The Massacre at Beziers

Mystery Thriller Week 2017 logoThe week of 12–18 February, I’m participating with dozens of crime fiction authors in Mystery Thriller Week (MTW). Click on the logo to the left to check out a full schedule of author interviews, guest posts, and Facebook events during this week. Here’s how the week looks for me:

Monday 13 Feb: I host author Linda Kane for Relevant History (below).
Tuesday 14 Feb: Catherine Dilts interviews me on her blog.
Tuesday 14 Feb: MTW hosts my guest post about child soldiers.
Thursday 16 Feb: I host a great chat on Facebook with Relevant History veterans Jeri Westerson and I.J. Parker, “Women Historical Mystery Authors Who Write Men Detectives.”
Friday 17 Feb: I host author Jennifer S. Alderson for Relevant History.
Saturday 18 Feb: Stephen Bentley interviews me on his blog.

Linda Kane author photoRelevant History welcomes Linda L. Kane, a school psychologist, and learning disability specialist with an MA in Education. She is the author of The Black Madonna, Witch Number is Which, Icelandia, Katterina Ballerina, Cowboy Jack and Buddy Save Santa, Clyde: Lost and Now Found, and Bottoms Up, A Daisy Murphy Mystery. She lives with her husband, three dogs, and six horses in California. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


The beginnings
The Cathars were a religious group that appeared in Europe in the eleventh century. The religion flourished in the Languedoc area, which is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, the Pyrenees, and the rivers Gronne, Tarn, and Rhone and corresponds to the new French region of Occitanie. The Cathars believed in two principles: a good god creator, and his evil adversary (much like God and Satan of mainstream Christianity). They called themselves Christian. The Catholic Church called them Albigenses. Cathars regarded men and women as equals and had no doctrinal objection to contraception, euthanasia, or suicide.

The Cathar religion became so popular that many Catholics worried that it might replace Catholicism. In 1209, Pope Innocent III called a formal Crusade against the Cathars, appointing a series of military leaders to head his Holy Army. The first was the Abbot of Citeaux, Arnaud Amalric. The second was French nobleman Simon de Montfort.

The war against the Cathars continued for two generations. The first generation it was led by Raymond-Roger Trencavel, who was one of the leaders of the Languedoc. In the later phases, the Kings of France would take over as leaders of the Crusade, which thus became a Royal Crusade. Among the many victims who lost their lives were Peter II, King of Aragon, and Louis VIII, King of France.

The onslaught
A crusader army consisting of knights, professional soldiers, mercenary bands, and pilgrims assembled and departed from Lyon in 1209. Beziers, a stronghold of Catharism, was the first major town the crusaders encountered on their way to Carcassonne. Commanded by Papal legate Arnaud Amalric, the crusader army reached the outskirts of Beziers on 21 July. The Bishop of Beziers tried to avert bloodshed and to negotiate. He came back to Beziers with the message that the town would be spared if the heretics were handed over. The townsfolk—Catholics, Jews, some Waldensians, and of course, Cathars—decided not to comply.

On 22 July, the Crusaders were getting settled and still days away from starting the siege. A group of soldiers from the town tried to exit the gate and harass the mercenaries. A brawl ensued and soon the attackers found themselves outnumbered, and they retreated. The mercenaries took advantage, stormed the town’s wall and entered the city gate, all without orders. The Crusader knights, realizing the mercenaries had broken into the city, joined the battle and overwhelmed the garrison.

Some of the mercenaries admitted that there were Catholics mingled with the heretics. A knight said to the Abbot of Citeaux, “Sir, what shall we do, for we cannot distinguish between the faithful and the heretics.” The abbot, like the others, was afraid that many, in fear of death, would pretend to be Catholics, and after their departure, would return to their heresy. He replied, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius—Kill them all for the Lord knoweth them that are His.”

Approximately 20,000 men, women, and children in that town were slain. The clergy were spared. The Crusaders allowed the mercenaries to kill without restraint but stepped in when it came to all the money, gold, art, and books.

The mercenaries rampaged through the streets, killing and plundering, while those citizens who could run sought refuge in the churches—the cathedral, the churches of St. Mary Magdalene and St Jude. Yet the churches did not provide safety against the raging mob of invaders. The doors of the churches were broken open and all inside were slaughtered.

Then came the distribution of the city’s spoils. The Crusaders became enraged that the mercenaries had already taken much of the plunder. The knights took control of the situation, chased the mercenaries down from occupied houses, and took their booty away. In turn, the angry and disappointed mercenaries responded by burning down the town. In the engulfing fire, the plunder was lost, and the army left the city with nothing.

The Crusaders had achieved a quick and devastating victory. Horror and terror spread through the land. Many castles and towns submitted without resistance.

Carcassonne fell within a month, and Raymond-Roger Trencavel died in captivity later that year; his lands were given to de Montfort, who later died in battle. However, the Crusaders lost the support of the local Catholic population and thus became a hated occupying force. The French king soon entered the war and took control over the Languedoc (a deal struck between him and the Pope). The Inquisition then hunted down the remaining Cathars in Montségur, where three hundred men, women, and children were chained together and thrown into a pyre.

Three Cathars were supposed to have escaped in the confusion carrying the Ark of the Covenant.


The Black Madonna book coverA big thanks to Linda Kane. She’ll give away copies of The Black Madonna in Kindle electronic format to up to five people who contribute a comment on my blog through Thursday. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


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The Massacre at Beziers — 20 Comments

  1. I’ve always been fascinated by any of the historical episodes that show the Catholic church aiming to destroy another faith. I find it wholly ironic that they did that hundreds of years ago and now are often the victims themselves from anyone involved in a jihad by the extremist Muslims.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kerry. Another irony is that many people from non-Christian as well as Christian faiths would conclude that it was Catholics preying upon Catholics in this incident.

  2. I love European history. It teaches us about human nature so we can acquire tolerance for others and wisdom so as to not repeat mistakes and follies. The study of history can lead to understanding why the world is the way it is. Most of all, history is entertaining.

  3. One minor detail that I find interesting: the Simon de Montford who helped lead the war against and the slaughter of the Cathars was the father of the Simon de Montford who led the rebellion against King Henry III of England during the Second Barons’ War and was effectively rules of England for a time.

  4. Fascinating. Such a history the Catholic church has, always missing the point of their faith. During this time period people really had a concept of contraception?
    I sure can see why the Church saw the Cathars has dangerous. Even women as equals? That certainly was daring for its time. No wonder they had to be gotten rid of. Thanks for sharing this information. Very interesting.

    • I do believe the Cathars were ahead of their time but what really did them in was they did not believe in tithing. The lords and regular people of Languedoc loved that part and defended them.

    • I think that is the main reason I write. I don’t want history to repeat itself and there are so many examples out there. We all must be vigilant, through reading, writing, the arts, or just communicating to one another.

    • “The great courage of ordinary people” is a theme that runs through my books — largely because we don’t hear of the sacrifice of ordinary people often enough. Hollywood prefers to focus on the great courage of great people. :-/Thanks for stopping by, Terell. Nice to “meet” you yesterday at the FB chat.

    • They were courageous to the last one. I’m amazed at the bravery of individuals. Like the young students of the White Rose, intelligent, thoughtful, and brave to the end.