The Role of the Papacy in the Development of the First Crusade HST 201 11/21/07

On November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II stood before the Council of Clermont and delivered a speech calling for the First Crusade. This speech was the culmination of a growing development of the Western Church over the previous half century toward a religious war which would solidify and expand the presence of Christendom on the world’s stage. The years leading up to the call for Crusade at Clermont were shaped by many ideas, from the encroachment of Islam into Christian lands, Leo IX’s concept of the moral military action for Christendom, Norman notions of expansionism, Spanish growth of Holy War ideology, the Crusade designs of Gregory VII, and the combining of Christian militarism and pilgrimage by Urban II. Together these changing developments of the Western world would build on each other until the inevitable display of fervor and spiritual power that was the First Crusade. The development of the crusades and the role of the papacy within that development began around the year 1000 A.D. when various small conflicts between Christians and Islamic forces took shape. In 1009, the Fatamid Caliph Hakim destroyed the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem creating mass outrage in the Christian world.1 In the past some sources have cited the letter of Pope Sergius IV’s reaction to this injustice to certain coastal cities, urging them to assemble a fleet and retake the city; however, Cowdrey presents that it was fabricated as propaganda for the First Crusade at the Cluniac monastery of Moissac and that it originated in connection with Urban II’s stay there in May 1096.2 So while there was no large scale campaign orienting Christian power toward pagan enemies in the East during the beginning of the century, there was the encroachment of pagan forces onto the frontiers of Christian lands such as the Moors

C Morris, ‘Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250’, Oxford University Press, New York, 1989, pp. 146 2 H.E.J. Cowdrey, ‘Pope Urban II’s Preaching in the First Crusade’, in The Crusades: The Essential Readings, Thomas F. Madden, Blackwell Publishers, Cornwall, 2002, pp. 25.

in Spain and the Saracen’s increasing presence near Constantinople and Southern Italy. This proximity began to cause the inevitable small skirmishes between Christian and Islamic forces. In 1016, Pope Benedict VIII is known to have asked the maritime republics of Pisa and Venice for aid in the retaking of Christian land in Corsica and Sardinia.3 For the first time war was taken to Muslim lands when Pisan and Venetian fleets attacked the Algerian City of Bone in 1034.4 These battles were just the beginning in the lineage of what would become the First Crusade. While being the first of their kind in terms of Christian war against Islamic forces, they were not in very many ways wars based on religion, but instead more defensive battles between rival cities, as the same papal support had been granted to the Venetians for a war against the Christian Croats and Narantani.5 The battles with the Muslims were meant mainly to deter future incursions of Saracen armies and to solidify the presence of the cities merchant fleets trading in the Mediterranean. The role of religion within these battles was yet to emerge as it was in need of the right kind of Church leaders to find a place for warfare within the theology of the Western Church. The development of the first crusade and the role of the papacy within that development can most easily be traced through the rise of the reform popes. Pope Leo IX was the first of the reform popes and he was also one of the first to take advantage of the military capabilities of his position. Erdmann explains that while he was not the first pope to make war, “Leo IX was the first pope to derive the basis of his wars from religion, harmonizing them with the commands of the church and infusing religious

3 4

C Morris, pp. 147 A Jamieson, ‘Faith and Sword: A Short History of Christian-Muslim Conlfict’, Reaktion Books Ltd., London, 2006, pp. 44 5 C Erdmann, The Origin of the Idea of Crusade, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1977 pp. 111

meaning into the warlike mentality of the army.”6 From the beginning of his pontificate, Leo IX was faced with the possibility of war. The Roman people who supported him sought revenge on the people of Tusculum and Tivoli, who had supported the deposed Pope Benedict IX. Instead of going to war, he said, "we intend to call a synod. Whoever obeys it and renounces error, let him be our friend: whoever does not obey will be punished as a heretic."7 This was a direct intention on Leo IX’s part to present the conflict in a religious light. By making the sin heresy, he was intentionally attempting to make his opponent appear to be against the Church and solidifying his place at the head of that Church. This ability to shape all issues around religion followed him into his battle with the Normans. While his success against them was minimal, he himself being taken as a prisoner, the truly interesting aspect of this campaign lies in how he presented it to those he tried to recruit and to those within his army. Leo made it his goal to liberate Christendom, or as Erdmann points out, “Liberanda Christianitas-the exact formulation later used by Urban II to justify the First Crusade!”8 He put this idea into action by, “offering the German troops [who he needed for reinforcements] the prospect of “impunity for their crimes,” remission of penance and absolution for their sins.”9 If we accept that the Sergius IV Crusade letter is a forgery, than this is the first form of an indulgence for fighting for the Papacy that we have. Erdmann also notes that, “death in the battle of Civita [where Leo IX was defeated] was recognized as Christian Martyrdom.”10 This shows Leo IX’s ability to transform a not very religious conflict with the Normans into a battle for Christianity and to tie warfare into Christian doctrine as a
6 7

C Erdmann, pp. 119 Ibid, pp. 119 8 Ibid, pp. 122 9 Ibid, pp. 122 10 Ibid, pp. 123

morally religious undertaking. This polarizing of the idea of Christendom and the reformation of military actions as moral were key steps in the shaping of what would later become the papacy sponsored forces of the First Crusade. The religious ties of Leo IX and his followers had a strong impact on the Norman armies that defeated them and it would be these same Normans who would take the torch of Crusade development with them as in 1059 the became increasingly close allies with Pope Nicolas II and the papacy to come.11 From 1060-1072, the Normans invaded the Saracen stronghold of Palermo on Sicily and conquered the island. While the religious ties they had gained were important, they were still not truly the motivating factor of the Normans’s continued conquests, but instead as Erdmann points out, “the Moslem inhabitants were neither forced into conversion nor annihilated, but left in peace to practice their religion.”12 It seems that instead of being the beginnings of a religiously motivated war against Islamic enemies, the Normans only used the crusading ideology of the time as an excuse to conquer the Muslim lands, as liberating the Christians of the island and southern Italy was recognized by the papacy as the right thing to do. Thus while this appears to be a step back in terms of crusading development, it is not. In fact it is a monumental moment in development as it marks the first large scale aggressive campaign of Christian forces against Islam. Before this most battles between Christian and Muslim had been defensive battles as Muslims encroached on Christian lands, but the Norman conquest of Sicily displays the rising power of Western Europe and Christian forces beginning to look outward instead of just within.

11 12

A Jamieson, pp. 45 C Erdmann, pp. 133

In 1064, at the same time as the Normans began to have great success against the Saracens in Sicily, the papacy was shaping another area of great Christian and Islamic conflict: Spain. Since 1037, the Spanish kings had been fighting off the Muslim Moors and beginning to make headway, but by 1064 things were looking bleak once more and when the King of Aragon died leaving only a minor as heir, Pope Alexander II stepped in to organize an expedition against the city of Barbastro to help the Spanish.13 While the Normans had had papal support for their campaigns, due to their strong leadership and organization, they had carried on without much papal influence beyond spiritual support, but in Spain, where there was no unified force or leader, the papacy began to take a personal interest. Alexander II’s order for the campaign to Barbastro marks the first form of crusade and his efforts to rally support from the French nobility are believed to be the origin of the recruitment practices in France that were later used during the First Crusade.14 It is here too, that Alexander II issues decretals featuring the first true crusade indulgences, as Erdmann describes “it contains a remission of the penalties for sin, it is an indulgence in the true sense.”15 And Alexander II’s influence at Barbastro also contains one other important aspect of crusade development: A Peace of God. He spoke with the Catalan bishops and princes and announced a Peace of God, and that “among other things, both the participants in the campaign and those who stayed home should maintain peace with one another.”16 Barbastro was the beginning of the movement of the reform popes to take a larger interest in the campaigns against the heathen and in its recruiting, preparation, and the Peace of God gave precedent for those who would seek to build the First Crusade. Yet
13 14

A Jamieson, pp. 49 C Erdmann, pp. 137 15 Ibid, pp. 139 16 Ibid, pp. 137

even more importantly, is that somewhere along the line in Spain the battle with the Moors became even more based on the religious differences between the Spaniards, Frenchman, and other Christians who fought and their Muslim enemies. Erdmann quotes Amatus of Monte Cassino who describes the campaign with the words, “They traveled to Spain to besiege the knighthood that the Saracens had assembled and to subject them to the Christians…And they called on God’s help that God might be present to assist those who prayed to Him.”17 Amatus’s words show the switch that had occurred in perspective to the war as religious campaign reminiscent of the morality of the religious warfare that Leo IX had begun against the Normans and the continuing rise of Christendom’s awareness of itself as a united force under the Pope. Spain became the beginning of Crusade politics and unlike in Sicily where the Normans were quite capable of dealing with the Saracens on their own, the Spanish required the aid of an alliance of Christian supporters, an alliance that the papacy made sure to be at the head of. With the arrival of the reform popes, Christian Militarism had been on the rise and the forces of Islam had been becoming increasingly present on the frontier of Christian lands. At the same time that the battles between the Spanish and the Moors and the Normans and the Saracens on Sicily had been ongoing, the reform papacy had been increasing the power of its see and working toward a new form of papal authority. The orchestrator of much of this rise to power was Pope Gregory VII and just as he is famous for his reforms within the Clergy and his dealing with the empire, he is also the architect of the overall plan toward the First Crusade. At some point early in 1074, Pope Gregory VII received a contingent of emissaries from Constantinople asking for the aid of the


C Erdmann, pp. 136

West against the encroaching Islamic force.18 And subsequently we receive our first evidence of a planned expedition to the East in the form of a letter from Gregory VII to William of Upper Burgundy in 1074 which describes Gregory VII’s plan to form a contingent and go to the aid of the Eastern Church.19 This idea is mixed heavily in the history of Gregory VII in the year 1074 and seems to have occupied much of his thoughts, and yet, it is not a plan that is ever fated to succeed. While Gregory VII designed and produced the plan for the first crusade, he himself was not capable of implementing that plan. The issue being that Gregory VII was still in the process of securing papal power in Europe, let alone being ready to expand outward to aid the east. His original plan for the crusade was formed as an effort to rally French support to fight the French King Phillip I and only later when there was no response toward the effort did he turn its direction toward the East. The goal of Gregory VII’s crusade appeared to be more of an attempt to unify Christendom, the East and the West, around him and the papacy, though it may have been especially personal for him spiritually, as Erdmann even points out that in December 1074, “His idea now was to cross the sea in person as general and bishop…He was to be accompaniedgrotesque as it may sound-by the old empress Agnes and Countess Mathilda of Tuscany, while none other than Henry IV was asked to undertake the custody of the Roman Church.”20 “He told Henry IV that he was urged to this undertaking above all by consideration of the schism within the church, for the Eastern Church was awaiting the doctrinal decision of St. Peter.”21 To have risked such a thing would have required an astonishing strong belief in this quest even before the Investiture Conflict that would later
18 19

C Erdmann, pp. 162 Ibid, pp. 164 20 Ibid, pp. 167 21 C Erdmann, pp. 168

come about, but Gregory VII seems to have been solely concerned with saving the Christian pilgrims and reconciling with the Eastern Church. Inevitably, Gregory VII found himself overreaching his bounds. A pope so keen to solidify papal power wherever possible seemed to be attempting too many things at once and he soon found the support of his French allies dwindling. He realized that he couldn’t afford to send his supporters away on crusade, nor could he himself leave the see in the hands of Henry IV. So it seems that Gregory VII was forced to give up his dreams for a unified church and the dominance of St. Peter as the head of Christendom in exchange for solidifying the see’s position as a key power in Western Europe. It was the fighting and problems at home which kept him from accomplishing his crusading dreams; however, with his help establishing the power of the papacy in the western world, he provided a platform from which Urban II could reaffirm the papal dreams of going abroad to save the holy land and reconcile with the East. The role of the 11th century papacy within the framework of war against the heathen slowly accumulated throughout the century until its culmination with the papacy of Urban II. It was he who was able to bring Gregory VII’s plan to fruition and carry on the developments laid out by the popes before them. Where Gregory VII’s main reasoning for creating his crusade plan had been his hopes to unify the Eastern and Western Churches, Urban II sat in a position where dominance within a unified church was no longer a large goal and instead had his own reasons for picking up the idea of the crusade and shaping it into what would become his Speech at Clermont. Erdmann describes Urban II as being, “A Frenchman, he originated from the land that the crusading drive had long made its principal home, and as a Cluniac, he belonged

to the order that, for a century, had had the deepest sympathy for the movement of Christian Knighthood.”22 Urban II’s background as Riley-Smith describes it is just as crusade oriented, “"Urban had been in close contact with all the forces which were active in the holy war in the western Mediterranean, he had spent a number of years with the Normans in South Italy, had actively encouraged the Spanish reconquest, and had visited Pisa on his way north to Piacenza and Clermont."23 It appears that Urban II’s past life as a Cluniac monk, Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, and a papal legate for Gregory VII prepared him well for his development as head of the First Crusade. By growing up with the fervor of Crusade emerging out of France around him and being politically involved in dealing with the Normans, he developed a keen awareness of his beliefs concerning the Muslims and of liberating Christendom and formulated his reasoning for directing the church toward crusade. Urban II’s contributions to the development of the crusade are vast, but what drives this contribution is his personal beliefs, many of which were formed in his previous experiences with the crusading movement and one most importantly derived from his beliefs on pilgrimage: the liberation of Jerusalem. In terms of his experience with early conflicts with the Muslims, Riley-Smith presents a good picture of Urban II’s views on the Christian-Muslim conflict through the guise of two letters he wrote, one on the fall of Toledo: “we rejoice with a most joyful heart and we give great thanks to God, as is worthy, because in our time he has deigned to give such a grew victory to the Christian people,” and the other on Christian advances in Sicily: “God, the ruler of all things, whose wisdom and strength, when he wishes, taketh away kingdoms and changeth

22 23

C Erdmann, pp. 307 J Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading, The Athlone Press, London, 1986, pp. 150

times.”24 These two quotes show how Urban had picked up right where Gregory VII and Leo IX had left off in their use of religious language to present the wars against the heathen and to polarize themselves against their enemies. It is an evolution of a unity among Christendom against the outside forces of the pagan world. While Urban II’s personal views were being shaped by these battles against Islamic forces, he was also allowing his mind to drift to the East and the idea of Jerusalem and liberation. One of the most famous motives of the First Crusade was its apparent goal to reach Jerusalem and liberate the Holy Sepulcher. Riley-Smith even goes as far to say that, "It is no exaggeration to say that 'liberation' was the word most frequently used by him [Urban II] when justifying the need to crusade."25 And indeed they are also the words mentioned earlier by Leo IX as his motives for defending the churches of the Papal States against the Normans. To prove that Jerusalem was an objective from the onset of Urban II’s planning for the crusade, Cowdrey uses this letter from Urban II in December 1095 to explain his intentions in calling the crusade toward Jerusalem: “We believe that you are already well informed about the barbaric fury which, by its attacks which move us to compassion, has laid waste the churches of God in eastern parts and, moreover, what is shocking to mention, has delivered the Holy City of Christ, made illustrious by his passion and resurrection, together with its churches, into an intolerable servitude.”26

24 25

J Riley-Smith, pp 16 Ibid, pp. 17 26 H.E.J. Cowdrey, pp. 27

It is a synthesis of Urban II’s religious statements about the wars in Spain and Sicily and his views on liberating the churches of Christ. With Jerusalem as a goal, it was not long before issues close to home pushed Urban II to go forward with his call for crusade. In aiding Jerusalem and the East, Urban II had established his own spiritual and clerical reasoning for calling a crusade. Yet, without a force of Christian might which he could wield, his crusade would not be successful. Luckily for him, in Western Europe after the fall of the Carolingians there came to be a new form of knighthood roaming the countryside, knights without kings, mercenaries. The presence of these mercenaries could not have been ignored by Urban II as he planned his crusade. Erdmann explains that “Fulcher of Chartres offers two reasons for Urban II's crusade sermon: first, the feuds of the Christians among themselves, and then the advance of the Turks in Asia Minor, he also mentions the need for Christians to turn against the heathens the fighting they practiced among themselves."27 This shows the recognition by Urban II of the fighting on the continent that threatened not only the power of his see, but also made Christendom weak in the face of what he no doubt saw as an impending showdown with Muslim forces and the outside world. He also attributed some of this political strife to overpopulation as Robert the Monk describes from the Speech at Clermont, “since this land which you inhabit, shut in on all sides by the seas and surrounded by the mountain peaks, is too narrow for your large population; nor does it abound in wealth; and it furnishes scarcely food enough for its cultivators.”28 The presence of these forces in the West must have left him looking for a solution to the rise of the mercenaries which


Ibid, pp 338 Dana C. Munro, "Urban and the Crusaders", Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, Vol 1:2, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1895), 5-8

inevitably led him to the idea of combining pilgrimage with Christian militarism to create a mercenary of the church in what would be the final synthesis of crusade development. This was the culmination of the idea of Christian expansionism that had been begun by the Normans and Leo IX’s ideology of the religious warrior and Urban II had put a face on it in a way that Gregory VII had not. Urban was a far better diplomat than Gregory and knew that by combining the idea of pilgrimage and indulgence with armed aid to the Eastern churches, he would be able to rally the support for the crusade that he needed and gather those who would make trouble on the continent and direct their angst outward. Riley-Smith points out, "There is no doubt that Urban preached the crusade at Clermont as a pilgrimage."29 He also states that, "the giving of pilgrim status to crusaders in this way made it possible for the pope to control them to some extent, since pilgrims were treated in law as temporary ecclesiastics, subject to church courts."30 And Erdmann points out that, “Armed Pilgrimage was first allowed at Clermont and was recognized as a new step by many contemporaries.”31 This was the combination that secured Urban II’s position at the head of the burgeoning monster that was now Christendom, solidifying himself as the true Pope during a time of schism, but showing an ability to look into the future and organize the church and the people of the West under the ideas of St. Peter. In 1095, while Urban II was visiting the town of Piacenza, an embassy from the East arrived asking for his aid, "he replied by encouraging "many [at the meeting in Piacenza] to promise, by taking an oath, to aid the emperor most faithfully as far as they were able against the pagans."32 Eight months later he stood on a pulpit at the Council of Clermont and delivered his sermon calling for crusade. It marked the culmination of
29 30

J Riley-Smith, pp. 22 Ibid, pp. 23 31 C Erdmann, pp. 331 32 J Riley-Smith, pp. 13

papal participation in the development of the First Crusade. It had originated from early papal support of defense against Muslim attack in the early 11th century and grew through Leo IX into a religiously aware form of militarism in his battles against the Normans. Eventually it turned toward expansion with Alexander II’s support of the campaigns of the Normans in Sicily, and later became focused on the Muslim threat to a polarized Christendom in the battles in Spain. Gregory VII would map out the details of the campaign and direct it toward the East in an attempt to unify the two churches, but would find himself unsuccessful due to infighting on the continent. It would take one hundred years of crusade ideology development for the idea to be realized under the papacy of Urban II, who would rise to power from the French heartland of the movement and give light to an outward expansion of a newly formed ideal of Christian Militarism in order to secure the dominance of Christianity in the East and the West.

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