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The History of the Albigensian Crusade: Peter of Les Vaux-de-Cernay's Historia Albigensis' Paperback – 1 Jun 2002
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This meticulous translation will widen knowledge of a distinctive narrative and is warmly to be welcomed. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW The Albigensian crusade always needed careful public relations... by giving us the whole work in translation the Siblys clearly reveal Peter as a second-rate spin doctor. For this very reason he is of course invaluable, and this book deserves to be read by a wider audience than heresy and crusade enthusiasts. HISTORY
The Historia Albigensis is one of the most important sources for the history of the Cathar heresy and the Albigensian crusade. This new translation makes the work available in English for the first time. The Historiawas written between about 1212 and 1218 by Peter, a young monk at the Cistercian abbey of les Vaux-de-Cernay, where his uncle Guy was abbot. Guy took part in the preaching mission against heresy in 1207 and later played an important part in the crusade and became bishop of Carcassonne. Peter several times accompanied his uncle, and not only met those involved in the crusade, but himself witnessed many episodes. The Historiathus contains a wealth of firsthand detail about the personalities and events of the crusade, and about contemporary warfare. An introduction and extensive notes draw on other contemporary sources and on recent scholarship; nine appendices range from the policies of Innocent III to the technical terms used to describe fortifications, also providing translations of other important contemporary sources. W.A. SIBLY read classics at Balliol College, Oxford; his son M.D. SIBLY read history at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
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Because of his bias, we see every brutality performed by the Crusaders as totally justified and described glowingly. On the other hand he has no problems describing the atrocities performed by the Cathars and their supporters, who of course are totally wrong in his eyes. The book goes into minute detail chronicling every small incident, which added incredible insight to my knowledge of the campaign. On the other hand his account of major incidents is revealing. The massacre at Beziers covers four pages of the book; he dismisses the actual atrocity with 'Astonishingly they captured the city inside an hour. What more? They entered it immediately, killed almost all the inhabitants from the youngest to the oldest and set fire to the city.' He describes the inhabitants as 'shameless dogs'.
The book is scholarly, with a length introduction, copious footnotes and appendices. The print size is small but the wealth of detail more than compensates.
Set in the Languedoc region of France the account relates the events during the crusade against Cathar heretics from the point of view of a young monk travelling with the crusaders. The great strength of the book is that besides translating the letters of the monk it also uses copious footnotes to explain the relationships between the people and events discussed.
This is a fascinating story in its own right and with the explanations of the religious and political intrigue taking place in the background it becomes a gripping read. The detail of the beliefs and behaviour of the heretics is a little thin and in some cases quite obviously biased but then what would you expect from a devout monk!
The detail of various sieges illuminates the way of battle from this period and the discovery of the various atrocities committed by both sides is a sobering reminder that we have not really come that far in the intervening 900 years.
I found the story so interesting that I have followed up on other related titles and there are more on my wishlist.