Chris Jones

title.none: Graham-Leigh, Southern French Nobility (Chris Jones)

identifier.other: baj9928.0712.001 07.12.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Chris Jones, University of canterbury,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Graham-Leigh, Elaine. The Southern French Nobility and the Albigensian Crusade. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2005. Pp. xxvii, 187. $90.00 1-84383-129-5. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.12.01

Graham-Leigh, Elaine. The Southern French Nobility and the Albigensian Crusade. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2005. Pp. xxvii, 187. $90.00 1-84383-129-5. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Chris Jones
University of canterbury

Elaine Graham-Leigh's The Southern French Nobility and the Albigensian Crusade has at its core one essential question: Why was the fate of the Trencavel dynasty of Carcassonne, one of the leading families of the Languedoc, so much more dramatic than that of the majority of the lords of southern France who fell victim to the Albigensian Crusade? Not only did Raimond Roger, the viscount of Carcassonne, Beziers, Albi and Razes suffer perhaps the ultimate ignominy in 1209 when he died--in less than transparent circumstances--in his own dungeons, but his entire dynasty was permanently dispossessed of all its lands in the wake of the crusade. Raimond Roger's son, Roger Trencavel II, made vain attempts to recover his inheritance in the 1240s but eventually surrendered to the French authorities in 1247. Following his death, sometime after 1263, the dynasty simply faded into obscurity.

Although many southern families suffered greatly at the hands of the crusaders, few fell quite so spectacular or as permanently as the Trencavel dynasty. Even the rebellious Count of Toulouse, Raimond VII de Saint-Gilles (d. 1249), eventually recovered the majority of his lands and was able to pass these on to his daughter, Jeanne, with a reasonable expectation that her descendants might continue to rule in the Languedoc. The final annexation of the county of Toulouse to the French crown in the 1270s was simply the result of the fact Jeanne's marriage to the French king's brother proved childless. The sheer abruptness with which the Trencavel were swept from the map of the Midi is startling in comparison. Unlike Raimond VII and many other southern lords, there seems to have been very little question in the minds of pope, king or, indeed, as Graham-Leigh makes clear in the course of this book, the inhabitants of the Languedoc, that the crusade had marked the end of not only Raimond Roger but of Trencavel lordship.

The fate of the Trencavel is certainly a topic worthy of exploration and has the potential to offer a window onto a great many subjects. Amongst those which Graham-Leigh touches upon here are the relations between the Church and the lords of the Languedoc, the relationship of the latter with their vassals and the relations between southern lords and the towns of the Midi. She also explores the relationship between the lords of the Languedoc and their most powerful neighbour, the kings of Aragon. The fact, however, that all of these topics are explored with an extremely tight focus on the Trencavel dynasty means that the work undoubtedly deserves a subtitle: The Southern French Nobility and the Albigensian Crusade, as a title, promises rather more than the book actually delivers. Yet, while the book lacks the scope suggested by its title, it does, nevertheless, possess much to recommend it.

After opening with a brief account of Raimond Roger's demise and the rumours that subsequently circulated surrounding it, the first chapter, The Albigensian Crusade, Past and Present turns to examine post-medieval perceptions and interpretations of the war against the Cathars. This brief survey, which stretches back into the seventeenth century, is certainly informative (3-9). Yet, while its inclusion is clearly indicative of a desire to situate what is essentially a "case study" of the Trencavel dynasty in a wider historiographical context, this material does not seem to fit entirely comfortably into the work as a whole.

The study of the Languedoc in the twelfth and first half of the thirteenth century poses its own unique series of problems for the historian. At the beginning of her second chapter, which surveys the sources at the heart of this study, Graham-Leigh clearly highlights one of the most important of these: there is simply an absence of any detailed narrative sources, and in particular chronicles, from the region for the century prior to the Albigensian crusade (10). This gap can, however, be filled, at least to some extent, by surviving charters. After discussing this valuable source (14-16), and in particular a cartulary compiled by the Trencavel themselves in the 1180s, Graham-Leigh explores the sudden and novel boom in narrative sources that appeared in the century following the crusade. These latter present their own challenges: their authorship and date of composition are often open to considerable debate and, of particular importance in this study, it is unclear in certain cases whether Raimond Roger has even been identified correctly as the subject of some of them.

Two sources of particular importance were almost certainly written in the immediate aftermath of the Albigensian crusade: the Historia Albigensis of Pierre des Vaux-de-Cernay and La Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise of Guillaume de Tudela. Of particular interest in this discussion is Graham- Leigh's convincing re-assessment of both Guillaume de Tudela (22-23) and his later continuator (34-35). Guillaume, she suggests, was not, as he is often portrayed, "an anti--crusade commentator" and "cannot be regarded as anything other than a supporter of the crusade" (22). In the case of Guillaume's anonymous continuator, a compelling case is made for a connection between this work and the counts of Foix, rather than the more traditional view that it was closely connected with Toulouse. Graham-Leigh also offers a convincing reappraisal of the troubadour literature, demonstrating that the some of the most substantial material that has been thought to be associated with Raimond Roger, such as the work of Raimond de Miraval, may not, in fact, refer to the viscount at all (27-32).

Graham-Leigh's re-assessment of the chronicler Guillaume de Puylaurens (37-39), on the other hand, is much less convincing. She believes that the chronicler's claims to have been an eyewitness to many of the events he describes should not necessarily be taken at face value. Graham-Leigh suggests that such statements reflect instead the desire of a late-thirteenth century chronicler, writing about events before he was born, to convince his audience of the veracity of his account. This is, in itself, an interesting possibility. At the same time, Graham-Leigh offers no concrete evidence in support of it and her reasons for doubting Guillaume's claims to be an eyewitness appear to be based primarily on the peculiar assumption that Guillaume would not have undertaken such a work in old age. The chronicle was almost certainly written in 1275/76 and includes events which its author claims to have witnessed first hand in the early decades of the thirteenth century. This would suggest that he was probably in his seventies at the time of writing. According to Graham-Leigh, "[w]hile it is perfectly possible for master Guillaume to have lived to this age, it is an unlikely age to have begun such an ambitious and complex work" (38). Age does not necessarily, however, discourage ambitious projects: the Arab historian Usama ibn Munqidh (d. 1188), not to mention Louis IX's crusade companion, Jean de Joinville (d. 1317), provide just two examples of Guillaume's near contemporaries who wrote extensive works of history while advanced in years. Like much relating to Guillaume de Puylaurens, his age must remain uncertain unless more definitive evidence can be brought to light. His claims to have been an eyewitness to the events he describes should almost certainly be accepted unless convincing evidence can be found to refute them.

With the examination of her key sources complete, Graham-Leigh moves on to explore what they have to say about Raimond Roger's dramatic fall. Dismissing, in the course of her third chapter, the view that the viscount's towns of Beziers and Carcassonne were simply the most logical targets for the crusaders in an attack on the Languedoc, Graham-Leigh subscribes, plausibly, to the argument that Raimond Roger himself was almost certainly singled out by the crusade. The author seeks to determine why, after the count of Toulouse's decision to join the crusade deprived the venture of its initial target -- the count of Toulouse himself -- Raimond Roger became the focus of interest. Was the viscount a heretic or a man who sheltered heretics? The answer is almost certainly "no" to both these questions. There is nothing to suggest Raimond Roger was himself the least unorthodox in his beliefs (60). The suggestion that his three chief advisors were themselves Cathar sympathizers can, Graham-Leigh suggests, also be dismissed (62-67). If Raimond Roger and his supporters were not overtly heretical why was he apparently targeted specifically by the crusaders?

While the viscount actually enjoyed very good relations with the majority of the local bishops and the Benedictines (72-73), his problem with the Church lay, Graham-Leigh suggests in her fourth chapter, in his relations with the Cistercians. There is, as the author suggests, a clear case for viewing the Cistercians as critically important in the papal efforts to extirpate heresy from the Languedoc, to the extent that "[t]he lords' relations with the Cistercians is likely to have been given more weight than any other consideration in the legates' assessment of their deserts'(85). While Raimond Roger's father certainly appears to have enjoyed a turbulent relationship with the Cistercian Henry de Marcy (75), there is, however, little to demonstrate the nature of the viscount's own relations with the Order. Graham-Leigh suggests that the absence of signs of positive relations, in the form of donations to important Cistercian foundations, may be taken as an indication that the Order probably considered Raimond Roger "potentially inimical to the crusade" (89). This may indeed be true but it is an argument that even the author appears less than satisfied with: "The Trencavel should not be viewed as essentially anti-Cistercian; there are no examples of Trencavel abuses against Cistercian foundations and various Trencavel demonstrate some level of approval for the order" (89). This is a complex argument and, while Graham-Leigh makes a good case in its favour, it is not entirely conclusive.

If Raimond Roger's relationship--or rather lack of relationship--with the Cistercians goes some way to explaining why he was initially targeted by the crusade, the question remains as to why the Trencavel dynasty did not succeed in re-asserting its position in southern society after the storm had passed in the manner of, for example, the counts of Foix. In chapters five to seven Graham-Leigh attempts to answer this question by examining Trencavel relations with the kings of Aragon, the dynasty's vassals and the towns they ruled. She suggests that, in essence, the foundations of Trencavel power were never particularly firm. The author highlights the growing dependency of the Trencavel on the kings of Aragon in the late-twelfth century. Rather than accept the traditional view that it was the enmity between the counts of Toulouse and Raimond Roger that ultimately proved the key to the fate of the Trencavel, she suggests that an important factor in their downfall was the failure of the Aragonese king to offer the dynasty his support. Pere II of Aragon's relations with the papacy are suggested, plausibly, as an explanation for an unwillingness to intervene more actively to save the viscount in 1209 (116-17). Graham-Leigh goes on to argue that Raimond Roger's own subjects were no less reluctant to defend their lord. Nor did these same subjects prove enthusiastic supporters of the viscount's son's attempts to re-establish himself in his patrimony.

The relationship between the Trencavel and the local nobility cannot, Graham- Leigh suggests in chapter seven, be assessed simply on the basis of charters, which do not necessarily indicate the true extent of Trencavel control. The key to understanding the extent of the family's power lies, she argues, in studying the composition of their government (134). Such an analysis suggests that in the twelfth century the family tended to rely on an extremely small group of supporters who, by Raimond Roger's day, may have been alienated in favour of the unreliable lords of the Montagne Noire region (154). If the Trencavel could not rely on the local nobility, nor, Graham-Leigh suggests, could they expect support from the towns over which they claimed lordship: by the thirteenth century, they exercised very little authority in Albi (141-43) and appear to have been thoroughly disdained in Beziers (144-49). In Carcassonne, Raimond Roger's family may even have been regarded as usurpers of the comital title (155-59). Despite attempts to support their authority through the use of impressive titles such as "proconsul" in the twelfth century, Trencavel power remained essentially limited. Graham-Leigh concludes: "The wholesale removal of the Trencavel, compared to the treatment of other members of the higher nobility, was not so much victimisation as a way for the crusade to minimise antagonism from the higher nobility while obtaining the strong fortress they required" (166). With few advocates and little support, the passing of Raimond Roger's dynasty was the subject for little mourning: "They may have made themselves powerful but they did not make themselves popular, and in the end the former was not enough to outweigh the lack of the latter [...] no one seems to have been very distressed that the Trencavel were gone" (167).

Graham-Leigh's book has many excellent features, not least of which are the ten detailed genealogical tables, vital in a study of a world where the sheer quantity of individuals named "Roger", "Raimond" or "Raimond Roger" is liable to confuse even the most assiduous reader. At the same time, a number of criticisms might be levelled at the book. While, for example, it is certainly useful in a work of this nature to include detailed maps it is essential that these are accurate: in map 1, however, the city of Avignon appears to have migrated some 16km east of the Rhone. A slightly more serious geographical problem appears in a discussion of the relationship that existed between the papal legates and the episcopate of Provence in which Graham-Leigh chooses to use the bishopric of Viviers as a case study (78). While the author may be correct in her view that legatine relations with the episcopate were marked by less antagonism in the east, it is worth noting that the bishop of Viviers is not actually an example of a Provencal bishop: in the twelfth and subsequent centuries the Rhone was clearly regarded as marking the limits of the county of Provence. Viviers lay on the right bank of the Rhone, firmly beyond the count of Provence's authority.

A more general criticism would be that, at times, Graham-Leigh's book feels as if it has been assembled from fragments which have not been blended together as smoothly as they might have been, one of several examples being the first chapter. The chapter divisions themselves appear a little arbitrary on occasion, something that is especially true in the case of the divide between chapters five and six. There are also a number of topics that are touched upon, such as the apparent distaste of some northern French lords for the dispossession of Raimond Roger (44), that might have been explored further. Nevertheless, Graham-Leigh's overall re-assessment of the place of the Trencavel in southern French society and the reasons why the family were permanently dispossessed is both stimulating and broadly convincing. This book offers a useful contribution that deepens our understanding of southern French society in a turbulent period.