Northern Cathar Purge

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Northern Cathar Purge
Part of Great Confessional War
Storming Kurikila.jpg

Engraving by Madhäus Sallustus Merian
DateMay 1557
Result Destruction of the entire area by Holy League

Holy League

Protestant Union

Commanders and leaders
Aloysius van Arnham
King Rethys I
Þόfus Tserclaezun
Armoiries Gênes.svg Steve
Armoiries Gênes.svg Karl
48,000 13,400
Casualties and losses
201 killed
1,600 wounded
approx. 200,000 inhabitants slaughtered
981 military deaths

The Northern Cathar Purge refers to the destruction of the largely protestant/heretical city of Kurikila, the Kingdom of Ultmar, in the Holy Levantine Empire on 9 June 1557 by the defecting Slakonian forces under the leadership of Holy Leagues armies led by King Rethys of Kistan support by Zwallerkadian mercenaries. Also called Sack of Kurikila or The Rape of the Protestant North , the incident is considered the worst massacre of the Great Confessional War. Kurikila, then one of the largest cities in the northern Holy Levantine Empire(annexed by Kistan) and about the size of Urceopolis, never recovered from the disaster.


In the mid 16th century, Kurikila, the capital of Grand Duchy of KellersBukt, was the powerhouse of the Ultmarrian economy. It served as the gateway for goods coming from the north into the Holy Levantine Empire and was flush with the taxes it collected on the trade tariffs. It was one of the first cities in Ultmar to embrace Protestantism, around 1521 and became a symbol of the perceived benefit and wealth of the "Protestant work ethic". In 1546, the Protestant merchant guilds joined the peasants to declare a secular communal republic. Many in the new republic embraced Catharism, and this was central to their political life, which allowed for universal suffrage. Being a Protestant republic with universal suffrage brought Imperial ire upon the Republic of KellersBukt in general and Kurikila in particular as it was the manifestation of the success of these radical ideas.

When the Great Confessional War broke out in 1555, the Republic of KellersBukt joined the Protestant Union immediately, dragging the northern part of the Holy Levantine Empire into the war. Initially, Rethys the First, newly crowned king of Kistan, claimed neutrality in an attempt to reap the benefits of civil war in the Empire without raising banners for either side. By the end of 1555, however, the Holy League was in disarray, and Cathars in particular began fleeing to Kistan to escape persecution by more powerful and radical Protestant branches. Catharism was not recognized yet by the crown as a major religious sect, allowing its members to practice freely in Kistan initially.

Noting the rapid spread of heresies among peasantry on the military frontiers, Pope Leo III petitioned Rethys I of Kistan to take action against the Cathars in particular, later proposing he join the Holy League. Rethys' intention had initially been to abandon his enemies to the heretics, and the decision to suppress Protestantism within Kistani borders came only after tremendous lobbying and pleading by the bishops of Dreillad and Benelusk. After the Battle of _____,(some major Protestant victory) however, the increasing probability of a general victory for the Protestant Union persuaded the new King to go beyond enforcing Catholicism for his own subjects. The next step in curbing the threat to his nation was the destruction of Protestant forces in the borderlands.

Quietly pledging Kistan to the Holy League's cause in February of 1557, Rethys mobilized his personal army and marched north, raising levies loyal to various governors and lords along the way in preparation for the start of the year's campaigning season. The force which crossed into HLE territory consisted of approximately thirty-eight thousand infantry and four thousand cavalry. These forces were supported by eight cannons. Infantry armament relied heavily on pikes and swords, due to the fuedal nature of most of the regiments, although Rethy's core units were armed with heavy-caliber arquebuses.

Assault and sacking

The Kistani army crossed the border of KellersBukt in mid-April, fighting minor skirmishes with irregular militias for roughly a month before reaching Kurikila and laying seigeworks. The few artillery pieces at Kistan's disposal continuously shifted targets along the city walls, but were unable to create a significant breach. Assaults upon the walls were not judged neccessary, as no response from the Protestant armies throughout the rest of the HLE was forthcoming. Nor was one possible, however, as the batteries of the city significantly outgunned those of the attackers.

After a month besieging the city, Rethys managed to reach an agreement with Slakonian mercenaries bolstering the city's defenses, and the city gates were opened and the superior batteries of defensive cannon, which had prevented a committed assault, disrupted while the Kistani vanguard stormed the city. The remaining defenders routed en mass and many tried to blend in with noncombatants. While the Kistani army moved into the city, lords began ordering their individual commands to loot the protestant churches and housing portions of the city, quickly leading to a full-blown sacking. Rethys' personal army tried to protect catholics within the city and even clashed with their own comrades in some instances, but were unable to fully reign in the violence towards Kurikila's citizenry for three weeks, by which point the merchant districts, upper and middle classes of the city, and public areas had been thoroughly destroyed and a large number of noncombatants killed. Casualty estimates range from fifty thousand to a half million from politicized sources, although most academic institutions and the Kistani government consider two hundred thousand to be the best guess based on earlier city records and a later census by the provisional occupation government.


The bloodshed and reduction of the city to a husk rather than a prize enraged the Kistani King, who cracked down harshly on his subordinate generals and ultimately lead to the Rethysian Reforms, which saw the transformation of the army into a fully professional force. Levy units did continue to be employed as the primary force in Kistani armies for some years after the writ of the Reforms was passed into law, but the Battle of Harp's Pass in 1561 saw the deaths of nearly the entire upper crust of Kistan's formerly powerful nobility. From a strategic perspective, the Sack of Kurikila signalled a major shift in relations between Kistan and the Holy Levantine Empire from long-time rivals to close, if somewhat cold, allies.