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The Perfect Heresy: The Life and Death of the Cathars

The Perfect Heresy: The Life and Death of the Cathars [Kindle Edition]

Stephen O'Shea
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

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Amazon Review

"The Cathars of Languedoc defy obscurity because their story has become legend", yet the Albigensian Crusade, sent to destroy them, is far less well known than the crusades to Palestine. Inspired by his travels in France, Canadian historian Stephen O'Shea's tale of this medieval sect and its destruction is empathetic, evocative and sometimes refreshingly witty. The book's recreations of the "medieval phantasmagoria" of siege warfare are superb at bringing the medieval world alive. Present from the 12th century to the first quarter of the 14th, Catharism was "a pacifist brand of Christianity embracing tolerance and poverty". Rejecting the authority of the Church, and clasping a series of unorthodox beliefs, it was considered "perfect heresy". Strong in the towns of southern France, Catharism was initially protected by the "tacit assent--or fecklessness--of its overlords". Nobles, monks, popes and kings star in this story of the "abattoir Christianity" of decades of conflict encompassing religious and secular motivation. Catharism was finally eliminated by the Inquisition whose operational methods are fascinatingly and clearly explained. A highly accessible text for non-specialists, The Perfect Heresy draws on modern scholarship and ancient manuscripts (detailed in the notes) of "chroniclers, commentators, inquisitors, clergymen, and lords". Given the resplendent narrative it's a shame that the meagre illustrations are of such poor reproductive quality. But maybe the book doesn't really need them. --Karen Tiley

Product Description

Eight hundred years ago, the Cathars, a group of heretical Christians from all walks of society, high and low, flourished in what is now the Languedoc in Southern France. Their subversive beliefs brought down on them the wrath of Popes and monarchs and provoked a brutal 'Crusade' against them. The final defeat of the Cathars was horrific with mass burnings of men, women and children in the village of Montaillou in the Pyrenees.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1721 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books; Re-issue edition (26 May 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0052RQFU0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #91,422 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
49 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lively overview of the conflict 18 Mar 2005
This is a well written and lively introductory book covering the Albigensian crusade in Southern France (but not, as the title might suggest, the Cathar movement more generally). As with Jonathan Sumption's similar book "The Albigensian Crusade" it is an overview of the period, the personalities and the reasons for the crusade. It is well written, concentrates on history rather than myth (although it does touch briefly upon the myths that have later arisen) and does an excellent job of bringing the period and the people who lived in it to life.
Both this and Jonathan Sumption's book work very well as guides to this period of history, and in fairness either would make a good choice if you have an interest in this topic. My personal preference of the two was for this book as I found it somewhat fresher in tone and lighter in touch while still containing much the same level of information, it makes a surprisingly good holiday read whereas Jonathan Sumption's book has a slightly drier and more academic flavour. Ultimately though, both are good and both are well written, with this book being a little more accessible and Jonathan Sumption's book having better illustrative maps and plans.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
In my library I have three books that cover the Crusade to destroy the Cathars in Southern France. This is one of the first I read and I found it be very enjoyable. In around 264 pages the author, Stephen O'Shea, gives you a decent overview of the life and death of these so-called 'heretics'. The author also supplies numerous notes and a decent bibliography along with a guide to recommended reading. There are a number of small black & white illustrations within the narrative but it would have been nice to see a few colour photographs of the locations visited by the author during the preparation of this book.
The story of the Crusade against the Cathars is truly horrifying in some places. The atrocities carried out by men of God against a peaceful population all in the name of religion is outstanding. During the Albigensian Crusade in 1209 Catholic Knights stormed the village of Beziers. Before breaching the walls they asked their spiritual leader, Arnold Amaury, how could they distinguish Catholic occupants from the heretics. His reply was "Kill them all, God will know his own."
That one line sums up this terrifying period of French history. The continual battles, sieges and murders where followed by the Inquisition where friend betrayed friend, family betrayed family, all just to survive under the 'just' rule of the Catholic Church. We read about that famous French Knight, Simon de Montfort and we find out that in reality he wasn't all that nice! We read about ordinary people, the true heroes of this story, just trying to survive and elk out a living during extraordinary times.
The narrative flowed along and you found yourself drawn into the story with the occasional tourist guide information. This is a great introduction to this period and it should appeal to all that enjoy good historical writing. I would also recommended Jonathan Sumption's 'The Albigensian Crusade' and Zoe Oldenbourg's 'The Massacre at Montsegur'.
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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A JOLLY GOOD READ! 7 Nov 2006
Cathars / Albigeois / Albigensians : it would be difficult indeed to live - as I do - in south-western France and remain unaware of them. I knew about them long before leaving the UK, though, and it seems that vast numbers of people all over the world now take considerable interest in the life, times, persecution and (presumed) extinction of this apparently harmless sect, whose history will forever be entwined with that of the Languedoc. The Inquisition was instigated in order to wipe them out (the "Spanish Inquisition" was merely a subsequent phase of this long-running road-show - which ran, in fact, until 1834).

Among the countless books available on the subject, ranging from the unbendingly scholarly and drily indigestible to the hack-written and downright fanciful, with all shades of the literary spectrum in between, The Perfect Heresy stands out as an intensively-researched work, smoothly and compellingly written.

Easily absorbed, and fascinating in its detail, O'Shea's account encompasses not only the overt religious bigotry which fuelled the wholesale slaughter now generally referred to as the Albigensian Crusade, but also the hidden agendas : the before-and-after political map of France is a real eye-opener, as are the clearly-described political machinations by which, concealed behind a screen thickly embroidered with self-righteousness, those in power trampled and manipulated their way towards loftier and loftier personal status, and greater and greedier financial gain. (Good job things are different now, eh?).

My only real criticism of this work concerns O'Shea's eccentric and random anglicism of some French forenames. Perhaps his (slightly patronising?
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In a world of increasing religious intolerance and inquisitorial style detentions, lessons from the past become even more important. The treatment of the Cathars by the dominant Catholic authorities is one such experience that should not be repeated. The heresy was almost perfect, against all the church stood for, led by the Perfects and in many ways more akin to modern ideology than medieval Catholicism is. The book is similarly almost perfect. It is a highly illuminating account of the establishement, short rise and long fall of a group of heretics, their sympathetic overlords and the whole regional identity of languedoc.
Before reading this work I was relatively ignorant of the internal crusades of Christendom. The Perfect Hersey is a perfect introduction to this period and region, illustrating the sheer inhumanity of the treatment dealt to anyone foolish enough to be labelled a heretic or sympathiser to them. The names of Carcassone, Bezier and Toulouse will signify more than just pretty tourist destinations. And perhaps more importantly the book fills in a crucial gap, illustrating the importance of the Cathar hersey to the forging of a unified French monarch, a dominance of northern 'Langue D'Oi' culture and the creation of the infamous Inquisitions.
The book is a well written example of good narrative history. It is chronologically coherent, and provides an excellent starting point to anyone whose interest in the intrigues of the Catholic Church's past has been wetted by the attention given to the Da Vinci Code. Not a must read, but for any one with an interest in the area or period it is a vital introduction.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good book. Very interesting reading
Published 7 days ago by Charlotte lawrence
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyed this book
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Had heard about the Cathars but only vaguely understood their beliefs and did not know the details of their persecution. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Philip R Watson
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A very good introduction to the history of the Languedoc region/ the Cathars.
Published 2 months ago by John Urquhart
5.0 out of 5 stars So inspiring..
This is such a fascinating read. So much so that I was inspired to write my own book -The Future is Past - based on the amazing and entertaining events that have been beautifully... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Ki Sawyer
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting...
An awesome, thought provoking companion to a recent trip around the Languedoc Region.

If you're going - read this. If you haven't been - go. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Dave H
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force - I wept
The author provides a brief but comprehensive survey of the Cathar movement from its springtime at St-Felix in 1167 to the death of Guilhelm Belibaste, "murderer, adulterer and... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Jamie Wood
5.0 out of 5 stars A great story of fact, not fancy
Well done to Stephen O'Shea for a superbly written history of the Cathars and the Catholic church's crusade to destroy them. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Ciara Coutts
5.0 out of 5 stars Future dog eared book!
This book was part of a bulk order of books by the same author (after reading The Friar of Carcassone). Read more
Published 8 months ago by Angela Winchester
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing take on the Cathars
I was a bit disappointed to learn that the Cathars weren't the warriors I had been led to believe they were. But loved this take on their history and very believable. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Stillwaters
5.0 out of 5 stars Religious practises exposed
The 13th century is not that long ago.
The extreme cruelty related from records of the day mirror the brutality seen at the present day. Read more
Published 9 months ago by John Hobley
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