Cathars expelled from Carcassonne in 1209

The Cathars

The roots and nature of Catharism are highly contested by scholars and enthusiasts alike. One reason is that cherry-picking instead of careful examination of different kinds of source material is a widespread practice. New book on the Cathars seeks to remedy this.

The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade. A Sourcebook
Ed. by Catherine Léglu Rebecca Rist  and Claire Taylor
Hardback, Paperback, Kindle
Routledge 2013
ISBN-10: 1408255502
ISBN-13: 978-1408255506

Cathar and the Albigensian crusade cover

The history of the Cathars, their so-called heresies, the Albigensian Crusade and the work of the Inquisition has been dealt with in numerous books and pamphlets by scholars and enthusiasts alike. Seriously, it has been claimed that this is an industry in itself. Why then, should a new book be so welcomed, as the present sourcebook published by Routledge?

The answer is, of course, that the authors and editors of this somewhat slender volume have made a remarkable effort to produce not only a sourcebook with translations of the central texts  – both well-known and hitherto unpublished; they have also accompanied it with a state-of-the-art introduction, a guide to further reading and the necessary indexes of both persons and places.

With its translations into English of papal letters, troubadour songs, contemporary chronicles in Latin and the vernacular, and inquisitorial documents it offers a carefully edited collection of texts, which can be used at both the undergraduate as well as the graduate level. It may also appeal to for instance archaeologists and historians who are not well versed in both Old Occitan or Latin.

But the reader is also carefully introduced to themes, which are crucial to understanding the life and times of the Cathar movement, as well as the complexities involved in getting a grip on the nature of Catharism. The book also touches upon the ideologies of crusading and holy war, the Church’s implementation of diverse strategies to counter heresy, the growth of papal Inquisition, Southern French counter-strategies of resistance and rebellion, and finally the uses of Latin and the vernacular to express regional and cultural identity.

On the blurb, it says: “This timely and highly original collection not only brings together previously unexplored and in some cases unedited material, but provides a nuanced and multi-layered view of the religious, social and political dimensions of one of the most infamous conflicts of the High Middle Ages. This book is a valuable resource for all students, teachers and researchers of medieval history and the crusades.”

Although one may wish for a second volume focusing on the later – post-crusading history – of the Cathars, this is an excellent description, to which the present reviewer can subscribe.

However, the book should not only be reserved for or recommended to these groups of specialists. Easy to read, it ought to be a widespread travel-companion to the hordes of tourists, who more or less clueless travel from one castle to another abbey to a charming village in the Pays Cathare every summer!


Catherine Léglu is Professor of French and Occitan Literature at the University of Reading. She has published extensively on troubadour poetry and related literary works of the High and Late Middle Ages. She has published two monographs, respectively on satirical poetry (2000) and the theme of multilingualism in Occitan, French and Catalan literature (2010).

Rebecca Rist is an Associate Professor in History at the University of Reading. Her research interests include the history of crusading, the papacy, medieval heresy, and Jewish–Christian relations. She has published a monograph on the papacy’s authorisation of crusades in Europe during the first half of the thirteenth century (2009).

Claire Taylor is an Associate Professor in History at the University of Nottingham. Her work is on the south-west of France in the high-medieval period, with an emphasis on its religious, political and social life. She has published two monographs on heresy in the region (2005 and 2011).


Cathars expelled from Carcassonne in 1209. © British Library Ms. Cotton Nero E II Pt2, f20 verso

Karen Schousboe




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