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The Counts of Toulouse

     
 

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 Europe.

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 Raimondines.

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 Jewish Kabbalah.

Women enjoyed much greater freedom than elsewhere in Christendom, and the High Culture of the Troubadours and Courtly 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 Country Tours.

 

 
 
 

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