Post-classical history


The histories of the kingdom of France and the crusades are entwined in both fact and medieval perceptions. Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade (1096-1099) at Clermont in Auvergne (mod. Clermont-Ferrand) in November 1095, and, with rare exceptions, French pilgrims and warriors made up the largest contingents of all subsequent crusades until King Louis IX’s ill-fated journey to Tunis in 1270. Support came from all levels of society. Five kings of the Capetian dynasty in succession went on crusade in the thirteenth century. The so-called People’s Crusades of 1095-1096 show the depth of the appeal of the crusade among nonnobles and peasants, although it was by no means confined to these groups. Moreover, numerous popular or revivalist crusading movements took place within the kingdom, such as the Children’s Crusade of 1212 and the Shepherds’ Crusades of 1251 and 1320. Finally, the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229), launched against the Cathars or “pure Christians,” eventually brought most of the autonomous counties of southern France under royal control. Even the deaths of three kings on crusade in the course of the thirteenth century did not end French interests, or the royal family’s perceptions of itself as the commanders of wars directed against “the enemies of Christ.” For example, Pierre Dubois, a Norman lawyer, wrote Derecuperatione Terre Sancte around 1306 in an unsuccessful attempt to inspire King Philip IV to continue the exploits of his grandfather, Louis IX.

Origins and Definitions

Although a comprehensive analysis of the crusading movement in France would require a survey of Capetian history, one must be mindful that what defined “France” changed geographically, politically, and culturally throughout the era. For example, the resources held by King Philip I (d. 1108) at the time of the Council of Clermont were strikingly paltry compared with those held by his descendant Louis IX in the 1260s. Yet, even as the people of Toulouse negotiated with their count, Alphonse (a brother of Louis IX), over the contribution they would make to his participation in Louis’s crusade of 1270, they spoke of the need to travel “to France” to meet with him, because they saw their territory as culturally and juridically distinct (although not independent) from the realm.

The degree to which one can speak of proto-crusades or “the idea of crusade” before 1095 is debated. Nevertheless, most historians agree that much of what made “the French” so responsive to Urban II’s appeal depended on the vassalic-economic milieu and the lay religious associations of the eleventh century. Nobles often secured or aggrandized their powers by fighting their neighbors, and the feud was an accepted way to respond to disputes. Ecclesiastics sought to control such violence through the Peace and Truce of God, which were first proclaimed by southern French bishops in the decades around 1000. Sometimes the energies of knights could be channeled into punishing those who broke the episcopal peace or into expeditions further afield. For example, Raymond IV of Saint-Gilles, count of Toulouse, occasionally raided Muslim-held towns in northern Spain to capture booty that was denied him in Christian Occitania by the peace movements he supported. Such excursions helped establish the notion that taking war to non-Christians not only satisfied the need for wealth but also might be pleasing to God. More directly, the socioeconomic volatility of such a violent society was exacerbated by a spate of famines in the early 1090s that inspired spiritual reform throughout French society. Perhaps the genius of Urban’s appeal, therefore, was that it offered everyone the opportunity to participate in a physical and spiritual battle against church-sanctioned enemies far removed from the difficult environment in which they found themselves. French crusaders happily coopted the Latin term milites Christi (“soldiers” or “knights” of Christ), which had hitherto referred to monks.

The French Monarchy and the Crusades

Before his sermon at Clermont, Pope Urban II spent much of the summer of 1095 convening ecclesiastical councils in France, but deliberately avoided royal territory during his tour. The pope had excommunicated King Philip I because of his scandalous second marriage to Bertranda of Montfort. Papal relations with the Capetian king were nevertheless better than those with the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, who supported the antipope Clement III. Urban’s diplomatic efforts pertinent to the crusade focused on the great noble houses of Boulogne, Blois-Champagne, Normandy, and Toulouse: their territories encircled those of the king, which largely lay in the area between Paris and Orléans.

Although Philip I was not allowed to participate in the crusade, the Capetian family was represented by his younger brother, Count Hugh of Vermandois. Excessively conscious of his status as a cadet of the royal family, Hugh soured relations between the crusaders and the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos (whose aid the crusaders hoped to gain on their way to Jerusalem), even before his arrival in Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey). As the crusading armies marched across the Balkans in 1097, Hugh forwarded a letter demanding that he be received with all the pomp due a king: evidence of the prestige the Capetians sought to portray, though they held but limited power in their own realm.

The socioeconomic effects caused by the departure of the First Crusade in 1096 were profound: a generation of some of the most powerful lords of the realm, not to mention innumerable noncombatants and pilgrim-warriors, sold or leased their properties and delegated their powers to siblings or trusted vassals. Therefore, demand for a depleted food supply was lessened, labor markets had to be replenished, numerous properties and titles changed hands, and new (at least more expansive) means to turn land into cash were devised, all of which helped foster economic recovery. Moreover, once news of the capture of Jerusalem in July 1099 reached France, reformers saw their efforts justified, a new wave of armies mustered, and the processes of exchange and export began anew in 1100-1101.

Departing crusaders mostly sold or mortgaged their properties to local monasteries. One of the more significant sales of the era was that of the city and viscounty of Bourges by Odo Arpin to Philip I around 1100. Philip’s purchase represented the first expanse of territory south of the river Loire brought directly under Capetian control. Moreover, Bourges was the seat of an archbishop, whose jurisdiction went far to the south. Royal possession of the viscounty and influence over the archbishopric marked a significant turning point in the fortunes of the Capetians.

Although the principalities of the Levant established by the first crusaders survived the destruction of the reinforcements who arrived in 1101, the city of Edessa (mod. Şanlıurfa, Turkey) was recaptured by the Muslims in 1144, an event that stirred Louis VII (1137-1180) to begin planning an expedition at the court held at Bourges that Christmas. Indeed, Odo of Deuil, a monk at the royal monastery of Saint-Denis, north of Paris, and chronicler of the Second Crusade (1147-1149), suggests that Louis was the one who spurred Bernard of Clairvaux and others to preach a crusade. Louis took the cross the following Easter, the first of five French kings to do so. However, despite the leadership of Louis and the king of Germany, Conrad II, the crusade further soured relations with the Byzantine emperor before it was defeated in Anatolia.

If Philip I had the good fortune to add to the royal demesne around 1101, King Louis VII had the ill fortune to lose Anjou and Aquitaine when he divorced his famously strong-willed wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, soon after the surviving crusaders returned. Odo did not provide details of Eleanor’s indiscretions while she accompanied Louis to the East, but nor was he disappointed to see such a “foreign” influence leave the royal court. Worse was to follow, however, for Eleanor married Henry II Plantagenet, count of Anjou, who became king of England in 1154. She quickly bore him several sons. Between Henry’s hereditary domains in Anjou, Eleanor’s extensive dowry of Aquitaine, and the duchy of Normandy held by the kings of England since 1066, the Plantagenets controlled more territory in France than did the Capetians. Although Louis’s son Philip II resettled the territorial account slightly in the Capetians’ favor, tensions between the kings of England and France colored all crusading plans after 1150 and brought outright war between the two kingdoms for much of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Philip II Augustus (1180-1223) did not share his father’s enthusiasm for the crusade. Philip concentrated on strengthening royal governance and expanding Capetian authority in regions held by de facto autonomous barons, including those held by the king of England. Philip’s support for the crusade was always contingent on the simultaneous departures of King Henry II and, later, of Richard I the Lionheart. This contingency brought numerous delays, although Philip continued to collect taxes and tithes meant to support his crusade. Finally, after Henry’s death, Philip II and Richard I left on the Third Crusade (1189-1192). Unlike his father or his descendants, Philip embarked on no striking military quests, and thus Richard stole the attentions of chroniclers and poets. Philip considered his part in the recapture of the coastal city of Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) enough of a contribution and, much to the consternation of his contemporaries, returned to France in the summer of 1191. Although he left much of his army under the command of Hugh III, duke of Burgundy, such support for the embattled Frankish states betrays an aspect of Philip’s realpolitik: He left the flamboyant Richard and many of the strongest lords of France to fight in the Levant while he returned to co-opt or capture a number of wealthy duchies and counties for the crown.

Despite Philip’s domestic preoccupations, his reign witnessed a swell of crusading fervor. A large French contingent left on the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204). Moreover, southern French forces played a significant role in the victory at Las Navas de Tolosa in Spain (1212) against the Muslim lords of northwestern Spain. French knights also joined the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221), which sought, unsuccessfully, to destroy Ayyûbid power in Egypt. Their numbers were limited, though, because of a crusade that was raging within France itself.

The Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) was launched to destroy the dualist religion of the Cathars in Occitania and adjoining regions of the south. Cathar believers were sometimes called Albigensians because the city of Albi was believed to be the spiritual and administrative center of the sect. The Albigensian Crusade was the first military campaign launched against a heretical group (as opposed to non- Christians), the first crusade to fight within western Europe, and arguably the most important crusade concerning France. The Roman Catholic Church had been aware of the sect’s presence in France since Bernard of Clairvaux preached the Second Crusade there in the mid-1140s. The sect was probably quite small at its core, but it enjoyed a good deal of support from nobles eager to challenge episcopal power. Indeed, Pope Innocent III believed that the lack of royal and episcopal authority evident in the south was to blame for the spread of the doctrine. He thus attempted to enlist Philip II’s support from at least 1204, but Philip consistently refused to commit royal resources. Innocent proclaimed a full crusade in 1208 in response to the murder of his legate, Peter of Castelnau, who was murdered, many believed, with the implicit consent of Count Raymond VI of Toulouse.

The launch of the crusade also meant an attack on the Saint-Gilles dynasty of Toulouse, a family that had provided one of the leaders of the First Crusade. The archbishops of Bourges were the most enthusiastic preachers of the Albigensian Crusade, and the city was host to a number of councils and military musters. Response was swift, but one must be aware of the complexities of support and resistance: many southerners initially welcomed the effort to extirpate heresy, whereas some northern clerics questioned the veracity of a crusade to coerce submission to Roman Catholic authority, and—as mentioned—Philip remained aloof from the entire enterprise. Moreover, the crusade was fraught with jurisdictional difficulties. The most pressing question concerned who should possess lands captured from Cathars and their sympathizers. In 1215 Simon of Montfort, commander of the first expedition, was accepted as having de facto possession. Yet, he was killed while fighting outside Toulouse in 1218, and Raymond’s son Count Raymond VII was considered a good Catholic who had a legitimate claim to his father’s lands. However, a council at Bourges in 1225 dispossessed Raymond VII in favor of Simon’s son Amalric, who immediately offered the inheritance to King Louis VIII of France. Louis then marched south as the head of a crusading army. He met almost no armed resistance, but he died of an illness in October 1226, which brought his son Louis IX, still a teenager, to the throne.

The vagaries of battle and diplomacy meant that the Albigensian Crusade lasted until 1229, when Raymond VII submitted himself to Louis IX and a body of clerics in Paris. The Treaty of Paris, promulgated in March, forced Raymond to bequeath his possessions to his daughter Jeanne, who was to be married to a Capetian prince. The county of Toulouse would pass, therefore, into Capetian hands at Raymond’s death. To hasten the fateful day, Raymond was required to undertake a crusade to the Levant. He was able to delay his departure for almost two decades, but the beleaguered count died near Nîmes in 1248, and Toulouse passed via his daughter to her husband, Louis IX’s brother Alphonse of Poitiers. With this inheritance, most of the territory of modern France came into the possession of the Capetians, although it was not all held directly by the king.

Louis IX and his brothers Alphonse of Poitiers and Charles I of Anjou embarked on perhaps the two best-known crusades in French history. Though Jerusalem was captured by the Muslims in 1244, Louis’s first crusade seems to have been his own decision, based upon the family’s heritage, his religiosity in the face of severe illness, and a desire to break free from the interference of his domineering mother, Blanche of Castile. Louis’s preparations for his Crusade to the East (1248-1254) included the circulation of enquêteurs (commissioners) to review the work of local officials (a practice followed by Alphonse in the south, where, in fact, he rarely visited). Louis viewed the abuses and shortcomings found as a personal moral concern that had to be corrected to ensure God’s protection of the realm. The reviews, which continued throughout the king’s rule, increased his already commanding stature as “the most Christian king.” So too did it ensure royal oversight of local tax collection, record keeping, and the enforcement of justice. Louis’s efforts and the support he received from the church allowed him to spend perhaps six times the customary annual royal income on the crusade. He even had resources to purchase the relic of the Crown of Thorns from Baldwin II, Latin emperor of Constantinople (a relative he wanted to support financially), and to build the sumptuous Sainte-Chapelle in Paris to house it.

The crusaders were defeated at Mansurah (mod. El- Mansûra, Egypt) soon after their landing in 1250, and Louis was even held captive by the sultan of Egypt for a time. But nothing could deter the king’s enthusiasm. Louis made a tour of the Holy Land after he was ransomed, where he purchased more relics and patronized local architectural and manuscript projects. Upon his return to France in 1254, Louis redoubled his efforts at reform, both administrative and personal, in an effort to regain God’s favor and plan for a second crusade. Neither the Capetians nor their monastic chroniclers imagined defeat as a military or economic concern. It was invariably described as a divine warning to encourage reform, and Louis epitomized this understanding of the setbacks he and his ancestors had endured.

Though he and his brothers vowed immediately to return to Jerusalem, Charles of Anjou enrolled himself as the papal champion in a conflict with Manfred, illegitimate son of Emperor Frederick II, over Sicily. Charles was preemptively crowned king of Sicily by Pope Urban IV in January 1266, and he captured the kingdom a month later. Louis and Alphonse did not participate, but they awaited its outcome before pressing their plans for a crusade. Louis’s piety and Charles’s victory arguably marked the apex of Capetian influence throughout Western Christendom.

In the spring of 1267 the three brothers began their preparations in earnest, preparations that yet again reconfigured Capetian governance. Alphonse, for example, established one of the earliest registries of outgoing letters by any Capet- ian. He did so around Easter 1267, the same moment he took the cross, in order to keep track of the exceptional financial demands he placed upon his subjects in Poitou and Toulouse. The resources backing Louis’s Crusade to Tunis (1270-1271) were even greater than those for his first crusade, but so, too, were its failures. The king and his son Philip fell ill soon after their landing in Tunis. Disease spared the boy, but Louis died on 25 August 1270. Charles led a general retreat, but Alphonse and his wife, Jeanne, sailed to Genoa, from where they hoped to relaunch the expedition. They also died of an illness almost exactly a year after Louis’s death. As they had no offspring, their possessions reverted to King Philip III (1270-1285), a reversion that doubled the size of the king’s domains.

Possession of the county of Toulouse drew Philip III into Spanish dynastic struggles. Pope Martin IV encouraged Philip to lead a crusade, entirely political in nature and often criticized by contemporaries as such, against King Peter III of Aragon in 1284. After Philip’s forces failed to capture Gerona in northeastern Spain, they hoped to pass the winter in Toulouse. The king died in October 1285 on the return. His cousin Charles II of Anjou died on a related campaign the following January, ending Capetian military adventures in the Mediterranean.

King Philip IV (1285-1314), not unlike other rulers of his generation, showed little interest in the crusade. He concentrated his efforts on extending French influence into Flanders to the north and Gascony (held by the kings of England) to the southeast. But so, too, did Philip fight to strengthen the prestige of his lineage by using every means at his disposal to ensure the canonization of Louis IX, granted in August 1297. All the testimonies submitted to support the petition discussed Louis’s leadership on two crusades, of course. But many made mention that he was the culmination of a crusading tradition and religious devotion within the Capetian family—a family that deserved canonical recognition for their collective contributions and sacrifices.

After Philip IV’s death, a series of short-lived kings who were unable to sire heirs meant that the Capetian line, which had ruled France since 987, gave way to a collateral branch, the Valois, in 1327. Dynastic concerns overshadowed the opportunity to prepare a crusade in the 1320s, although numerous appeals to launch one came from the papacy. Philip VI of Valois (1328-1350) successfully petitioned Pope John XXII to preach the crusade in 1333, and he initially had the support of King Edward III of England. Plans for the route and strategy for the expedition proved difficult to establish, however. Delays into 1336 engendered distrust in the papal court, where Edward, who claimed the French crown via his mother, Isabella (daughter of Philip IV), spread rumors that Philip’s military buildup was really in preparation to attack England.

The opportunity for Philip’s planned crusade faded, although a few smaller expeditions embarked for Armenia. Philip indeed used the men and money raised for his crusade to fight the English during the early years of the Hundred Years’ War. Nevertheless, the French economy fell into ruin and many noble houses were destroyed during the opening decades of the war, and leadership of the crusading movement passed to Italian city-states, the Holy Roman Emperor, and especially the Iberian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon.

Noble, Knightly, and Popular Participation

As early as the fall of 1095, Pope Urban II was keenly aware of the need to limit participation in the crusade to those capable of bearing arms. For most people, however, the crusade was a pilgrimage, and thus open to any Christian who wished to undertake the journey. Historians have recently delved into local archives throughout France to discover the depth of support for the crusade. Local records, especially contracts of sales, mentions of gifts, and wills, reveal individuals who needed to raise cash or make pious donations before they embarked for the Holy Land or Occitania as pere- grinati (pilgrims) or (later and more rarely) crucesignati (those signed with the cross). In the Berry (the region around Bourges sold to Philip I), for example, local participation seemed to have surged between the crusade of Philip II Augustus in the 1180s and Louis IX’s first crusade in the 1250s, although the phenomenon also reflects a greater survival rate of documents more generally. Departures of nonnobles certainly surged with royal preparations, but many left France in the 1160s and the 1240s (for example) as well, when the Capetians were not engaged in a crusade.

The Frankish principalities in Outremer established by the First Crusade were ruled, with occasional exceptions, by lesser French nobles who brought French language and law to the Levant. The kingdom of Jerusalem was ruled by descendants of the counts of Rethel for much of the twelfth century, and the family of Lusignan reigned for much of the thirteenth. The Assizes of Jerusalem pertained to procedures of succession of the kingdom and were based on French customs, although it is debated how pertinent the Assizes were in practice. A similar dynamic took place during the Albigensian Crusade, when its commander, Simon of Montfort (a notable on the Fourth Crusade), drew up the Statutes of Pamiers in 1212. These were designed to protect the Catholic faith, the church, and the poor in captured lands in the south, and they often referred to establishing customs as practiced in France around Paris. Through such codes, noble French crusaders sought to expand their legal culture throughout many areas of the Mediterranean.

Generations of greater and lesser nobles participated on every crusade here mentioned. During the Fourth and Fifth Crusades, and the Albigensian Crusade that linked and overlapped with them, nobles commanded armies in lieu of kings, a development that might in retrospect appear to have been a tactical disaster of infighting and war-by-committee. Participants nevertheless saw their endeavors as the culmination of noble prowess and crusading zeal. Whereas the narratives of the first two crusades were written by clerics and monks, accounts from the Third Crusade onward were penned mostly by lesser nobles writing in their native French or Occitan. Robert of Clari and Geoffrey of Villehardouin gave veritable roll calls of the nobles who participated on the Fourth Crusade. Villehardouin in particular emphasized the role of the count and lesser nobles of Champagne both in instigating the crusade and in bringing about some form of order and success when Flemish crusaders broke their vows and embarked on their own plans. William of Tudela and his anonymous continuator, as well as troubadours who sang a decade later about the threatened destruction of Occitan culture and Catholic faith in the face of an Albigensian Crusade gone astray with the greed of northern Frenchmen, also named many noble houses on both sides of the conflict, as well as prominent bourgeois who defended their towns. Motivations for lesser nobles and commoners involved a dynamic mix of local and familial traditions, a desire for spiritual reward, and prospects to improve a family’s status. Moreover, in such sources we see glimmers both of class consciousness and proto-nationalist sentiment (based mostly on dialect and territory, rather than boundaries and political allegiance).

France also saw numerous crusades led by nonnoble and charismatic men. Many in the twelfth century credited Peter the Hermit, a wandering monk from northeastern France, with inspiring Urban II to preach the crusade. He led a large and ill-prepared contingent of pilgrims to defeat in Asia Minor in 1096. Around 1212 Stephen of Cloyes claimed to possess a divine letter encouraging him to lead a crusade of pure-minded young men to Jerusalem. His gathering, however, was dispersed along the southern coast of France, perhaps by cynical slave traders. Finally, town and country dwellers referred to as “shepherds” inspired two campaigns, one in 1251 (in response to Louis IX’s capture at Damietta) and the other in the early 1320s. Both movements turned violent toward Jews before they were dispersed by urban and royal authorities in central France. All these movements possessed the energies of religious revivals, and their leaders believed that God had called the humble to capture Jerusalem because kings and nobles had failed to do so.

The most difficult participants to gauge are women. Chroniclers (usually monks) often mentioned the queens and noble ladies who accompanied their husbands (such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Jeanne of Toulouse, and Louis IX’s wife, Margaret), but little was said about the mass of supporters who followed all the crusades. It is clear that nonnoble women joined the expeditions as pilgrims. The French kings struggled to end prostitution on their crusades as well. After initial hesitation, both the Templars and Hospitallers accepted women into their ranks; this was done on separate estates, and the women usually joined when on their deathbeds, a tradition long practiced by religious orders. In Outremer, where war continually decimated the male population, queens and countesses carried the trappings of power to a much greater degree than in France, from where second or third husbands were often sought.

The search for nonnoble female participants is further hampered by the fact that local records that pertain to exchanges of property to finance pilgrimages invariably refer to the man who controlled the property. Historians are dependent, therefore, on mention of his wife, daughter, or sibling in the transaction. The Occitan Chanson de la Croisade albigeoise, however, occasionally refers to the women of Toulouse, who helped defend their city against Simon of Montfort’s attacks in 1216-1217. Though evidence is slim, it would be safe to say that women made up a significant minority of every crusade, and that noble women had notable influence on the decisions made by their husbands.

The Military Orders in France

The Order of the Temple was founded by Hugh of Payns, a nobleman from Champagne, around 1120. The Hospitallers, whose original foundation as a charitable organization took place a generation before, soon followed the Templars’ example in becoming a military order. The orders had their headquarters in Jerusalem, yet both, especially the Templars, drew most of their membership and wealth from France. Nevertheless, they did not develop nationalist characteristics, unlike the cases of subsequently founded military orders such as the Teutonic Knights or the Spanish Order of Calatrava. The Hospitallers and Templars initially focused their recruitment and fund-raising efforts in Italy, but the support offered by the people of southern and eastern France encouraged them to move their western headquarters to Saint- Gilles, just west of the Rhône, by 1140. Their resources swelled exponentially in the mid-twelfth century through donations from lay people who saw in them the perfect fusion of corporate military strength and individual monastic piety, an image extolled by Bernard of Clairvaux in the 1140s as Louis VII prepared for his crusade.

The orders’ organization in France was initially governed as a province (Templars) or a priory (Hospitallers) run by commanders or priors, respectively. Their success and popularity meant that in the thirteenth century both orders divided their holdings into two or three provinces or priories, with headquarters in Saint-Gilles, Toulouse, Lyons, and Paris. The orders had simple hierarchies with few intermediate ranks between itinerant commanders and local chapters, an evolution that probably helped speed transfer of men and arms to the Levant. Although both orders held extensive property in southern France (invariably an autonomous province or priory), they went to great lengths to avoid participation in the Albigensian Crusade, a stance that would help foster a mythology of Templar gnosticism and even Satanism during the order’s trial in 1308 and subsequent suppression.

The Templars and Hospitallers concentrated their resources on fighting infidels, and the territories and treasuries held in France were meant to support that vocation. Such was the wealth of the Templars that King Louis VII borrowed extensively from them to support his crusade in 1147, and his descendants depended on their commandery in Paris as the royal treasury. Philip IV, whose attentions were directed toward the English and Flemish armies in the Low Countries, saw the order as a source of desperately needed income. The king arrested the order’s members in October 1307 and confiscated Templar properties throughout France. The majority of those apprehended, however, were monkish and often older men who could not participate in the wars in the Levant, but who hoped to support the order’s ideals through prayer, almsgiving, and the raising of funds. Nevertheless, Philip pressed his charges, and although Pope Clement V remained unconvinced of the extreme allegations, he accepted the suppression of the Templars in 1311. Philip received little of the wealth of the order, however, as much of it was handed over to the Hospitallers.

Literary Images of the Crusades as a French Enterprise

One aspect of French participation that receives comparatively little attention is the way the French envisioned themselves, their allies, and their enemies via their historical narratives and literature pertaining to the crusades. The anonymous Gesta Francorum, written just after the First Crusade by a layman, emphasizes God’s plan to liberate Jerusalem as realized through the Franks: Parisians, Angevins, Toulousans, and Burgundians united in their oath to defeat the infidel. Crusading songs of the twelfth century, most of which came from southern France, emphasized the need for a pure heart and chivalric honor for a crusader to succeed. Chronicles written by French clerics from the Second Crusade to the fourteenth century emphasize, not surprisingly, royal participation. Indeed, the kings of France, rather than the popes, were often given credit for launching expeditions. The men who accompanied the Capetians were described as devout and chivalrous. Blame for failure, by contrast, was placed on duplicitous Greeks or vainglorious Germans. Odo of Deuil, for example, contrasted the effeminacy of the Byzantine court with the manly and Catholic court of Louis VII.

Much effort was put into using such propagandistic imagery to describe French military expeditions in the fourteenth century, especially in reference to the campaigns against the Flemings and the English in the first half of the century. In the early 1310s, Philip IV portrayed the Flemings as undermining the peace that would allow him opportunity to organize a crusade against the Muslims. Some twenty years later, Philip VI hoped to convince Pope John XXII that a crusade against the English, who continued to raid areas of southwestern and northern France, was a prerequisite for the success of the crusade he was planning against the Muslims. In neither case did the papacy acquiesce, but it did pursue a notably pro-French agenda that encouraged a developing mythology of “the most Christian king” of France whose inability to lead a crusade was largely blamed on interference from belligerent neighbors. If the crusades were meant to expand the reach of Latin Christianity throughout the Mediterranean world, they in fact encouraged groups within Latin Europe to articulate ever more clearly the linguistic, legal, and cultural distinctions among them.

Kings of France in the

Period of the Crusades

Philip I


Louis VI


Louis VII


Philip II Augustus


Louis VIII


Louis IX (St. Louis)


Philip III


Philip IV the Fair


Louis X


John I


Philip V


Charles IV


Philip VI


John II


Charles V


Charles VI


Charles VII


Louis XI


Charles VIII


Louis XII


Francis I


The Valois kings put great stock in the crusading traditions of their Capetian forebears, perhaps because they could not mount a crusade of their own. They continued, for example, a historical project begun at the royal abbey of Saint-Denis under Louis IX that was designed to exemplify the religious, cultural, and dynastic unity of France: the Grandes Chroniques. Jean Foulquet was commissioned by Charles VII to produce an illustrated version. Foulquet, immersed in the ideals and myths of the Valois court and in the triumphal narrative presented in the Chroniques, had the temerity to open the chapter relating the rule of Philip I with an image of the Council of Clermont of 1095, at which, according to Foulquet, the excommunicated king sat directly below Urban II as the pontiff preached the crusade [MS Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, lat. 6465, fol. 174r]. The image argues that every crusade had been led by a king of France. Although patently untrue, the myth could be perpetuated because, until the 1340s, the greatest and longest-lasting gains of the crusading era were made in the governmental power, fiscal resources, and moral authority of the Capetian and Valois kings of France.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!