Although Simon de Montfort had slighted the fortifications of Toulouse in 1216, the city still managed to hold out against his forces from October 1217 to the beginning of July l2l8. The inhabitants of Toulouse rallied behind their returned count, Raymond VI, and rebuilt the fortifications as best as they could, supplementing them with ditches and palisades to prevent the crusaders getting near the walls. When his direct assaults failed, Simon de Montfort ordered the construction of ‘cats’ (mobile shelters, shown here) to protect his troops so that they could get close to the walls to undermine the defences. It was whilst he was trying to protect one of these shelters from a sortie by the defenders of Toulouse that Montfort was killed on 25 June 1217. Simon is shown being hit in the head by a stone thrown by a mangonel (in the bottom left); his brother Guy has already been shot from his horse by a crossbowman and lies on the ground to Simon’s right.

Toulouse, in southern France, was another great city which demonstrated its resilience in the face of a determined attack. It defied the army of the Albigensian Crusade in 1211: Simon de Montfort was unable to surround the city, whose walls were three miles round, and he could not depend on reinforcements. But, decisively, the crusaders were starving outside the city while Toulouse was able to buy food through its other gates, so after two weeks the siege was raised. The crusader army went on to attack Moissac, but even this small walled town defied them for a month, and in the end fell because of dissension between the garrison of knights and German mercenaries and the citizens.

Through changing political conditions, the walls of Toulouse were almost destroyed in 1215-16, but in September 1217 Count Raymond of Toulouse regained the city and once again de Montfort and his crusading army laid siege in October 1217. The citizens were united in their defiance of the crusader army and they organized themselves efficiently – men, women and even children. They improvised fortifications with earthworks and timber, and, where these did not exist, poured down stones and other missiles from the roofs upon the attacking French, making the narrow streets impassable. The citadel, the Chateau de Narbonne, was held by the French, but it was completely cut off from the city. Once the fury of their first attacks was spent, the French settled down for a long siege. Focaud of Berzy advised Simon: “We must work out how to maintain a long siege so as to destroy the town. Every day we must make raids across the whole country so as to deprive them of corn, grain, of trees too and vines, of salt, timber and other provisions. In this way we shall force them to surrender.” By January 1218, reinforcements from France were starting to arrive, and more poured in in May and June, but although savage assaults were mounted from both sides of the city, supported by elaborate siege equipment, it was never wholly closed off, and this enabled the citizens to receive reinforcements. When Simon de Montfort was killed by a stone from a mangonel on 26 June 1217, the siege was abandoned. The city was besieged for a third time in 1228, but ultimately it surrendered to the overwhelming power of the French monarchy.

The crusade attracted a large number of men of good family and prestigious connections. Among them were Odo, duke of Burgundy; Hervé, count of Nevers; Peter of Courtenay, count of Auxerre; and William of Roches, seneschal of Anjou; as well as many of slightly lesser rank such as Guy of Lévis; Gaucher of Joigny, lord of Beaujeu; and of course Simon of Montfort. Many senior churchmen, especially from Burgundy, also took part, among them the archbishop of Sens and the bishops of Autun, Nevers, and Clermont as well as members of monastic orders. The bulk of the army seems to have been recruited from Burgundy and other eastern parts of France, but there were contingents from the Saintonge, Poitou, and Gascony as well as Germany. Partly this may be explained as a result of the bias toward the East among the aristocratic recruits, who brought many followers with them; but the high density of Cistercian houses in that region had also resulted in more intensive preaching of the crusade.

The crusaders assembled at Lyons in June 1209 under the leadership of Arnold Amalric, and the very large force moved down the Rhone Valley and into the lands of Raymond VI. He offered himself to the church as a penitent and on 18 June 1209 was reconciled in a humiliating ceremony at Saint- Gilles. His lands were thus made safe from attack, and the crusaders turned their attentions to the lands of Raymond- Roger Trencavel, viscount of Béziers and Carcassonne. The first town to be assaulted was Béziers, which was sacked and the population massacred. This was the occasion on which a crusader, having asked Arnold Amalric how they should tell the Catholics from the heretics, was told, “Kill them all, God will know his own” [Caesarius Heiserbacensis monachi ordinis Cisterciensis, Dialogus miraculorum, 2:296-298]. The story is probably apocryphal. Nevertheless, the crusaders reported that they had slaughtered 20,000 people, and although this, too, is almost certainly a gross exaggeration, it is a sign of their intentions.

The army moved on to Carcassonne, to which the viscount and his court had fled and which was in a state of defense. The crusaders began their attack on 1 August, and on 15 August the town surrendered after the viscount had been seized while discussing terms under a safe conduct. He later died in prison. The townspeople were turned out, and the place became the headquarters of the crusaders, who elected Simon of Montfort as their leader and as viscount of Béziers and Carcassonne. Simon of Montfort immediately received the surrender of other towns in the lands of the viscount and began to burn heretics where he could find them. During the winter of 1209-1210 he saw his position weaken as his crusaders returned home, but the following spring he regained lost ground as fresh crusaders arrived. He set out to reduce the great fortresses of Minerve, Termes, and Cabaret, which controlled the surrounding countryside. The fall of Minerve was followed by the burning alive of about 140 Cathar perfecti, both men and women, a pattern that was to be followed as other towns fell. Lavaur, a town quite close to Toulouse and part of the possessions of the viscount of Carcassonne, was stormed. The lord and his knights who had defended the town were hanged, and the lady Geralda, his sister, was thrown down a well and killed when stones were hurled down on top of her. Their deaths were followed by the burning of 400 heretics.

The next phase of the crusade extended the attack to the lands of Raymond VI of Toulouse, who was pressed to meet humiliating conditions and excommunicated when he refused. During the summers of 1211 and 1212 Simon of Montfort’s forces campaigned across the whole of Languedoc. By the end of the 1212 season much of the countryside, as far to the west as the Agenais and south as far as Foix, was in his hands, although the major towns, Toulouse included, held out against him. At first Simon accepted the submission of southern noblemen and regranted towns and castles to them. When it became apparent that these men would throw off their allegiance as soon as they could, he began to grant lands to his followers. A parliament at Pamiers held on 1 December 1212 tried to introduce northern legal practices, such as inheritance rules, and to bar southerners from control of castles. It was a sign that the crusade had entered a new phase in which the northern soldiers would begin to make permanent settlements in the south.

The battle of Muret (12 September 1213) marked a turning point in the campaigning. Simon of Montfort’s small force defeated a much larger army led by Raymond VI of Toulouse and King Peter II of Aragon. The king was killed and the southerners routed. Although Toulouse itself did not fall, Raymond VI was now a fugitive and all of the rest of the south was under Simon’s control. He assumed the title of count of Toulouse and with the enthusiastic support of the local church hierarchy so reduced the area that only Toulouse itself was outside his control. The pope now intervened, protecting Toulouse from further attack and calling the Fourth Lateran Council.

The council (November 1215) was primarily concerned with settling affairs inside Christendom in such a way that a new crusade to the Holy Land would be possible. A settlement for Languedoc, which the pope now ordered, was ancillary to the ecclesiastical work. The pope proposed to carry through his claim to be able to depose secular rulers by taking the county of Toulouse from Raymond VI, as punishment for his support of the heretics, and recognizing Simon of Montfort as count in his place. The new settlement was not accepted by the majority of southerners, and Raymond VI and his son, “the Young Raymond (VII),” returned to Languedoc from Rome determined to continue the war with new support. Both men were now active. The ensuing campaign continued to be a disaster for the south as Simon of Montfort took control of Toulouse for a while and destroyed its walls. In the autumn of 1217 Raymond VI was invited back to the city, which defied Simon. A long siege followed. Simon of Montfort was killed on 25 June 1218 when he was struck on the head by a stone fired from an engine, supposedly worked by women: according to a contemporary chronicler, “the stone arrived just where needed” [La Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise, ed. and trans. E. Martin- Chabot, 3d ed. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1976), 3:207]. His son Amalric was unable to continue the siege. Over the next few years he lost ground to the southerners, now led increasingly by Raymond VII, who succeeded to his father’s claims when Raymond VI died in 1222. On 25 January 1224, the bankrupt Amalric of Montfort retired to the family lands near Paris, taking his father’s body with him. Raymond Trencavel, the son of Raymond-Roger Trencavel, reentered Carcassonne as viscount.

Posted in Cathar, Crusade, France |

Peipus 1242 Repulse of the “Baby-Burners”





How you know the Germans are Bad Men: they toss naked babies into fire. After the Nazi war of extermination 1941+ not so far from the truth. From a memorable Russian film made in 1938 by Sergei Eisenstein

The battle of Lake Peipus (mod. Peipsi Järv, Estonia, Chudskoe Ozero, Russia) is more significant for its place in the national consciousness of Russia than as a military episode. In fact the battle itself was a small-scale affair, but it came to epitomize Russia’s struggle against Western interference. Similarly, the victory of a Russian Orthodox army over a force of Latin (i. e., Roman Catholic) crusaders became a symbol of the Orthodox determination to retain a distinct identity.

In the 1220s, as the Mongols attacked southern Russia, Danish and German crusaders conquered pagan Estonia. In response the Russians set about converting other Finno- Ugrian peoples to Orthodox Christianity. In addition to religious and political rivalry, there was also economic rivalry over access to Baltic trade. While the Mongols launched a second invasion of the south, friction increased between the newly established Baltic crusader territories and Russian Novgorod, culminating in the organization of a “Novgorod Crusade” in 1237. However, an invasion of Novgorodian territory in 1240-1241 faltered when Prince Alexander Yaroslavich of Novgorod defeated the Swedes at the River Neva, from which he was later known as “Nevskii.”

Prince Alexander now launched a counteroffensive, which culminated in a battle on the eastern shore of the frozen Lake Peipus. Here Alexander’s army, possibly supported by a contingent of Mongols, defeated a force of German crusaders from Livonia, Danes from Northern Estonia, and Estonian tribal auxiliaries under the command of the bishop of Dorpat.

It seems that the crusaders were pursuing the Russians, who had been raiding crusader territory. The latter retreated across Lake Peipus before adopting a defensive position on the far shore. A charge by the heavily armoured crusader knights was expected to break the enemy line, but instead the Russians absorbed the shock and attacked the crusaders’ flanks. Part of the crusader vanguard, including members of the recently disbanded Order of the Sword Brethren who had been absorbed into the Teutonic Order, was virtually wiped out, while the rest of the crusader army fled across the ice. Whether or not the ice gave way is unknown, although this did become part of Russian folklore.

Defeat at Lake Peipus undermined crusader prestige, contributing to an uprising by Estonians against Danish rule and by Prussians against the Teutonic Knights. In 1246 Prince Alexander submitted to the Mongol Great Khan, and six years later, with Mongol approval, he became grand prince of all Russia under Mongol overlordship.

Alexander Nevskii (1221-1263)

Prince of Novgorod (1236-1263) and grand prince of Vladimir (1252-1263); renowned for resisting the attacks of German and Swedish crusaders against northwestern Russia.

Alexander Yaroslavich belonged to the Vladimir-Suzdalian branch of the Ryurikid dynasty, and was the second son of Yaroslav Vsevolodovich, prince of Novgorod (later grand prince of Vladimir). He had already served as his father’s governor in Novgorod before becoming prince in 1236. The byname Nevskii (attested from the fifteenth century) derives from his great victory at the river Neva, when, thanks to Alexander’s tactics, the outnumbered Novgorodian host smashed an invading Swedish army (15 July 1240).

At the end of 1240 Alexander left Novgorod after having quarreled with its citizens, and only returned a year later, when a great part of the Novgorodian state, including Pskov, had been occupied by the Teutonic Knights of Livonia and their allies. In the winter of 1241-1242, the Novgorodian troops with Alexander at their head expelled the crusaders from the land of the Votians, and in March 1242 they liberated Pskov and invaded the bishopric of Dorpat in Livonia. On 5 April 1242, the Novgorodians overcame the crusaders on the ice of Lake Peipus, after which the Livonians asked for peace and renounced all their claims to Russian lands. Alexander resisted the attempts of the pope and the archbishop of Riga to persuade him to accept the Latin form of Christianity, and he succeeded in avoiding war on two fronts, by keeping peace with the Mongol Great Khan and the khan of the Golden Horde.

In 1252 Alexander became grand prince of Vladimir, while remaining prince of Novgorod. In 1256 he was able to prevent the Swedes from building a fortress on the right bank of the river Narva. Alexander concluded a treaty against the Teutonic Order with Mindaugas, king of Lithuania, in 1261, but a planned joint attack on Livonia the next year failed, as Alexander was obliged to journey to the Golden Horde; there he fell ill, and he died while returning to Vladimir. He was the subject of a memorable Russian film made in 1938 by Sergei Eisenstein.

Bibliography Brundage, James A., “The Thirteenth-Century Livonian Crusades,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, n. s., 20 (1972), 1-9. Johnson, Edgar N., “The German Crusade in the Baltic,” in A History of the Crusades, ed. Kenneth M. Setton, 6 vols.(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1975), 3:545-585. Nicolle, David, Lake Peipus 1242 (London: Osprey, 1996). Noonan, Thomas S., “Medieval Russia, the Mongols, and the West: Novgorod’s Relations with the Baltic, 1100-1350,” Medieval Studies 37 (1975), 316-339.


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