Mary's musings

Mary Hoffman, author of over 90 children's books, including the Stravaganza series and Amazing Grace, has begun a web journal which will be updated roughly once a week. You can read more on

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

They will not grow old

I've just seen the four World War 1 veterans being helped to lay their poppy wreaths at the cenotaph and had to turn it off in order to write something. Yesterday was the 799th anniversary of the death in a wretched dungeon in his home at Carcassonne of Raimon-Roger Trencavel, Viscount of Béziers, Albi and Carcassonne and a great hero of mine.

In 1209 when Pope Innocent lll's "crusade" against the Cathars (who were not called that then but just Believers or True Christians) was launched by the noblemen of the north, Trencavel was only 24, married (to Agnes) and with a little son. The crusade was supposed to attack his uncle, the Count of Toulouse (Raimon Vl), who was believed to have sanctioned if not ordered the murder of the Pope's legate, Peter of Castelnau, the year before.

But Raimon did penance and even eventually joined the crusade himself. So the French, who had been promised they could keep any heretic land and property they took, if they served in the army for forty days, turned on Raimon-Roger, the next wealthiest victim they could find. He probably wasn't a Cathar himself though he was a sympathiser.

When he saw the way the wind was blowing, he rode to the very well-fortified city of Béziers and got out all the Jews and took them to Carcassonne with him. Béziers should not have fallen but it did and the French killed everyone inside, orthodox and heretic alike, men women and children, as many as 20,000 people who had sheltered in the cathedral and other main church. No-one was spared

The authorisation for this war crime came from Arnaud-Aimery, Abbot of Citeaux, who headed the army. He then marched on to Carcassonne, which fell less than a month later. The inhabitants were allowed to leave taking only what they were wearing. Trencavel was still alive in his own dungeon when the French assigned his lands and titles to Simon de Montfort (not the one the University is named after).

And then, on November 10th 1209, Raimon-Roger's death was announced "from dysentery". This brave young man would have been an embarrassment if he had lived and I simply do not believe that his death was an accident. I wrote about him and all this in Troubadour, which comes out next year.

So I wanted to honour him along with the other fallen of the many horrible wars that have happened since then (and before). Raimon-Roger Trencavel, hero and martyr, who did not grow old.


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