The Albigensian Crusade was a 13th century campaign spearheaded by Pope Innocent III. The campaign was launched in southern France where the Christian sect of Cathars was gaining influence, undermining the Catholic Church’s authority. Since most Cathars lived in the city of Albi, the sect came to be called Albigensian.
The Cathars differed significantly from the Catholics and derived a lot of their teachings from early gnostic philosophies. By early 13th century, many towns in south France had become Cathars and the movement was gaining political support from local barons. This was what led to the declaration of Crusade against them.
The Crusade effectively established the control of the Catholic Church and the French crown in southern France as well, whereas the region was free of the influence of both before the Crusade. It also decisively eliminated the sect of the Cathars.
The French crown supported the Catholic Church and was in turn supported by it. In the south of France, dissident counts such as the Count of Toulouse decided to support the Cathars in a bid to diminish the influence of the crown in the region and gain greater political autonomy.
Pope Innocent III consequently had the Count excommunicated and the event soon led to the death of a papal legate in southern France. This prompted Innocent III to finally declare a Crusade against the Cathars, popularly called Albigensians. The Pope announced that any land taken from the heretics “shall belong to the victors”.
Although Innocent III, with the support of French barons, had hoped to crush the Albigensians quickly, the campaign protracted over a fairly long period. Its first leg began in 1209 and continued until 1215. During this period, many important Albigensian strongholds were captured. However, many of these were lost in the face of revolts between 1215 and 1225.
By 1225, the Pope had been successful in interesting the King in the Crusade. Consequently, from 1225 onwards, the French royal force put its force behind the Albigensian Crusade. As a result, even the most powerful barons who were supporting the Albigensian cause gave up and agreed to sue for peace. Consequently, all major Cathar strongholds were taken by 1229.
The Albigensian Crusade, stretched over many decades, was successful in decisively eliminating the influence of the Cathars in southern France. At the same time, the region effectively came under the dominion of the French crown and the nobles in the region had to agree to the French King’s terms for peace.
The Crusade was effectively concluded by 1229 when the Count of Toulouse gave up his support of the Cathars. However, the Church established an Inquisition after the Crusade which was meant to purge any remaining Cathars.
The Inquisition punished those who were suspected of adhering to Cathar beliefs and burnt hundreds at the stake. It effectively eliminated the movement. Albigensian Crusade was a vital episode in the Church’s history which led to the creation of the institution of Inquisition.