Thursday, May 7, 2015

Lord of the South of France

Count Raymond of Toulouse

For Simon (as for the Legates) a new stage of affairs had now been reached. As in preceding years, the commander's military talent, combined with the periodical drafts of warrior-pilgrims which he received from the North, had contrived to triumph over local resistance movements. But this time the resultant gains were so substantial that Simon was able to regard himself as master of all Languedoc: he had swept the country clear of his enemies. The Counts of Foix and Toulouse had retired to the court of the King of Aragon, where they were now planning a retaliatory campaign. Burghers and seigneurs had renewed their oaths of allegiance to the conqueror except, that is, for the Jaid'its, whose property now came in very handy for rewarding the French knights for their devoted service. The local bishops were gradually replaced by faithful executors of Papal policy. Toulouse was not yet reduced, but Simon had high hopes of rectifying this situation the following spring. He was, indeed, already thinking how best to put his conquest on an organized basis.

The Statutes of Pamiers show us that De Montfort already regarded himself as the legitimate seigneur of Languedoc. He summoned an Assembly in Pamiers, a kind of States General that included Bishops, Nobles and Burghers. At least, it did so in theory; in fact the Bishops dominated the Assembly, and markedly so, while the Legates were conspicuous by their absence. This suggests that while De Montfort was trying to enlist the support of the Church in Languedoc, he was more concerned to free himself from the guidance of the Legates, who were rather too prone to remind him that the whole campaign had been undertaken at the Church's behest and for 'spiritual' ends. Simon had already half-quarrelled with the Abbot of Citeaux, who, having been elected Archbishop of Narbonne, had also granted himself the title of Duke, and received direct homage from Viscount Aimery.

In the Statutes that he drafted at Pamiers, Simon bestowed upon the Church considerable material advantages: protection of property and privileges, confirmation of tithes and other dues, exemption from certain taxes, such as tallage, and ecclesiastical justice for all the clergy. On the other hand and this is understandable when we see the annoyance the Abbot of Citeaux was to cause him Simon gave the prelates of the Church no part whatsoever in the government of the country. The real power was to be his alone, backed by his troop of French knights.

Simon de Montfort's companions, in fact, were to fill the gap left by the local seigneurs, whether the latter were heretics or merely dispossessed by the invader. They were to form a new aristocracy, a ruling class: important fiefs were distributed among them, and in return they agreed to serve the Count [i.e. De Montfort] in all his wars; not to cross the frontier without prior leave; not to prolong their absence beyond an agreed date; for a period of twenty years to enrol none but French knights in their service. Their widows, or other female heirs to their chateaux, were not, for a period of six years, to marry other than a Frenchman except with the Count's permission. Finally, all heirs were to inherit 'according to the customs and usage obtaining in Paris and that part of France surrounding'. What Simon had in mind, it appears, was a thoroughgoing colonization scheme for the conquered territory or at least, the gradual elimination of the local nobility, and its replacement by aristocratic blood imported from France. His hostility towards the Occitan aristocracy was persistent and, indeed, well justified. As a soldier his prime aim was, naturally, to eradicate the class which held military power in Languedoc.

He seems not to have been over-troubled about heretics; nor did he set up any special organization for the purpose of hunting them down. In his view this task was the Church's responsibility. Besides, Crusader though he was, De Montfort apparently regarded heresy as a mere excuse for despoiling such seigneurs as showed him hostility or whose property he coveted. Yet till the very end, doubtless in all good faith, he was to proclaim that his battles were fought in Christ's cause.

Finally, the Statutes of Pamiers envisaged a series of measures designed to improve the lot of the common people, and to protect them against the more arbitrary whims of their overlords. These provisions were generous enough, but smacked somewhat of demagoguy, since with the country in a state of war they would tend to become inapplicable. The promise of less crushing taxes and fairer treatment in the courts was small enough compensation for warlevies, increased tithes, and the damage incurred by property during each campaign. Be that as it may, Simon took his legislative functions with the utmost seriousness. Here in this hostile, half-subdued country, where he was hard put to it even to hold his own, he already seemed to be settling in for centuries ahead.

In fact the Count of Toulouse was still the legitimate seigneur; indeed, as early as September 1212 the Pope [Innocent III] was already writing to his Legates, asking why the Count had not been allowed to lodge a plea in self-justification; whether his guilt had really been established; and if there were any legitimate grounds for deposing him in favour of someone else. This letter, it seems, is not so much a testimonial to Innocent Ill's taste for equity as the immediate result of some diplomatic work on the part of the Count himself, who had been doing his best, using the King of Aragon as his intermediary, to disparage the Crusade in the Pope's eyes.

Now, after three years' fighting, a certain number of military successes, and the apparent stamping out of all armed resistance in districts affected by heresy, the Pope suddenly seemed to lose interest in the whole affair, well though it had begun. He declared the Crusade over (at least for the time being), criticizing the Legates, and De Montfort in particular, for their excessive and unprofitable zeal. 'Certain foxes,' Innocent wrote, 'were destroying the Vine of Our Lord in this Province [i.e. Languedoc]. They have been caught. . . . Today we have to prepare ourselves against a more formidable danger. . . .'  

In fact the Crusade's main enemy was no longer Raymond-Roger Trencavel, or even the Count of Toulouse, but Peter II of Aragon the leader of the Crusade against the Moors, whose victory over Las Navas de Tolosa (16th July, 1212) was still fresh, who stood as the champion of Christendom against Islam.

So in order to become unquestioned masters in Languedoc Montfort and the Legates still had one decisive obstacle to overcome. The very least we can say is that they were by no means sure of triumphing. If Simon were to be beaten by Peter II (who was a devout Catholic) he would from that moment be a mere adventurer and usurper; the Pope himself, for all his hatred of heresy, would doubtless be forced to bow to the fait accompli, leaving the King of Aragon with the task of persecuting heretics in the States that he had thus taken under his protection.

In any case, in January 1213 Peter II had not the slightest intention of taking military action: he assumed that he could impose his will on both De Montfort and the Pope simply by virtue of the high prestige he enjoyed. Still covered with the glory that had followed his brilliant victory over the Moors, this doughty warrior reckoned (not without cause) that the Pope owed him very special consideration; and when he intervened on behalf of his brother-in-law the Count of Toulouse, he doubtless did not expect to have Innocent writing to him, five months later: 'Would God that your wisdom and piety had grown in proportion [to your renown]! You have acted ill, both towards Us and yourself. . . .'

The King of Aragon, who held direct suzerainty over part of the lands belonging to the Viscounts of Trencavel and the Counts of Foix and Comminges, had long regarded this Crusade as an enterprise in direct conflict with his sovereign rights. During the previous century the Counts of Toulouse had, on numerous occasions, been forced to defend their independence against Aragonese claims. Even when the Crusade was at its height, certain of the Viscount of Bezier's vassals, who had sought aid from Peter II, preferred to submit to De Montfort rather than surrender those strongholds which the King of Aragon demanded of them. But the cruel deeds and tyrannical spirit that marked their new seigneur must very soon have alienated the sympathies of baron and burgher alike, and made them look towards their powerful neighbour beyond the Pyrenees.

Whatever his claims upon Languedoc, the King of Aragon could scarcely fail to be hailed as a saviour if he drove out the French. The people of Carcassonne, of Beziers, and of Toulouse,' as the future King James I was afterwards to write, 'came to my father [Peter II] and told him that if only he would conquer them, he could become Lord of the Realm. . . ,' 22 As early as 1211 the consuls of Toulouse had addressed a letter to the King, in which they appealed against the Crusaders' misdeeds, and begged his intervention in defence of a country so close to his own : 'When your neighbour's wall is on fire, your own property burns too. . . ,' 23 Peter II was a Catholic ; indeed, he had actually persecuted and burnt heretics in his own domains. Barons, consuls and burghers all claimed to be good Catholics, and swore that there were no more heretics left amongst them.

The Count of Toulouse, in agreement with his vassals the Counts of Foix and Comminges, had decided to play his last card. Alliance with the King might place them all in a position of direct dependence upon Aragon, but at least there was a chance of driving the foreign invader from their soil.

Meanwhile King Peter himself took up the cause of ravaged and downtrodden Languedoc. Even if his desire to help his brothers-in-law was not wholly disinterested, we should bear in mind that this feudal monarch felt touched in his honour by the humiliations which his vassals had undergone; and in any case ties of family and nationality might well drive him to defend his sisters' heritage, and uphold a country whose tongue he spoke and whose poets he admired.

His ambassadors, with the Bishop of Segovia at their head, had undertaken to demonstrate to the Pope that heresy as such was defeated, and that the Legates (in league with Simon de Montfort) were now attacking territories that had never been suspected of heresy, and were utilizing the Crusade for their personal advantage and the mere pursuit of new conquests. Furthermore, by attacking vassals of the King of Aragon, they were hindering the latter from prosecuting the Crusade which he had undertaken against the Moors, and which had already yielded such excellent results. Preoccupied as he was by his war against the infidel, the King hoped, by halting this anti-heretical Crusade, to divert into Spain the great hordes of Crusaders who annually filled the French Midi, and whose fighting qualities he had already had occasion to appreciate.

To begin with the Pope was influenced by these emissaries from the King of Aragon, and wrote a really severe letter to Simon de Montfort:

The illustrious King of Aragon has informed Us that . . . not content with taking up arms against the heretics, you also have fought, under the banner of the Crusade, against Catholic peoples; that you have spilt innocent blood, and have invaded, to their detriment, the domains of the Count of Foix and those of the Count of Comminges and of Gaston de Beam, his vassals, though the population of these said domains was in no way suspect of heresy. . . .

Being unwilling, therefore, to deny him [the King) his rights, or to divert him from his praiseworthy intentions, We order you to restore to him and his vassals all those seigneuries which you have appropriated by force; lest by retaining them unjustly you cause it to be said that you have laboured for your own advantage, and not for the sake of your faith. . . . The Indulgences granted to pilgrims who joined in the Crusade against the heretics were cancelled, and 'transferred to wars fought against the paynim, or for the succour of the Holy Land'.

While the Pope was writing his letters, the Legates held a Council at Lavaur. The King, having been invited to speak in defence of the Count of Toulouse, found himself personally threatened with excommunication by Arnald-Amalric. For the sake of the Church in Languedoc it was essential that the Count should be at all costs prevented from regaining his rights, whether in principle or fact: the Legates preferred to run the very serious risk of saddling themselves with a war against the King of Aragon.

To judge from their letters, the minutes of Council meetings, and the account given by Vaux de Cernay, it would look as though the very existence of the Church in the Midi depended on the elimination of the Count of Toulouse. Being better informed on the situation than the Pope or the King of Aragon, they knew that this apparently peaceable and conciliatory person, always so ready to submit, was indeed (so far as the Church was concerned) the 'roaring lion' they spoke of in their letters. Their relentlessness is only comprehensible in terms of the knowledge they had concerning the Count's character; and this they judged rather better than most historians managed to do in the centuries that followed. This 'protector of heretics' was firmly resolved to remain so to the end, come wind come weather ; whether his attitude was dictated by personal sympathies, or, as seems more likely, by a genuine sense of justice, Raymond VI represented, in the heretics' eyes, a guarantee of security, a sure prop and stay. From this position he never wavered. This so-called 'weakling' seems in fact to have been a pliable and realistically-minded diplomat, hard to intimidate, and doggedly tenacious of purpose. Raymond realized, perhaps better than anyone, that the Church was a practically invincible Power, against which one could only fight by means of as spectacular a submission as possible. He never abandoned this policy of submission till the day came when his Catholic subjects decided that his cause was also God's cause, the cause of justice and righteousness.

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