Historical background of larp Good people of Languedoc
How does this text differ from the History page? History is generally about how well our game is playing. The chapter Historical background is about how the contemporary reality translates into playing our game.
You can read the text of this page either in the Design document, which you can download here, or continue reading.
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Languedoc – the land where the game takes place
The Middle Ages and our journey into the history.
The majority of players will know Languedoc as south of France nowadays. It spreads from the northern slopes of Pyrenees towards the north. Northern Languedoc is a fertile flatland, southern part is mountainous, formed by several ranges of Pyrenees, their foothills and the valleys among them.
At the time when our game takes place, in the second half of 13th century, it is a rich land, richer than France in the north. There are winyards all around, fields of lavender spreading from horizon to horizon and there are even citrus orchards in the south. People speak Occitan which is practically identical with Catalan and both languages are very close to Latin. Inhabitants of Quillan feel closer bonds to the King of Aragon than to the King of France, who is the current ruler of the land.
The Quillan castle, the seat of the Lords of Quillan, is a comfortable and cosy place, accessible to inhabitants of the town. In fact the town and the castle are so interconnected that it is difficult to say where one ends and the other starts and everybody is happy with it. The town doesn’t have very impressive fortification and it wouldn’t withstand siege for long, the walls serve more as a protection against bandits and vagrants.
Quillan is a bit of an outlier in the region – while most towns depend on their fertile fields and winyards, Quillan thrives mostly on trade and commerce. It lies on a river that provides enough water all year round. It also lies on the crossroads of several key trade routes. The major ones are trade routes to Carcassonne and Toulouse in the north and to Barcelona in the south.
Faith is extremely important for the people in the Middle Ages. From our contemporary perspective, all characters are deeply religious. Their faith guides them in their everyday life, informs many of their decisions and gives them hope at times of hardship.
All characters are Christians. They don’t split themselves between Catholics and Cathars, that is a split we use to simplify the distinction between them. Both groups see themselves as the followers of the “true” faith and see the other group as the proponents of fallacies, whichever their reason is for spreading lies.
Those we call the “Catholics” are not so much different from contemporary Christians. They believe in the Holy Trinity, the Immaculate Conception, the original sin, etc. Their faith is based on the same version of the Holy Bible most of us know. The church service differs in several aspects from the one we can experience today – the believers still consume both sacramental bread – the body of Christ – and sacramental wine – the blood of Christ – during the Holy Communion. The service was very emotional, there was singing and dancing and the most common musical instruments in the church were the kettle drums. On the other hand, there were no pews in the churches as they would just be in the way. We will help you experience such services.
Those we call the “Cathars” have different points of view on many basic aspects of faith. They have their own edition of the Holy Bible with different holy texts. They don’t gather in churches and don’t have services led by priests, instead they are guided by parfaits who serve more as lecturers and teachers than as priests. But at the time of our game, there are no parfaits left and the Holy Inquisition has destroyed all their texts.
For the reasons outlined above, the religious texts related to Cathars available to us nowadays are very fragmented and we have decided to use fictional edition of the Catharist Holy Bible to keep the game interesting and fun. We can discuss it in more detail during the debriefing.
To play the game, the players don’t have to be religious and there is no need for special knowledge of religion or church history. There is ample opportunity to explore this particular angle of the game as well, but it is optional, if it is not your thing, don’t be afraid, you can still enjoy the game. All that is important for the game will be presented to you during the pre-game workshops.
On the other hand, if you are religious, please accept the world of the game as it is. The church services are based on their medieval form which might be different from the contemporary ones. The chapel we use for the game was deconsecrated. That being said, the church services will be very authentic and we will do our best to let you experience a medieval church service.
Social roles and hierarchy
In the second half of 13th century in Languedoc, the society is rather strictly divided into basic social strata. Compared to the medieval society, the European society of the 21st century is very egalitarian. The medieval society was nothing like that. In our game world, we will operate within the following hierarchy:
The nobility is the ruling political class, their status puts them at the top of the social hierarchy. They own land and they execute administrative and judicial power. Their authority is great. No other authority can lay hands on the land or the people belonging to a noble without consequences. Even when the Holy Inquisition identifies and convicts someone, the corporal punishment must be approved by the lord of the manor. If the lord dares to oppose the Holy Inquisition, there will be trouble, but legally speaking such is the right of the lord of the manor and the lord can reject to punish the convicted. The lord’s power over his land, town and people is absolute.
The nobility is fully respected by all lower social strata, at the time of our game this respect is still without reservation. Moreover, the local nobility is mostly liked by the local population on account of the common history and culture.
The nobility can read and write. The local nobility is well educated and can read latin scripture. While young french nobles entertain themselves in ferocious tournaments, the local nobility supports the culture of troubadours and generally focuses on education, art and poetry.
Generally, the nobility does not get involved in the matters of economy. The bookkeeping is below them and they hire wardens among townsfolk or merchants to manage their affairs. It is not unheard of that a Jewish merchant would be selected for such position in Languedoc, Castilia or Aragon, which would be absolutely scandalous and socially unacceptable anywhere else in France. Our warden Nazaire is such skillful local merchant – for the Lady of Quillan, he is irreplaceable in managing the Quillan manor.
Officially known as Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon but mostly referred to as Knights Templar or just Templars. The Knights Templar are a monastic military order formed by three main ranks – noble knights, sergeants and chaplains. For the purpose of the game, we will refer only to their best known rank – noble knights. The prospective Templars had to be knighted before joining the order. That means all noble knights must be nobles and they often come from powerful houses. Upon joining the order, they both retain their noble status as well as acquire a status of a member of a monastic order, giving them a respected position within the Church.
The Knights Templar must observe series of vows, e.g.: The vow of poverty means that the knight doesn’t own any property except for what he needs to fulfill his purpose (a horse, an armor). The vow of chastity means sexual abstinence. The knights are not allowed to touch women at all, even if the woman is their relative (including mother or sister).
The order’s highest office is that of Grand Master. The Grand Masters are voted in and the position is held for life. They are followed by commanders in the hierarchy of the order, who lead the commandries, local divisions of the order. They are subject only to the Pope, they don’t have any liege lord, they stand aside from the governance structures of the lands.
At the time of our game, their commandries spread all over Europe and they command thousands of knights and tens of thousands of other personnel. It is the greatest, the strongest and the most impressive military power in Europe.
The templars vow to fight infidels and non-believers. They receive rigorous training and their equipment is flawless, they are the best warriors Europe has to offer, they are feared and they are proud of it. They NEVER retreat from the enemy. That is one of their commandments. When King Richard the Lionheart breathed his last, he bequeathed his pride to the templars.
The templars stubbornly refuse to fight other Christians. They made an exception for King Pedro, father of the current King of Aragon when they joined him and fought against French army during the Albigensian Crusade. However that wasn’t due to some special affinity towards Cathars – they just fulfilled their obligation towards King Pedro. Otherwise they were strictly neutral for the rest of the coflict in Languedoc. Even at Montsegur. Rumour has it that they allowed some of the defenders to flee secretly.
If there is anyone they despise, it’s the Dominicans. Most probably, if it was up to the Templars, there would be no such order as the Dominican order in the Christian world.
Unlike today, clergymen are not always studied theologists. The position was often given as a form of a reward and the position of priest was often taken by someone who wasn’t fully suitable. Such a person would often learn to formally perform the liturgy correctly (even though for some this was also too much of a challenge) but that didn’t mean they could offer the believers all the guidance and support expected of a priest.
The priest actually has two masters – the church, the presbytery and all the land and structures connected to them belong to the lord of the manor. The lord would ask the Church to send the priest. Therefore, on one hand, the priest is subject to his superiors in the Church hierarchy but at the same he is a subject of the local nobility that basically hired him.
Violation of the vow of chastity was not an unusual occurrence. A priest would not marry but he would live with his housemaid or he would have some other companion. Oftentimes, priests would even farther children.
The priest of Quillan is not particularly rich as Quillan is a relatively modest manor in a mountainous region, but many other priests were rich and lived boastful lives that insulted believers. .
The Church was not the best example of virtue and that pushed more and more locals away from Catholicism towards Catharism because the Catharist teachers and parfaits were such paragons of virtue worthy of following.
Of course, one cannot generalize, not all clergymen were corrupt, but it was so prevalent that it inspired Saint Dominic to establish an order to purge these sins from within the Church – the Order of Preachers – popularly known as the Dominican Order.
Monks and nuns
In theory, the Dominicans belong into this group as well but due to their specifics, we focus on the Dominicans in the next article. Apart from the Dominicans, we also have a Benedictine convent in the game. The Benedictine convent often served as shelters and especially women would hide there from the world “outside”.
Widows would enter a convent to seek protection from poverty. Benedictine nuns would take care of orphans. Most of the orphans raised in the convents would leave the convent after becoming adults, just some would join the order.
A convent is led by an abbess and its economic affairs are managed by a prioress. These positions are usually held by noble women. Other nuns tend to be commoners. Monks and nuns are seldom educated at a university and are seldom consecrated even though most can read and write and some dedicate their lives to science or art. The position of a priest for a convent is often taken by an outsider and the priest is always male, even in female convents.
In our game the convent is so well connected with the town that father Francois can take care both of his congregation and of the convent.
The Order of Preachers – popularly known as the Dominican Order – was founded almost 50 years ago (in 1216) by Saint Dominic. Saint Dominic came originally from nearby Montréal. It is a preaching order which means that every Dominican is in fact a consecrated priest and can perform all duties of a priest. The Dominicans are usually educated, important members of the order studied the College of Sorbonne, foundation of which was partially inspired by the Dominican Order. The contemporaries at the time of our games are some significant Dominicans – Thomas Aquinas or Hieronymus de Moravia. The Dominicans are therefore very apt at argumentation, logic and discussion.
The main idea behind the foundation of the order was to perform inspections within the Church – the original purpose was to evaluate priests if they performed their tasks well and if not, they had power to set things right immediately.
The way it usually went was the following: A Dominican would inform local lord that his priest is not worthy of the post, the lord would let the Dominican replace the priest immediately, the priest would then be summoned to the bishop for questioning and to answer for his transgressions. Until a new priest was installed by the bishop, one of the Dominicans would minister in his place. Should the local lord refuse to remove the priest, the Dominican would ask the bishop to intervene, the bishop would then ask the liege lord of the local nobility to address the issue and the liege lord would order the local lord to obey. If even then the local lord refused to obey, the complaint would go all the way to the king and the issue would be settled by summoning royal army or even a crusade. Similar events led to the Cathar Crusade 50 years ago.
Very soon after the order’s foundation, another role was added – to preside over inquisition trials for which they are so feared and hated in Languedoc.
Bishop of Narbonne
The Bishop of Narbonne holds a special position at the time of our game. He is an educated priest, Dominican and a former inquisitor. He is a person of great authority within the Church. At the same time, he has a second position – the King of France named him his deputy for Languedoc. Therefore, the bishop holds both ecclesiastical and secular office. His secular office makes him the liege lord of the local nobility. The Bishop of Narbonne is an unquestionable authority in our game. No one talks back to him, no one questions or doubts his truth and justice – that would be an unforgivable blasphemy.
Languedoc is a very liberal and in a way very democratic region. The population of the cities and towns enjoys many liberties. It is not just a mere coincidence that most of the local nobility (including the Lords of Quillan) doesn’t live behind fortification of inaccessible castles but in chateaus and palaces in the middle or at the edge of towns. The Lords of Quillan realize the importance of trade and commerce and they do their best to allow them to thrive.
There are no large farmsteads or major winyards around Quillan, but one can still find a few farms and homesteads in the foothills. Farming is somewhat harder here than around Carcassonne for example because the terrain is hilly or rightout mountainous but local farmers grow enough to feed Quillan and to make it independent from imports of most food types.
The bottom of the social hierarchy. Unlike some large cities (Paris, Milano…) Quillan is not plagued with mobs of poor and destitute and locals treat them with some disdain and condescendence but they still treat them with reasonable tolerance and graciousness. We are in the mountains, there is always plenty of work to do and no one has to beg for long without getting some manual work sooner or later. Moreover, Quillan was damaged in the war and there is always a lot of work for masons, bricklayers and other day labourers so even the poorest will always find some work – they help in the construction works, help shepherds and so on.
Orphans and Bastards
Contrary to the popular ideas about the dark middle ages, orphans were not left completely to fend for themselves. Everyone had a godfather or a godmother who usually became step-parents in the event of untimely death of a child’s parents. It worked both ways – the godfather would take care of the child if necessary and the child would support ailing godfather when he grew old if he had no children of his own. This relationship worked as an elementary social insurance and it worked especially well in the Mediterranean region.
It was similar with bastards. First of all, unlike today, being called a bastard was not necessarily an insult in the middle ages. A bastard could not inherit the manor, offices and such in case of nobility, but he or she became a family member and the family took care of him or her. They would get some allowance, a bit of land, with the help of their family even some nice office… In royal houses bastards would regularly get positions such as bishop, cardinal and so on. The bastard of Premysl II. Nicholas got Opava duchy. In noble houses bastards would get a farmstead, stewardship of the manor where their legitimate brother was an heir, deacon office in the Church or something of the sort. Simply said, being a noble’s bastard was not a bad starting position in life.
Position of women in the medieval society
We tend to think of the medieval society as strictly patriarchal. In reality, this became a reality much later. In the 13th century, women were treated with respect and their position was almost as good as today.
But there is a big change on the horizon at the time of our game – while the south has always been tolerant and respectful to women, in the north, women are considered somewhat inferior in the north and the influence of the north is growing. For reasons more related to the pursuit of gain than ideology, the King of France declared that each manor must be led by a lord. And if there is a manor where this decree is not respected, such manor will fall into the King’s hands. The King of France did this because there was a number of manors led by women in the south and he was looking for a reason to confiscate their property.
The books were of course incredibly expensive. However, people mostly could read and write (among the nobility this was more of a rule) and they did read.
People would lend and borrow books, exchange them, the books would circulate the region. It is not hard to guess that the most read book was the Holy Bible. The medieval populace was in many ways less educated than people of the 21st century but considering the latest developments of modern society, the average person from Languedoc in 13th century could have read more or less as much as the average modern teenager.
Political situation abroad
Every now and then, someone will talk about a situation behind the borders of the region. What was it like? Realistically, most of the characters in the game would not have such a good overview of their contemporary political situation, maybe with the rare exception of some nobles, but it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about the period. We think that if you read all the following lines, you will still forget most of the information before the game which will leave you with a knowledge comparable with most of the characters, which is fair.
Aragon is just over the mountains, just a stone’s throw from Languedoc. And until recently, Languedoc was ruled by King of Aragon. The Kingdom of Aragon is ruled by King James I (58 years old) whose wife (and the mother of Prince James) came from a Catharist noble family and died in the Cathar Wars. King James is a relentless warrior against Islam, he chased the unbelievers from the Balearic Islands, Valencia and Murcia. Just like his legendary father Peter, James is a Crusader, a paragon of knightly and Christian virtue. But he is also one among those who don’t understand God’s intention in bringing current Pope to the Holy See. James has never fully come to terms with the fact that Pope took away his fiefdom of Languedoc and gave it to King of France.
To put it straight – James hates really Louis, King of France. He is his worst enemy and if he gets a chance to damage him, he will do his best to achieve it. And if he gets Languedoc back without crossing the Church, even better.
James has friendly relationship with Manfred of House of Hohenstaufen, King of Sicily, clearly, they have more in common than just a family connection.
He has son James who is currently 21 years old.
As everyone knows, Languedoc belongs to France for quarter of a century. Louis IX, later commonly known as Saint Louis, rules over France. In his life, he enjoys reputation for saintliness and fairness among other Christian rulers. Only God can tell if this reputation is well earned. He is a God-fearing Christian and a Crusader. But his ventures to the Holy Land have all been pretty tragic from the military perspective, armies should be led by a man that is experienced and knows local environment, religious zeal alone clearly isn’t enough to guarantee success. Louis’s brother Charles of Anjou is said to have offered to rid Pope of Manfred should the Pope in his holy benevolence and wisdom decide to then grant Charles the Kingdom of Sicily as his fiefdom. Hopefully it is just a slander, a noble should not be capable of such wickedness.
The Kingdom of England is not as far as it might seem – Gascony is part of the Kingdom of England. King of England could be the key to the future of Languedoc, the question is if the situation is in favour of England’s intervention.
It is ruled by Henry III, son of John Lackland, but he is currently beset by dishonourable rebellion of barons led by Simon of Montfort junior, son of the Montfort who led the Crusade against the locals. Henry actually saved Simon when Simon ran away from Languedoc which was in disarray after his father’s death and later Henry even gave Simon back his inheritance, the Earldom of Leicester. Despite all that, later still, Simon rebelled against Henry. The Montforts are obviously a wretched family. Like father, like son.
King of England therefore is a potential ally of the locals against France but he won’t do anything on his own, he doesn’t have the funds and he has a lot of his own troubles to sort out.
The Holy Father, Urban IV, is French by origin. That is why he has very good relationship with the royal court in Paris and rumour has it he would like to place King’s brother Charles of Anjou upon the throne of the Kingdom of Sicily. It is no secret that the Holy Father is unable to find common ground with Manfred of Hohenstaufen and Pope even issued an interdict against him. Pope cares little for Languedoc, he leaves it up to King of France to pacify the land.
Urban’s story is very peculiar – he is a son of a cobbler, who pursued a career in the Church and worked as an errand boy for powerful prelates. But as luck would have it, at the time of conclave he was in Rome on some business and when cardinals could not find a candidate among themselves they could agree on they realised Urban could be a perfect choice – he was no one’s favourite and it was simply God’s choice.
Castile is ruled by Alfonso X, called the Wise. Some of the Electors selected him as their candidate for the Holy Roman Emperor, but he will not move an inch from Castile. He is too… wise for that. He supports the sciences and arts, he founded a university in Salamanca. He focuses on the welfare of Castile. He at odds with King of Aragon, James.
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire is in disarray, in the middle of the period of interregnum with no clear solution on the horizon. The throne is vacant, the son of the last Emperor, Manfred, was considered electable by neither the Prince-electors nor by Pope and the quarrelling Prince-electors voted for two different candidates – Richard of Cornwall and Alfonso X of Castile. However, neither of the candidates shows any intention of claiming the crown of the Holy Roman King, neither of them came for his coronation to Aachen and neither of them has enough power and money to become the Holy Roman Emperor. Pope would like to see Charles of Anjou (brother of King of France) on the throne but everyone knows that he would not be elected by the Prince-electors. An acceptable candidate with enough power and authority seems hard to find.
The north of Italy is a snake pit of utter chaos and competing cities. In the south, there is a great and powerful kingdom – Kingdom of Sicily, spreading all the way up to Naples and ruled by Manfred of Hohenstaufen. Manfred just like his father isn’t afraid to show his disdain at placing Urban IV upon the Holy See. He is a strange ruler with a very specific approach to faith. He is not a supporter of the Albigensians, he is rather widely considered a non-believer and a cynic that does not recognize the authority of the Holy Church. He has many enemies within the Church.
Discussion topics for game
At the time of our game, people were deeply religious. Those who are “rebelling” against the Church are actually even more religious that the obedient Catholics. Therefore, discussions and even arguments about faith were very common.
Following topics should serve as an inspiration for those of you who would like to quarrel or agree with someone on some religious topics. However, there is no need to learn these by hear, they are really just an inspiration:
- Is it possible to achieve salvation on your own or is the Holy Church a necessary intermediary? According to Augustine and the official interpretation, there is no salvation without the Holy Church just like all those left behind drowned when the Noah’s Ark set sail. But we find ourselves in Languedoc and the Gnostic thoughts that one might not need an intermediary to find God and salvation doesn’t necessary mean that one is a follower of Catharism, it is a topic for discussion. Maybe just don’t involve the Dominicans in these discussions, it would irritate them, but no one will burn you at stake for such opinions. Especially if you say in the end that you have just realized how important the role of the Holy Church is.
- Should the clergy have the right to property? The Church says so, because even Jesus had property – his robe. But it is not just the Cathars, also the Templars, the Franciscans and the Dominicans that the Christ’s robe is irrelevant – the clergy should serve and their property should only be used as a tool to serve better. If you are a Catholic, you can approve of the Church property, you will probably have a chance for a good argument and there is no risk in it for you.
- Should you get closer to God simply by faith or should you try to (emotionally) experience God? That’s a combustive topic. According to Church authorities, you should not discuss these topics, a personal experience is a nice bonus that is awarded to Saints, but you should not question faith. It is a sensitive topic but then again… we are in Languedoc. You can discuss it but you shouldn’t defend the Gnostic point of view too ardently or you might get in trouble with the Dominicans. But among the locals, this would do no harm.
- Is it possible to find your own interpretation of faith, or is there just one and that is the one presented by the priest or rather what is prescribed to the priest by the Church authorities? Based on the Fourth Council of the Lateran which took place at the beginning of the 13th century, the latter option is the correct one – Pope is infallible and the Church does not discuss the interpretation of faith. In fact, questioning any of this is one of the most dangerous things one could utter. Nevertheless, people would discuss this, especially in Languedoc when there was no Dominican or one of their rats around.
- Another topic connected to the one above – should own the Bible and read it, is it even good for people to be able to read or should they not bother because your priest will tell you everything you need to know? The official opinion is of course the latter one. The Cathars (just like later the Hussites in the Kingdom of Bohemia) considered it important that everyone can read and understand the Bible on their own. The Church forbade this. Just owning the Bible by an ordinary believer was a crime with a heavy sentence, often punishable by death.
- Are men and women equal, does their soul have the same value? Another contentious topic. For the people of Occitania, including devout Catholics, the answer is obvious – they are equal. For the Papists, this is a total nonsense. Women simply aren’t equal with men; their soul doesn’t have the same value and therefore they can’t have the same rights. Women’s rights are appropriate to their role in the society. Importing this point of view to Languedoc from France was a shock, a big step backwards. On the other hand, French from the north couldn’t understand how people could think anything different before they came. Surprisingly, even the English were somewhere in between and they could understand the people of Occitania better than the French. Just to give you an idea – several decades after our game ends, the Hundred Years’ War breaks out. The initial dispute that was at the start of the war between the two kingdoms was caused by the fact the English allow daughters to inherit the right to the throne after their fathers while the French don’t. It is safe to discuss this topic, no one will burn you at stake for this but stand assured that the Dominicans will denounce such opinions. On the other hand, they know all too well that if they were to punish people just for that, they would have to persecute half of the population.
- The love poetry was a common place in Occitania, it was welcome at the courts of the local nobility. Both men and women played, composed and sang, which would be scandalous in the central Europe. On the other hand, such was the norm in Languedoc. And very often, the songs and poems were love stories, confessions of love and other texts that would be considered a total decadence and depravity in the north of France (in Paris). By the way – our characters are approximately contemporaries with Giovanni Bocaccio. The stories of Decameron were written just shortly after the period in which our game takes place.
- Another popular topic for discussion was a simple question to which neither the Papists, nor the Cathars, had a clear answer – was the creation of humans he purpose of creation (i.e. everything before the coming of the first human was a preparation for his coming, all the creation before humans was a preparation for them) or were humans a mere by-product of creation? Well, it is an interesting question even for us today.
If the information we have provided you wasn’t enough, there are a few books worth noting – either as a material to read or as a material to ignore.
- There is an easy-to-read book that will help you get the vibe of what it was all about back then – The Cathars & Reincarnation by Arthur Guirdham. It is a little naive, but it explains the situation quite well and there are no extreme factual fails in it. It is a narrow book and it is very readable.
- Then there is a famous book written about a village that also appears in the game and which is located very close to Quillan – Montaillou by the French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. It takes place a few decades after our game. It is not as easy to read as The Cathars & Reincarnation but it is still a popular work and it is probably the most comprehensive description of the time and place of the game you can get. It has great reviews. We can only recommend it.
What to ignore:
- Some of the topics connected to the Cathars appear in the books by Dan Brown. You can easily skip those – some of Occitan legends are mixed with other ingredients and the resulting mix gives the fans of the Albigensians the shivers.
- It is a similar story with the novel The Children of the Grail by Peter Berling. The book is full of historical nonsense and he obviously never visited the places he wrote about.
We would love to recommend some relevant film that would help as an inspiration and wouldn’t contain any obvious nonsense, but there simply isn’t one like that. Towards the end of 1940s, a French film Montségur was shot, but there isn’t much to learn from that one, it is quite comical for us today.