Doat 21–24

Our Project

Its formal title is a mouthful: ‘The Genesis of Inquisition Procedures and the Truth-Claims of Inquisition Records: The Inquisition Registers of Languedoc, 1235-1244’. For the sake of brevity, we usually just call it ‘Doat’, but the full version captures the two essential aims of the project: to elucidate the development of inquisition procedures in its earliest decade, and to ask questions about how those procedures shaped the information collected.

What lies behind our project?

Inquisitors’ records of their interrogations have long been seen as fascinating. In the tape–recording view of them, they preserve the voices of ordinary people from the past, as seen most famously in Emmanuel Le Roi Ladurie’s use of later inquisition records to write a vivid account of a village’s inhabitants in his Montaillou. They have also been seen as problematic. There is an obvious and common-sense way in which we need to question these inquisition records, as we do all legal records. How do they relate to real events and scenes? How have witnesses remembered, what was their angle of view? How has their language been distorted by officialese?

Recently a less obvious and more fundamental question has emerged. Some scholars have been suggesting that the medieval Church, via the inquisition tribunal especially, conjured up heretical sects. If they are correct, these inquisition trials were the fraught meeting-point of real people and a monstrous fraud wrought by the medieval Church.

The spotlight therefore turns onto the records of these interrogations, and in particular the earliest years of inquisition in Languedoc. What sorts of men were the first inquisitors, what the outlook and experience they brought to this task? How did their ways of going about the job emerge and develop in these earliest years? And what was the relationship between the record of apparent statements by witnesses, and their real opinions and actions? There has been one large road-block here, hampering the discussion of these questions: the lack of full and systematic editions of the records from the first decade of inquisition in Languedoc.

What was the business of this project, then? The obvious: providing the editions, so that we can tackle these questions properly.

So, over its five years our project was engaged in producing a meticulous edition of most of the earliest registers. This will be published by Brill, in its Studies in the History of Christian Traditions series, along with a translation into English, and extensive and detailed annotation. This will generate and systematically present data for the study of the inquisitors and their scribes and assistants, their procedures, the people interrogated about heresy, and the thought world of Languedoc in this period.

The fact that the registers being edited are seventeenth-century copies (see on this website ‘The Doat Commission’) also leads us into the seventeenth century and the broader contexts of their copying in early modern France: the rise of scientific historical scholarship and preoccupation with medieval history. Interest in religious toleration in this period led to investigation of medieval inquisition, and this thread not only connects our project with the later seventeenth century, but also leads towards the theme of multiplicity of faiths and coercion in our own times.

Two PhDs joined us in October 2015, one using the project’s materials and concerns in the thirteenth century, the other in the seventeenth. In 2016 and 2018, the project ran two conferences that presented, ventilated and discussed the project’s data and questions. The proceedings of both will be published by York Medieval Press. And our website will continue to present a range of related materials.