Wednesday, July 15, 2015


The peace between the Count of Foix and Simon of Montfort was the high-water mark for the year as far as the military conduct of the crusade was concerned. Though they took some time to reach him, in response to the letter he had earlier sent the pope Montfort received two letters from the pontiff promising full support. On 11 November Innocent wrote of his pleasure on hearing of Montfort’s leadership, and notified the chief crusader that he would be sending letters to various crowned heads of Europe, including the King of Aragon, asking for their help, which he later did. In a second letter dated the next day, Innocent confirmed Montfort as Viscount of Carcassonne and Béziers partially because the judgment of God and the acclamation of the army had already given the viscounty to him. Through conquest, God’s verdict, the strong approval of the crusade army and the pope’s backing, Montfort now lacked only the support of the feudal suzerain of the Trencavel lands, Pere II of Aragon.

Initially it appeared that November would bring secular confirmation. On 10 November Raimon-Roger Trencavel died in the dungeons of Carcassonne, removing a large impediment to Montfort’s gaining title to the viscounty. In late November King Pere traveled north again and agreed to meet with Simon of Montfort to negotiate accepting Montfort’s homage, thus giving the authority of secular custom to what the chief crusader had already gained. The two men chose to meet on neutral ground in Narbonne, but by 24 November had traveled together to King Pere’s city of Montpellier. While in Montpellier Montfort received the dowry lands of Raimon-Roger’s widow, Agnes of Montpellier, consisting of the towns of Pénzenas and Tourbes, in exchange for an annuity. Though the king and chief crusader talked for some fifteen days in Montpellier, the king ultimately refused to accept Montfort’s homage for the Trencavel viscounty. Montfort therefore left empty-handed amid reports of defections among his lordships.

Taking advantage of the fact that Montfort now had no more than a miniscule army, knights and lords throughout the region began to withdraw their allegiance to him. A particularly revealing incident demonstrating some of the obstacles Montfort faced in holding on that first fall and winter was the capture of Bouchard of Marly by southerners. Bouchard of Marly was one of Montfort’s loyal lieutenants and cousin to Simon’s wife Alice. Together with another knight, Gaubert d’Essigny, Bouchard of Marly went to Cabaret with a party of fifty men in November 1209. The crusading army had briefly flirted with taking this mountain-top fortress a few months before, but abandoned the effort almost immediately after seeing how hard it would be. As the newly invested lord of Saissac, about seventeen kilometers west of Cabaret, Bouchard had a vested interest in pacifying areas eastward. He therefore went into the region around Cabaret to raid. As his party of fifty drew close to the area they were surrounded and ambushed by men of the garrison, consisting of ninety horse and foot (‘‘que a caval que a petz’’) and fourteen archers (‘‘arquiers’’). Even though they were taken by surprise, for a time Bouchard’s men defended themselves without panicking before many were killed, including Gaubert d’Essigny. The rest managed to get away except for Bouchard of Marly, who remained in dreary captivity for sixteen months at Cabaret.

The man who engineered the ambush was Peire-Roger, lord of Cabaret. Peire-Roger was one of the petty mountain lords of the region whose ostensible loyalty had been to the Trencavel viscounts, and he had served the viscount in at least part of the siege of Carcassonne. Since Simon of Montfort was now viscount, Peire-Roger theoretically owed loyalty to him, though the southerner had never formally given it. Yet he had never obeyed the Trencavels either, basically doing as he pleased. In 1209 Cabaret actually contained three castles called Quertinheux, Surdespine and Cabaret, ranged in a line across a desolate mountain ridge more than 300 meters above sea level. The fact that Peire-Roger believed he made himself safest by building and maintaining castles in this bleak location suggests he was more worried by his enemies than his enemies were by him. On the one hand Cabaret guarded a road, but it was a road easily bypassed around the mountains. On the other hand Cabaret was only fourteen kilometers from Carcassonne, close enough for Peire-Roger’s men to be a potential nuisance, as they proved on several occasions after 1209. The unproductive land surrounding Cabaret could not have furnished Peire-Roger a lavish lifestyle. The castles themselves are so remote and high up from the main road that almost everything edible in them would had to have been carried in by single-file mule teams or on the backs of human porters. Poor but proud, and quite dangerous under certain conditions, Peire-Roger was essentially a gentrified robber-bandit, sympathetic to Catharism but most interested in self-preservation. He struck targets of opportunity, but his goal was to remain independent of any higher authority, not simply that of the crusade. Still, he and Cabaret well represented the kind of men and sites Simon of Montfort was going to have to deal with in order to subdue the country. For the moment Montfort and the crusade could do nothing, so Peire-Roger continued to live as he always had.

While the lord of Cabaret had never given homage to Simon of Montfort and was therefore not guilty of treason, other southern lords who had earlier sworn homage or pledges of loyalty to Montfort now began to withdraw them. Montfort abhorred disloyalty and never forgot those who broke their word to him. After returning to Carcassonne from Montpellier in late November or early December, Montfort learned that two of his knights, Amaury and William of Poissy, were besieged by ‘‘traitors’’ (traditores) and captured in a ‘‘tower’’ (turrem castri) somewhere north of the Aude around Carcassonne. Though the chief crusader desperately tried to reach them in time, autumn floods prevented him from crossing the Aude and rescuing them. As Montfort moved close to Narbonne, he received word that Giraud of Pépieux, lord of a small castrum twenty-six kilometers northeast of Carcassonne who had previously pledged loyalty to Montfort, had broken his word and rebelled. Giraud did so partially because at some earlier point a Frenchman of the crusading army had killed his uncle. Though the Frenchman who committed the murder is not named, apparently he was a fairly prominent knight or noble. Nonetheless, as proof of his willingness to mete out justice fairly, Montfort had this Frenchman buried alive. This was not enough for Giraud of Pépieux, who continued to nurse a grudge. Instead of uttering public defiance and renunciation of loyalty more in accordance with northern feudal custom, he secretly engineered a surprise attack.

To what degree feudalism existed in Occitania has always been a topic of debate among scholars. One might legitimately argue that southern lords like Giraud of Pépieux were not used to the practices of the north and therefore reacted according to their own customs, and perhaps should not have been found culpable when they broke their word. True enough perhaps, but Simon of Montfort responded in the familiar ways of northern France. He envisioned his lordship in a northern French context and saw acts such as Giraud’s as treachery, particularly when they had not been preceded by public declaration or renunciation of loyalty. Each side, then, operated on a different set of assumptions, and it should be no surprise that these misunderstandings only made the punishment of real or imagined transgressions that much more brutal.

Along with some other disloyal knights Giraud of Pépieux traveled to the castrum of Puisserguier about fourteen kilometers west of Béziers. Somehow he managed to trick the Montfortian garrison of two knights and fifty sergeants into admitting him and his men, where he then overwhelmed and imprisoned them. Under oath he promised to spare their lives and allow them to keep their possessions when he and his men left. Montfort soon learned what had happened, and as he was close by he responded quickly to the news. He rushed to Puisserguier, bringing Aimery of Narbonne and the Narbonnais civic militia with him. As soon as they arrived, however, Aimery and his townsmen inexplicably refused to lay the place under siege and abandoned Montfort and his tiny field army. Since it was late in the day and Montfort now had few men with him, instead of blockading the place as he intended, for safety’s sake he took quarters for the night in the nearby town of Capestang, less than five kilometers away to the south.

The fortifications of Puisserguier were not very strong, and the place, located on fairly level ground, was easy to surround. Perhaps not knowing that Montfort had lost the services of the Narbonnais militia, and believing that he would certainly besiege Puisserguier the next morning, Giraud of Pépieux took advantage of this reprieve to flee during the night. The captured garrison posed a problem for him, however. Dragging the prisoners along would only slow him down, especially since he had starved them for the past three days. Equally he was not anxious to allow more than fifty prisoners to go free. Rather than murder them face-to-face, Giraud of Pépieux had the captured sergeants placed in the dry ditch surrounding the fortifications. He and his men then proceeded to stone the prisoners as well as throwing straw and combustibles down to burn them alive. Leaving the sergeants for dead, he then fled to the Cathar stronghold of Minerve, taking with him only his own men and the two knights who commanded the garrison, for whom he planned another fate. The next morning Montfort arrived before Puisserguier only to see the place abandoned, though at least some, perhaps all, of the sergeants had survived their ordeal in the ditch. In a rage Montfort had the citadel of Puisserguier destroyed and proceeded to lay waste Giraud of Pépieux’s lands. The aftermath of the story had ominous overtones briefly worth discussing here. Once safe at Minerve, Giraud had the two captured knights mutilated, their eyes gouged out, and their ears, lips, and noses cut off.

They were then set free to find Montfort in the cold, late autumn weather. One died, but the other eventually made it to Carcassonne.161 Montfort was not an inherently cruel man, but he certainly believed in an-eye-for-an-eye plus raising the ante. He would remember Giraud of Pépieux’s treachery and the mutilation of the knights, and exact payment for it both in the near future and even years later.

The treacheries, seizures, and assassinations against crusaders or crusade sympathizers continued throughout this whole period. An abbot of the Cistercian house of Eaunes, traveling back with three companions from a meeting of the papal legates at Saint-Gilles, was stabbed to death along with a lay brother just outside the city of Carcassonne. The perpetrators let one monk go because they knew him, but when he reached safety he reported that the killers were led by Guilhem of Roquefort, local lord and brother of none other than the Bishop of Carcassonne, Bernard-Raimon. Montfort received word that two important castra in the Albi region, Castres and Lombers, which had granted their loyalty to him only the previous September, now withdrew it and imprisoned the garrisons of sergeants and knights Montfort had left there. At some point the Count of Foix also broke the peace he had agreed with Montfort and took back Preixan. One night he and his men also attempted to take back Fanjeaux, though the garrison managed to repel the attack. Montfort had left a French cleric in charge of the garrison of Montréal, less than eighteen kilometers away from Carcassonne. This unnamed clerk turned Montréal back over to its original lord, Aimeric of Montréal. Aimeric had deserted Montréal during the siege of Carcassonne to come to Montfort’s camp and pledge his loyalty to the crusade, but reneged a few days after leaving. Montfort forgot neither the French clerk nor Aimeric of Montréal, and eventually settled scores with both. Further defections and assassinations took place so that by Christmas 1209 Montfort had lost more than forty castles and castra. He was left with Béziers, Carcassonne, Fanjeaux, Saissac, Limoux, Pamiers, Saverdun, Albi, and the small castrum of Ambialet.

By the end of the year the crusade had accomplished little, although it had already cost many lives on both sides. It had put the inhabitants of Occitania on their guard, yet they had recovered much of their territory. While Béziers, Carcassonne, and Albi constituted the critical population centers of the Trencavel viscounty and remained in crusader hands, these castra could rebel at any time. Hostile lords and towns surrounded all three places. Though Cathars from Béziers to Lombers had lost their lives to the crusade already, the religious movement itself had yet to suffer permanent damage. Thus by Christmas 1209 the military campaign to exterminate Catharism and win control over the region had only just begun.

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