Author: the coffee fiend PM
Just how did Pope Urban get such an enthusiastic response to the Crusades?Rated: Fiction K - English - Words: 1,726 - Reviews: 3 - Published: 09-30-06 - id: 2255149
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(a/n: I have removed all the footnotes, as they don't turn out on and I just end up with random numbers throughout my text.
A lot of people have a lot of opinions on the Crusades, and while they've been remembered as a religious war, I argue in this essay that they were more to do with politics and money, with the Church carefully using religion to manipulate the situation, and gain support for his cause.
The topic for the essay was "Account for the enthusiastic response to Pope Urban's call to assist Byzantium in 1095.")
In 1095, Pope Urban II made a passionate speech calling the citizens of Europe to arms in the Holy Land. Many knights, nobles and peasants responded to this call, joining the Crusades that were to dominate the history of the High Middle Ages. Pope Urban's official reason for going to war was to aid the Byzantines, (who were also Christian) and were in the process of being overrun by the Seljuk Turks, but this was no ordinary military exercise. The amount of effort employed in rousing the citizens to the Crusade indicates there was a lot more going on behind the scenes than helping fellow Christians against the Muslims. However, this call to arms was seized enthusiastically by the Europeans, and once more this was not motivated by altruistic intentions. The lure of gold, land and glory motivated many, as well as the Church's promise of eternal salvation.
Pope Urban masterfully created the situation in which he made his impassioned plea to aid Byzantium. In 1095 in Clermont-Ferrrand he addressed the Frankish nobility with the intent of starting a Crusade against the Seljuk Turks. Amid cries of "God wills it!" from the crowd he outlined atrocities committed by the Turks against pilgrims, glorified the sanctity of Jerusalem for Christianity and promised freedom from penance for any that took up arms against the Muslims. As soon as he finished his speech, Frankish nobles whom he had met with weeks previously pledged their support to the Crusade, and the Pope himself, as well as other preachers, travelled around Europe spreading the word of the Crusade. By roping in the aristocracy and powerful church officials like the Bishop of Le Puy, Urban ensured the support of many nobles, drawn by the lure of lands to be conquered and glory to be gained, as well as the noble aim of aiding Christians in need. But the situation that Urban created to start off the Crusade is highly suspect to historians as being stage-managed in order to sway other powerful nobles to the cause.
However, the Church may have had other motives than helping the Byzantine Church by starting the First Crusade. Healing the rift with Byzantium may have been profitable to both parties (there had been a schism between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church in 1054C.E,) and the Muslim threat was a very real one, as Europe had suffered from attacks by the Muslims for centuries. (Charles Martel having repelled them from Frankish lands in 732.) To reunite the two branches of Christendom would greatly strengthen the Church's position against the Muslims. But this motive was purely religiously political, and mainly affected those in the upper echelons of the Catholic Church's hierarchy, and was unlikely to be the underlying motivating factor for the Pope and definitely not for the lay people involved in the Crusade, who had little knowledge or care for religious politics.
Pope Urban, however, made a huge spiritual concession on the part of the Crusaders, that of plenary indulgence or promising unconditional salvation for those who took part in the Crusade. To make such a bold statement would have required a powerful reason on the part of the Church to go to war. Some historians have suggested that many within the Church were concerned with the amount of warfare between the aristocracy in Europe at the time. Many nobles would fight amongst themselves, and attempts had been made by the Church to curb this, as Hollister says "For more than a century churchmen…had been attempting to pacify Europe through a movement known as the "Peace of God" which prohibited military operations on non-combatants and their property. The partial success of this effort inspired a similar movement called the "Truce of God" which sought to outlaw warfare on holy days and during holy seasons…" In the past, knights and those engaging in warfare were made by the Church to atone for their violent sins by doing penance imposed by the priests. The Crusades were a huge concession to the Church's stance on non-violence, and Hollister and other historians suggest that Urban was trying to direct the violence out of Europe. Indeed, during the Crusades, it was expressly forbidden by the Church to war against another Christian, and property and family of those Crusading was protected. The creation of peace within Europe was more likely the reason why the Crusades were enthusiastically supported by the clergy, and although some churchmen couldn't justify holy war under Christian tenets the majority supported the Pope's decision, and looked to the work of men such as St Augustine of Hippo (354-430C.E.) and the Old Testament of the Bible to justify the concept of a Crusade against Muslims.
For the people of medieval Europe, the decision to go to war in the Holy Land was a lot more apparent. Urged on by the Church's promise of plenary indulgence, many knights were keen to turn their hand to more respectable forms of warfare, and the lure of riches from the East was almost irresistible. Hollister succinctly states: "The Crusaders were provided a superb opportunity to employ their knightly skills in God's service – and to make their fortunes in the bargain." Often knights were not noble born or wealthy, so the opportunity to have lands and funds of their own was one too good to pass up. Indeed, over the period of the Crusades, the aristocracy and the knightly classes began a merger into one single aristocratic order. The sanctioning of this violence by the Church made it socially acceptable and indeed noble to go to war in Jerusalem.
The Church's propaganda had a great affect on the people of Europe. Making a pilgrimage to see the places where Christ had been as a man was an intrinsic part of medieval culture, and during the Middle Ages there was a renewed interest in religious matters, with observation of feast days common, monastic life and values burgeoning, and an increasing interest in relics from the time of Christ. When Pope Urban gave his speech to the Franks, he played up reports of atrocities performed by the Turks against pilgrims. This infuriated many pious Christians who saw it as their fundamental right to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to see the holy sites. The Pope stirred up a large amount of religious zeal and righteous indignation that many seized upon as a just cause to go to war against the Muslims. Lay preachers like Peter the Hermit, a very charismatic speaker toured the countryside, encouraging people to take up arms against the Muslims and Crusade to the Holy Land. (Peter the Hermit later led the First Crusade to Jerusalem) With the emotive language used by the leaders and preachers of the Church, many were caught up in a tide of religious fervour and xenophobia against the Turks (and collectively, the Muslims) and took upon themselves to Crusade to Jerusalem to avenge their Christian brethren and protect their right to make a pilgrimage.
There were also socio-economic factors that may have contributed to the overwhelming response to Pope Urban's summons. The rise in the practice of primogeniture (bequeathing all land and holdings to the eldest son) had disenfranchised many younger sons. Hollister says "…multitudes of landless aristocratic younger sons would seek wealth and military glory on Christendom's frontiers." Coupled with a peasant population boom, which could provide labour on the new estates founded in the Holy Land, this provided enough manpower to physically undertake a Crusade of such magnitude. In the Frankish lands, however, where the peasantry were suffering from famine, local warfare and disease, they were seemingly glad to seize upon the opportunity to escape their bad conditions for much rosier prospects in the East. This bad standard of living was only temporary, and the harvest of 1096 was good, unlike proceeding years, but this only aided and abetted their Crusade, making it easier to leave their homes and families for the 'Promised Land'.
In conclusion, there were many factors that led to such an enthusiastic response to Pope Urban's summons to Crusade against the Seljuk Turks. Whilst aiding the Byzantine Church was the official reason for going to the Crusade, Urban's plans would never have received such vociferous support by the lay clergy (or the laymen) if it was simply for political motives. For the common medieval knight, aristocrat or peasant, the endorsement of the Catholic Church was a huge motivating factor, as was religious zeal and the promise of eternal salvation for fighting. It seems, judging by the amount of nobles that went to the Crusades, that they were reasonably keen to unite against the common enemy instead of partaking in the rift-causing internal warfare that had plagued Europe for many centuries. A population boom in Europe made the Crusades logistically possible, and although many historians suspect that Pope Urban did not anticipate such a response, the climate of Europe was such that a Holy War in a foreign (and often idealised) land was attractive to many, and thousands of people took up arms in response to Pope Urban's summons to war.
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