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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