 their masters had secured effective intellectual autonomy at Reims in 1148. The students who flocked to them from all over Europe went on to become in effect members of an international managerial elite, able to move easily between different countries and between secular and ecclesiastical courts, carrying with them shared outlooks as well as shared skills, common habits of thought and common values. Their opportunities were greatest, their mobility and influence maximised, in the great national and international political structures that now flourished. In the greatest, the church, the end of the papal schism in 1178 opened the way for the clerks to carry their ambitions and ideals to ever higher levels of aspiration and opportunity. It now became true once again that all roads led to Rome.

Of course, graduates of Paris and Bologna did not fill all the key positions, but their ways of thinking shaped the new forms of power. Neither Henry II’s treasurer, Richard Fitzneal, nor his chief justice, Ranulf Glanvill, builders of the most developed secular government in northern Europe, was educated in the schools, although the unidentified author of the great treatise on The Laws and Customs of England that goes under Ranulf’s name may have been. Nevertheless, both Richard’s Dialogue on the Exchequer and ‘Glanvill’ show the influence of the dialectical reasoning that was the hallmark of the schools, and both men in their work approached the everyday problems of government in a consistently analytical fashion that clearly reflects scholastic assumptions and habits of mind. ‘A case is either criminal or civil’ says ‘Glanvill’; a thing is either a or not a. Upon such logical polarities the new world of the clerks was constructed, leaving little room for the fuzzier traditions of compromise and negotiation through which the community had established its boundaries of acceptability. Trial by ordeal was now despised and soon to be abolished as superstition; miracles were performed not by living, breathing holy men but by the bones of the saints at authorised and carefully regulated shrines.

All this had largely bypassed ‘the world of the troubadours’. The mighty though short-lived empire created by the marriage of Henry of Anjou and Eleanor of Aquitaine brought English clerks to Toulouse in 1178. We do not find clerks from Toulouse on missions to England, or men from this region rising to prominence in the schools of Paris or the papal curia, as many of them would do a hundred years later. The anomalies perceived by outsiders became correspondingly more acute, the appearance correspondingly more sinister, of a land without rule or religion, riven by heresy and disorder, prey to the forces of chaos that the world beyond was painfully and still precariously striving to overcome. That such perceptions could so readily be made to justify its subordination to the political, religious or cultural hegemony of the new order in Latin Europe did nothing to diminish the sincerity and fervour with which they were embraced.

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