The Reasoning Behind the Catholic Christian Crusades in Europe

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One must define crusades. The crusades were, “A military expedition undertaken by the Christians of Europe in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims”. Furthermore, the word, “people” is such a broad term and in this essay I shall give an explanation for different demographics on their motives to go on the crusades, as reinforced by Giles Constable stating that “each participant made his own crusade”. This essay will, then, explore different reasons that inspired so many people that went on crusades: being a peasant seeking for pilgrimages, nobles for lands or even Merchants find access to the Eastern trade. Even though, it is impossible to know the exact motive on why every single individual went on the crusades, in this essay I shall demonstrate why religion was the primary reason that why most of the people went on crusades.

I shall propose the notion on why religion was the primary reason on people going on the crusades by analyzing how religion was indoctrinated into every Western Catholic Christian’s mind and how that inspired people went on the crusades. The fear of hell was really real every people’s mind, being if you are a mere peasant or, particularly Knights ,as they were killing fellow Christians, as corroborated by Jamie Byrom, stating that heaven and hell “were real, physical places, not just abstract ideas”. To reinforce this, as illustrated in the song, ‘Seigneurs, sachiez qui or ne s’en ira’, a propagandas Christian chant that was written by the King of Navarre indicating that if the people “will not take the holy cross, may not go to heaven.” This clearly supports the argument that people went on the crusades as they were fearful on going to hell.

To further strengthen this argument, people went on crusades was because it was an act of pilgrimage to pray for their souls. This is because many of the crusaders did not stay in Jerusalem, once the holy city was captured in 1199, many returned to Western Europe as they prayed for their souls to shorten their time at purgatory after the pilgrimage. This is because God’s forgiveness for their sins was considered more prized than money. The importance of pilgrimage is evident in Pope Urban II speech at Clermont stating that ‘Whoever wishes to save his soul should not hesitate humbly to take up the way of the Lord, and if he lacks sufficient money, divine mercy will give him enough.'[5] It is indeed valid that a Pope’s speech cannot reflect on every single individual’s perspective, but it offers an insight into what was the true teaching of the Catholic Church. One can see, therefore, the driving force behind why so many people went on crusades as asking for forgiveness for their sins is more prized than money.

A lesser significant reason that people went on the crusades, was due to the desire for the acquisition of wealth abroad. Pope Urban II describes the ‘holy land’ as the “land of milk and honey” This means that people, especially a lot of nobles were, as explained by Frances L. Flannery “motivated by materialistic greed for land and wealth, a desire for power and romantic glory.” This is particularly true as during the early medieval ages, land was inherited through Primogeniture, meaning that the eldest son will be granted every title or land that his father previously acquired. This means that a Noble’s unlanded sons had the lust to go on crusades to gain his own land. The eminent example of younger sons that were not going to gain land through inheritance, but later went on the crusades to fight for their own land, was Baldwin I of Jerusalem. Badlwin I was very much destined to take the vows in the Church, as he was not the heir apparent to any land or titles. However, due to his genius military tactics in the battle at Ramla and lust for power, he usurped the title of King of Jerusalem. However, this certainty wasn’t the motive for the masses, as the demographic during the medieval ages were mostly consist of peasants that would have absolutely no claim to anything. Equally importantly, the cost of the crusades outweigh this notion, as for the knight’s armor, weaponry and horses can cost up to two years of their annual income when they joined the crusades.

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One can see therefore why most knights did not go on the crusades for the acquisition of wealth. Equally importantly, the majority of knights did not have the intention to stay in the holy land. As explained above. Furthermore, it is almost definite that noble going on crusades, did have religious motive, as the contemporary thought at the time is that crusaders dying in battles would go to heaven. Therefore, it is clear to see religious motivation is a more compelling reason on people going on the crusades as only a small minority of people wanted the acquisition of wealth in the holy land and religious motive was always the underlying factor that motivated people going on the crusades.

A less significant reason than religious reason, is that people went to the crusades to seek glory or prove their bravery to their loved ones which ultimately show that they are a perfect chivalrous knight. The concept of glory and bravery of the knights in the crusades was demonstrated Bernard of Clairvaux’s “In Praise of the New Knighthood”. Bernard describes a perfect knight will “glories in the death of the pagan, because Christ is glorified”. This thus clearly display that a perfect chivalrous knight were the ones that were willing to go on the crusades and leave home. Equally importantly, to become a chivalrous knight, one “must be both a crusader and a good lover”. Therefore, knights going on the crusades can often display how much they love their partners. One can see in many separation poetries that were written for their loved ones. Thibaut IV, Count palatine of Champagne emphatically states in his poem “Lady, since I must go away and leave the sweet country where I learned to endure such suffering, and leave you, it is only right that I hate myself.” One can see, then, how important the crusades were at the time to show their chivalry to their loved ones. Nevertheless, I shall, dispute this notion. This is because, there is clear evidence, that their glory and bravery were clearly religiously motivated. This is supported by Stefan Vander Elst, he explains that “taking the cross requires that the knight devote himself to God rather to a lady”. This clearly shows that knights showing love for their lady were a secondary reason that they went on the crusades. To further enhance this notion, one must look at contemporary love poems about the loved ones. This is because essentially, most of the poems categorical involve God and use God as a reason for why they are going on the crusades. Therefore, one can see that religious motivation has a greater significance than this.

An indistinct reason why some people went on the crusades was for trade. Some people went on the crusades because they were seeking for exotic goods, especially spices like peppers, the most sought-after spice. The crusades opened new trade routes as they were now under the protection of different knight orders such as Knights Templar which developed ingenious finical techniques such as banking. Merchants could now therefore profit themselves by selling these goods in important trade nodes such as Genoa or Rome. However, of course, this wasn’t the primary reason why most people went on crusades, as most people were poor and do not have the opportunity to do such things.

In conclusion, therefore, it is clear, to see that the people went on the crusades because they were mainly inspired by religious reason. This is because the concept of heaven and hell was so graphical at the time, as evident in many poems and Pope Urban II’s speech so going on the crusades will guarantee the access to heaven. Furthermore, this notion clearly demonstrated in the ‘People’s Crusade’ as some over 40,000 poor men, women and children were following Peter the Hermit to the Holy Land.

By all means, few people no doubt went on the crusades for different reasons. One can see in knights seeking for glory or piety. Moreover, it is clear to see that people went on the crusades because they were looking for wealth land is an exaggeration, as most people in fact lost money on the crusades. Even though there is such clear evidence to suggest that most people went on the crusades was primarily due to religious reason, it is impossible for me to interpret every single person’s exact motive on going on the crusades. This is because, as Christopher Tyerman states, “External manifestation can be observed”, whether in poems, songs or speeches. However, “the internal, personal risk, at the cost of enormous privations, at the service of a consuming case, cannot be explained, excused or dismissed either as virtue or sin”.

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