In Beziers, 1209, Jean d'Aillon offers us a new episode of the troubadour knight, Guilhem d'Ussel. Jean d'Aillon is interested in the context leading to the crusade against the Albigenses. It is therefore not surprising that the action sometimes takes place far from the Cathar country and so much the better, because the author thus gives to read many other facets of this historical period.
1208, Guilhem d'Ussel became the provost of the Hôtel du Roi de France, Philippe Auguste. He makes order reign in Paris and advises his sovereign. The murder of a young prostitute with his throat cut and found on the altar of a church leads Guilhem to conduct a much larger investigation than it appears. Suspecting a staging intended to accuse the heretics, unmasking the murderers would allow him to protect his relatives who remained in his stronghold of Lamaguère, in the south of France. He could thus place his king in a position of strength against his barons and Pope Innocent III urging him to launch a crusade against the Cathar heretics.
A dive into medieval France
Jean d'Aillon excels in more than one way in the historical novel. In the first place with its always fascinating intrigues where it makes its protagonists and us travel with it. Investigations, plots, betrayals, duels, etc., lead us to the heart of XIII Francee century all the more easily as the author demonstrates genuine documentary rigor. The simple fact of approaching medieval theology with the current of the millenarians of Joachim de Flore for example gives a real depth to his story and only reinforces the immersion.
And through this more than palpable research work, Jean d'Aillon retains in his novel a certain sobriety and fluidity of writing. The detail is there but it never becomes too present, it never loses the reader. Sometimes the author does not need to express the thoughts of different characters, we understand them all too well. He thus perfectly combines fiction and history to give birth to a captivating epic that is all the same very dark.
"The true, the false and the end of the story"
At the end of his novel, just before a welcome bibliography although sometimes aging, Jean d'Aillon briefly gives us some historical details. He notably addresses the aftermath of the crusade against the Albigenses and he also takes the opportunity to explain certain narrative choices. We can only congratulate ourselves on the presence of these pages, which are always useful to put a novel into perspective with regard to historical veracity. However, we also have to make some reservations, especially about the Béziers bag.
If the author precisely specifies that the whole city was not destroyed, he limits himself to evoking between 20,000 and 60,000 deaths according to the sources of the time while he announces 100,000 during the narration. . It is a pity that Jean d'Aillon does not go further into the “true” history. Indeed, medieval historians, like Michel Roquebert, who is present in the bibliography of the novel, have for a long time taken their distance from this fatal record. It is by no means a question of minimizing the facts of the “Grande Boucherie” but of noting that Jean d'Aillon delivers in these final non-fictional pages a cliché vision that lacks objectivity. Why make a footnote to simply specify that 7,000 people - a very exaggerated number - died and how they died in the Cathedral of Saint Madeleine, without giving any other explanation? One could believe in a deliberate and gratuitous desire to blacken this period while paradoxically, as we have said, the author shows a remarkable historical rigor in the fictional part of his work. But all this is ultimately more detail since we have only one desire at the end: to discover the rest of the adventures of Guilhem d'Ussel.
Jean d'Aillon, Béziers, 1209, Flammarion, Paris, 2016.