Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error
Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error is an exceptional book, which dives into the lives of peasants of Montaillou in the 14th century. Montaillou is a village, presently French, and is situated in the south of the present day department of Ariege, in southern France. What sets this book apart from others written about the same subject is that it focuses mainly on the testaments of the peasants of the 14th century, before this book there was a small amount of information available which was a direct indications of the peasants. Ladurie does an astonishing job by providing the testimonies of the peasants and shepherds, and this in turn helps the reader to understand the lives of villagers in the 14th century. While providing an outlook in the lives of the villagers, Ladurie covers many aspects of the time, such as environment and authority, the great migrations, the shepherds mental outlook and also more personal aspects such as body language and sex, marriage and love and religion in practice. Out of the many aspects covered in this book I will mainly focus my attention on the concept of marriage and love and observe its role in the 14th century in a village such as Montaillou.
In the introduction of the book we learn a bit about the history of Montaillou, and then it informs the reader that the village was experiencing an inquisition since the village was swarming with Cathars. It was because of this that Jacques Fournier, who was the “Bishop of Pamiers in Ariege in the Comte de Foix (now southern France) from 1318 to 1325” (Ladurie vii). Fournier later became Pope of Avigon with the name of Benedict XII. Fournier orders an extensive inquisition against the Cathars and “more importantly, saw to it that the depositions made to the Inquisition courts were meticulously recorded” (Ladurie vii). Some of the peasants who were questioned during Fournier’s Inquisition provided extremely detailed accounts of their everyday lives. These records obtained by the Inquisition were taken to Rome, in order to be placed in the Vatican Library. It is mainly because of these detailed accounts that Ladurie was able to paint such a precise and thorough depiction of the lives of the Cathars, and that readers of this book are able to see into the day-to-day activities, their living conditions, labor and religious practices, and family and social relations. It is also of importance to note the faith of those who were persecuted based on the Inquisition; after the trials “various penalties were inflicted; imprisonment of varying degrees of strictness, the wearing of the yellow cross, pilgrimages and confiscation of goods” (Ladurie xvii). It was noted that the Cathars never truly recovered from the blow of the Inquisition, and those poisoned in 1320 were the very few left, though it was not a complete end of the Cathars.
As it has previously been emphasized, Fournier’s meticulous accounts is the...