restricted access Heresy and Inquisition in the lands of the crown of Aragon by Damian J. Smith (review)
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Reviewed by
Smith, Damian J. Crusade, Heresy and Inquisition in the Lands of the Crown of Aragon (c. 1167–1276). The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World 39. Leiden: Brill, 2010.

Damian J. Smith’s Crusade, Heresy and Inquisition in the Lands of the Crown of Aragon combines archival research with a broad survey of secondary sources to present a nuanced view of the interactions among its three titular forces during the reigns of Alfonso II, Peter II, and James I of Aragon. As Smith notes in his introduction, these topics have been of perennial interest to both historians and scholars in a wide range of other fields, but less attention has been paid to them in the particular Aragonese context (1). Smith’s work goes a long way toward filling in this laguna, offering a detailed account of the presence of the Cathars and Waldensians in the Aragonese Crown and of the responses their presence provoked from rival kingdoms and the papacy. This deep contextualization does not, however, prevent Smith from suggesting important implications for broader future work on crusade, heresy, and the early Inquisition.

After an introduction focused on the “three great battles” fought between 1212 and 1214 (Las Navas de Tolosa, 7/16/1212; Bouvines, 7/27/1214; and Muret, 9/12/1213), Smith returns in his first two chapters to the age-old question of the potential trans-Pyrenean political unit whose development is traditionally thought to have been disrupted by the Albigensian Crusade and fatally wounded at the battle of Muret, in which Peter II’s forces were defeated by those of Simon de Montfort and the Aragonese monarch himself met his end. As Smith phrases it, “[t]he question is whether given the long-term cultural, linguistic, economic and demographic unity of the lands of the two sides of the Pyrenees they could have or would have formed into a state had it not been for the disaster at Muret” (26). This counterfactual proves a surprisingly productive foundation for Smith’s study of crusade and heresy, as Peter II and his son, James I, saw their [End Page 225] attention torn between the conflict surrounding the Cathars in Languedoc and crusading ambitions (for example, James I’s conquests of Majorca and Valencia) in the south. Both areas of conflict required significant and delicate diplomacy with the Church, a point Smith covers particularly well. Smith also covers in some detail the diplomacy among the various Christian factions in Aragon and Languedoc, revealing how the apparently doctrinal questions raised by heresy were woven into conflicts of a much less theological nature.

Smith’s study of heresy proper, and the Church’s reaction to it, begins in chapter three with an examination of certain key events in the early development of heretical movements, such as the arbitration of Lombers (1165) and the possibly apocryphal council of Saint-Félix de Caraman (1167). At the former, a disputation between important figures in the local Catholic hierarchy and their ostensibly heretical critics, Smith remarks on the relative power held by the “heretics”:

What is even more remarkable is that the opponents of the Church, who wished to be called Good Men, supported by the knights of Lombers, were able to engage in open debate with the higher clergy, obliging them to frame their arguments from the New Testament as the heretics would not accept the Old, refusing to answer on matters concerning their faith, criticizing the luxuriant lifestyle of the bishops and priests, declaring the unfortunate Bishop Gaucelm of Lodève himself to be a heretic, and making a semi-orthodox profession of faith but then refusing to swear to it.


Such preconditions to disputation would later be adopted by the Church itself, as at the famous Barcelona Disputation of 1263, in which rabbinic sources were attacked while the New Testament was off-limits (Chazan 50–2). Smith’s discussion of this event and others like it, such as the “stage-managed” public debate held at Pamiers in 1207 between the Waldensians, led by Durán de Huesca, and representatives of the Church – at which Durán likely agreed beforehand to seek reconciliation with the Church...