In the Middle Ages the family of St-Gilles was one of the most
powerful in Europe. As Counts of Toulouse they held a vast
area of land. Before the Cathar
Crusade they had enjoyed great prestige, even within the Roman
Catholic Church. They were more than the title of Count
might suggest to modern ears. They were also Dukes of Narbonne,
Marquises of Provence and suzerain lords of other territories. They
were regarded as the equal of most kings and were related to the
leading families of Europe, notably to the Royal Houses of England,
France and Aragón.
The distinction between names and titles was not well developed
in the middle ages, so the family may be called de St-Gilles
or de Toulouse interchangeably. They came originally
from the town of St-Gilles, an important town where two pilgrimage
routes to Compostella (the voie d'Arles and the voie Regordane)
converged. In medieval times, St-Gilles was a major commercial centre
and in its own right the fourth most important pilgrimage site in
One of the heads of the House of Toulouse, Ramon IV (Raymond IV),
had been the most prestigious leader of the First Crusade, founding
a new dynasty as Count of Tripoli in the Holy Land. His great
grandson, a later Count of Tripoli, was present at the battle at
the Horns of Hattin, where Saladin's victory signaled the beginning
of the end of Catholic states in the east. Another Count of the
House of St-Gilles had declined the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The Counts of Toulouse were the first rulers to found European
foundations for both the Knights
Templars and Knights Hospitaller.
Many of the Counts were named Ramon, a name which is the
same in modern Spanish, more familiar as Raymond in English
and French sometimes Raimon in French. Later members
of the dynasty are often referred to in French literature as the
At the time of the outbreak of the Cathar wars, the ruler was Ramon
VI. In many ways, the Counts of Toulouse of this period
were model rulers. They were far more liberal and tolerant than
their more conventionally Catholic royal peers. They declined to
discriminate against Jews, Cathars or other religious dissidents.
Learning and literacy flourished in their lands, including the medieval
Women enjoyed much greater freedom than elsewhere in Christendom,
and the High Culture of the Troubadours
Love was created and encouraged.
As a great crossroads of Europe, merchants brought wealth to the
area, and cities were allowed to set up fledgling municipal governments,
based on the old Roman city states with democratically elected consuls
(capitouls as they are still called in Toulouse).
Every one of these innovations invited the condemnation of the
Roman Church, ultimately causing a religious war, the fall of the
House of Toulouse and the extinction of their line.
Despite the best efforts of the Roman Church, the St-Gilles family
never lost the respect of the people of the Languedoc. Both
Ramon VI and Ramon VII had been publicly humiliated, stripped, flogged
and excommunicated. Yet the people still flocked to kiss the
hem of their robes. It is perhaps an echo of this respect
that their heraldic device may still be seen everywhere that they
ruled eight hundred years ago.
If you are more interested in the Counts of Toulouse and the Cathars
of the Languedoc, you might be more interested in Cathar