Gregory had to be much more direct when it came to handling Robert le Bougre, another of his extremist inquisitors who was, it seems, a former Cathar turned Dominican monk. The zeal of the convert can be a terrible thing and Robert certainly proved that dictum through the way he conducted the fight against heresy in his designated area, which was Burgundy in east central France. There, Robert was responsible for a wave of executions, notably at Charite-sur-Loire where he ordered the burning of 50 heretics. This brought him into conflict with the Archbishops of Rheims and of Sens who saw the executions as an infringement of their rights. They had to concur, they maintained, before heretics were convicted. Some bishops claimed the right to amend sentences passed on the guilty and others demanded inquisitorial courts of their own.

Pope Gregory, a master of dissimulation, professed surprise at this reaction. By appointing Robert le Bougre and other inquisitors he had, he claimed, sought to lighten the bishops' workload. What he had actually done, of course, was to erode their legitimate powers. Nevertheless, Gregory met the aggrieved bishops halfway. In 1234, he suspended Robert le Bougre, barely a year after appointing him. But Robert was not dismissed. After an interval to allow tempers to cool, he reappeared with a new title, Inquisitor General of the Kingdom of France, and he made his previous depredations look like small beer.

For three years, between 1236 and 1239, Robert headed the Inquisition in Chalons-en-Champagne, Cambrai, Peronne, Douai and Lille, and burnt another 50 victims. He returned to the province of Champagne in 1239, where the Cistercian chronicler Alberic de Trois-Fontaines was eyewitness to a mass execution at Mont-Aime in which no fewer than 183 'heretics' were burnt to death. Subsequently, nothing more was heard of Robert le Bougre, apart from a rumour that he died in jail after long years of imprisonment.

Reigns of terror, as conducted by the likes of Korrrad of Marburg or Robert le Bougre, were inevitable when the weapons provided by the pope for his inquisitors to use included those that most terrified the medieval mind. Excommunication and interdict, for example,

The killing of the pope's man,

whatever the circumstances, was

usually treated as a great scandal

virtually an insult to the

pontiff himself.

meant exclusion from the Church and its sacraments. More worldly punishments, such as imprisonment, dispossession, exile and even torture were also used to bring people to heel and make them cooperate with the Inquisition. Refusal was, of course, considered tantamount to heresy and incurred the same punishments.

Two Dominican brothers, Peter Seila and William Arnald, who were commissioned as inquisitors by the pope in 1233, deployed virtually the full range of papal penalties in Languedoc, the chief target of the Inquisition. One of their methods involved speed, with arrest, trial, conviction and penalty following each other in quick succession. This was how the most eminent Cathar Perfect in Toulouse, Vigoros de Bacone, came to be burnt at the stake before his friends and supporters were able to organize a defence for him. Seila and Arnald went on to exhume the bodies of alleged Cathars and burn them. They imprisoned scores of people, Cathars or Catholics, they seemed not to care, and bullied the authorities in Toulouse into providing them with armed soldiers to help in the work of arresting, detaining, trying and executing 'heretics'.

Eventually, after more than two years, Count Raymond VII of Toulouse had had enough. Raymond had been forced to accept the Inquisition, and this far, he had cooperated, if reluctantly, with Seila and Arnald. His reasons were simple: he could not afford another war like the one that had all but ruined him in 1229. But once Seila and Arnald went too far, Raymond felt impelled to report them to the pope.

He complained that the two Inquisitors were 'noxious' and appeared 'to be toiling to lead men into error rather than towards the truth'. Raymond had the backing of Queen Blanche, the mother of the French king, Louis IX, who told Pope Gregory that his inquisitors had breached the bounds of decency.


The Count and the Queen were fortunate to catch the pope at a difficult moment. Gregory was embroiled with Frederick II, King of Germany and Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor, a secular-minded ruler whose aim in life was to spread his own power throughout Italy at the expense of papal influence. According to the pope, Frederick was 'the beast that surges up from the sea laden with blasphemous names...his gaping mouth offending the Holy Name...hurling his lance at the tabernacle of God and His Saints in heaven'. With such a formidable foe confronting him, Gregory had to win allies wherever he could. He was even willing to enlist heretic Languedoc on his side. It was known that Frederick had designs on Provence, in southeastern France and Raymond, seizing his chance, offered to aid the pope

This 15th-century manuscript depicts the Great Schism of 1378 to 1415, when there were rival popes based in Rome and at Avignon in France, prompted by the death of Gregory IX.

Queen Blanche of Castile (top left) who protested against the excesses of the Inquisition, was the wife of King Louis VIII of France and the mother and regent of King Louis IX. Famous for her clemency, she is shown in the lower part of the picture releasing unjustly imprisoned serfs.

in thwarting him. Raymond's price, however, was the withdrawal of Seila, Arnald and the apparatus of the Inquisition from Toulouse and Languedoc.


Pope Gregory declined to go that far, but he did attempt to rein in his inquisitors and pressure them to be more lenient. Gregory even travelled to Languedoc,

Pope Gregory even travelled

to Languedoc, in an effort to

soothe the outrage caused by his

overzealous inquisitors.

in an effort to soothe the outrage caused by his overzealous inquisitors. Encouraged by these concessions, Raymond prepared to adopt a harder line with Seila and Arnald. He was almost pre-empted when the inquisitors ordered the arrest of several courtiers in his personal entourage who had Cathar sympathies. But Raymond succeeded in getting them away, beyond the reach of the Inquisition. At his behest, the soldiers detailed to arrest the courtiers escorted them out of Toulouse to the safety of the surrounding countryside. Seila and Arnald were infuriated and tried to get their revenge by turning on several consuls serving in the government of Toulouse. They failed to get far, though, for they soon found themselves unceremoniously dumped out of the city. Other Dominicans, together with the Archbishop of Toulouse, were assaulted by a furious mob who threw stones at them as they fled all the way back to Carcassonne. Once there, the Dominicans excommunicated their attackers and put Toulouse under interdict.

They soon returned under Gregory's orders. However, the pope had to be careful not to punish Raymond too harshly because he needed the Count as an ally in the struggle with Emperor Frederick. For this reason, the pope lifted the interdict on Toulouse and appointed a watchdog to rein in the Dominicans and their taste for brutality.


Stephen of St Thibery was a Franciscan friar from an order known for its gentleness and diplomacy, but he was a disastrous choice. Far from holding back the Dominicans, as Pope Gregory expected, Stephen outdid them in his zeal to expunge the Cathars and their heresy by the most retributive means at his disposal. The ruthless questioning began again, and the dead were exhumed once more and burnt along with the living. Suspected 'heretics' were bullied into confessions and, to save themselves, betrayed others.

The pressure they exerted was so great that it cracked two of the most prominent Cathar Perfects in Toulouse, Raymond Gros and Guillaume de Soler, who informed on scores of other Cathars and betrayed details about their families, their friends and their activities. Needless to say, Gros and de Soler became marked men and the Inquisition had to organize protection to save them from the fury of Cathars and others who had once trusted them implicitly.


The two traitors were safe enough, for any move against them would have identified their attackers as Cathars and heretics. Instead, the Cathars became cunning and hid behind a screen of deception. Some Perfects shed their simple robes for the less easily identifiable clothes worn by ordinary people. Perfects had been vegetarians, but now they ate meat and made sure they were seen doing it in public.

Perfects had been vegetarians

but now they ate meat and

made sure they were seen

doing it in public.

Probably the most drastic change in their habits involved the separation between male and female Perfects who, traditionally, were supposed to keep strictly apart. Now they went out in pairs so that


During the morning of 28 May 1242., the Franciscan Stephen of St Thibery together with the Dominican William Arnald and eight scribes were journeying through the countryside between Toulouse and Carcassonne. On the way, they halted at various villages to hear confessions from accused heretics and see their names inscribed in the Inquisition registers. There was nothing unusual about this, for the Inquisition seemed to be everywhere in Languedoc, and was likely to turn up in any town or village at any time to ferret out incriminating information. It was all part of the terror they spread throughout the province. The likes of Stephen and William Arnald often relied on the power of intimidation which they exercised over the Languedocois who went in mortal dread of being 'sent to the wall', the dungeon in Carcassonne where prisoners were kept in small, damp cells and left there to subsist, if they could, on a diet of bread and water. However, what was unusual this time was a lack of bodyguards and other armed protection to see Stephen, William and their scribes safety from one destination to the next. That evening, they reached the fortified town of Avignonet where Raymond d'Alfaro, (Raymond VII's bailiff and brother-in-law) was waiting in the castle to receive them. Lodgings for the two friars had been arranged in the castle keep where they were eating their evening meal when William-Raymond Golairan, one of d'Alfaro's men checked up on them. Satisfied that Stephen and William Arnald suspected nothing, Golairan left the castle and rode out to AntiochWood, a small group of trees where he met up with Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix, Joint Lord of Montsegur with the aged Raymond de Pereille, and his group of heavily armed knights. All of them were Cathar credentes who normally acted as guards at Montsegur. This meeting was, of course, prearranged. Peter Roger chose a dozen or more knights and at dusk, sent them off to Avignonet, their battleaxes slung from their belts and a troop of horsemen following behind. By the time they reached Avignonet, it was pitch dark. While the Cathar knights hid in an abattoir beyond the town walls, Golairan returned to the castle keep and saw that Stephen, William and their scribes had retired to bed. Then, he went outside, to the castle ramparts and opened the gate to admit Peter Roger's knights. Silently, they made their way over cobbled streets to the castle entrance where some 30 Avignonetois awaited them, armed with meat cleavers and clubs. Together, they slipped into the castle courtyard and made their way towards the keep. They proceeded in silence up the stairs and along the stone corridors until they reached the heavy oak door that led to the inquisitors' quarters. There were no guards protecting it. One of the Cathar knights swung a two-headed battleaxe at the door, which split with a tremendous crash.


Before anyone inside knew what was happening, dozens of men were in the room, slashing with knives, slicing with axes and cleavers and bringing cudgels and clubs hammering down on their heads. The assault went on and on until the attackers were sure that everyone was dead, by which time a deathly silence hung over the room and the stone floor was slick with blood. The assassins lit torches and grabbed everything they could see — candlesticks, money and the one thing they were really looking for: the inquisitors' register of names. All the pages were torn up and set alight. Before long the Inquisition's 'evidence' was nothing but a pile of smoking ashes. The assassins left Avignonet without being detected and returned to Antioch Wood where Peter Roger was waiting for them. He was expecting a special gift, the skull of William Arnald, which he planned to make into a drinking cup. Roger was disappointed to be told that the skull had been left behind, shattered into pieces by the fury of the Cathars' onslaught, but its state at least told him how successful the raid had been.

anyone who saw them, including the Dominicans, would assume that they were married couples. The best defence was of course, to leave the towns altogether and there were numerous Cathar Perfects sheltering in the safety of Montsegur, but they did not neglect their followers. Perfects would slip back into town in disguise, their pastoral visits known only to a very few local Cathars. Their business done, they left the same way, in strict secrecy.

The Inquisition was well aware that something clandestine was going on in Languedoc, but was generally unable to catch the perpetrators. Inquisitors were, needless to say, thoroughly detested. To protect themselves and their entourage of clerks and scribes at Albi and Carcassonne, they had to borrow armed guards from the French in order to function. Sometimes, the inquisitors were locked out and were unable to enter some towns, like Toulouse, but there was always the surrounding countryside to be raked over, potential heretics to interrogate and punishments and penances to be handed out.


As time went on, the level of hatred increased until, in 1240, it provided an opportunity for Raymond Roger IV de Trencavel, the son of the tragic Raymond Roger III who had died mysteriously at Carcassonne in 1209, to intervene. Now aged 35, Raymond Roger IV had been living in exile for 30 years but had not given up hope of winning back his lost inheritance. He assembled an army of exiles in Aragon, northeast Spain, and marched them across the Pyrenees Mountains into Languedoc. He enjoyed some small initial success, liberating Limoux, Alet and Montreal from the French. But serious business began when Raymond Roger laid siege to Carcassonne where he was welcomed into the suburbs of Bourg and Castellar. From there, in fewer than five weeks, he launched eight assaults on Carcassonne proper. This, though, was where his run of success came to an abrupt end.

The French reacted swiftly, sending an army into Languedoc and chasing Raymond Roger IV out of Carcassonne and all the way to nearby Montreal. Now

Known to Catholics as the 'stronghold of Satan', the Cathar town of Lavaur near Toulouse was assaulted and pillaged by the Albigensian crusaders on 3 May 1211. The population was massacred.

Montsegur, the last major stronghold of the Cathars, was built at a height of 914 metres (3,000ft) near the Pyrenees mountains in the south-west of what is now France.

the besieger was besieged as the French surrounded the town. The fighting, however, was so fierce and so costly that both sides opted for a truce. Afterwards, Roger Raymond was forced back into exile in Aragon.

If Roger Raymond had hoped to receive help from Count Raymond VII of Toulouse, he was disappointed.

Perfects would slip back into

town in disguise., their pastoral

visits known only to a very

few local Cathars.

At that time, Count Raymond had to cover his own back, because he could not afford to offend Pope Gregory IX. But by 1242, times had changed. Pope Gregory died in 1241 and was succeeded by Celestine IV, who expired, probably of old age, after only 17 days. Celestine's successor, Innocent IV, was involved in a power struggle with Gregory's old foe, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Innocent IV felt so insecure in Rome that he eventually fled to Genoa and remained there until Frederick's death in 1250.

The confusion this caused in Rome gave Raymond VII the opportunity he had awaited for 13 years. His nobles too were itching for a chance to get at the detested French and reclaim their own lost lands and estates. In addition, Raymond had gained support from the kings of England and Navarre and Castile and Aragon in Spain. At last, Raymond was able to make a bid to free his former territories from the grasp of the French and drive away the Dominicans, the Inquisition and their ghastly apparatus of cruelty and death.

Raymond Roger IV had been

living in exile for 30 years but had

not given up hope of winning

back his lost inheritance.

The inquisitors, rather than military objectives, were Raymond's first targets in the rebellion that began on 28 May 1242. Although he was not actually present to see the deed done, there was little doubt that Raymond was behind the murder of the inquisitors that took place a few days later and the destruction of their supposed 'evidence' against heretics in Languedoc.


News of the killings at Avignonet flashed across Languedoc, where the hard-pressed Cathars and Catholics celebrated this strike against the dreaded Inquisition. One clergyman even rang the bell of his church to mark the occasion, and the assassins were received back at Montsegur as heroes. The raid at Avignonet had, however, been only a prelude to a series of military attacks on castles, the Dominicans' houses and the palaces of bishops, all of them legitimate targets for the vengeance the Languedocois wrought against the hated French and the Inquisition they promoted. Meanwhile, towns and villages across the province seemed to be energized by Avignonet and rose up to seek revenge for the atrocities, indignities and cruelties the Inquisition had brought to once peaceful and affluent Languedoc.

But sadly, inevitably, both revolution and rejoicing were short-lived. Despite the illustrious names who had signed up to back Raymond VII - King Henry III of England, Hugh de Lusignan, whose family were prominent crusaders, Roger Bernard, Count of Foix - all of them crumbled before the forces of France. The King and de Lusignan were thrashed in battle, and the Count, though a son and nephew of Cathar

The inquisitors ... were

Raymond's first targets in the

rebellion ... there was little

doubt that Raymond was

behind the murder

of the inquisitors that took

place a few days later and the

destruction of their 'evidence'

against heretics in Languedoc.

Perfects, defected to the enemy and used his army to hammer Raymond VII to a defeat that would prove permanent. Raymond's other allies in Aragon, Castile and Navarre read the runes and quietly backed out. Once again, in January 1243, Raymond and King Louis IX signed a treaty that turned back the clock to 1229, when Languedoc had come under French rule at the Treaty of Paris.


The assassins of Avignonet were never caught, but Montsegur, the fortress where the plot had been conceived, remained as the last major outpost of Cathar resistance in Languedoc. Catholic clergy and

The mighty castle of Montsegur, which was built after 1204 in preparation for the day when, inevitably, the Cathars would have to make a stand against their persecutors.

An illumination from a Languedoc manuscript shows Montsegur finally captured by troops commanded by Hugh de Arcis, seneschal (steward) to Louis IX of France.

inquisitors had long called Montsegur the 'Synagogue of Satan' and as far as they were concerned, recent events had shown how fully it lived up to that name. Montsegur had to be destroyed because it was not just another fortress, but a safe haven where hundreds of Cathars, Perfects and credentes alike, had sought the asylum that only the high mountains and inaccessible crags of the Pyrenees could give them.

In 1242, some 500 refugees, both Cathars and Catholics, were living inside Montsegur. Of these, 200 or so were Perfects who made their homes in huts and caves around the castle. Knights, men-at-arms and their wives, mistresses and children, many of them related to the Perfects, had also moved in to take advantage of the protection offered by the fortress. There was also a continuous flow of credente pilgrims who secretly visited this symbol of the Cathar faith for spiritual guidance and then returned home as secretly as they had come.

Montsegur served these purposes for nearly 40 years, ever since 1204, when its ruling lord, Raymond de Pereille, realized that one day, the Cathars would have to make a stand against the Church that had labelled them heretics. To prepare for that day, de Pereille rebuilt the castle that overlooked the village of Montsegur from its dizzying height of 914 metres (3000ft), high enough to provide a panoramic view of the woods and valleys that covered the landscape for miles around. Over the years, Montsegur had sheltered dozens of Cathar Perfects on the run from persecution. Later, they returned for refuge again and again, whenever the witch-hunt was renewed. But the crisis conditions caused by the Inquisition, and its excesses were a hint of something much more serious in the future - the 'final solution' to the Cathar question.

Just how close that solution had come was made plain in the spring of 1243 when the view from the castle revealed troop movements in the terrain far         below. On the orders of Hugh de Arcis, seneschal to King Louis IX, knights, soldiers and their equipment began arriving from Aquitaine, Gascony, and other

There was also a continuous

flow of credente pilgrims who

secretly visited this symbol of the

Cathar faith for spiritual

guidance and then returned home as

secretly as they had come.

regions of France and an encampment was set up on the eastern side of Montsegur.

One Church dignitary, Pierre Amiel, Bishop of Narbonne, pitched his elaborately ornamented tent directly beneath Montsegur. The scene was soon festooned with flags carrying the fleur de lys, the symbol of France, or the Cross to emphasize the holy purpose  of the enterprise.

The monument to the 221 Cathars and others who died at the stake in the 'Field of the Burned' at Montsegur on 16 March 1244.

The thousands of men camped below provided a daunting sight, but this did not, as yet, denote that a siege was imminent: much more manpower was required before Hugh de Arcis had enough forces to surround the fortress. Even then, he could not achieve total encirclement. The perimeter of Montsegur measured more than three kilometres (2 mile) and was not continuous - defiles and ravines that could provide escape routes from the castle interrupted it here and there. It was also impossible to use siege machines on the slopes of the Pyrenees that backed Montsegur.