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Paratge ( The Name in Occitan. Peerage):  

"Paratge" translates literally into English as peerage, but this gives almost no clue to the significance or meaning of the word in medieval Occitania.

Paratge denoted a whole world-view, almost a philosophy, as alien to the modern mind as it was to the medieval French Crusaders. The word meant something more than honour, courtesy, nobility, chivalry or gentility though our concepts of honour, courtesy, nobility, chivalry and gentility all owe something to the concept of "paratge". 

The word also carried implications of balance, natural order, and what is right. Paratge does not seem to have been a distinctly Cathar notion. The Count of Toulouse could reportedly use the word to the Pope in reminding him of his duty to paratge. In any case we have no indication of any disagreement between the two belief systems, which appear to have coexisted in complete harmony. If it seems odd that we have even the faintest echo of the concept in English, it is well to remember that Occitan was the first language of many in England, including two queens (Eleanor of Aquitaine, and John's wife Isobel) and an English King, Richard I).

paratgeThe nearest concept to paratge we know of elsewhere seems to be the ancient Egyptian idea of Ma'aht - another untranslatable word carrying suggestions of right, cosmic balance and natural order to which may be added ideas of contentment, joy and light. (Ma'aht was embodied as a goddess, and played a part in the development of Christian concepts of heaven and hell). The ancient Greeks seem to have had a similar idea. The word kosmos, the origin of our word cosmos, meant not just the universe but a state of universal order and harmony. Plato, in Meno, (apparently referring specifically to the Pythagoreans) says "The wise men tell us that heaven and earth, and gods and men, are bound together by kinship, love, orderliness, temperance and justice; and for this reason my friend they give to the whole the name kosmos, not a name implying disorder or licenciousness". In the modern world, the nearest we can come to it is probably in Eastern philosophies: the yin-yang and the Buddhist ideas of karma and what is "right".

The word paratge was used extensively in Occitan writings, and it features heavily in the works of troubadours and especially in the Song of the Cathar Wars. If you knew that a man upheld paratge, then that was pretty much all you needed to know about him. Similarly, if you knew that he despised paratge then again that was all you needed to know.

In the latter part of the Canso (The Song of the Cathar Wars) written in Occitan the writer is horrified and mystified that the French invaders seem to have no respect for paratge, or even any understanding of it. The charge is more serious than any other - indeed it probably encompasses all the others - deceit, brutality, vandalism, lying, hypocrisy, even mass-murder. Here is an observation, laisse 137, referring to the French Catholic Crusader victory over the joint forces of King Pedro II of Aragon and Count Raymond VI of Toulouse defending their lands at Muret:

Toto lo mons ne valg mens, de ver o sapiatz,
Car Paratges NE fo destruitz e decassatz
E totz Crestianesmes aonitz abassatz.

It diminished the whole world, be sure of that,
For it destroyed and drove out paratge,
It disgraced and shamed all Christendom.

Here is a later example from a famous coruscating indictment of a dead crusade leader, Simon de Montfort, refering to the epitaph on his original tomb at the Cathedral of Saint-Nazaire in Carcassonne. The inscription on it is now lost, but we know that it envisaged Simon as a saint enthroned in heaven, enjoying God's reward for his earthly deeds:

E ditz e l'epictafi, cel qui•l sab ben legir,
Qu'el es sans ez Es martirs e que deu resperir
E dins e•l gaug mirable heretar a florir
E portar la corona e e•l regne sezir.
Ez ieu ai auzit dire c'aisi's deu avenir
Si, per homes aucirre ni per sanc espanir
Ni per esperitz perdre ni per mortz cosentir
E per mals cosselhs creire e per focs abrandir
E per baros destruire e per Paratge aunir
E per las terras toldre e per Orgilh suffrir
E per los mals escenre e pels bes escantir
E per donas aucirre e per efans delire,
Pot hom en aquest segle Jhesu Crist comquerir,
El deu porta corona e e•l cel resplandi

The epitaph says, for those who can read it,
  That he is a saint and martyr who shall breathe again
  And shall in wondrous joy inherit and flourish
  And wear a crown and sit on a heavenly throne.
And I have heard it said that this must be so -
  If by killing men and spilling blood,
    By wasting souls, and preaching murder,
    By following evil counsel, and raising fires,
    By ruining noblemen and besmirching paratge,
    By pillaging the country, and by exalting Pride,
    By stoking up wickedness and stifling good,
    By massacring women and their infants,
  A man can win Jesus in this world,
Then Simon surely wears a crown, resplendent in heaven.

Elsewhere the canso [laisse 147] reports that Simon's death filled the world with light and set paratge free.

The gulf between the original concept and our attempts at understanding it across the gulf of centuries is emphasised by trying to define it. Paratge is almost like an ethereal substance that pervades the universe. It can grow or diminish, it can be extinguished. It can be exalted and set free, or brought low. Here are a few examples:

Context Occitan Text English Translation
Laisse 151. Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse rails at Pope Innocent III for thinking to dispossess the count's son of his inheritance. E l'efans, que no sab ni falhir ni pecar, Mandas sa terra toldre e lo vols decassar! E tu, que deus Paratge e Merce guovernar, Membre•t Dieus e Paratges e no•m laiches pecar ...And the boy, not capable of doing wrong: you order his fiefs to be taken from him and for him to be driven out! You who should rule by mercy and paratge! Be mindful of paratge and of God!
Laisse 154. Guy of Cavillon gives advice to the young Raymond future Raymond VII, outlining his duty to paratge. ... lo coms de Montfort que destrui Los baros e la gleiza de Roma e la prezicacios fa estar tot Paratge aunit e vergonhos, qu'en aisi Es Paratges tornatz de sus en jos; que si per vos no•s leva per totz tems Es rescos. E si Pretz e Paratges no•s restaura per vos, doncs Es lo mortz Paratges e totz lo mons en vos. E pus de tot Paratge etz vera sospeisos, o totz, Paratges moria o vos que siatz pros! ...the count of Montfort who destroys men, he and the Church at Rome and the preachers are covering paratge with shame. They have cast it down from its high place, and if you do not raise it up, it will vanish for ever. If worth and paratge do not rise again through you, then paratge will die - with it the whole world will die. You are the true hope of all paratge and the choice is yours: either you show valour, or paratge dies!
Laisse 137 and Laisse 141: On the defeat of King Peter II of Aragon and Raymond VI of Toulouse at the battle of Muret in 1213

Totz lo mons NE valg mens, de ver o sapiatz, car Paratges NE FO destruitz e decassatz. E totz Crestianesmes aonitz e abassatz.

... A tot Crestianesme et a trastotas gens

It diminished the whole world, be sure of that, for it destroyed and drove out paratge. It disgraced and shamed all Christendom.

...It dishonoured the whole of Christendom and all humanity.


Here is another passage. Raymond VI and his son Raymondet, the future Raymond VII, had left Rome after the Fourth Lateran Council in 1216 and travelled separately until they met at Genoa and then onto Marseille. Having been stripped of his lands and title the Count's vassals might well have taken the opportunity to abandon him, but events turned out differently. Here is an extract from the Canso, laisse 153:

Reaching Marseille, they dismounted by the shore and were welcomed with joy and delight. The count took up residence in the castle of Toneu. Then on the fourth day a messanger arrived, greeted the count and said: "My Lord Count, tomorrow morning be ready early for the best men in Avignon are waiting for you on the river bank. More than three hundred will be there to do you homage"

Count Raymond was very pleased to hear this. Next morning he and his son [Raymondet] set off and when they had almost reached the meeting place beside the river the Count dismounted from his good Arab horse and and found the men from Avignon kneeling on strewn branches. They and the Count greeted each other with delight.

Arnold Audegier, a good and intelligent man, born of noble family at Avignon was the first to speak, for he well knew all their customs: "My Lord Count of St Gilles, may it please you and your dear son, sprung of a royal line to accept a noble pledge: the whole of Avignon places itself in your Lordship. Each man here delivers to you his body and his estate, also the keys to the town, the gardens and the approaches. Do not think we speak foolishly, for there is no falsehood, no pride or boastfulness in what we say: one thousand knights, brave and experienced men, and one hundred thousand other valiant men have made oath and pledged by sureties that from now on they will strive to recover all your losses. You shall hold all your rightful lands in Provence, including all rents, quitrents, tolls on goods and on passage, and no one shall use the roads without paying for a safe-conduct. And we shall hold all the crossing places on the Rhône and shall carry death and slaughter across the fief until you have regained Toulouse and your rightful inheritance. And the disspossessed knights shall come out of the greenwood and need no longer fear storms and bad weather. You have no enemy in the world so fierce that he will not suffer shame if he does you wrong or injury."

"My Lord" said the Count "in coming to my defence you show both valour and good sense. Your own country and all Christendom will praise you for re-establishing honest men, for restoring paratge and joy".


The concept of paratge is still known and respected in the Languedoc. On the eight hundredth anniversary of the massacre of Cathars by French Catholic crusaders at Minerve on 22 July 1210, the inhabitants of the town installed a memorial to their ancestors - shown below. It says, in Occitan:
"Minerve remembers PARATGE!"


An Excursus

In many respects an upholder of paratge resembled a perfect knight and an ideal gentleman. King Richard I of England was familiar with the concept - he was from the Aquitaine himself, the son of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the great grandson of William IX the first troubadour. He was a fluent speaker of Occitan and must certainly have understood and respected paratge. He himself was a troubadour and was greatly esteemed in his time. Even his Moslem enemies called him Melek Ric - the True King.

Yet Richard was not the greatest embodiment of the ideal of Paratge. The two men remembered by English history who perhaps most embodied the ideals of paratge were both alive at the same time as Richard, and both knew him. One was William Marshall. The other was Al-Malik al-Nasir Saleh ed-Din Yusuf, better known to us as Saladin. Both were also renowned and honoured even by their enemies. Richard held them both in the very highest esteem - though he spent years fighting Saladin, and had once had to beg for quarter from William Marshall. History gives us a good indication of both men:

Saladin - Salah al-Dunya al-Din. On one famous occasion, seeing Richard's horse killed beneath him in battle, Saladin sent him another. We also know that Richard offered the hand of his sister in marriage to Saladin's brother. Such was Saladin's reputation that it was widely believed in the West that Saladin had been knighted by Richard, possibly a distorted version of an actual event as Richard had knighted Saladin's nephew. When Muslim raiders took a baby from its Christian mother, she sought out Saladin and appealed to him in person. Moved to tears he had the infant found and returned to her. When one of his dared to bring a legal actuion against him, he left his throne and submitted to trial like anyone else. When he won the case he liberally rewarded his opponent. When he took Jerusalem he forgave Balian of Ibelin who had led the defence, despite having taking an oath not to do so (he had been released on this condition). While the crusaders had slaughtered almost the whole population when they had taken Jerusalem in 1099, Saladin killed not a single citizen when he took it in 1187.

William The Marshal. William's surname was taken from his office. The hereditary title of "Lord Marshal" designated a head of royal household security - one of many senior senior officers of a kingdom. William, a younger son, became the finest warrior of his age and Marshal to Henry II. He was tutor in chivalry to Henry the Young King, and it was said that William had knighted the young Henry. It was also William who declined to kill the rebellious Richard when he had the means and opportunity.

It is a measure of Marshal's standing that after 1204, when King Philip Augustus of France and John of England started insisting that paladins should chose between their territories in Normandy and those in England, alone of all of them William Marshall was allowed to continue holding fiefs in both. It was Marshall's decisive action on the death of John in 1216 that ensured that the next king of England was Henry III, and not the son of the King of France. At the age of over 70 William personally lead the English army against French forces.

Marshal served five kings — Henry II, Henry the Young King, Richard the Lionheart, John and Henry III. Before his death in 1219, he was made Regent of England for the child-king, Henry III. On his deathbed, William was accepted into the Order of the Knights Templars. Stephen Langton described him as the "greatest knight that ever lived", a verdict that no one has since sought to overturn. He was also known as "the Flower of Chivalry". By the time he died, people throughoutEurope referred to William alone when they spoke of "The Marshal"; and to anyone interested in European history he is still "The Marshal". If you try a Google search for William Marshal today you will find well over a million entries, and over 24 million if you spell it William Marshall.


Wiliam Marshal, Earl of Pembroke (1146-1219) from his effigy in the Temple Church, London




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Paratge and the Cathar Crusades