On the Albigensian Crusade

Christine Caldwell Ames considers the link between inquisitions and Crusades.



Christine Caldwell Ames considers the link between inquisitions and Crusades.


The Albigensian Crusade is in many ways an anomaly in medieval Europe. It is this idea of crusade which had been crafted for a little over a century by churchmen, applied to Christians within Europe itself. It is shocking to people at the time; the war is exceptionally brutal, exceptionally bloody, and I don’t mean that as a modern person talking about the Middle Ages, I mean, again, people in the moment point out how brutal and bloody the Albigensian Crusade is.

What we think is the case is that, if the papacy did believe that the Albigensian Crusade would eradicate heresy in southern France – eradicate heresy not by killing heretics in the Albigensian Crusade, but by taking land that belonged to certain lords and giving it to lords who would be more Catholic, who would be more energetic about prosecuting heresy – if they thought it would work it didn’t work. And we do see then the continuation of heresy. And so what we think was the case is that after the Albigensian Crusade, in effect, the papacy throws up its hands and said, well that didn’t work, and so inquisitions again begin to be used in the 1230s in southern France.

But what I do think, again, is important is to realise that inquisition as a process – that is, the process of inquiry after there is a report of someone’s guilt for a particular crime – this existed before the Albigensian Crusade. Obviously, the concerns about heresy existed before the Albigensian Crusade. And I suppose in some ways it seems naïve that Pope Innocent III, when he calls the Albigensian Crusade in 1208, that he really thought that that would have been a solution to heresy in southern France. And so I think that inquisition probably would have been instituted in Western Europe regardless.