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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  November 1999

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION November 1999

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Subject:

re.: heretics and Cathars, esp. in Gascony

From:

"Claire Taylor" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Wed, 10 Nov 1999 16:57:09 GMT0BST

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This is my first proper contribution to the list: I hope that I am 
approaching things in the accepted way and that it will be of interest. It 
concerns the very interesting discussion around the sociology of 
heresy. Bob Moore, as I understand it, is asking when the ‘good men’ in 
Gascony became ‘heretics’, and specifically Cathars, as part of trying to 
establish whether or not the ‘labelling’ of  humbler Christians took place 
in the context of attention by the authorities, in this case the authority of 
Henry II. He suspects that dualist ideas reached Gascony in around the 
1160s and that people of the region with recalcitrant social and/or 
religious ideas were tarred with the same - dualist - brush. However, I 
find little actual evidence of religious recalcitrance, let alone anti-clerical 
or even dualist heresy in the region in the period he suggests. I would 
like to suggest that if this were a strategy employed by Henry II then we 
would find evidence of both dissident ideas and of his involvement in 
their identification and eradication: He was involved in this process in 
England in the 1160s and in the Toulousain in the 1170s, after all. I 
suspect that the attempt to establish the sociology and nature of heresy 
in Aquitaine/Gascony will lead Bob Moore up a blind alley, and I hope to 
save him some trouble. 

Yves Dossat argues convincingly against the case made by thirteenth-
century churchmen that there was heresy in the Gascon-Pyrenees and in 
Gascony in general. The letter of Héribert of Périgord, taken as evidence 
of Catharism in Aquitaine when it was thought to date to c.1160, has 
been redated to the early eleventh century (I very much disagree with R. 
Bordes’ assertion that there is other evidence for Cathars in Périgord: I 
can elaborate if people wish). The only actual evidence of heresy in the 
region is thus possibly the case of Yves of Narbonne (accused of 
dualism at Bordeaux, but who denied the charges), and the certain 
exsistance of a minor Cathar church in the Agenais (an Aquitainian 
county until 1196, but one with which Henry was involved very little). 

Certainly sources talk of heresy in Aquitaine/Gascony. In 1181 Robert of 
Auxerre stated that the were heretics in Gascogna and the chroniclers of 
the kings of England believed that there were Cathars in Aquitaine. But 
there is no evidence, apart from the above, actually originating in the 
region and I agree with Peter Biller that William of Newburgh 'conjured' 
heretical origins in Gascony 'out of the air'. True, Church councils 
reported the belief that there were heretics there: Tours in 1163 and the 
Third Lateran of 1179. But if Henry II influenced the proceedings of 1163 
in order to label dissidents because it was time to bring them under his 
thumb, as Bob Moore suggests, why were no local initiatives apparently 
taken, no trials and no investigation? Indeed, an investigation in 
Aquitaine/Gascony only happened in 1198 when Innocent III instructed 
the archbishop of Auch to challenge the strength of the heresy there. 
This task was entrusted to the bishops of Bazas, Comminges, Lodève 
and Agen. But there is no evidence that the bishops found any 
evidence. Pontifical directives ceased to claim that there were heretics 
there, and Bishop Navarre of Couserans, a papal legate from 1207-9, 
never once mentioned heretics in his diocese. 

I therefore feel certain that Gascony is not the place to look for an 
understanding of the social complexion of heresy and heretics, unless 
someone can make a convincing case that Henry planned to use the 
heretical label in order to bring the Agenais more closely under his 
control (it isn’t inconceivable – it was a strategically important county – 
but there is no evidence for such motivation or action and the Agenais 
retained its heretical community until and beyond its transfer to the 
county of Toulouse in 1196). 

I hope this has been of some help.
Claire Taylor






 



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