With reference to the sources and relevant secondary literature examine the reasons for the success of the First Crusade.

Essay, 2003

15 Pages, Grade: 61 %


"The Crusades were the long-term result of the rise of Islam."

Elizabeth Hallam, Chronicles of the Crusades

Before we can consider the reasons for the success of the First Crusade, we have to first ask some initial questions that should be kept in mind throughout my essay. To begin with, we have to raise the question if the crusade was a success. To do so we have to establish what qualifies as a success. To judge its success is to compare the ideals and aims of the crusade with what happened and what was actually achieved. Here, though, we meet yet another problem in that we ask which aims should we look at? Those of pope Urban II? Those of the military leadership of the crusade, or those of the ordinary participants? Finally, we may wish to define success. Let us start by asking what the aims of the First Crusade were.

The most obvious place to look for aims is Pope Urban II's speech, made on 27 November 1095 at the Council of Clermont. At this meeting Pope Urban II responded publicly for the first time to Alexius Comnenus' appeal for help against the Muslims, “to stem the flood of Turkish violence”[1], that had almost reached the Bosporus. There are four[2] main accounts of the speech; those of Fulcher of Chartres, Robert the Monk, Guibert of Nogent, and Baldric of Bourgueil. His first appeal, which all four sources mention, is for the cessation of hostilities between fellow Christians and the unification of Christendom. Fulcher of Chartres quotes Urban as saying “those who once waged war against their brothers and blood relatives should fight lawfully against barbarians”[3], Robert the Monk´s account Urban comments on Christians fighting each other and advises, “stop these hatreds among yourselves”[4]. In this account he even charges “the Turks with violating the women of Anatolia”[5]. This account was written 25 years after Urban's call in France and does not claim to give more than a general idea of the pope's arguments. Guibert of Nogent, who wrote the first chapters of the “Gesta dei per Francos”[6], chronicles Urban disciplining Christians, “you have often savagely brandished your spears at each other in mutual carnage only out of greed and pride”[7]. Finally Baldric of Bourgueil quotes Urban as declaring “you butcher your brothers and create factions among yourselves, appealing for them to unite as knights of Christ”[8]. All this implied that, as much as saving the Jerusalem, the aim was to unite the divided Christendom in Western Europe, the implication being that they should join under the ultimate leadership of the pope. Although Baldric's “account seems to negate this by telling Christ's knights to hurry to defend the eastern Church”[9] rather than ensure its submission to Rome, the fact that the call for the crusade came from Urban II could only enhance the position of the western Church, especially as those taking part were doing so with his sanction. Alexius, the Byzantine emperor had called for large contingents of mercenaries[10], particularly Normans, to come and take service in the Byzantine Army. How successful was this aim of uniting Christendom, or of increasing the power of the pope? One indication has to be the reaction to the call. Urban's speech certainly had the strength to stimulate mass action, much more perhaps than he had expected or wanted. However, it is still a sign that the church had power over the laity and that non-clerical people looked to the church for leadership. The crusaders' army would then battle its way through Asia Minor, re-establishing Christian rule and would eventually capture the Holy City[11]. Riley Smith has gone as far as to state that “the only explanation for their enthusiasm seems to be that Urban's message encountered the laity's growing aspirations and the hand stretched out by the Church to lay people was suddenly grasped”[12]. However, the plan of the Crusade being totally united under the strict control of the church was not fully achieved. Pope Urban had imagined one large army with one military and religious leader. So carefully had he planned proceedings that even before Clermont, Urban had talked to Count Raymond IV of Toulouse[13] whom he nominated as military leader, and at Clermont he chose Adhemar, Bishop of Le Puy, as his legate. This objective was fractured due to the participation of more people than were expected, who would not accept Raymond's leadership, which meant that Urban was forced to select a legate for each contingent - it seems unlikely that Urban envisaged waves of Frankish peasants travelling to Jerusalem. As a result of “this the possibility of unified leadership, giving the impression that the whole enterprise was directed by the Pope, vanished”[14]. The other aim, which is mentioned in three of the four versions of Urban’s speech, is the recapture of Jerusalem. Robert of Rheims’ text recounts how the “unclean races were in control of the Holy Places and instructs crusaders to take the road to the Holy Sepulchre, rescue that land from a dreadful race and rule over it yourselves, informing them that Jerusalem prays to be liberated”[15]. This provided both motivation and justification for the forthcoming crusaders. Guibert of Nogent's account states that crusaders must “take the greatest pains to try to ensure that the holiness of that city and the glory of his Sepulchre will be cleansed”[16], which makes it clear that Jerusalem was the objective. Finally Baldric of Bourgueil's account speaks of relieving the suffering of fellow Christians who were “oppressed and injured in Jerusalem and Antioch and other cities along the eastern coastline”[17]. This and what the rest of his version says, again makes it clear that, at least for the chroniclers a decade later, Jerusalem was the ultimate goal. However these writers were writing in retrospect, with the particular ambition of justifying, indeed celebrating, what happened and providing an enjoyable account for their patrons. Only Fulcher of Chatres actually went on the Crusade, but his description does not cover Jerusalem, perhaps due to his remaining in Edessa with Baldwin. Furthermore, the papal letters calling for a crusade did not at first mention Jerusalem as the main objective but as in Urban's address to the people of Flanders, the liberation of the Eastern Church, this idea alone was “unpopular in the West”[18]. By September 1096 Urban had included the popular appeal of “liberating Jerusalem”[19]. However, it is likely that the “liberation of Jerusalem”[20] would have been seen as a desirable aim, and one that crusaders could focus their thoughts on. If not the aim of the pope, it was definitely the aim of the crusaders. As a further encouragement, Urban offered them a Papal Indulgence, which promised the instant remission of all sins of any who took part in the expedition and in their “absence their families and properties were protected by the church”[21]. The crowd responded with the chant that was to become the war cry of the first crusade – “Deus vult! Deus vult!”[22]. Afterwards, Bishop Adhémar of Le Puy handed out textile crosses that were sewn onto the garments of those who had sworn to participate. Moreover the armed pilgrimage was “referred to as Just War”[23]. Was this military pilgrimage successful? In the short-term yes, given that Jerusalem was in Christian hands after the victory of 15 July 1099, and the defeat later that year of the Egyptians near Ascalon on 12 August.


[1] Penny J. Cole, The Preaching of the Crusades to the Holy Land, 1095 – 1270, (Cambridge, Mass : Medieval Academy of America, 1991), 11.

[2] James A. Brundage, The crusades. Motives and Achievements. (Boston: D. C. Heath and Company, 1964), 7.

[3] Jonathan and Louise Riley-Smith, The Crusades: Idea and Reality 1095-1274, (London: Edward Arnold, 1981), 42.

[4] Ibid., 44.

[5] P.W. Edbury (ed.), Crusade and settlement. (Cardiff: University College Cardiff Press, 1985), 61.

[6] James A. Brundage, The crusades. Motives and Achievements. 8.

[7] Jonathan and Louise Riley-Smith, The Crusades, 46.

[8] Ibid., 51.

[9] Ibid. , 51.

[10] T.P. Murphy (ed.), The Holy War, (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1974), 12.

[11] H. E. Mayer, The Crusades, translation by J Gillingham, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), 41-48.

[12] Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading, (London: Athlore Press, 1986), 153.

[13] H. E. Mayer, The Crusades, 41.

[14] Ibid., 47.

[15] Jonathan and Louise Riley-Smith, The Crusades, 43 – 44.

[16] Ibid., 46.

[17] Jonathan and Louise Riley-Smith, The Crusades, 49.

[18] Erdmann , The Origin of the Idea of Crusade, 330.

[19] Penny J. Cole , The Preaching of the Crusades to the Holy Land, 1095 - 1270, 3.

[20] J. Philips (ed.), The first Crusade, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 5.

[21] Jonathan Riley-Smith, What Were the Crusades?, 2nd ed., (London: Macmillan, 1992), 56.

[22] Penny J. Cole , The Preaching of the Crusades to the Holy Land, 1095 – 1270, 15.

[23] Jonathan Riley-Smith, What Were the Crusades?, 7.

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With reference to the sources and relevant secondary literature examine the reasons for the success of the First Crusade.
University of Wales, Aberystwyth  (Department of History)
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Michael Gärtner (Author), 2003, With reference to the sources and relevant secondary literature examine the reasons for the success of the First Crusade., Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/13983


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