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The Counts of Toulouse and their Allies

The feudal system was not well developed in Occitania. The question of just how widespread it was is still hotly debated. French scholars (presumably victims of their early schooling) automatically assumed that French style feudalism was common throughout Europe. Indeed it seemed so obvious that they never really bothered to confirm it. Occitan scholars on the other hand make much of the small amount of evidence available, pointing out that practices varied extensively from one area to another, and that French style feudalism is evidenced only in few arguable cases - and in areas near to the regions under French control. (A sub-text here is that if conventional feudalism did not exist in Occitania, then French claims to the area would be even weaker than they are in any case).

Some have suspected that feudal homage was avoided in Occitania because it involved swearing an oath (anathema to Cathars), but the fact seems to be that the feudal system was never fully developed in the Midi. At least a third of all land was in private hands outside any form of hierarchical system, and the normal relationship seems to have been not feudal but based on convientiae. As so often the Occitan word has no exact counterpart in French or English. In practice it amounted to a contract or treaty, freely entered into by individuals, for the exchange of services, guaranteeing rights and promising mutual aid in case of need. In contrast to liege-hommage the terms of these these contracts seem to have been individually negotiated rather than standardised and hereditary.

In France the system of primogeniture ensured that large powerful families tended to become more powerful over time. In Occitania, all sons, or sometimes all children shared equally in an inheritance, including lordships. Where a siegneurie would be inherited whole from one generation to the next in feudal France, a lordship in Occitania might be divided into numerous shares after a couple of generations. A Occitan noble might well own a twelfth, or in some cases a thirtieth, part of a castle, as did all his cousins.

The Counts of Toulouse never enjoyed the benefits of an efficient military machine, such as that controlled by the King of France. French nobles formed a structured military machine well suited to large-scale war, with its clear hierarchy and specific martial duties. In contrast the Occitan nobles knew only a convientiae, and a sense of cortezia, encompassing concepts of honour, hospitality, and generosity. Cortezia, like the derivative concept of gentility in England, encouraged men to do what they believed to be right, whatever the consequences. It was closely associated with the concept of paratge.

Convientiae, cortezia and paratge together assured an effective resistance to the French. The Counts of Toulouse were able to rely on powerful allies such as the Counts of Foix and Comminges, and the Niort family, Viscounts of the Plateau de Sault. They could also rely on hundreds of lesser nobles, many of whom were prepared to risk and loose everything. The same was true of the citizens of Toulouse and of other cities and towns.

Yet Convientiae, cortezia and paratge were no match for an efficient brutal professionally-lead crusader army, with all the resources of western Christendom behind it. Worse, the advantages of primogenitor soon became apparent. Time after time it proved almost impossible for a dozen co-siegneurs to co-ordinate effective resistance, or to arrange military help from unwilling neighbours. As both sides recognised, Occitania was simply not equipped to withstand an efficient contemporary army. So it was that the wars against the Cathars saw its whole system swept away, and replaced by the French model.

(You might have wondered why the modern French system of inheritance law is so similar to that of the Medieval Languedoc. Here is the explanation: When the Languedoc was annexed to France the French system of primogeniture was introduced, and continued throughout the Kingdom of France through successive reigns until the French Revolution. The Revolutionaries were keenly aware that primogeniture built large and powerful dynastic families. Wanting to prevent the creation of such families, they implemented the old inheritance system of the Languedoc for the new French State. Whether the system succeeded in its objectives is questionable, but it did ensure that the French concept of liberty does not extend to allowing you to leave all your property to whom you want, and ensured that the French countryside is today dotted with ruins co-owned by thirty cousins).

 

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The Counts of Toulouse and their Allies
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