Doat 21–24

Ferrier the Catalan

In the inquisition archives in Carcassonne the class-mark FFF was given to a parchment book of 247 leaves. This contained interrogations of heretics in 1243 and 1244 by several inquisitors, especially Ferrier. FFF no longer survives. But in autumn 1669 scribes working in Albi copied it into three volumes of the Doat manuscripts - much of Doat no 22, all of no 23, and much of no 24. These Doat mss are now in the French National Library, and we are editing and translating them. The contents of these interrogations are fascinating. The murder of inquisitors at Avignonet in May 1242 was narrated in grisly detail. Life inside the Cathar headquarters of Montségur is vividly evoked by eighteen deponents who were Montségur escapees. Two-thirds of the deponents were Lord and Ladies, whose confessions provide a richly complex picture of the intertwining of nobility and Catharism.

So, what do we know about the main inquisitor questioning them, Ferrier the Catalan?

He came from Villelongue-de-la-Salanque near Perpignan, and the early part of his career was played out in Narbonne. The fact that he was a man of the Mediterranean coastal towns of southern France, just to the north of Catalonia is one of the reasons we know less about him than we do about Dominicans over to the west, in Toulouse. The Toulouse Dominicans are known through their house-chronicle, written by William Pelhisson, and then later through the large amount of historical knowledge of them possessed by Bernard Gui. The Narbonne Dominicans had no house chronicle. And when Gui came to write about the death of this man from the eastern coast, he was reduced to guessing – ‘Ferrier died at Perpignan, I think’.

The first (and frustrated) initiative to found a Dominican convent in Narbonne was in 1220. We next hear of the convent in 1231 when Ferrier and another Dominican were receiving land for it from the Archbishop, Peter Amiel. Ferrier was in the company of a Narbonne friar who been a novice with Dominic in Bologna in 1220 – thereby Ferrier had contact with Dominic at one remove. And Ferrier was already Prior of the Narbonne convent, probably its first one. But we do not know when he started; he had stopped being Prior by 1238.


We can shunt Ferrier’s career as an inquisitor into three phases. First, Narbonne. Although inquisition was not specially entrusted by Gregory IX to the friars until 1233, this particular friar was at work earlier. In 1229 Ferrier was acting as inquisitor in Narbonne by authority of the Archbishop of Narbonne, with the support of the Archbishop’s officials. Later, in the mid-1230s, he was one of the players in the middle of a complex quarrel about inquisition in Narbonne involving the Archbishop, the consuls of the City (Catholic) and the Bourg (heresy sympathisers). There was a local civil war, and this was ended by negotiation in 1238, by which date Ferrier had left.

‘Caunes’ could be the title of Ferrier’s second phase. It was at this little fortified village, a little to the north-east of Carcassonne, that an inquisitor’s scribe and courier were killed in 1247, and inquisition records seized and burnt. Detective work in later records has shown that Ferrier was carrying out inquisition in this area between the late 1230s and 1242. He was working most often at Caunes, while his sentences were delivered in the castle at Carcassonne, his captives were held in the royal prison there, and he was assisted by the royal seneschal. Through later royal enquiries we know, for example, of Ferrier’s capturing, interrogating and sentencing of twenty nobles from the region, mainly from families who were on the wrong side both in the Albigensian crusade and the revolt by Trencavel in 1240. Ferrier’s inquisitions in this eastern area were very large, but the destruction of his records in 1247 means that most of their details are unrecoverable.

The third phase originated with the murders of the inquisitors William Arnold and (the Franciscan) Stephen of Thibéry in May 1242. There was now a gap, and experienced inquisitors were needed to fill it: cue to Ferrier and his collaborators come on stage. From mid-1242 to September 1244, this is what they did, carrying out inquisitions over a wide area to the west, and - with the exception of two archdeaconries – filling in for the murdered inquisitors. While William Arnold and Stephen had done a lot of going from village to village, Ferrier got deponents to travel in to three or four secure centres, mainly Saissac, Castres, Limoux and Conques: presumably to lower the risks of his dangerous job.


In October 1244 another inquisitor took over Ferrier’s job. Ferrier still held high office in later years - he was made the first Prior of the Convent at Carcassonne in 1252, and was translated after six months to the Priorate at Béziers, which he held until 1254. So, when he stopped being inquisitor he was not yet incapable, and this highlights the question. Did he retire – or was he retired? If the latter, why?

We know little personally about Ferrer. His education? At this point we need to tell readers to ignore those modern historians who describe Ferrier as a Master in Theology from Paris. This rests on confusing our Ferrier the Catalan with a later Ferrier the Catalan (unlike our Ferrier, this one was born in Catalonia). The later one was teaching in Paris in the 1270s, by which time our Ferrier was probably in heaven. We also need to remind them not to project back to the very early thirteenth century – whenever Ferrier was becoming a Dominican - the later and justly famous Dominican education system. Nothing about Ferrier suggests higher education, and one feature of the records of Ferrier’s interrogations needs mentioning here. Ferrier’s lines of questioning were virtually identical to those of other inquisitors of this period, relentlessly concentrating on actions and details of when, where, and who. With one difference. Other inquisitors, such as Bernard of Caux and John of Saint-Pierre, went on to ask Cathar suspects about a few of doctrines – such as God’s creation, marriage, the eucharist, resurrection. But Ferrier never did ask about doctrine.

In 1229 Ferrier dealt with a Narbonne woman, Ramunda, thus. ‘Brother Ferrier then went together with the same witness as far as Mas-Saintes-Puelles, and reconciled her, and handed her over to her husband at Mas’. Cathars rejected marriage. Here we have Ferrier escorting a woman on a journey of 100 kilometres to ensure her restoration took this woman on a journey of 100 kilometres in order to ensure the reality of her return to being married.

We are led to think of power, energy, and a certain sort of rough directness in his actions. In a letter of complaint around 1235, consuls of the Bourg in Narbonne described a sermon recently delivered by Ferrier in the City, accusing the Bourg of heresy, as precipitous. It caused a riot, with layabouts heading off to the Dominican Convent to smash it up. Refusing a request by Ferrier, a royal official is recorded as saying ‘he could not do it, even for four friars such as Ferrier’. ‘Fraire Ferriers’ is mentioned three times in an Occitan poem of this period. Everything we see appears to be comment on or reactions to a powerful - and unbridled? - personality.


Writing about Ferrier fifty years later, Bernard Gui lacked detailed knowledge, concentrating instead on formulaic rendering of force. ‘He was an inquisitor and a resolute and magnanimous persecutor of heretics, with an iron rod hammering and beating them together with their supporters and believers, to such an extent that even today his name resonates like a sword in the ears of heretical sympathisers’.

We return to Ferrier’s register. In our project we are editing the Doat copy of what was once Register FFF in the inquisition archives at Carcassonne. While detective work has shown that Ferrier interrogated over 700 people, this copy contains depositions from only 85 people. Our first job is to ask questions of the ‘original’ but lost register. Its contents are strange. An extraordinarily high proportion of the deponents are aristocratic; depositions are not in chronological order; and those relating to Montségur are grouped. The first conclusion, therefore, is that this lost original register was medieval but in one sense not ‘original’: it was a selection from inquisition registers, drawn up by and for Carcassonne inquisitors. The selection provided the core texts on Montségur, the murders at Avignonet, and ‘big fish’ supporters of the 1240s: at what point, then, and in what circumstances did Carcassonne inquisitors require such an ‘edition’?

Will our project’s minute and exhaustive analysis of Ferrer’s depositions throw more light on Ferrier himself, and on archive practices among the inquisitors in Carcassonne? Watch this space!