A Most Holy War: The Albegensian Crusade And The Battle For Christendom, by Mark Gregory Pregg
This book is a classic example of why it is that people whose bias and worldview is as pronounced as is the case here should not write histories where what they see is what they are putting in. The Albegensian crusade is not as well known as it should be, and this book presents it with an attempt to blacken the reputation of the Catholic hierarchy but cannot escape the certain muddiness of what is involved in this situation as local power figures fight for power, using religion in some ways as a cover for dynastic ambitions as the French and Aragonnese and local Languedoc houses struggle for dominance in the face of a culture that the author has a much higher degree of fondness for than appears to be merited by the case that is provided. This book discusses an area of history that few people focus on unless they are fans of medieval history, but this book leaves more questions than it provides answers, and among those questions, first and foremost, is the fitness for a biased author to deal with a matter where bias is such a problem in sources. The author clearly takes the point of view of the local troubadours and that is a major failing, given his failure to overcome their own biases.
This book is in the neighborhood of two hundred pages and the author makes the decision to divide the book into numbered rather than named chapters that detail the history of the Albegensian crusades from about 1176 or so until about sixty years later or so. During the period the area of Southern France found itself involved in a high degree of competition over power. The local counts in the area sought to maintain their power and have independent policies as much as possible in the space between the English, French, and Spanish monarchies, all of whom wanted to expand or maintain their power in the region. When you add to this a complicated land tenure system that required the development of conflict-resolution and diplomacy and the complexity of religious loyalties, the result is lamentable but not particularly surprising. What is striking is that an author who praises the local inhabitants of the region for their diplomatic skill would comment on the distinct failures of those people to engage in the sort of diplomacy that would have preserved their freedom in the face of royal ambition and religious anger from the Pope and Catholic hierarchy.
Among the most troubling aspects of this book is the author’s praise of the supposed courtesy of the local inhabitants and his praise of what they considered to be a “good man” or a “good woman.” Praising people for courtesy who are hostile to parenting, have no fondness for biblical law and godly morality, and who the author views as being genuinely Christian while also simultaneously commenting on their closeness in histories to various ancient heresies. It is almost as if the author considers heresy to be a legitimate Christian policy. To some degree, the situation in Southern France in the late 12th and early 13th century is more than a little complicated in terms of the belief system of the inhabitants and the political and religious situation that can be found there, and there is a high degree of brutality to be found in the battles and razzias and sieges that the crusade featured, but this author is so biased in favor of those who have been considered, with reason, to be at least problematic as one might imagine it to be. And that is a shame, because there is clearly the material here for a good book that examines the tangled aspect of loyalties and ambitions in this place and time, it’s just that the author is not equipped to handle it.