The Cathars and the Albingensian Crusade
In the early part of the 13th century, The Languedoc (the name is derived from langue d'Oc, or language of the Oc, the local name for this part of the south-west) was not part of France but was an independent region ruled by the Counts of Toulouse. It was home to the Cathar religion, viewed as heretical by The Catholic Church. The Cathar faith was a duopoly- they believed that although God had dominance above in heaven, the Devil held sway below on earth. This was anathema to the Pope in Avignon, (at this time Pope Innocent III was based there and not in Rome).
After diplomatic attempts to persuade the local rulers to act against the Cathars had failed, and following the murder of a papal legate, in 1209 the Pope declared a crusade against the heretics, promising captured lands to the participants. The Albingensian crusade was named after the City of Albi, one of the main centres of Catharism.
The crusaders besieged Béziers which soon fell and all the inhabitants (estimated between 7 and 12,000) were slaughtered. Carcassonne, which was well defended but suffered from a fatal flaw (the water supply was not secure), followed later that year. The initial impetus of the Crusade had faltered by 1215 and some of the captured towns rebelled against their new rulers. However, fresh troops provided by Kings Louis VIII in 1226 and later his successor, Louis IX, set off on a new crusade and eventually the tide turned. By 1229 the Languedoc was under the control of the French King and The Inquisition was set up in Toulouse to put an end to the heretics. One by one the Cathar mountain-top castles fell to the invaders. The last major stronghold, Montségur fell in March 1244 after a siege lasting throughout the previous winter. The remaining Cathars of Montségur came down from the mountain fortress and were given the choice to renounce their heresy or be burnt at the stake....... to a man and woman they went to the flames.
There is still a sense that the people of the Languedoc consider themselves to be Occitan first and French (a distant) second.