Joined: Aug 2010
| | Criticising the Crusading
The concept of Holy War, swept across Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries, the notion of Christian knights fighting in the name of Christ, doing battle with his enemies was brought into being after several centuries of theological drafting by Urban II in 1095, when he launched the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont. The success of the First Crusade in the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 was truly stupendous. Its set a bar for all other crusading ventures thereafter, all of which would fail to meet it. The institution and legal parameters of crusading were culminated in the pontificate of Innocent III, a pope that epitomised Papal Monarchy, in the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. Yet despite all the men, money and material thrown into the Latin East to secure Jerusalem and the Holy Land, the Crusades there ultimately failed. By 1291 all that was left of Outremer was the island of Cyprus. Unsurprisingly the failures and setbacks that the people of Western Europe experienced needed an explanation. As with any institution and formalised process there were critics of that process and its participants. The Crusades were in this manner no different; contemporaries wrote on, satirised and complained. Despite popular piety and out pouring’s of genuine religious fervour, the crusades attracted their own set of flak.
Though there was criticism throughout the 12th and 13th Centuries, and indeed later when the very actions of crusading had become somewhat anachronistic, the attacks it received during its heyday was never upon the concept and ideal of the movement itself. Criticisms of actual holy war and the need or purpose to crusade are themselves relatively uncommon. Theological works, such as those of Roger Bacon, or Thomas Aquinas might call fighting and killing in Christ’s name and the concepts of Just War into question, but they never really openly attacked the institution. While accepting that attacking pagans beyond the borders of Christendom as one thing, the use of crusades against other Christians was another matter entirely that needed much more thought and justification. Certainly Bacon discussed the merits and failures of the crusade in the Baltic region and how war and force did not bring about a suitable or meaning conversion of the pagan populace. In essence it was the effects of the crusades rather than the idea of it. By far the majority of criticism by contemporaries, and indeed participants, is there to explain why matters failed, or how they came about.
In a world where God was very much an active player, taking a direct lead in the course of events and people’s lives, an explanation for failures when acting in His name had to be made. Thus pursuing war in His name and failing needed a rational; it is here that crusading criticism emerges for the most part. The failures of the Crusade of 1101 and the Second Crusade in 1148 were in part passed to the actions of the native franks themselves, often accused of duplicity, or the sheer arrogance and unsuitable moral behaviour of the army of God. Certainly the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187 was seen in terms of sinful behaviour; Saladin was a divine punishment to chastise Christendom, and especially the Franks of Outremer for their moral failings and sinful behaviour. Failure on the Third Crusade was placed on those who would not work with Richard the Lionheart, those who remained behind in the fleshpots of Acre and who’s a rather sinful action brought shame down on all the others. The same was true for the Fifth Crusade at Damietta, where those who remained to enjoy the city were criticised. Papal Legate Pelagius likewise received his share of the criticism for not adhering to the wise council of John de Brienne the King of Jerusalem. Frederick II was criticised for his failure and his consistent delay in heading Eastwards despite having taken the cross in 1212. Others whose aide would have been sorely needed in the Latin East, those who had taken the cross but failed to go were the targets of such abuse. Henry II, John, and Henry III of England were all roundly criticised for failing to fulfil their vows. Petty arguments, disagreements and personal pride were the downfall of many, and because they could not work together for a greater purpose, they were unworthy in God eyes of succeeding. Louis IX’s failure in 1250 was seen as a personal punishment for his own inflated pride in the venture he had organised. Additionally those who were too busy fighting each other in Western Europe rather than helping their co-religionists by settling their differences were roundly and regularly attacked for their selfish actions. Criticising the crusades were then much like criticising members of the modern military, whose actions, orders and decisions are responsible for failure or bringing the service into disrepute. One might attack individuals or particular groups, but doing so is different to attacking the military system, and the need for it, and its mission over all.
Another area of criticism was that conducted towards crusading ventures in Europe itself, particularly the crusades against heretics in southern France and the Baltic, as well as the crusades launched by the Papacy against their own personal enemies. A considerable amount of the attacks on the Alibigensian Crusade comes from the troubadours of the Languedoc itself, hardly surprising given their vested interests and personal connections to the war zone itself. Poems and songs sung by these individuals were popular, even if they didn’t form a coordinated form of opposition or criticism to the campaigns themselves. Yet here they speak out not against the need to deal with heretics themselves, but that by focusing on southern France they were losing an opportunity to do a greater service in Outremer where they were actually needed. Similar accusations were also made for the Baltic, service was all well and good, but it might be better done elsewhere. In 1239 the people of London turned out according to Matthew Paris, confused by the Pope’s virulence and desire to crusade against the Emperor Frederick II, they opposed such expeditions. Theobold of Navarre who was about to head to Outremer certainly saw right on the Emperor’s side rather than the Pope’s. The diversion of the Fourth Crusade to Constantinople in 1204 saw a great division in the army, as some 25-30% departed for Outremer anyway. Appeals then for help against the Greeks, especially in the 1230’s saw European leaders such as Theobald of Navarre and Richard of Cornwall were reluctant to go to fight the Greeks when Syria beckoned. The Papacy was criticised because it pursued agenda’s elsewhere, the Crusade was flourishing in Europe, rather than in the Latin East where it was actually needed.
Scepticism of the need for crusading was present from the very outset following the First Crusade. Yet all such criticism often followed failures of particular expeditions or the suffering of armies on campaign conditions. The failure of the Second Crusade certainly put a dampener on the matter, bringing St Bernard of Clairvaux, one of its principal instigators into some embarrassment. Salimbene reported how crusade preachers in Italy were mocked and attacked by crowds, some even declaring that Mohammed was more powerful than Christ, in the aftermath of Louis IX’s failure in 1250. Other scepticism was also present before the campaigns even got underway, St. Bernard reported that the French Barons were none too eager in 1147 to head eastwards, no doubt as a result of the immense costs and efforts. Certainly the retention of the Holy City did little to encourage people to head eastwards, why go when the Holy City was safe, Edessa was an issue, but it want Jerusalem. However post 1187 this attitude began to disappear on the whole, Jerusalem was once again in Muslim hands, the goal had been restored. While some disillusionment always remained, especially so after failures, there is no real evidence to suggest that there was any greater disillusionment in crusading in the late 13th Century than there was in the late 12th. However there were never again such lulls in crusading activity as there had been between 1099-1146-1189. If participation in events is an indicator, the crusading in 13th Century was still very popular, there were regular outpourings of piety, the Children’s Crusade of 1212 and the Shepherd’s Crusade of 1251. Likewise the crusading remained a consistent agenda appearing in the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and the two Council’s of Lyons in 1245 and 1275. While criticisms were raised, the crusade didn’t go away. Resentment and scepticism was induced by the actions of those most directly associated with the Latin East and the Crusading movement, namely the military Order bust especially the Templars. The actions of the Teutonic knights and Sword Brothers in the Baltic came under fire, seen often as ruthless and ineffectual, while the Teutonic Knights connection to the Hohenstaufen's, especially Frederick II tainted them by association. Yet it was the Templars, with their pride that received the most ire. Those with the money and power to rival crowns and local lords, especially in an age of polity formation were never bound to do well, bankers are not always popular people. When they fell in 1308 to Philip IV many of the rumours about them would have struck home, true or not, the Templars had made enemies and cultivated an image. Hostilities such as the War of St. Sabas in 1257-1259, and rivalries with Hospitallers ofent pursuing separate and conflicting agendas once again detracted and removed from the greater cause that they were in theory supposed to be upholding.
It was only after the fall of the Latin East that the Crusades really began to pass, there was of course a glut of works declaring how the Holy Land might be recaptured, such as Marino Sanudo Torsello and Pierre Dubois, and by what means it might be done. Initially crusading was still held in high regard, Dante placed his ancestors in Paradise for it. Yet as the 14th Century progressed, and the memory of Jerusalem and the Latin East waned, as the Templars disappeared and the Franks of Cyprus settled down, and the Hospitallers took Rhodes, crusading itself became an anachronism as only Spain and the Baltic were left, as seen by Chaucer’s Knight, one could go there a number of times. A riesen became matter of course, nothing special. Crusading had lost its appeal, and Papal Monarchy was in ruins after Boniface VIII, there was little left to criticise.
For full details and write ups see, P.A. Throop. Criticism of the Crusade, and E. Siberry, Criticism of Crusading 1095-1274.