Historical Note

In June 1209, a crusading army assembled at Lyons, France. Its charge was to purge heretics from a Christian realm of France known as the Languedoc (Lan-gwuh-dock). It was the first crusading force raised solely to invade Christian lands. The members of the warring host bore a scarlet cross upon their garments, a symbol of the papal promise to pardon their sins. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) desired to grow the power of the Catholic Church throughout Christendom.

The endeavor became known as the Albigensian Crusade. Two factions were its target. The primary mark was the Albigensians, or Albigenses as they were known in the tongue of the land. The city of Albi in the Languedoc was known for its large numbers of ascetics who called themselves Bons Hommes (Good Men). Those outside the Languedoc dubbed them Albigenses. Its adherents were not only in Albi but were spread throughout the domain. The second group that faced the sword was the Waldensians, or Valdenses, the Poor of Lyons. They were the outlawed followers of Vaudes (Waldo), the Poor Man of Lyons. Their presence in the Languedoc was extensive also. The Valdenses were lay preachers who issued proclamation of their beliefs openly on the streets. They were denied permission to preach and were declared heretical.

In the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, the most prominent nobles of the Languedoc gave freedom to both factions. Rome proselytized those deemed apostate. Innocent III preferred to see all the wayward in the Languedoc turn to the Catholic Church. Yet converts were few among heretics. The nobles who protected them, who dared allow religious freedom in their lands, in particular Viscount Raimon Roger Trencavel of Carcassonne, became an anathema to Rome.

In January 1208, a papal legate to the Languedoc, Pierre de Castelnau, was murdered. After the death of the pope’s man, the Catholic Church dispensed with peaceful proselytizing. In March 1208, Innocent III proclaimed the Albigensian Crusade against heresy. It took a little more than a year to assemble the host for battle. After departing Lyons in June 1209, the force marched south along the River Rhône and reached the Languedoc in July.

The city of the Languedoc, foremost in the battle plan of the Crusaders, was a hilltop citadel called Beziers. Its lord was Raimon Roger Trencavel, the Viscount of Carcassonne, Albi, and Beziers. Upon hearing that the host drew near to his lands, Raimon Roger rode out with his cavaliers from the mighty stronghold of Carcassonne. The Viscount was to seek a meeting with the living papal legate the monk Armand Amaury, commander of the crusading army.

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