The Siege of Carcassonne

From Beziers, of which nothing now remained but a burning pile, the crusaders moved on in the direction of Carcassonne. As they advanced, they found the country desolate. The terrible example of Beziers struck terror into all hearts. The inhabitants of the defenseless villages fled as they saw the smoking ruins of the strong city. Woes innumerable tracked the polluted steps of these dragon hosts. They stood before the walls of Carcassonne: Roger commanded in person, and sustained a long siege with great valor. Simon de Montfort was foremost in the assault. On the other side, Roger was seen exposing himself everywhere at the head of the defenders, and animating their courage by words and example. During forty days the siege was continued, and the besiegers were repulsed with great loss. But for the treachery of the abbot, Raymond-Roger would have triumphed. Thus matters stood.

The soldiers of the cross were only required to serve forty days, both by feudal law and in order to gain all the privileges of crusaders. At the end of this period many of the leaders and the great mass of the troops returned home disappointed and dissatisfied. The excessive heat, the scantiness of water, the infected atmosphere from the unburied dead, the rapacity, cruelty, and perfidy of the priests, led many to welcome the close of their feudal term. In these extremities and surrounded with disorderly troops the abbot had recourse to craft—the wiles of Satan. The noble and brave viscount was decoyed into a conference. On the oath of the legate and the barons of the army that good faith would be maintained, Roger came out with three hundred of his followers. But with so formidable a heretic faith was not to be kept. And just as he was beginning to propose terms, the legate exclaimed that no faith was to be kept with one who had been so faithless to his God; and ordered the viscount to be put in chains and cast into prison with his followers. But he was soon relieved from his humiliation and suffering by death, which was popularly attributed to the hand of Simon. The people, dismayed by the loss of their chief, abandoned the city and escaped by means of a subterranean passage, but the priests consoled themselves by seizing about four hundred of the citizens, whom they hanged and burned for the common offense of heresy.

The city of Carcassonne and the princely heritage of Raymond-Roger were now in the hands of the papal party, and according to the law of conquest entirely at their disposal. The legate and his clergy presented these rich lands to Simon de Montfort as the firstfruits of a glorious victory over the heretics; and he was hailed as Viscount of Beziers and Carcassonne, promising to hold his dignities and territories on condition of a yearly tribute to the pope as liege lord of the conquered territories.

The election of Simon was confirmed by the pope, though the great principles of justice and the faith of treaties were so glaringly and shamelessly violated; but the King of Arragon, as suzerain, refused to invest Simon in his new possessions. The conquest appeared to be complete, but it was not really so. The Duke of Burgundy, the Count of Nevers, and other French noblemen, withdrew from the crusade, being greatly offended with the arrogance of the pope's mercenaries. De Montfort, being thus left with a comparatively small force, was unable to maintain his position. Many cities and castles that had been taken by the papal party were again lost, and an incessant war was carried on; now marked by the fierce exasperation of the people, and the most relentless cruelties on both sides. De Montfort wrote in despair to the prelates of Christendom for a fresh army.

The trumpet of Rome was again sounded: a fresh crusade was preached. "Swarms of monks," says Greenwood, "issued from the numberless cells and monasteries of the Cistercian order, preaching perdition to heretics, and boundless pardons to all who should shed the blood—were it only of one—of the accursed brood. There was no crime so black, no vice so rooted in the heart, but that a forty-days' campaign against these outcasts would wipe it away, even to the last trace of guilt, nor leave the faintest sense of remorse behind." Attracted by the promise of great earthly spoils in the sunny south, and of eternal felicity in heaven, unnumbered troops of fanatics flocked to the standard of De Montfort. In the spring of 1210 he received a large reinforcement under the command of his wife, and the war recommenced with fresh fury.