h i s t o r y most inventive being kidnapping priests’ illicit wives and mistresses and then ransoming them back.
The Plantagenets is divided into seven sections, from the ‘Age of Shipwreck’, which covers the period from the sinking of the White Ship to the eventual accession of Henry II, to the ‘Age of Revolution’, which saw the death of the Black Prince and the reign of Richard II. There is plenty of arresting detail: Edward II decorating the walls of his wedding banquet with tapestries depicting his arms and those of his close friend, Piers
Gaveston (and apparently Edward didn’t die with a poker up his bottom); Edward III, the ancestor of the English uppermiddle class, sending a hit squad at the age of seventeen into Nottingham Castle to overthrow his mother and her lover; the wispy boy king Richard II descending into folie de grandeur.
Yet The Plantagenets is not just a collection of great stories. Woven into the drama of the narrative we see the transformation of the office of kingship, the growth of a refined political philosophy that defined the king’s duties to the realm and vice versa, and the development of a body of common and statute law that underpinned how England was governed. The evolving symbolism of kingship, the changing architectural landscape, and the emerging use of the English language in government and in poetry, are also addressed. This ensures that The Plantagenets is a satisfying as well as an enjoyable read. There is no need for added goblins in this real life game of thrones. To order this book for £20, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 47
Pity poor Everard of Bucy, a northern French peasant who in 1114 interpreted the words of the Gospel, ‘Beati eritis’ (‘Blessed are you’), as ‘Blessed are the heretics’. Knowing no Latin yet confronted by a bishop determined to root out all challenges to orthodoxy, Everard was publicly excoriated, imprisoned and then burned by the mob. His death came at the beginning of what R I Moore terms a ‘War on Heresy’. Moore’s is a lucid narrative, rich in anecdote. The story he tells is essentially that of a confrontation between the centralising power of kings and bishops, ranged against the doomed traditions of the local, the feudal and the folkloric. Perhaps because other fears had prevailed, most notably the fear of paganism, the Church chose not to pry too carefully into the ‘popular’ beliefs of western Europe for most of the period from the fall of Rome to the eleventh century. Beginning in the 1020s, however, with the show trial and burning of a group of clergy in Orléans, the suspicion grew that heresy was on the increase. From the 1150s, fears were focused upon a particular departure from Catholic teaching: dualism, the belief that two principles govern creation. The principle of evil, personified in the Devil, made all that is fleshly or produced by sex, while the principle of good resided in the spirit or soul. It was the duty of believers in dualism, insofar as possible, to n i c hol a s v i n c e n t the heretics of southern France became the object of mounting official hysteria. This culminated in 1209 with a thirty-year Albigensian Crusade intended to ensure their annihilation. Not even Trotskyism, Communism or the activities of that modern bugaboo, al-Qaeda, have inspired more furious paranoia. Even after the crusade had ended, pockets of heresy continued to trouble an inquisition, first established in the 1230s, that unearthed heresy in the Pyrenean village of Montaillou as late as the 1320s.
Devil’s Advocates The War on Heresy: Faith and Power in Medieval Europe
By R I Moore (Profile Books 378pp £25)
purify the soul by abstaining from sex and by refusing all food generated in coition.
Dualism was particularly widespread in the region of the Languedoc around Toulouse, although it was also to be found in northern Italy, the Rhineland and perhaps, in a brief and brutally suppressed outburst of the 1160s, in Oxfordshire. Branded as Manichees (after the third-century Persian gnostic, Mani), as Cathars (after the Greek word for ‘pure’), or as Albigensians (after the city of Albi near Toulouse, identified as a particular centre of their activities),
The story of the heretics and their persecution has undergone many modulations since Moore first dealt with it nearly forty years ago. Writing in the 1970s, he was prepared to accept that dualism emerged in southern France after about 1150, and
‘ The Death of St Peter Martyr’ by Taddeo di Bartolo, c 1400
for a period established its own Cathar hierarchy of bishops and leaders, the so-called ‘Good Men’. But dualism, Moore contended, was a late addition to a landscape of heresy previously dominated by puritanical or anti-clerical preachers, the twelfth-century ‘heresiarchs’ such as Henry of Lausanne or Peter of Bruys. These men were not dualists and their desire was not so much to establish an alternative to the official Church as to return to a primitive imitation of the lives of Christ’s apostles. In 1987 Moore published a highly influential study, arguing that the repression of heresy was itself symptomatic of a shift in
Literary Review | m a y 2 0 1 2 12 h i s t o r y the European zeitgeist: by 1200, the scapegoating of all manner of outsiders, from heretics to Jews and from lepers to prostitutes, ensured what Moore proclaimed to be ‘The Formation of a Persecuting Society’. By means of the persecution of minorities, the majority could unite in obedience to new hegemonic masters: kings, archbishops and popes. Behind all of this, even wider themes could be detected. The theories of Marx (on the emergence of a new monied economy, and with it new class struggles), Durkheim (on collective consciousness), and Michel Foucault (on power and repression), were never far distant from what was fast developing into a scholarly sub-discipline: Heresy Studies.
Moore now attempts to synthesise all these themes into a single narrative. Yet there is a major problem here. One of the greatest unsung scholarly achievements of the 1980s and 1990s was the teasing out by Bernard Hamilton, a professor at the University of Nottingham, of the connections between the Cathars of southern France and other dualist sects, the Bogomils and Paulicians. These had persisted in the Balkans and Armenia in the centuries that divided the early Manichees from their successors in twelfth-century Languedoc. Moore, convinced that the dualists of Languedoc owed little to eastern influence but a great deal to native questioning of Catholic doctrine, adopts a position diametrically opposed to Hamilton. Far from allowing that the Cathars were eastern-influenced dualists, Moore is tempted to deny their very existence. The Cathar threat, he argues, was a figment of the ecclesiastical imagination, at best the grouping together of a rich variety of local beliefs under a single misleading label, at worst a deliberate perversion of the truth, equivalent to the paranoid fictions that led, from the thirteenth century onwards, to belief in an organised conspiracy of witches pledged to serve the Devil.
Here Moore acknowledges his debt to the writings of Mark Pegg, who since 2001 has been arguing that ‘Catharism’ was little more than a construct of its persecutors. To suggest that the inquisitors were too categorical in their definitions of Catharism, and to compare the Cathars to witches and other victims of mass delusion – Jews in the twentieth century, Christians under the
Romans – are, for Moore and Pegg, entirely legitimate exercises. Yet we have no texts in which witches genuinely invite one another to copulate with the Devil, or in which Jews really do conspire in child murder or plot world domination. The Cathars, by contrast, have bequeathed a rich textual legacy.
Moore gives the impression that all contemporary reports of their beliefs were produced by Catholic polemicists and are of their essence unreliable. Yet we possess a number of Cathar writings – The Book of the Two Principles, The Gospel of the Secret Supper, even a vernacular Bible – that seem to have been composed by heretics and that reveal precisely the sort of eastern dualist influences that Pegg and now Moore wish to deny. Either these texts are Catholic forgeries, which would imply a degree of dastardliness worthy of Dan Brown, or we must allow that by the 1250s dualism was a real position adopted by real heretics. If so, it strains credulity to argue that dualism was not already present in southern France a century earlier, when its critics first sounded the alarm. If it had not already existed, why would it have been adopted later, after the outbreak of the Albigensian Crusade, in deliberate and perverse opposition to one of the most brutal repressions experienced since the Roman imperial persecution of Christianity? Indeed, the Roman persecution supplies some useful parallels. It undoubtedly sharpened Christianity’s group identity and helped redefine doctrinal positions. Yet who would sensibly suggest that there were no Christians or Christian teachings before Nero or Julian? This seems to be precisely what Pegg and Moore are prepared to argue in the case of the Cathars.
R I Moore has written an elegant and intelligent book. At its heart, however, lurks a conspiracy theory as improbable as any that motivated the crusaders against Toulouse. Not all opinions expressed by minorities are correct. Nor are all majorities necessarily driven by fear into violent or paranoid delusion. The dualists of Languedoc really did exist. They were brutally suppressed, and their tragedy still has much to teach us about mankind. The War on Heresy is an important though troubling contribution to that lesson. To order this book for £20, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 47
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