Who's Who In The Cathar War: Arnaud Amaury
(Latin: Arnaldus Amalricus,
Arnald Amalric or Arnold Aimery), Abbot of Cîteaux
As Abbot of Cîteaux, Arnaud was the chief Abbot of
monastic order. Like Saint
Dominic who followed him, he made it his business to convert
the supposedly heretical Cathars of the Languedoc back to
the One True Catholic Church. His preaching, like that of
Dominic, was recognised as a comprehensive and humiliating
failure, an inevitable embarrassment for a golden mouthed
prince of the Church claiming to be assisted by God himself.
As the Song
of the Cathar Wars relates, the people of the Languedoc
laughed at him and scorned him as a fool [laisse 3].
They paid no attention to him and despised everything
he said [laisse 4]. When he preached they commented
to each other "Ara roda l'abelha" - "That
bee is buzzing around again" [laisse 46]. As Voltaire
commented in his Account
of the Crusade against the People of the Languedoc:
"L'abbé de Cîteaux paraissait avec
l'équipage d'un prince. Il voulut en vain parler
en apôtre; le peuple lui criait: Quittez le luxe
ou le sermon" - "The Abbot of Cîteaux
appeared, with the entourage of a prince. In vain he
spoke as an Apostle; the people shouted at him Abandon
either your luxury or your preaching.
As with Saint
Dominic, Arnaud's reaction was to arrange death
and destruction of those responsible for his humiliation.
The murder of one of his monks, Pierre de Castelnau,
from the Abbey
of Fontfroide, provided a pretext, and soon the
crime was pinned on Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse,
although there was no evidence against him, and no trial
was ever held, despite Raymond's request for one. Pope
Innocent III, after meeting with Arnaud, started
preaching a formal Crusade
against the people of the Languedoc, and also issued
secret orders to his notary Milo to the effect that
Raymond should be destroyed whatever he did.
Arnaud himself was appointed as military
leader of the crusaders during the first stages
of the war in 1209. This was a perfectly normal occurrence
at this time, but Arnaud's love of terror and killing
was perhaps above average, even for a senior churchman.
It was he who was responsible for the mass burning alive
of "many heretics and many fair women" at
Casseneuil", for the massacre at Béziers,
where some 20,000 men, women and children were killed
in an "exercise of Christian charity", and for the immortal
words "Kill them all. God will know his own". He was
also responsible for the siege of Carcassonne,
and for the seizure of Raymond-Roger
Trencavel, Viscount of Carcassonne, Béziers,
Albi and the Razès during a truce - leading to
the fall of Carcassonne.
He arrived at Minerve
just in time to engineer the deaths of 140 people whose
lives would otherwise have been spared.
Arnaud, other Cistercian abbots
and Saint Dominic (with a halo) crush helpless
Cathars underfoot - a sanitised version of the
persecution of the Cathars
That the Crusade was really just a war against the people
rather than a punishment for a single murder is evident from
the fact that it was directed against the lands of Raymond-Roger
Trencavel and not those of Raymond VI (who himself joined
the Crusade). As far as is known Raymond-Roger was given no
warning and no opportunity to answer any charges against him.
The first phase of the formal crusade over, Arnaud tried
to find a senior French noble to hold the territory, but none
would accept. Finally, Arnaud, speaking on behalf of the pope,
de Montfort to take on the impossible job.
Arnaud later became Archbishop of Narbonne.
Today Arnaud is best remembered for his instruction before
the massacre at Béziers.
In Latin "Cædite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt
eius"; in French "Tuez-les tous, Dieu reconnaîtra
les siens"; in English "Kill them all. God will know
his own". Click on the following link for more on the
siege and massacre at Béziers
Kill Them All ...
In recent times some people have started to voice doubts
about whether Arnaud Amaury ever spoke the words attributed
to him and this has become a point of contention between Catholic
apologists and others. Below is a summary of the relevant
arguments and sources:
|Reasons to doubt that Arnaud Amoury spoke
the words "Kill them all
||Reasons to believe that Arnaud Amoury did
speak the words "Kill them all
|The words are too appalling to have been
spoken by any senior churchman.
The words are consistent with the recorded statements
of contemporary senior churchmen, many of whom also
led armies. Such leaders often talked about extirpation
or extermination, and were responsible for numerous
mass slaughters. Like almost all of their statements
justifying killing in general and genocide in particular,
this one is grounded in scripture. The words are based
on a citation from 2 Tim. 2:19.
To take another example, here is an extract from the
Song of the Cathar Wars [Canso, laisse 214] recording
threats made by Bertrand, a Cardinal of Rome concerning
of Toulouse (1216-1218) less than a decade after
the massacre at Béziers
(this threat is based on Old Testament passages commending
Quel cardenal de Roma
prezicans e ligans
Que la mortz e lo glazis an tot primeiramens,
Aissi que dins Tholoza nils apertenemens
Negus hom no i remanga ni nulha res vivens
Ni dona ni donzela ni nulha femna prens
Ni autra creatura ni nulhs enfans laitens,
Que tuit prengan martiri en las flamas ardens.
The Cardinal from Rome proclaiming
That death and slaughter must lead the way,
And that in and around Toulouse
No man shall remain alive,
Nor noble Lady, girl or pregnant woman,
Nor any created thing, no sucking infant,
But all must die in the burning flames.
The principal was not restricted to Crusade leaders,
and was articulated by other Churchmen. The Bolognese
legal scholar Johannes Teutonicus wrote in 1217 (around
the same time as the above) in a commentary on Gratian:
"If it can be shown that some heretics are in a
city then all of the inhabitants can be burnt"
Glossa ordinaria to Gratian's Decretum, edited
by Augustin and Prosper Caravita (Venice, Apud iuntas,
1605), C 23, q 5, c32 - cited by Mark Pegg, A Most Holy
War, OUP, 2008,
|Such a concept is fundamentally un-Christian
idea of "Killing them all" and leaving it
to God to sort out the souls of the dead is a popular
one among traditionalist Christians. Indeed it is characteristically
Christian. It only makes sense to those who believe
in heaven and an afterlife. The phrase would be meaningless
to an atheist. It is not difficult to find Christians
today who espouse such views. Devout believers in US
military units including Marines, Army Rangers, and
Special Forces favour a slightly different formulation
"Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out." This
phrase is found printed on T-shirts sold on military
bases - The phrase even serves as an unofficial motto
for some organizations in the US police and military.
A Google search on 11 December 2006 for "Kill 'em
all T shirt" returned 1,230,000 matches - many
for the sale of these tee-shirts. Here's
a sample page copied from http://www.gistuff.com
|The Catholic Encyclopedia (under
"Albigenses" states that these words were never
spoken by Arnaud Amoury: 'The monstrous words: "Slay
all; God will know His own," alleged to have been
uttered at the capture of Béziers, by the papal
legate, were never pronounced (Tamizey de Larroque, "Rev.
des quest. hist." 1866, I, 168-91).'
The words were universally accepted as fact for many
No-one ever seems to have thought to deny that the
words were spoken until the nineteenth century when
the Catholic Church first started to recognise a need
to justify its historical record. Tamizey de Larroque
offers no substantive reason to doubt that the words
were pronounced, and the Catholic Encyclopedia
offers no reason why we should believe a man who lived
half a millennium after the event, rather than sympathetic
|There is no reason to think Arnaud would
plan a massacre like this - it could have been carried
out by a rabble of crusaders.
The massacre of consistent with contemporary and sympathetic
records of the Crusaders' strategy. According to the
[laisse 5] Innocent III, Arnaud, Milo and 12 cardinals
planned their strategy in Rome in early 1208:
There it was that they made the decision that led
to so much sorrow, that left so many men dead with
their guts spilled out and so many great ladies and
pretty girls naked and cold, stripped of gown and
cloak. From beyond Montpellier as far as Bordeaux,
any that rebelled were to be utterly destroyed.
Again, according to the Canso,
laisse 21, the Crusader Army under Arnaud's command
confirmed plans for mass slaughters, exactly like this
one, immediately before the siege
"The lords from France and Paris, laymen and
clergy, princes and marquises, all agreed that at
every stronghold the crusader army attacked, any garrison
that refused to surrender should be slaughtered wholesale,
once the stronghold had been taken by force."
and the reasoning behind this is explicit:
"They would then meet with no resistance anywhere,
as men would be so terrified at what had already happened.
That is how they took Montreal and Fanjeaux and surrounding
country. Otherwise I promise you they could never
have taken them. That is why they massacred them at
Béziers, killing them all."
Yet again, no fewer than three separate sources tell
us that Renaud de Montpeyroux, the Bishop of Béziers,
having consulted with the Crusaders, indicated to the
citizens that their blood would be on their heads if
they did not surrender the town and hand over their
Cathar neighbours. (Canso
16-17, Historia albigensis §89, and a
letter to Innocent III from Arnaud and Milo referred
to below). Here is the Canso's version:
... if they refused to follow this [the bishop's]
counsel they risked losing everything and being put
to the sword.
As WA and MD Sibly point out "These accounts suggest
that at this stage the crusaders did not intend to spare
those who resisted them, and the slaughter at Béziers
was consistent with this" (WA and MD Sibly, The
History of the Albigensian Crusade, Appendix B,
|This sort of brutality is inconsistent with
the commandment "Thou shalt not kill".
Arnaud promoted this crusade specifically to kill.
The whole point of any Crusade was Holy War - in which
the enemy are killed. Raymond-Roger
Trencavel, Viscount Béziers had already offered
his submission before the siege started - so the Crusaders
could easily have avoided bloodshed if they had wanted
The words "Kill them all ..." are consistent
with everything we know about the character and record
of Arnaud Amoury, who seems to have taken every opportunity
to maximise the death toll among those he regarded as
his enemies. After the famously brutal Simon de Montfort
was appointed to take over military command of the Crusaders,
Arnaud Amaury as papal legate occasionally overruled
him, demanding more punitive action than Simon favoured,
as for example at Minerve.
As one historian explains "Extraordinary holiness
and extraordinary cruelty were never incompatible during
the crusade - indeed, more often than not, they went
together by necessity. The redeeming majesty of His
love was revealed only through wholesale slaughter honouring
Him. (Mark Pegg, a Most Holy War, OUP,
2008, p 161).
It is also significant that in all of the contemporaty
records and comentaries, not a single Catholic writer
records a hint of regret for the massacre. On the contrary
it is lauded as just and divinely inspired. This is
in itself evidence that such an attrocity was regarded
as perfectly as a perfectly normal event for holy Crusaders.
|The words were not recorded during the actual
event, but some years later. (Some apologists claim a
time lag of over 60 years)
The words "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui
sunt eius" are first recorded (with approval) by
a fellow Cistercian
chronicler, Caesarius of Heisterbach (c1180-1250) in
work on miracles (Caesarius Heiserbacencis
monachi ordinis Cisterciensis, Dialogus miraculorum,
ed. J. Strange, Cologne, 1851, J. M. Heberle, Vol 2
, 296-8). The time lag is not known for certain,
and may have been a few weeks or months. In any case
it cannot be more than 40 years since Caesarius died
in 1250. So at the worst, the time lag would be comparable
to that between Jesus' lifetime and the writing of the
gospels. It not obvious why different standards should
be applied - so that the time lag is of no consequence
in one case but fatal in the other.
Caesarius was an adult at the critical time, 1209,
and would have had personal contact with Crusaders and
especially with fellow Cistercians
who had taken part in the Albigensian
Crusade. Furthermore he seems to be well informed
- he says nothing that contradicts the known facts from
several different authoritative sources and supplies
convincing additional detail as to how the besiegers
managed to breach the city's defenses.
At the beginning of Chapter XXI of his work, he says
"In the time of pope Innocent, the predecessor
of the present pope, Honorius, ...". For him to
be able to write this Honorious III (the successor of
Innocent III) must have still been alive. Honorius died
on 18th March, 1227 which means that Caesarius could
not be writing more than twenty years after the massacre
If we discount the reliability of this account on the
grounds of possible time delay, then we would need to
discount most medieval chronicles on the same grounds.
The text gives other clues - for example that Raymond
VI of Toulouse was still alive at the time of writing.
(He died in 1223). Again, Cardinal Bishop Conrad was
a papal legate against the Cathars at the time, which
pins it down to 1220 - 1223, at most fifteen years after
the massacre at Béziers.
|It would be unusual, perhaps unique, for
a Churchman to command a massacre of a whole town.
It is not unusual, let alone unique, to find examples
of Churchmen commanding massacres like this - and citing
the Pope as the source of the command.
We have several other examples from the Cathar Wars
- for example when Cardinal Bertrand exhorted the Crusaders
outside Toulouse in 1217 he was very clear that "every
one" of those living in the city should be massacred
including, implicilty, Catholics, children and babies
and, explicitly, women and the sick and injured.
... Recapture the town, seize every house! Let neither
man nor woman escape alive, no church, no relics or
hospice to protect them, for in holy Rome sentence
has been given: the sharp sword of death shall touch
them. As I am a good and holy man, worthy and loyal,
as they are guilty, wicked and forsworn, let sharp
steel strike down every one of them. (Canzo, Laisse
As it happened, the crusaders failed to take the city,
so this particular threat of massacre was not realised.
Massacres of God's enemies were seen as not merely
necessary but somehow "merciful" and entirely
in line with God's will. In November 1225 over a thousand
senior churchmen attended a Church Council at Bourges.
It was attended by 112 archbishops and bishops, more
than 500 abbots, many deans and archdeacons, and over
100 representatives of cathedral chapters. This was
well after the massacre of Beziers, and every one of
those in attendance would have been aware of the massacre,
yet there was no hint by the Council that Crusaders
should ensure that no such atrocity should occur again.
As the French poet Philip Mousket sang afterwards "One
and all, the clergy unanimously decided that, for God's
sake and for mercy, the Albigensians should be destroyed.
(cited by Kay, Richard. The Council
of Bourges, 1225: A documentary History. Aldershot,Ashgate,
|There is only one record of this event.
There is only one record of most events in Medieval
history. We do not normally discount such records, unless
there is good reason to do so (such as hostile witness,
Just a few months after the massacre at Béziers,
Simon de Montfort encountered two heretics at Castres.
One of them would not renounce his faith, but the other
one would. The Crusaders disagreed as to whether he
should be burned alive, or should be allowed to live.
Simon took the initiative and reasoned as follows: if
the heretic was telling the truth then the flames would
expiate his sins and he would go the heaven; if he was
lying then the flames would send him to hell [Historia
112-3]. This is exactly the reasoning attributed to
Arnaud just a short time before. Certainly, the scale
of the killing is different but the principle is identical.
Similar reasoning is not recorded elsewhere (which is
why Arnaud's words have such a terrible resonance).
Can it really be a coincidence? Or is it more likely
that Simon was applying a lesson learned from his mentor,
Arnaud, at Béziers a short time previously?
The words are consistent with what did in fact happen
under Arnaud Amaury's command. Arnaud was in supreme
command of the Crusader army at Béziers.
According to the most sympathetic source (Historia
Albigensis by Pierre Des Vaux-de-Cernay,
a contemporary chronicler and another fellow Cistercian
who had been in the crusader army) everyone in the town
was massacred including new-born babies. It does not
seem likely that the Supreme Commander of God's Holy
Army could be unable to save a single child if he had
The words are consistent with other contemporary records,
including Arnaud's own letter to Pope Innocent III after
the massacre at Béziers
which portrays the massacre of part of divinely engineered
event. He says that "Our men [nostri] spared no-one,
irrespective of rank, sex, or age, and put to the sword
almost 20,000 people. After this great slaughter the
whole city was despoiled and burnt, as Divine vengeance
raged miraculously ..." (Patrologia
latinae cursus completus, series Latina, 221 vols.,
ed. J-P Migne (1844-64), Paris, Vol. 216:col 139)