From the beginning of the crusading movement, it is possible to identify and trace strands of criticism of aspects of the crusades themselves and of the behavior of crusaders, with suggestions for improvements that would ensure the success of future expeditions.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries there seem to have been few who fundamentally challenged the concept of crusading itself. Some of the critics of the use of the crusade against heretics and Christian lay powers were vociferous and even vitriolic in their language, but it is important to analyze the geographical or political context in which the critic was writing and, for example, his broader attitude to the papacy before reaching any judgment about whether the criticism represented wider public opinion. The vitality of the crusading movement into the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries is evidenced by the regular expeditions to the East and a range of crusades undertaken in Europe.
One of the standard criticisms of crusaders was that their behavior was inconsistent with that expected of soldiers fighting a holy war. Both chroniclers and crusade preachers complained about sexual promiscuity, avarice, and overconfidence during crusades. Human sinfulness (Lat. peccatis exigentibus hominum) was regularly cited by chroniclers as the explanation for setbacks during the First Crusade (1096-1099); for Muslim victories, such as the battle of Hat- tin (1187); and for the failure of later crusade expeditions. In consequence, major engagements were often preceded by penitential marches and injunctions to reform, including the prohibition of gambling and displays of luxury. Efforts were made to remove temptation by limiting the number of woman accompanying the Christian armies—for example, the Councils of Le Mans and Geddington in 1188 forbade any women except laundresses of a certain age to go on the Third Crusade. In practice, however, such injunctions had a limited effect, and chroniclers regularly bemoaned the moral conduct of crusade armies.
Another theme of criticism was the delay in fulfilling crusade vows, particularly by kings, princes, and nobles, who thereby postponed the departure of the main army. At the time of the Third Crusade (1189-1192), there was criticism from crusade apologists, troubadours, and minnesingers that Richard I of England, Philip II Augustus of France, and Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa of Germany were too preoccupied with secular matters, to the detriment of the Holy Land, and in fact the pressure of public opinion does seem to have hastened their ultimate departure. There was similar criticism of Emperor Frederick II in the run-up to the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) and again in the 1220s, prompting his excommunication by the pope. Conversely, there were those who urged monks and priests to remain in the West and seek their spiritual rewards by performing their ecclesiastical duties at home. Indeed, in his treatise De re militari (1187-1188), the English scholar Ralph Niger underlined the importance of excluding noncombatants of all varieties in order to ensure an effective fighting force.
The high cost of provisioning and transporting an army to the East meant that papal and royal taxation became essential to the maintenance of the crusading movement and regular occurrences. Not surprisingly, this attracted criticism from chroniclers and recipients of these demands, who were concerned about the establishment of new precedents; from opponents of the papacy, such as the chroniclers of the abbey of St. Albans, Roger Wendover and Matthew Paris; and from some vernacular poets, such as Walther von der Vogel- weide. The same writers expressed concern about what they perceived as abuse by crusade preachers, in particular the Franciscan and Dominican friars, of the system of vow redemption for financial advantage.
The first real indication of fundamental criticism of the crusading movement itself came after the Second Crusade (1147-1149). In his apocalyptic treatise De investigatione Antichristi, Gerhoh, provost of Reichersberg, a prolific writer and reformer and initially an advocate of the expedition, drew a connection between the failure of the crusade and the coming of the Antichrist. The anonymous compiler of the Würzburg Annals not only criticized the behavior of the crusaders but went on to suggest that the devil himself had inspired the crusade as a revolt against God’s righteous punishment of the world. In England, Ralph Niger also questioned whether God wished the faithful to end the Muslim domination of the holy places, but at the same time his treatise was full of advice about the forthcoming expedition. Military setbacks in the thirteenth century, such as the defeat of the crusade army of Louis IX of France at Mansurah, prompted further doubts, and there are occasional references to those who challenged the idea of the crusades in crusade sermons and treatises, such as De praedi- catione crucis by the Dominican Humbert of Romans. There were also others, such as the followers of the Calabrian abbot Joachim of Fiore and the Franciscan Roger Bacon, who saw the way forward in peaceful conversion of the Muslims.
There is, however, no evidence that such pacifist sentiments were widely held and represented public opinion. Indeed, the continued popularity of the crusades leads to the opposite conclusion.
In the thirteenth century there was some criticism of the diversion of the Fourth Crusade to Constantinople (1202-1204) and the perceived diversion of crusade resources against enemies of the church in Europe, in particular the crusade against the Albigensian heretics in southern France and the anti-Staufen crusades against Emperor Frederick II and his sons, Conrad IV and Manfred. Troubadours especially were forthright in their views, denouncing the expeditions in southern France as false preaching and lamenting the neglect of the Holy Land. They were echoed by Roger of Wendover, who wrote of a bellum injustum (unjust war). Although this must have reflected some degree of public opinion, the vernacular poets at least were not entirely objective commentators. Moreover, the armies engaged in such crusades were drawn from throughout Europe, including crusaders who had already fought or would subsequently go to fight in the East. The same applies to criticism of the crusades against the Staufen dynasty. One of the loudest critics was the poet Walther von der Vogel- weide, who was probably active at the court of Emperor Frederick II or of one his supporters. By contrast, the northern French poet Rutebeuf composed two songs exhorting the faithful to take the cross against the Staufen.
It has been argued that by the mid-thirteenth century the crusade attracted little support. Evidence cited includes the treatises commissioned by Pope Gregory X and submitted to the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 by Bishop Bruno of Olomouc, Humbert of Romans, and the Franciscans Gilbert of Tournai and William of Tripoli. By their very nature, the treatises set out what needed to change in order to mount successful expeditions to the East, but they were written against a background of continued interest in and support for the crusading movement. Humbert of Romans also produced a manual on how best to preach the crusade and respond to possible questions from the audience. The practicalities of European politics and other domestic preoccupations meant that kings found it difficult to be absent for the length of time necessary to mount a major crusade, but in fact a range of large- and small-scale expeditions to the East were planned and launched, if not always successfully completed, in the later Middle Ages.
Crusading also continued and indeed flourished in other theaters, such as Spain and the Baltic region. Although there were major setbacks and defeats, such as the fall of Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) to the Mamlûks in 1291 and the disastrous crusade of Nikopolis against the Ottoman Turks in 1396, this did not prevent plans for further expeditions being mooted. Moreover, the crusades seem to have retained a popular appeal, with individuals continuing to take the cross and participants in expeditions being drawn from a wide geographical area.