Books on Cathars and the Cathar Wars
The following are books in English dealing with the Cathars, the so-called Cathar heresy, and the Crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc.
These are all books worth reading, the modern ones selected for their objectivity and historical accuracy; the medieval reprints and translations purely for their historical interest. The star rating represents the webmaster's personal view.
Massacre at Montsegur: a history of the Albigensian Crusade
Highly recommended. Not specifically about Montsegur but rather about the history of the Cathars in the Languedoc. Excellent introductory text.
The Original version is in French, but the English version is well translated so you'd never guess.
Zoe Oldenburg was originally a novelist, but this is a sound work of nonfiction (and built her an instant reputation as an historian).
The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathars
This account of tale of the Cathars of the Languedoc and their destruction is sympathetic, evocative and sometimes witty.
Catharism is presented as "a pacifist brand of Christianity embracing tolerance and poverty". Rejecting the authority of the Church, and claiming a series of contrary beliefs, it was considered "perfect heresy" ie complete and utter heresy.
Nobles, monks, popes and kings star in this story of the "abattoir Christianity" of conflict encompassing religious and secular motivation over decades. The book's recreations of of siege warfare are particularly good. Operational methods of the Inquisition are clearly explained.
This is an accessible text for non-specialists, but it is sound history,
drawing on modern scholarship and providing good notes.
Stephen O'Shea is a Canadian historian, who was inspired to write this book after traveling in France.
Montaillou: village Occitan, 1294-1324
Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie
A century after the Crusade against the Cathars, a local Catholic bishop discovered that that Cathars were still flourishing. He had a whole village arrested and interrogated in his role as Inquisitor. Unusually, he was actually interested in the truth and recorded a wealth of detail about his unfortunate victims. This Inquisitor, Jacques Fournier, was promoted from Bishop of Pamiers to Archbishop of Narbonne and later elected Pope. His records found their way into the Vatican archives, where they were studied in the twentieth century by the French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. Le Roy Ladurie has produced an astonishing, gripping, unique, work of history by collecting details about ordinary village life of a fourteenth century rural community.
The Albigensian Crusade
Excellent history, and a brave attempt at making the case for the behaviour of the Roman Church.
This book by the well know historian and English barrister takes a much more informed view of the international politics of the period than most other works available. One of the many unforeseen consequences of the Cathar Wars and other actions by Pope Innocent III was the beginning of the creation of European nation states - and consequently the shape of modern Europe.
The Yellow Cross: The Story of the Last Cathars, 1290-1329
A century or so after the start of the first Cathar wars there was a short lived resurgence of the Cathar faith in the areas around Foix. (Another aspect of this resurgence is related in Montaillou - see above). Weis's book is about this resurgence.
The yellow cross of the title is a reference to to the yellow crosses that Cathars were obliged to wear by the Inquisition as a mark of public penance - similar to the yellow badges that Jews were obliged to wear as a mark of infamy, and a contrast to the red crosses worn by heroic crusaders.
One of the saddest and most moving parts of the story is that concerning a man called Belibaste, the last known parfait in the area. Having led a colourful life, and having failed to live up to the high standards expected of a parfait, he nevertheless opted to die a most appalling death at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church rather than recant his faith, and spent his last days on earth trying to reconvert the erstwhile friend who had betrayed him to the Inquisition.
The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade
A good all round work on the subject, though some reviewers have criticised it for an alleged pro-Catholic bias in its presentation and selection of sources.
Chasing the Heretics: A Modern Journey Through the Medieval Languedoc
Not so much a history of the Cathars as a travelogue, using the Cathars and their history as a background. Something of a curate's egg. In its favour this book is well written, and mentions a lot of information not available in other popular works. Presumably this information is garnered from the leaflets available at the various sites the author visited. He is particularly good at ferreting out locations that often go unvisited by those following standard Cathar trails. Notable finds are the memorial at Lavaur, the well at Minerve, and the Chapel of the Rosary at Muret. As well as providing easily digested information about the Cathars, this book will undoubtedly appeal to visitors unfamiliar with the spectacular area where the Cathars lived. The author is also clearly sympathetic to the Cathars, as are almost all most authors of books on the subject (with the notable exception of Jonathan Sumption).
On the other hand the author has clearly not done a great deal of historical research. The bibliography is spectacularly thin and there is little on Cathar doctrine. Mixed in with the usually reliable facts are several blunders and some notable omissions. For example he quotes from the Song of the Cathar Wars but attributes the quote to Pierre des Vaux de Cernay. He is scathing about an English translation of a book by Michel Roquebert, apparently unaware that the original version (which he could easily have found) is an excellent work by a leading French authority on the subject. He can find not the "faintest excuse" for the atrocity at Bram, clearly unaware of the similar smaller-scale atrocity by the other side shortly before. He quotes Arnaud Amaury, but does not know that Amaury is the source of the number 20,000 given for the men, women and children massacred at Beziers, imagining that someone had subsequently inflated what was in fact a later, lower, independent estimate. He notices one piece of graffiti in Occitan, but must have missed dozens of others. He does not seem to be aware that the Counts of Toulouse came from St-Gilles, nor that the town was the fourth most important pilgrimage site in Europe. Also, he seems unduly affected by the weather. If it rains in any place he visits, then he takes against it in an almost superstitious way. One gets the impression that if he had visited St-Gilles on a sunny day and learned of the close link with the Counts of Toulouse he might have formed a completely different opinion of the place.
Still, overall this is a good book. Recommended as an introduction for those new to the history of the Cathars. Not for scholars.
Paperback: 217 pages.
The Cathars in The Languedoc
An excellent book, but probably for academics and those who already know something about the Cathars.
Covers the area well, with interesting information on Catharism in Italy, the larger religious context, and modern Catharism. It traces the origins and spread of dualist ideas, assesses their attraction, and describes the reaction of the ecclesiastical and lay authorities in the form of preaching campaigns, crusades, and inquisitorial investigations.
A fascinating account of the development of religious belief and attempts to suppress it, touching on the nature of evil, the ethics of warfare, and the use made of history by later generations. The book will appeal to those interested in medieval perceptions of the world, the Crusades and the Inquisition.
Malcolm Barber is Professor of History at the University of Reading.
He is the author of two books on the Templars, The Trial of the Templars
(1978) and The New Knighthood (1994) (Both also highly recommended).
Paperback: 256 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.75 x 9.00 x 6.75 ;
Another excellent text which traces the origins and spread of Dualist ideas, assesses their attraction, and describes the reaction of the ecclesiastical and lay authorities in the form of preaching campaigns, intellectual refutation, crusade, and inquisitorial investigations.
Though richly illustrated, this is for the enthusiast rather than the general reader. The author takes a chronological and regional approach (covering doctrinal material as the need arises). He covers heresy in Western Europe before the eleventh century and the Bogomils and early appearances of Catharism in the Rhineland. He goes on to the rise of Catharism in the Languedoc and the Roman Catholic Church's response to it (Innocent III, the crusade, and the Inquisition). The book extends to the revival of Catharism around the beginning of the fourteenth century, and also deals with Italian Catharism, and the fate of the parent Bosnian Church.
Lambert notes that in Italy, unlike the Languedoc, conflicts over doctrine split Cathars into separate camps, and their survival for so long was largely attributable to the unwillingness of independent city-states to grant church authorities the powers needed to exterminate what the Roman Church saw as heresy.
Malcolm Lambert was a Reader in Medieval History at the University of Bristol in the U.K. He retired in 1991 but continues to write excellent history.
A Most Holy War
Mark Gregory Pegg
This is an extremely good and detailed book, drawing on a broad range of sources. It is probably best suited to readers who have already read at least a few books on the Cathars.
The style can be just a little florid for an academic history - it is not always clear what the author means to say. Indeed after several readings I am still not certain about the central premise of the book. The blurb on the back seems to suggest that the Cathars never really existed, and there are hints in the text that the whole Cathar "heresy" was conjured out of nothing by the Catholic Church. It would have been good to have had a clear formulation of the author's thesis - along with a clear exposition of the evidence to support it. Scattered through the book are occasional attempts to discredit sources that apparently discredit the central thesis, but there is no structured argument and no explanation of how other apparently contradictory facts can be squared with the thesis. For example how could western Cathar beliefs and practices so closely match those of Bogomils and other eastern Gnostic Dualists if there was no connection, and when Catholic writers knew little about them.
The style is generally very readable, but there are a few weaknesses. Extensive asides about military logistics could be interesting but come across as intrusive. One of the phrases of the chronicler Peter Des Vaux-de-Cernay is cited over and over again (the Crusaders "walking like Him [Christ]). It is a striking phrase and could be used to good effect a few times, but not dozens of times. Another of Peter's phrases "God's athlete" referring to Simon de Montfort is used once or twice without explanation. Other equally striking phrases are not mentioned at all. For example, Peter Des Vaux-de-Cernay is forever talking about the Crusaders' murderous activities as "God's Business", but Pegg does not mention that phrase. Similarly, he goes into great detail about the Occitan concept of cortezia, but mentions only in passing the far more important concept of paratge.
Still, these are minor complaints. This book is well worth reading. Highly recommended.
Cathar Castles, Fortresses of the albigensian Crusade 1209-1300
Marcus Cowper, illustrated by Peter Dennis
An invaluable little guide to the Cathar Castles of the Languedoc. Recommended for anyone planning a visit to one or more of these fortifications.
The book steers clear of the usual inaccurate tourist guff. Cowper is a medieval historian with a good grip on the intricacies of medieval warfare and of events during the Wars against the Cathars.
Illustrations by Peter Dennis are also excellent.
The book is historically accurate and as a field guide it is the best currently available.
Power and Purity: Cathar Heresy in Medieval Italy
Catharism was popular throughout Occitania, including areas that we now regard as part of Italy as well as those we now regard as parts of France.
This book explores the place of Cathar heresy in the life of the medieval Italian town of Orvieto, as well as Florence and Bologna. Based on archival research, it details the social makeup of the Cathar community and argues that the heresy was central to social and political changes of the 13th century.
According to this book, the late 13th Century repression of Catharism by a local inquisition was part of a redefinition of civic and ecclesiastical authority.
Power and Purity will appeal to historians of society and politics as well as religion and even "gender studies".
Carol Lansing is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
William of Tudela and an Anonymous Successor (J. Shirley, translator,)
A contemporary history of the Albigensian Crusade. This is a poem, originally written in Occitan and later translated into French. This version is the first translation into English of this key text.
This is a prime source of information about the First Cathar Crusade, the House of Toulouse, medieval warfare and early heraldry.
If you try to compare the English and French translations, beware that the French translations are rather free, while the English one tries hard to remain faithful to the original, while still retaining the rhyme scheme.
Peter Des Vaux de Cerney (English translation by W.A. & M.D. Sibly)
This is a contemporary account of the Cathar wars, written by a cleric sympathetic to the crusader cause. It is interesting as much as anything as a demonstration of how badly twisted the religious mind can become by unthinking adherence to the misconceptions that motivate it.
There are several French translations, but this is the first English one.
The English translators' extensive footnotes convert this work from a piece of medieval bigotry into a superb historical resource.
The Chronicle of William of Puylaurens
William of Puylaurens (English translation by WA Sibly and MD Sibly)
William of Puylaurens' Chronicle, here translated into English for the first time, is one of the main contemporary accounts of the Cathar Crusade. It describes heresy in the Languedoc in the early 13th century; provides a narrative of the Crusade; and outlines the growth of the Inquisition and the attack on Catharism which followed, including the siege of the Cathar castle of Montségur in 1243-44.
This translation is accompanied by an introduction, full notes, appendices, and a bibliography.
WA SIBLY is a former Domus Exhibitioner in Classics at Balliol College, Oxford; MD SIBLY read history at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
The Albigensian Crusade: An Historical Essay
Jacques Madaule (Translated into English by Barbara Wall)
Hardcover: 177 pages
Society and Government at Toulouse in the Age of the Cathars
J H Mundy
This monograph continues earlier explorations of the social, economic, political and religious history of Toulouse in the earliest period for which the archives house adequate documentary materials. A second and more interesting intention is to show that there was more to the spread of Catharism than can be attributed to the intellectual or moral weaknesses of the Catholic communion or to the theological or mental attractiveness of Catharism and other dissident cults or religions. The present book and several previous ones (two published by the Pontifical Institute) have noted that religious divergence expanded and flourished when the town's well-to-do were building a semi-popular oligarchy at the expense of local princely power, a movement reaching its apogee shortly before the end of the Albigensian Crusade in 1229..
528 p., 175 x 260 mm, 1998
Pontifical Institute of Medieval studies, Toronto, 1997
The Repression of Catharism at Toulouse: The Royal Diploma of 1279
J H Mundy
Paperback: 336 pages
Pontifical Institute of Medieval studies, Toronto, 1985
Heresies of the High Middle Ages
Walter L Wakefield and Austin P Evans
More than seventy documents, ranging in date from the early eleventh century to the early fourteenth century and representing both orthodox and heretical viewpoints are included.
This has not only reports of the heresy hunters on various 'heresies' of the middle ages. It includes what remains of the literature of the Cathars: the version of the Ascension of Isaiah, the Secret Supper of John which they had from the Bogomils, the Lord's Prayer and rites of consolamentum, and the entire Book of the Two Principles a theological defense of radical dualism.
The Book of Two Principles provides a systematic, detailed, consistent, and well thought-out philosophical and theological argument for dualism.
Columbia University Press, New York, 1969
Albigensian Heresy (2 vols)
H J Warner
In vol. I the Sources of the Albigensian Heresy are traced, and its tenets and system described. In vol. II an account is given of its suppression by Crusade and Inquisition, the former an adaptation of military measures originally taken against enemies outside the Church; the latter, a development of legal measures against enemies within the State.
HJWarner is, or rather was, The Rev H J Warner and his theological training - presumably Anglican - shows. This is a book for academics, full of detail and citing sources, often in Latin. Unfortunately it is not always clear when his text refers to Cathars and when to Waldensians as he discusses both flavours of "heresy" in detail despite the title of the book. Some of the terminology is also a little difficult, largely because of changing conventions - for example Peter Des Vaux de Cerney has his name rendered as Peter de Vaux-Sarnai.
The first volume was published in 1922 by MacMillan - reprinted with revisions by The Book Tree in 2007.
Paperback: 332 pages
The Medieval Manichee, A Study in the Christian Dualist Heresy
A classic account by a master of the subject of the Dualist heretic tradition in Christianity from its Gnostic origins, through Armenia, Byzantium, and the Balkans to Italy and the Languedoc.
Pauline Christianity had to face a Dualist sect founded in the mid-third century A.D. by the syncretic prophet Mani. Within a century of Mani's death Manichaean churches were established from western Mediterranean lands to eastern Turkestan. Though Manichaeism failed to supplant Pauline Christianity, the Church had been badly frightened; and it gave the epithet of 'Manichaean' to the churches of Dualist doctrines that survived and flourished into the late Middle Ages.
Cambridge University Press, London, 1960
Histoire Des Cathares
Michel Roquebert & Catherine Bibolleet
Mass Market Paperback: 544 pages
Montségur, Les cendres de la liberté
NOVELS and OTHER
Troubadour, Song of the Lark
The Troubadours Talele: Song of the Crusades
Troubadour, Song of the Lark is the first of two volumes, the second being The Troubadours Tale: Song of the Crusades. They are about the life of Gaucelm Faudit, a real troubadour whose life spanned the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Not much is known of him, but Clara Pierre had an excellent imagination and was a scholar of the period and of the Occitan language. The books, Troubadour and The Troubadours Tale, were published in Europe in several languages, but not previously in English the language in which they were written.
Twelfth century France is on the verge of war, a high stakes battle for the minds and souls of its people. The Languedoc will soon be fought over by the kingdoms of France to the North and Aragon to the South. Excesses of the Catholic hierarchy are giving rise to a growing Cathar religious movement, which will provide a trigger for the coming conflict. Into this world rides Gaucelm Faudit, a romantic young rogue whose greatest wish is to write poems and set them to music. Gaucelm finds his way into the powerful courts of Toulouse, Ventadour, and Courthézon, and into the tender arms of a prostitute who will follow him wherever he goes. Based on historic events and the real troubadour who chronicled them, Troubadour is a powerfully told story of conflicted loyalties and the ruthless leaders who will do anything to control their subjects.
The books are available from www.troubadour-books.com
In this novel Elmina begins life with a troubled childhood in a medieval Occitan town - a childhood that turns her into a young woman who dares to follow the stirrings of her soul. Her idealism and love lead her to leave a Cathar school and follow Diminic de Guzman, the man who will become Saint Dominic. As the world around her erupts into the Albigensian Crusade, Elmina finds herself complicit in its horror, and her emotional life begins to unravel. With the aid of the counsel of her prior, Brother Noel, Elmina discovers the origins of her lifelong fears and wrestles with questions that are as divisive today as they were eight centuries ago: the nature of God, the purpose of creation, the nature of evil, and the possibility of reincarnation. With Elmina's Fire, Linda Carleton has succeeded in recreating the challenges of an important if little-known period of the High Middle Ages. In telling her compelling story of desire and the human condition, she captures the world of the medieval Catharism as well as the portentous events that were destined to shape the modern world. If you have ever wanted to understand the world of the Cathars, and what happened to it, you cannot do better than read Elmina's Fire.
Paperback (330 pages)
Montsegur and the Mystery of the Cathars
This book demonstrates that Catharism is not simply a heretical Christian cult as it is often portrayed, and examines evidence for the existence of a lost Cathar treasure and its possible connection to the Holy Grail.
Four Cathar perfecti carried a treasure out of Montsegur the night before its fall, a fact that led rebel Huguenots of the 17th century and members of Hitler's S.S. to believe that an enormous treasure or some weapon of awesome spiritual power lay hidden somewhere near the ruins of the former Cathar stronghold.
Seeking to untangle the true from the false, Celtic and medieval scholar Jean Markale searches the obscure history of the Cathars, tracing their roots to the ancient Zoroastrian religion of Persia. He examines what earned the Cathars the persecution of the Church. He explores Cathar doctrine, the place of Cathars in medieval Occitan culture, and their alleged pact with the Knights Templar. He uses available documentation to identify the nature of the treasure the Cathars spirited away from their fortress at Montsegur the night before its surrender to French troops.
Paperback: 312 pages
Dans l'ombre Des Cathares (Broché)
Claudie Duhamel Amado & Emmanuel Amado
Cathar novel in French
The Secret of the Tarot - How the Story of the Cathars Was Concealed in the Tarot of Marseilles
This book presents a case that the familiar Tarot cards associated with Marseilles contains numerous references to Catharism in the Languedoc and to historical figures involved in the Cathar Crusades. The book is well researched and contains much useful information about the Cathars and about the Tarot.
Evidence of a connection between the Tarot and Catharism is largely circumstantial. Whether or not the author evinces enough evidence to clinch the case for such a linkage is a matter of opinion - you will need to read the book to decide for yourself. Either way, it is still a good read.
Paperback. 274 pages. Illustrated in black and white. Published November 2010. Useful bibliography. Scholarly footnotes. Concise index. Published by Pau Hana Publishing. ISBN 13-978-0615304380
The Good Man's Daughter
Some of the background is drawn from actual events - for example, the siege of Montsegur in 1244 and the arrests at Montaillou around 1209.
There are a few questionable historical details, Albi was not at this time the seat of an archbishop; the locals would have had Occitan, not French names; Counts took their titles from counties not towns; medieval nobles did not normally eat daily breakfasts, certainly not early in the morning. But these are quibbles.
The characters are perhaps a little black and white, but then the historical events and motivations were black and white. There has to be a sharp contrast between on the one hand people who opt to die an agonising death rather than renounce their pacifist faith, and on the other hand people who choose to inflict agonising deaths on hundreds of others ("with great joy" (as the Catholic chroniclers put it) for the crime of disagreeing with them.
Matador Paperback, 2011
ISBN 978 1848766 662