Prisoners of War in the Albigensian Crusade, 1209-1229

Prisoners of War in the Albigensian Crusade, 1209-1229

By Martín Alvira

e-Stratégica, Volume 1, 2017

Massacre against the Albigensians by the crusaders (British Library, Royal 16 G VI f. 374v)

Introduction: The Albigensian Crusade is generally considered as a brutal and merciless war because of the manner in which the enemy was treated, especially the prisoners of war. The rich narrative sources describe the cruel treatment of the captured enemy and the breach of the conventions, customs and unwritten laws of medieval warfare.

However, this impression of brutality must be qualified through a closer reading these sources. The more unobtrusive authors discussing the treatment of prisoners are the Navarrese cleric Guilhem de Tudela, author of the first part of the Canso de la Crozada (c. 1210-1213), who was an opponent of the heresy but nevertheless generally held the Occitan nobility in high regard; and the Toulousain cleric Guilhem de Puèglaurenç, who wrote a Chronica half a century after the end of the Crusade.

On the other hand, the most abundant and striking descriptions correspond to the French Cistercian Pierre des Vaux-de-Cernay (c. 1213-1218), a panegyrist of Simon de Montfort; and the anonymous poet who wrote the continuation of the Canso (c. 1219/1228), a strong supporter of the Count of Toulouse. Both wrote works that sought to mobilize support for their respective sides, and thus paid much attention to the violation of war conventions rather than to their fulfilment.

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