I Wasn’t A Cathar But…

So far as I can tell, William Longespee was not a Cathar.  There is aboslutely nothing in his biography that would point to anything but a devout Catholic.

Nonetheless, I think I may have crossed paths with this sect in that particular life and that I might have been on friendlier terms with them than most Catholics at the time, owing to a peculiar quirk of history.

Not only was I lieutenant of Gascony for a while- and therefore active in a region of France where the Cathar faith was well-established- but there is evidence that I was involved in a politically-expedient alliance with them.

It turns out that Raymond of Toulouse- a noble from Languedoc who was at odds with the Pope for his relative tolerance of the Cathars- was an ally of King John during his excommunication and his campaigns in Flanders and northern France (the same campaign as the Battle of Bouvines).

Here’s where it gets interesting: Simon de Montfort the Elder was a major figure in the Albigensian Crusade and was involved in the Siege of Toulouse against Count Raymond.  Raymond de Toulouse died in 1222.  In 1225, I was beaten back from a failed campaign to re-take the English king Henry III’s possessions in Gascony (and died shortly thereafter).  Some time after this, Simon de Montfort the younger (son of the above) briefly overthrew King Henry III.  In both cases I served causes opposed to the house of De Montfort and it makes me wonder how the Cathars might have fared had my campaign in Gascony been successful.  Or perhaps I might have been roped into a crusade against them just as easily?  I tended to choose sides carefully and I switched sides more than a few times during that life.

For now I have the relief of knowing that so far as I can tell, my hands were clean of Cathar blood.  I was at worst indifferent and at best, secretly allied with them.  That’s one less thing to regret.

An “Aha!” moment!

I now understand why I ended up defeated twice in france, almost exactly 7 centuries and 30 kilometers apart.

This boring, albeit informative lecture explains it all:

So then perhaps I’m correct in my assessment that John’s life was something of a karmic opposite of Count William’s life.  The same players were all there, and once again I was defeated in battle, this time as a common soldier who died and was forgotten.  Perhaps it was a comeuppance for my hubris as a knight who fought on behalf of a belligerent king against France for a losing cause to atone by fighting for the winning side but on the same side as France rather than against them, with a violent death the final insult.

Or perhaps there was an ellipsis and one of these events actually did not happen, but was made to look like another event to appear as if time had changed.  Alliances were shifted, technology was advanced slightly, and Count William became John William Harris. If I was correct in my previous life about the bulk of time being an illusion, this is at least circumstantial evidence of that though in no way proof.

Or perhaps it was one incredibly, phenomenally weird coincidence between two people who may or may not have been past lives of mine.  But the more I look at it, the harder it is to swallow that explanation.


Taking a history class that covered Angevin England has actually given me a pretext to do a little more research about William Longespee, and what I’ve found is fascinating.

First of all, the best source as far as modern history books are concerned for information about William Longespee is just about any biography of King John or a good history of his reign.  In fact he was such a central figure in John’s troubled reign that he remains inseparable from the narrative.  How exactly he managed to keep from being stained by King John’s reign, I don’t know because he was loyal most of the time.

Second, I discovered two interesting coincidences with John’s life.

There was an episode that took place in Sherborne during a revolt in Devon.  William Longespee, warned of an ambush awaiting him just a little further up the road, turned back only to be berated by John (though he later went back and the soldiers who waited for him fled in terror because he had brutal Flemish mercenaries with him).  Sherborne, incidentally, is six miles from Yeovil and John was born in a house along Sherborne road.  This is yet another instance where a distance of only a few miles separated important events in both lives.

Another interesting fact emerged.  A while ago I had a memory that during John’s life, I had a weakness for card games and lost money and items (including a keepsake box I kept my cigars in) by gambling compulsively.  It turns out that William Longespee was fond of cards and also, an habitual gambler who often had King John pay his gambling debts.


Though I have very little case for having had a previous life in the Middle Ages, I have to confess something.  When I see these elegant restorations of 12th and 13th century interiors, or see medieval clothing authentically recreated, or hear medieval music done a certain way, I cannot, for the life of me, shake the feeling that this was a world I knew, firsthand.

Some of the weirder coincidences between John’s life and William’s still bother me, too, particularly their proximity to each other in defeat 7 centuries apart, and the fact that John’s regiment now house their museum in Shrewsbury Castle (where William Longespee was castellan for a while).  There are weaker coincidences too, such as the places I gravitated toward while in England in 2003-05 (several of which were sites Count William would have known such as Dover Castle and the city of York).  Such coincidences prove nothing, and I can never say I was him or anyone else in that era, but they stand out forever in my mind and breathe enough life into the thought that I don’t think it will ever die completely.

I still plan to visit sites that William and his family would have known, and I still plan to make it a point in my studies to learn as much about the High Medieval period, its culture, its people, its religion, its art, music, and literature, as I possibly can.  I feel that having even considered the prospect of having been there, on the ground as a Royal retainer, has made the era more real for me now than it ever has been or ever will be.

I was lazy when I learned about that era before, but that was a mistake.  I was missing so much that didn’t even click until I saw myself there.  I had lost interest in it and begun to feel that the medieval period was an embarrassment to the West, a dark age best left on the spoil heap of history, derided and forgotten.  I forgot what it was like to remember a world that wasn’t smothered in asphalt and concrete, choked with smog and garbage everywhere, or painted hideous beige from floor to ceiling because it was spoiled for choice when it came to color.

I’ve rejected the modernist narrative of medieval lives being “nasty, brutish, and short” for a more balanced one: that life could be even more “nasty, brutish, and short” during the Industrial Revolution (a mill worker in 1900 had fewer days off and a shorter life expectancy than a peasant in 1200), and that the Middle Ages were a period of chaotic flux that had many positive attributes among the negative ones.  It’s not an era we can go back to or should want to go back to, and medieval religion would be absurd to return to because it would not fill our needs today, but it’s an era that was not without its highlights in artistic and cultural achievement and one that I think deserves its due as a period when the first stirrings of our culture as we know it today began in earnest.

On The Trail of a Clue

For those who haven’t had a chance to go through my backlog of posts all the way through, yhe one past life I’d most like to brag about remembering is that of William Longespee, the Third Earl of Salisbury.  Unsuprisingly, this is the life I am most eager to gather information on, but Count William lived in an age where very few fucks were given about the deeds of royal retainers.  If we were with a king, we got mentioned.  If we revolted against a king or defected from one king to another, we got mentioned.  I just happened to do both; beyond that, the resources on the actual daily lives of medieval nobility are few and far between.

I was once told that in my first novel, the characters don’t behave like medieval nobility, and I kind of internalized that.  But what I’ve never done is had a knowledgeable medievalist look at my work because a few people- most of them with some amateur interest in history- actually really enjoyed my work.

I guess maybe the fear of ridicule has kept me from doing so.  How do you start that conversation?  “Hey, I think I may have been this guy in a past life, wanna take a look?”  And even if I did find one who took me seriously, how would I make it worth their while to look at someone like me without becoming a freak to be examined, or a “Ms. X” in their case studies?

But supposing there was some clue in the characters I created, their dialog, interactions, or my descriptions of medieval life and combat that went beyond what someone with my background (a very casual student of history who seldom reads outside of course assignments and has not studied Historic European Martial Arts… yet) might be expected to know?  What if it’s more than just weird circumstantial things, which is all I can come up with?

I want to know… I just wish there was a way to do this.

Another Historical Source on Longespee

I finally found a French account of William Longespee’s capture at the Battle of Bouvines.

Indeed, the Bishop of Beauvais, having seen the brother of the King of the English, a man of incredible strength whom the English had on this account nicknamed “Longsword,” overthrow the men of Dreux and do great harm to his brother’s battalion, the bishop became unhappy, and since by chance he happened to have a mace in his hand, hiding his identity of bishop, he hits the Englishman on the top of the head, shatters his helmet, and throws him to the ground forcing him to leave on it the imprint of his whole body. And, since the author of such a noble deed could not remain unnoticed, and since a bishop should not be known to have carried arms, he tries to hide as much as possible and gives orders to John, whom Nesle obeys by the right of his ancestors, to put the warrior in chains and to receive the prize for the deed. Then the bishop, throwing down several more men with his mace, again renounces his titles of honor and his victories in favor of other knights so as not to be accused of having done work unlawful for a priest, as a priest is never allowed to be present at such encounters since he must not desecrate either his hands or his eyes with blood. It is not forbidden, however, to defend oneself and one’s people provided that this defense does not exceed legitimate limits.

-The Philippiad of William of Breton, Song XI, verses 538-58

Actually I’m rather amused now because it loosely parallels what happens to a character in one of my more recent books, though that wasn’t my intention.

A Couple Things

While looking at a glass implement today, checking it for dirt and flaws, I had a very clear flash that I had done this before, though at the time I did so with the intent of reading the future.  This is the second time I have had flashes of memories involving scrying with round glass objects, but to date I remember nothing else about where these memories came from except a vague sense that it was some time between about 1400 and 1650, and it was in a dark room with a desk and papers.  None of this really helps much since I can’t place the time period, country, or any identifying details.  It could be cryptomnesia due to a passing interest I had in John Dee, though the feeling of deja vu as I looked into the glass was rather intense.  I do know that Philip K. Dick often spoke of Jakob Boehme and may have believed himself somehow connected to him, but I do not know if Boehme pracitced scrying with glass or crystal balls or not.

Also, today I discovered that the Acts of Thomas- a work Phil mentioned often- was apparently not declared heretical by the Catholic Church until the Council of Trent in the 16th century.  That means that- while this remains somewhat remote- it is possible that William Longespee knew of the Acts of Thomas and may therefore have been familiar with Gnostic scripture.  I had always assumed that all trace of Gnostic belief had been expunged by the Council of Nicea but I see this isn’t necessarily the case.

By the way, on my memory of the Coptic text, it might be of note that I recently discovered that the Nag Hammadi codices (among which are several Gnostic gospels) were written in Coptic, and not in Attic Greek as I had naturally assumed.  But the style of the manuscript I saw was not ancient papyrus, but medieval vellum.  It is possible that this was a text we found in Jerusalem, since there are Coptic Christians there and probably have been for a very long time but if these gospels survived into the medieval period, they were no doubt suppressed, handed over to the bishops who traveled with us for disposal.  

But maybe they weren’t.  Maybe I risked my life and credibility to take it back to England to join what was already a large collection of manuscripts that I kept in my personal library.  In that life, as in this one and in several before, I was a collector of interesting books and I can’t see letting something like that slip through my fingers if I’d known what it was.