On Friday, 18 November 2022, staff and students packed out the Bruce Sewell Mock Court Room to put infamous crusader Simon V de Montfort (d.1218) on trial for war crimes during the Albigensian Crusade. The indictment focused on Simon’s actions between 1209 and 1215 and accused him of inflicting ‘extreme violence’ on the people of Languedoc and acting outside the limits of just war doctrine and the Law of Arms.
Stepping through the doors of the courtroom, attendees were transported to the papal court during the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 to try Simon according to contemporary conceptions of just war. The court focused on three charges of mass execution without trial or knowledge of guilt, citing the sieges of Béziers (July 1209), Minerve (July 1210), and Lavaur (May 1211).
The proceedings were kicked off by our judge, Professor Andrew Jotischky (Royal Holloway, University of London), who read out the charges to the jury and our audience. The prosecutor, Dr Rory Cox (St Andrews), then presented his opening statement, discussing acceptable forms of medieval warfare in the 1200s. In particular, he emphasised the importance of correct intention and questioned whether Simon’s intentions were motivated by pure religious zeal or more vicious, material concerns.
The defence, criminal defence barrister Harry Potter, followed with his rebuttal, highlighting to the jury the importance of trying Simon according to contemporary standards. He pointed out that the central authority in this period was Pope Innocent III, who promoted and supported the crusade, demonstrating that Simon’s actions were not just permissible but desirable to the medieval church.
After these statements, the judge called the two witnesses to give evidence. First up was the witness for the prosecution, Joshua Rice (Royal Holloway), who gave evidence of Simon’s ‘evil’ actions, pointing to the crusaders killing non-heretical inhabitants and plundering the city. His statement opened on a rather comedic note because when asked to state his name, he replied that it was a ‘tricky’ question to answer: Josh was playing the role of the anonymous continuer of William of Tuleda’s Song of the Cathar Wars.
Rory’s interview of the witness at first seemed to vilify Simon beyond redemption, but when Josh was then rigorously cross-examined by Harry, he had to concede that Simon may not have been at the sack of Béziers and that much of his account relied on stories he had heard.
The witness for the defence, Dr Gregory Lippiatt (Exeter), was called to the stand next and played the role of Peter of les Vaux de Cernay (a chronicler and monk). Gregory stated that Simon was ‘the nicest man,’ and the defence focused on Peter’s connection with many of the crusade’s key participants and first-hand experience with Simon. Gregory also highlighted the other crimes of the heretics, such as their ‘traitorous actions’.
Following this statement, he was cross-examined by Rory, who argued that Simon himself had acted traitorously against Peter II of Aragon and questioned whether the atrocities at Béziers, which saw 20,000 people killed, were proportionate to the number of heretics in the city (200 people). In response, Gregory (as Peter) said that the heretics had thrown themselves in the fire of their own free will, something actually written in Peter’s Historia Albigensis.
This courtroom drama was followed by closing statements from the two lawyers. Rory argued that Simon’s actions could in no way be seen as following the guidance of the Church Fathers and the Laws of War, whereas Harry reminded the jury that we could only judge Simon on whether he was acting within the scope of Innocent III’s orders, which left much for the jury to ponder.
As the jury left the room to discuss their verdict, the audience was offered an opportunity to ask our academic and legal experts, this time playing themselves, their questions about Simon and the Albigensian Crusade. Our speakers discussed theories of just war in the medieval period and whether there was contemporary consensus about what this entailed by the early thirteenth century.
The jury then returned to the room, and Andrew read out the verdict—Simon was found ‘Not Guilty!’ on all three counts, with the jury having found that he had not gone beyond his remit, to the surprise of some of the audience.
The event was well attended and proved to be both fascinating and entertaining for all who attended. Many thanks to our speakers, Rory Cox, Harry Potter, Joshua Rice, and Gregory Lippiatt, and our judge, Andrew Jotischky, for making the event so enjoyable for all involved.
This event would not have been possible without funding from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the work of the organisers, Dr Sarah White, Louis Pulford, and Jenny McHugh.
For a more detailed write-up of the event, please see the forthcoming issue of EPOCH magazine.Back to News