The Genesis of Inquisition Procedures and the Truth-claims of Inquisition Records: the Inquisition Registers of Languedoc 1235-1244

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: History


Inquisition into heresy was entrusted to mendicant friars in 1233, and the earliest surviving registers of inquisition begin in southern France in 1234. These registers show the inquisitors' methods, especially their way of questioning and the recording of the answers. The inquisitor began by asking a suspect 'Have you seen a heretic?' and went on to questions like 'Did you give anything to a heretic?'. He concentrated on what people had done, rather than - as we might expect - on what they thought. A notary listened to what what was said, and took down a version of it, which he put into Latin. It is his words that survive, and there are immediate question-marks hovering over the record. The first is how accurate the notary's representation was of a vernacular dialogue. The second is about the relation between the field of knowledge emerging from a dialogue between the inquisitor and a rather frightened suspect on the one hand, and on the other hand the realities of belief and thought of the person being interrogated. These records are the main evidence upon which historians build their pictures of past heretical sects, like those of the Cathars and Waldensians - and in recent decades the solidity of the pictures they have constructed of such sects has become very controversial.

This means that the earliest period of inquisition cries out for systematic and deep investigation: the first decade, when modes of questioning and procedure emerged. What was it that shaped the style of questioning? What can be found out from looking at who the earliest inquisitors were and how they were educated, in particular what it was in their mental world (e.g. Roman law, contemporary theology), that led them to question in the way that they did? What influenced the practices of the scribes and notaries when serving inquisitors?

Here we come up against a surprise in modern research: the spotlight has been shining on inquisitions in southern France in 1245-6, NOT on this crucial earlier decade. And we come up against a block standing in the way of serious research. The registers of the decade 1234-44 have never been given a rigorous critical edition and have consequently been used uncritically by amateur historians. Although they were once in the archives of Dominican convents, they now survive only in the form of transcripts made in 1669 and paid for by Louis XIV's minister, Colbert.

In order to understand the genesis of inquisition methods and the truth-claims of inquisition records, the current project it will
- direct attention towards years of crucial development, 1234-44
- lay the foundations for all future study through a critical edition of 4 registers;
- to use these editions and their critical apparatus to provide a deep study of the thought-worlds and careers of the earliest inquisitors, and their development of methods of inquisition, published in the introduction of this edition;
- to develop our understanding of the rise of scientific history by an investigation of the project which preserved these records alongside the other monumental scholarly projects of later 17th century France.

Planned Impact

The general lay interest in both the subject and the methodology of the project is the most immediate beneficiary. The project also has significant potential for impact on a number of public bodies who have shown an interest in medieval inquisition and heresy which, though currently in abeyance, has the capacity to return.

A. The Catholic Church.
- Pope John Paul II (1994 encyclical Tertio Millenio Adveniente c.35) launched an enquiry into the history of inquisition, to prepare the way for a 'purification of memory' and an apology for intolerance and the use of violence. The first stage was his Theologico-Historical Commission organising a symposium on the inquisition in the Vatican (1998), including a long account of inquisition in 13th century Languedoc.
- Dominican Order. The papal initiative led to the Dominican General Chapter in Bologna in 1998 ordering an enquiry into Dominican inquisition, which led to four seminars in Rome (Feb 2002 - Mar 2009), the first three of which were published. [Biller contributed to nos 1 and 4].
- Papal and Dominican initiatives on hold: although John Paul II issued some general apologies (Jews, women) and individual inquisition apologies (Hus and Galileo), the initiative to proceed to a general apology to persecuted heretics never came to fruition. The failure to publish the fourth Dominican seminar and post-John Paul II silence suggest that the pontificate of Benedict XVI applied brakes to these actions. If and when the brakes are taken off, cutting-edge research on the earliest inquisition will become again a matter of importance to these institutions.

B. Languedoc
Cathar heresy and its repression have been associated with an Occitan sense of historical, cultural and regional identity since the late 19th century. The development of tourism and public interest in Le Pays Cathare ('The Cathar Country') has led since 1981 to an extensive and continuing programme of activities, including seminars, publications, websites, and theatrical and musical events, organised through the Centre d'Études Cathares (1981-2011) and the Collectif International de Recherche sur le Catharisme et les Dissidences (CIRCAED, 2012- ). We shall collaborate energetically with CIRCAED.

C. Secondary Teaching
Toleration and repression are already elements of teaching in philosophy and religious studies at A-Level. The project will work with teachers to develop teaching materials and to historicize this teaching, as well as explore ways to influence policy in this area.

There is lay extraordinary lay interest in medieval heresy and inquisition - it is an area probably only surpassed in this by crusades and medieval monarchs. Moreover, the policing of belief and intention are concerns as current in the contemporary world as they were in the medieval period. A historically informed perspective on repression and its mechanisms would be particularly resonant today, and potentially influential in the area of policy making (the French governmental agency Miviludes, for example, designed to counter dissident religious groups, has echoes of inquisitorial preoccupations, and has been criticised by human rights groups). We plan to reach out to this curiosity and interest in various ways, through lectures, exhibitions, articles in popular media and our website, which will also allow the identification of and more precise engagement with particular interest groups. The ongoing interest in the forensic business of history and how it is done would also be served by the materials on the website.


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Description [N.B. editing the entry as a whole is made slightly difficult by the fact that Co-I (Sackville) does not have editing ability here - in case this is something that can be adjusted for future versions.]

This five year project has been editing, translating and providing a close commentary on the earliest inquisition records and this has been providing the basis for research into (a) knowledge of inquisition in its earliest stages, (b) understanding of how its procedures emerged and developed, (c) investigation of the truth-claims of its records. The clearest statistical measure of progress is the transcription and editing of the texts - around nine hundred folios - and as of March 2019, all the transcription has been done (but not yet completely checked). The place name index is also now complete. Both PI and Co-I have publications in hand arising from it (see section in this submission on publications). There has been a particularly significant discovery by the Co-I concerning the earliest known inquisitor's handbook. Since the start of the research by the project's two doctoral students (October 2015), there has been fruitful dialogue between their research and that of the project.

Research has produced significant advances in our knowledge of the earlier use and transmission of these texts, and their history between the thirteenth century and the late seventeenth. The PI and Co-I have been giving papers on the basis of their research in the project, most notably at the international conferences organized by the project (April 2016 and April 2018), as well as at conferences in Austria, Italy, and Oxford. Collaboration with other scholars in the field at these conferences has also reinforced and augmented the intellectual and research networks in which the project is involved (in particular in Lyon and Berlin). The project's website has also facilitated dialogue between the project and its academic and non-academic partners, both in the UK and in Europe. The project's main output - the edition and translation of the inquisition registers and introductory and auxiliary materials - is now under contract with Brill, who have agreed to publication in three volumes.
Exploitation Route They are contributing to knowledge of medieval history (inquisition, its procedures, the truth-claims of inquisition records, religion and society in thirteenth-century Languedoc), and seventeenth-century history (historical scholarship, use of medieval history, debates about religious tolerance).
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Use of materials and tools provided on our our website at the level of sixth form at school in the preparation of EPQ. Use of materials for public exhibition in collaboration with York Minster Library. Public lecture in Carcassonne and Mazamet to southern French lay audience, October 2018.
Sector Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Title Tools for research into inquisition 
Description We continue to provide, on the project's website, a variety of aids to researchers in inquisition, bibliographies, guides to new and forthcoming publications, biographies of inquisitors, etc. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None yet 
Description A talk and also discussions and debates, among both (i) an international group of experts and also (ii) the general public in the audience, on two days (25, 27 October 2018) in Carcassonne and Mazamet in southern France. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was organised by the Collectif International de Recherche sur le Catharisme et les Dissidences, whose directors Drs A. Brenon and P. Jimenez (both former principals of the Centre National d'Etudes Cathares, and editors of its journal Heresis) have long experience combining on the one hand research and writing, as academics, on medieval heresy and inquisition and, on the other hand, engaging with the public. These two days seamlessly combined the characteristics of international academic conference (with academics from, e.g. the universities of Aix-n-Provence, Brno in the Czech Republic, Milan and York), and lectures for the public, with much debate. There is deep and wide interest in the public in this part of France. Providing one of the lectures and participating in conference and public dialogues, Peter Biller used this opportunity to publicise further the York research project and to develop further its role in international knowledge and debates of these themes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description A talk or presentation - at a conference in Torre Pellice (Italy) entitled 'Predicazione e repressione. Processi e letteratura religiosa'. The lecture was entitled 'Valdenses in MSS BnF Collection Doat 21-26'. It explored, discussed and presented the presence of one group of medieval heretics in the Doat manuscripts which are being edited in this research project. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This stimulated awareness and discussion among several groups, but principally an international group of professional medieval historians and postgraduate research historians, of the two processes affecting the transmission of records of medieval inquisition in these Doat manuscripts, first of all copying, selection and re-organisation of materials in medieval inquisition archives, and secondly copying in the late 17th century. It is in the process of being published, and the publication will extend further its impact on awareness and discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Conference Valdesi tra Passato e Presente (Torre Pellice, Italy) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Paper entitled 'Moneta of Cremona's Confutatio haeresum and the Valdenses', investigating the construction of knowledge about heresy in the early 13th century. Its main impact was on academics and postgraduate students at the (State) University of Milan
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Invited paper, conference 'Scholasticism and Institutions' (Oxxford) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Rolando da Cremona's role in inquisition in Toulouse
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015