jan shirley french translator and childrens author

The Song of the Cathar Wars
Translated from Catalan by Jan Shirley

Introduction and notes by Janet Shirley

Song of the Cathar Wars translated by Jan Shirley

A prose translation of an Occitan poem by William of Tudela and his anonymous successor describing events before and during the Albigensian crusade of 1209-18 led by Simon de Montfort. The crusaders were mostly northerners, and their eventual success led to the incorporation of hitherto independent areas into the kingdom of France. William was a good poet, his successor brilliant, both of them a pleasure and a challenge to translate. They had two totally opposite points of view - neither was pro-Cathar, but William supported Holy Church and the crusading northerners, while his successor was passionately devoted to the southerners and to freedom.

'The Song of the Cathar Wars is a crucial source for historians of crusades, medieval heterodoxy and its suppression, the creation of modern France, medieval Occitan society, and the development of vernacular epic historiography in the Middle Ages. This accomplished, unfrilly and readable translation opens it up...' Medium Aevum.


Image from The Song of the Cathar Wars translated by Jan Shirley

Both authors assume that we know what the Cathars believed, and don't mention this. Remembering that all the evidence we have about them comes from their enemies, we can say that they believed in the existence of two gods, one bad and one good, and that the physical world was created by the evil god, so that eating and drinking and begetting children were all evil; and that Christ was not really crucified. They also preached and practised holy poverty, in the face of a rich and apparently complacent Church. See Michael Costen's The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade, Manchester University Press, 1997. See also the translations by W.A. and M.D. Sibly of The History of the Albigensian Crusade by Peter of Les Vaux-de-Cernay and The Chronicle of William of Puylaurens, both Boydell and Brewer.

Simon de Montfort, a Norman baron of no great importance but plenty of push, father of the 'parliamentary' Simon de Montfort of English history. He had inherited the title of earl of Leicester through his mother, which enabled him to call himself 'count' of Montfort. He died in 1218, struck by a stone from a mangonel 'worked', says the Song triumphantly, page 172, 'by noblewomen, by little girls and men's wives'.