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Welcome to the 13th century Midi

   Those who are unfamiliar with the history of the early 13th century may desire an overview of its social, political and religious structures. Major shifts in history, such as the extinction of a civilization with its traditions and language, usually take place over a progression of centuries. Thanks to the Albigensian Crusade, the eclipse of the culture that thrived in the Midi (South) of what is now France about eight hundred years ago took much less time.

   The Midi had a high percentage of people unencumbered with feudal obligations.  Its women were among the most independ-ent in Europe.  lt also had its own worldview, for its people as-pired to paratge (pronounced like garage-eh), a nonreligious ethic that calls for civility, tolerance, justice, balance, courtesy, excellence and nobility of soul.


   Related to the Platonic idea of the kosmos, where heaven and earth, gods and men are linked by kinship, love, orderliness, temperance, moderation and justice, paratge is the antithesis of chaos and licentiousness. The English cognate is peerage, in the sense of nobility as a social class.

   When exercising paratge, one is gently polite, even in the face of disagreement, and receptive to opinions, practices, race, religion, gender and nationality that are different from one's own. One acts in a just way, instead cheating, or seeking unfair advantage. It means avoiding excess and finding harmony with the universe; a person is honorable according to how well he upholds the other principles of paratge.

   Some residents of the Midi ignored paratge and engaged in as much duplicity and unbelievable cruelty as others in their time.

The petty nobility in the Midi engaged in almost constant warfare, besieging each others castles and uprooting vineyards and burning crops, behavior that belied paratge.


   In the 13th century, French-speaking people occupied the fertile plain that stretched from the Vosges Mountains in the east to Normandy and Brittany in the west and from the Low Countries in the North to the Massive Central in the South. In the old French tongue, the word for yes was ouïl; hence Frenchmen spoke the langue d’ouïl.

   In contrast, people of the Midi spoke a different language closely related to modern Catalan that used the word ‘òc’ for ‘yes,’ hence it was called lenga d’oc (langue d’oc) or Provençal and, eventually, Occitan. Spoken from Aquitaine in the west to the Alps in the east, and from the Massive Central in the North to the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean in the south, Occitan was the native tongue of Aliénor of Aquitaine and her sons, Richard the Lionhearted and John Lackland, who became kings of England.


   From the eleventh through the thirteenth century, the Midi was renowned for its troubadours who produced poems and songs about love and the joys of living that drew much of their inspiration and techniques from the rich Moorish culture on the other side of the Pyrenees. The Midi was the cradle of Western European secular literature and music and gave rise to similar movements in the West. In his Divine Comedy, Dante celebrated and quoted its poetry. He even considered writing his opus in the lengPa d’oc instead of Italian.


   Francophones didn’t consider themselves French so much as Nivernois, or Normands or Burgundians, etc. Similarly, the inhabitants of what we now call Occitania thought of themselves as Tolosans, Provençals, Albigeois, and so forth. (The term Occitania was not used until late in the 13th century.) The concept of nation states was still a long way off.


   Among its neighbors, France proper was one of the smallest realms, but arcane feudal ties dating back to Charlemagne had established its king as the ultimate suzerain and its more powerful neighbors as his vassals. The feudal practice of obligating liege men to provide their liege lords with troops and military service on demand constituted the real power behind the French throne.

   In the North, power was concentrated in a relatively few hands because of adherence to primogeniture—where the oldest son is the sole heir to the estate-- thereby strengthening estates that possessed male heirs, or expanding them, through strategic marriages.

   In the Midi, both customs were honored in the breach: estates were divided among multiple heirs, producing political weakness and instability. An estate could have a half-dozen lords,  and because their liege men did not feel obligated to their lords, it was difficult to raise armies or to achieve a unified political or military command.

   Like the rest of medieval society, life in the North was stratified and hierarchical. Lords who had gained power through violence or dynastic marriage became extremely wealthy from vast holdings of wheat fields worked by powerless serfs. The upper crust got its cut, and the people at the bottom got the crusts if they were lucky. As the 13th century began, a wealthy merchant class had developed, especially along the Rhine and in Flanders. A new type of loom developed in the 11th century made weaving into a capitalized industry.

   Occitanian society also operated within a feudal framework, but with less de facto division between the top and the bottom and with more upward mobility than possible in the North. Occitanian economy was largely based on cash and was as trade-oriented as Flanders and the Rhineland. Cash crops like wool, wine, and olive oil were stable sources of wealth and industry in the Midi. Mediterranean ports were gateways to the wealth of the Orient and crossroads like Carcassonne and St. Gilles were sites of international fairs.

   Because of a wealthy merchant class, many Occitanian cities followed the Italian model, with consulates whose political power rivaled that of the feudal lords. Occitanian nobles often resided in the cities, a fundamental distinction between the life of those who used their castles  in the pursuit of power and pelf in both North and South. Rich merchants often achieved knighthood and joined the aristocracy.

   The Count of Tolosa was probably richer than any in the North or South, yet he was politically and militarily weak. Prized and fought over by the dukes of Aquitaine, the kings of Aragon, and the counts of Foix, the Midi was united only in speech and culture.

No political dynasty lasts forever

   At the start of the thirteenth century, a major political confrontation was taking place in what would become France and England. The wealthy and powerful Plantagenet dynasty based in Aquitaine ruled more than half of what is France today and the British Isles as well, but was being slowly constricted by its arch rival, the Capet dynasty centered in Paris. A third dynasty, that of Aragon, was busy establishing fiefdoms all across the littoral of the Gulf of Lyon, from Barcelona to Nice.

   As the Apostles of Satan opens,  Richard the Lionheart, the Plantagenet Duke of Aquitaine and King of England, had been dead for a handful of years, and his brother and successor, John, is at war with the Capetian King Philippe II of France.

   While the Plantagenets would rule Aquitaine and England for almost three hundred years, various branches of the Capet family would rule France for 800 years. The last Plantagenet king, Richard III of England, died on Bosworth Field in 1485, but by that time, King Louis XII of France, a Capetian, had annexed Aquitaine, the well-spring of Plantagenet power. The virtually constant warfare between the two rival dynasties required them to concentrate on defending their contiguous borders, which helped the Midi develop its own major political dynasties and kept the greater powers at bay -- for a time.

Raimond VI, Count of Tolosa (Toulouse)

   By the end of the tenth century, the Counts of Tolosa, whose family was rooted in St. Gilles in Provence, had become the dominant power in the Midi. Including the March of Provença, their territory spread from the border of Aquitaine to the Alps. Although formally vassals of the Capetian kings of France, the counts of Tolosa had weakened the feudal ties to their suzerain. However, Henry II, the Plantagenet King of England and Duke of Aquitaine, had designs on Tolosa and prepared to invade it with help from the

Count of Provence.  Raimond V,  in a brilliant stroke of cynical diplomacy, claimed that his lands were overrun by heretics and appealed to the King of  France to help get rid  of them. Unwilling to upset the suzerain/vassal ties, Henry backed off, but his revenge was to amplify the hoax that Tolosa was teeming with heretics. Over the next decades, all of such allegations came from England.

   Count Raimond VI, who reigns over Tolosa at the start of 13th century, secured peace with England and Aquitaine by marrying Henry II's daughter Joan, thus becoming the son-in-law of Aliénor of Aquitaine and the brother-in-law of Richard the LionHearted and John of England. When Joan died in childbirth, Raimond wed the King of Aragon’s sister, thereby safeguarding his southern flank.

Viscount Roger Trencavel

   Because he was previously married to the sister of Viscount Roger Trencavel for twenty years, Raimond VI was also at peace with his major rival in the Midi. Trencavel's lands included Albi in the north, and Besièrs and Carcassona in the south, territories that are wedged into the heart of the County of Tolosa.

King Peire II of Aragon

   Along with the Trencavels, the Count of Fois and the Viscounts of Comminges and Narbona were vassals of King Peter II of Aragon, whose realm included the County of Provença, the territory bounded by the Rhone and the Alps, and by the Mediterranean in the south, and the Duranca river in the north. Aragon also possessed the Gevaudan, a landlocked county bordered by Aquitaine in the north and the County of Tolosa in the South.  Peire paid homage to the Pope as his vassal.

   As the suzerain of the counts of Roussillon, Gevaudan, Fois, Comminges, Provença, and Viscount Trencavel, King Peire II of Aragon controlled as much territory as the Count of Tolosa, whose suzerain -- King Phillipe of distant France, -- was preoccupied with Aquitaine and England.

The Distraction of the Holy Land

   The Crusades to the Holy Land distracted two great warriors from expanding or defending their domains in the Midi. Raimond IV of Tolosa was the leader of the first Crusade (1095) and never returned, breathing his last in Tripoli, in what is now Lebanon. In his absence, the Duke of Aquitaine captured Tolosa for a short period. Raimond's son had to fight off both the Plantagenets and the Kings of Aragon, and he lost Narbonne, Montpelier, Rousillon, Bearn and Bigorre. Because they preferred to live in Provença, Raimond and his heirs often found it difficult to rally the people of Tolosa.

   Likewise, Richard the Lionheart saw his fortunes in Aquitaine and England ebb while fighting Saladin in the second Crusade  (1147), and after being captured in Hungary (1193,) he languished for years in prison Once ransomed, he won back most of his lost territories only to die from a wound from a French crossbow.

A dissolution of faith

   In medieval Europe, the high clergy of the Roman Church grew rich as they tithed the wealthy nobility and tradesmen, and squeezed alms from the powerless poor. Society tended to be both materialistic and highly spiritual, ruled by the philosophy that might makes right, but, at the same time, weighed down by constant fear of eternal damnation. Life was a short, thorny road that led to hell, unless one coughed up the tithes and alms demanded by an insatiable Church, many of whose leaders were renowned more for their concupiscence and debauchery than for piety.

   During the tenth century, not only were weak popes bought and sold, but the clergy itself was rotten to the core, from the bishops right down to the village priest. Parishioners and the pastoral clergy who demanded reform were, therefore, susceptible to messages that rejected most of the Roman dogma and advocated a return to the simplicity of the early church that de-emphasized the Trinity and many of the sacraments. Thousands of others embraced monastic life in order to achieve a more pure existence and a more assured way to heaven.

Papal Reforms

   In the following century, Pope Gregory VII went out of his way to reform the clergy: forbiddng them to marry, insisting on celibacy, and working in concert with the powerful monastic movement. He also buttressed the Holy See, maintaining that the church was founded by God and was, therefore, itself divine and supreme over all other institutions; that the Pope was the Vice-Regent to God and to disobey the pope was to disobey God; and that clerical power was to be centralized in Rome, not in the bishoprics.

   However, by strengthening the papacy and attempting to reform the prelates, he antagonized bishops and priests alike, ironically weakening the church’s hold on the faithful, who did not take kindly to clerical excesses.

The development of dissidence

   By the start of the second half of the twelfth century, a substantial proportion of people, whether of noble or common birth and including many former clerics --particularly those interested in theology-- had turned away from the money-grubbing, ostentatious, and fear-mongering Roman prelates and returned to the simple, apostolic worship of the early church. Such dissidence made no demands on the purse and even encouraged worship in the home, not in a church. It was a spontaneous, homegrown push-back against a depraved hierarchy. Losing its source of income, the Orthodox Church called these movements heresies and its concern reached a fever pitch when Innocent III became pope.

Repudiation of Jesus Incarnate

   Since the fourth century Council of Nicea, Roman dogma has held that as God incarnate, Jesus died on the cross, was resurrected incarnate and so ascended to Heaven. In contrast, many medieval Catholics believed that God sent a totally spiritual Jesus to earth as an angelic messenger to awake people about reaching the Kingdom of Heaven. To them, the whole idea of the cross and the crucifixion was obscene blasphemy, even though they relied on the Gospel of John in their preaching. Jesus was never incarnate, and therefore the Eucharist was preposterous. This belief in an ethereal Jesus was at the heart of at least one so-called heresy.

The Myth of the Cathars

   Until the turn of this millennium, historians had believed that a heresy called Catharism had originated in the Balkans and traveled northwest along the trade routes., and that its roots went back to the Gnostics and Paulists, and especially to Manicheism, a Persian dualistic religion that flourished in the third century AD.

   The great Christian theologian Augustine practiced Manicheism before converting to Catholicism in the late 4th century and later used its precepts as straw men to advance his theology. Anyone who read Augustine would have been acquainted with the concept of a good, entirely spiritual God of love opposed by an evil, materialistic god of power who created the visible earth and its denizens.

   In the 20th century, Catharism became popularized and even commercialized, as any tourist traveling in Languedoc today can attest. However, many historians now believe that various members of the established church concocted the dualism of Catharism from Augustine and other Roman sources in order to drum up dread of heresy within the ruling powers.

 Heresy or Holy Hoax?

   Heresy can be seen as a holy hoax spurred not only by the dialectical methods of scholasticism that were popular in the seminaries of medieval Paris, but by neoplatonic arguments in vogue among the literati. By employing heresy to brand and exterminate their enemies, unscrupulous prelates and politicians were able to vanquish rival individuals and factions. Their smear techniques became the medieval precedent for McCarthyism.


   In the city of Albi, northeast of Tolosa, dissidents actually debated priests in the mid-twelfth century, and clearly proved themselves to be as persuasive as some of the best theologians in France, an outcome that was all the more unexpected because some of so-called heretics were simple weavers and artisans without seminary educations. The hypocritical prelates in their finery who praised the virtues of poverty became laughing stocks. Seminary students deserted the Church in droves.

   The established Church reacted in astonishment, then in rage. Its conviction that the heretical upstarts had to be taught a lesson became the nemesis of anyone who did not follow the teaching of the Church.

   The other result of the debate in Albi was that the French began characterizing all heretics as Albigensians (Albigeois), a term that has survived down to the present.

Saint Dominic

   Later debates produced the same results and in 1207, none other than Dominic Guzman, who would found the Dominican Order, was made to look ridiculous in a debate in Pamiers. However, the future saint came to realize that clerical corruption was at the center of the controversy, and started an order of itinerant teaching monks to carry the Roman Church over its hurdles by churning the wave of reform.

The Good Men and Women

   Rank and file worshippers among these “true” Christians followed respected elders – “good men and good women” – who lived simple lives of great asceticism and frugality as they went about their pastoral chores. Virtually all were self-sufficient because they worked as artisans, even though many had been members of the nobility. In the case of the good women, virtually all were of noble birth.

   It should be understood that the term "good man" was a common honorific used to distinguish civic leaders in medieval society, whether they were gentry or respected burghers. Its vestiges are still alive today when we hear someone address his interlocuter as “my good man.” These “good men” tended to run their towns, either unofficially or officially, as “consulates.” Hence their power was a potential source of dissent with Church policy, especially if they assumed a role to promulgate the gospel truths as many did.

   Such "holy" good men and women – the preachers -- followed strict laws of chastity and dietary abstention; they avoided meat and other animal products. They abjured telling lies, the killing of any creature, and the swearing of oaths. This last was anathema to the mostly illiterate society of that day because business contracts and feudal allegiances depended on oaths given orally.

A Dissident Eschatology

   Many dissidents -- variously called  "friends of God"or "True Christians, "believed that after death, souls were interchanged between sexes, and even species, hence a person’s physical form was relatively unimportant. A soul could be in a male in one life and in a female in the next. As a result, men tended to treat women as equals and a hefty percent of the preachers were women.


   Such a concept attracted women, who identified with its female leadership and social equality in contrast to the male hierarchy and horrific misogyny among all ranks of the medieval Roman Church.

   Even that paragon, Innocent III, claimed that “...the extreme shame of lust not only makes the mind effeminate [horrors!],  but weakens the body; not only stains the soul but fouls the person .... Always, hot desire and selfishness precede lust; stench and filth accompany it; sorrow and repentance follow it. The lips of the strange woman drip as honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil; but her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp 'as a two-edged sword.”

​   Women in the Midi had always enjoyed a relatively higher social status than women in other regions, perhaps as a vestige of their Ostrogoth origins, and because of such predilections, they had an affinity for the dissidents who clearly accentuated the equality between sexes.


   Unlike the Roman Church’s repressive rules on sexuality, the “true Christians,” or “friends of God,” did not oppose contra-ception, fornication; masturbation or homosexuality. Only the self-selected ministers practiced chastity. Marriage was not a sacrament, which the Roman Church considered to be a major part of the “heresy.”

The Consolation

   Holy good men and women were empowered to elevate believers to the elect by a sacrament called the consolation –the wiping away of sin and any connection to the material world-- a baptism performed by the laying on of hands. The consolation was usually performed when a believer was dying so that the believer’s soul could enter heaven. The simplicity of only one sacrament, and that only at the end of one’s life, was one of the many attractions to becoming a “true” Christian or a “friend” of God.”.

   In addition, the “friends” did observe additional rites or courtesies, such as the amelioration, by which a believer greets a good man or woman with three genuflections, at the same time asking for a blessing. This common regional courtesy did not always carry a religious connotation, in contrast to the aparelhament, a public confession ceremony. All three rites were usually followed by a kiss of peace, the believer kissing the Gospel and giving the minister a kiss if they were of the same sex, or laying a head on the minister’s shoulder if he or she is of a different sex.

   If a believer was in danger of death on the battlefield, he could arrange a convenience, which allowed him a consolation, even if he was mortally wounded and could no longer speak.


Long distances were measured in leagues (lègas). One league is three miles. Short distances are given in paces of roughly 30 inches. The Occitan word for inch is poce, the last joint of the thumb.

Expressions of time

   Telling time in medieval days was terribly imprecise. Hence, the pace of life was much slower than our own electronic age. The hourglass, let alone mechanical clocks, had not yet been developed. The use of candle lengths to tell time was still to come. Sundials were available but impractical for anyone on the move, even though the passing of time was built around daylight.

   Estimating short time periods was almost impossible; one could have a rough idea by the number of Pater Nosters one could say for a given task. Church bells signaling church services did provide a rough notion of the passage of time, but the time intervals differed from day to day according to activity and especially to sunrise and sunset, which varied according to the season (See below.)

Canonical bells in 13th century London

​​                 Equinox      Midwinter      Midsummer

Matins         5:00 a.m.     6:40 a.m.        2:30 a.m.

Prime          6:00 a.m.     8:00 a.m.        3:40 a.m.

Terce           8:00 a.m.     9:20 a.m.        6:30 a.m.

Sext           10:30 a.m.    11:00 a.m         9:40 a.m.

None          12:30 p.m.    12:20 p.m.        12:40 p.m.

Vespers        5:00 p.m.     3:00 p.m.        7:00 p.m.

(Sunset)       6:00 p.m.     3:50 p.m.        8:20 p.m.

Compline      7:30 p.m.      5-6:00 p.m.    9:20 p.m.

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