Innocent III and the Case for War in Southern France in 1207


  • This article is based upon a chapter of my Master's thesis, “Internal Crusading in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries.” I would like to thank my thesis supervisors, Dr Catherine Kovesi and Dr Megan Cassidy-Welch, for their invaluable assistance and thoughtful contributions to earlier versions of this article.

Christian Chenu is a postgraduate law student at Monash University.


In 1208, Pope Innocent III's public declaration of a crusade in the lands of the count of Toulouse (Reg. Inn. III XI.26) appeared to indicate a change in policy regarding the heretics of that region. A closer examination of the letter's contents, however, suggests that a policy of war had been formulated by 1207 at the latest. This predates the death of the papal legate, Pierre de Castelnau, whose murder was the alleged pretext for the Albigensian Crusade. By considering the letter's notions of crusading and its preference for rhetoric over policy discussion, it can be demonstrated that the document testifies to an advanced stage of negotiations between Innocent and the French nobility, who the pope had hoped would lead the venture. As it was proposed, the crusade was novel in several respects; notably, its use of Holy Land indulgences and the seizure of property belonging to heretics. The cursory treatment these topics receive in the letter illuminates the process of negotiation that preceded the crusade. In the light of his pressing need to allay the concerns of Philip Augustus, Innocent could not have declared the crusade as he did without having first conducted considerable diplomacy. The careful policy refinement of 1207, therefore, assumes new significance for the events of 1208.