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
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
(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).