Post-classical history


God’s Bargain: Summoning the Second Crusade

The fall of Edessa between 24 and 26 December 1144 to the Turkish atabeg Imad al-Din Zengi, ruler of Mosul and Aleppo, rapidly assumed greater significance than its immediate strategic context demanded. The result of an opportunistic attack when its Frankish count, Joscelin II, was away, Zengi’s success at Edessa helped consolidate the north-western frontier of his Aleppan-Mosul federation. Confining his habitual savagery to the surviving Frankish Christians, Zengi soon consolidated his hold on the east bank of the Euphrates. However, Zengi’s main target in Syria since his annexation of Aleppo in 1128 was Damascus, while his wider political interests concerned the Jazira and Iraq more than Frankish Syria. He captured Edessa because of immediate local circumstances, such as the deaths the year before of King Fulk of Jerusalem and the Byzantine Emperor John II, which, given the hostility between Count Joscelin and Raymond of Poitiers prince of Antioch, reduced the chance of a Christian counter-attack. After his success at Edessa, revolt in Mosul early in 1145 and continued intriguing by local Armenian and Muslim princes with the Franks deflected Zengi from Damascus to further policing operations in the Euphrates valley. On one such foray, at Qal‘at Ja‘bar, on the night of 14 September 1146, Zengi, comatose with drink, was murdered in his bed by a favoured Frankish slave.1 Immediately, his empire ruptured, with one son, Sayf al-Din acquiring Mosul, another, Nur al-Din, Aleppo. A Frankish attempt to take advantage of the situation by reoccupying Edessa in November 1146, led by Joscelin II and Baldwin of Marasch, failed utterly, the count fleeing ignominiously, Baldwin meeting a heroic death, the city’s walls being levelled and the local Armenian Christians suffering the massacre they had avoided two years earlier.2

The fall of Edessa had burnished Zengi’s reputation as a holy warrior. The caliph in Baghdad conferred on him the titles: ‘the Ornament of Islam, the Auxiliary of the Commander of the Faithful (i.e. the caliph), the Divinely Aided King’.3 The accolade of mujahidlent religious ideology to the military power of a leader feared by his followers almost as much as by his foes, reputedly a sadistic monster, at the sight of whom one man was supposed to have dropped dead from fright, who crucified his own troops found marching out of line and trampling crops. An eager member of Zengi’s entourage wrote, ‘If the conquest of Edessa is the high sea, Jerusalem and all the Frankish lands (sahil) are its shore’.4 Yet, while the preoccupations of Zengi’s heirs precluded Islamic unity and further assault on Latin Outremer, the Franks seemingly accepted this analysis, drawing almost apocalyptic conclusions. The message brought west in 1145 was clear: Islam was on the march; all Christian Outremer was in danger; something had to be done. The result was one of the greatest international military efforts of the middle ages.


Zengi’s apologists portrayed him as champion of the jihad, the sixth pillar of Islam, the perpetual collective and sometimes individual obligation on all the Faithful to struggle (jihad) spiritually against unbelief in themselves (al-jihad al-akbar, the greater jihad) and physically against unbelievers (al-jihad al-asghar, the lesser jihad). The Christian conquest and rule over Muslim lands inevitably aroused the traditional rhetoric of holy war. As in Christendom, religion and politics operated as mutually sustaining forces within society, especially one as ethnically diverse as that of the Near East. Zengi, owing formal allegiance to an Arabo-Iraqi-Persian caliphate controlled by a Turkish sultan, was himself a Turk whose army and entourage comprised Turcomans, Kurds and slaves, chiefly from the Eurasian steppes and the northern Black Sea, and whose political ambitions embraced domination of Arab emirs and princes in Syria. Religion supported authority and defined political identity. Any Muslim ruler, like his western counterparts, surrounded himself with religious advisers and civil servants trained in religion. The Iranian Imad al-Din al-Isfahani (1125–1201), one of Nur al-Din’s leading civil servants, later Saladin’s field secretary and biographer, once worked as a professor at a Damascus religious school (or madrasa), a man learned in the Faith as well as law and administration.5 Without a formal structure of priesthood, Islam easily pervaded secular institutions and life. As happened with holy war in western Christendom in the eleventh century, the recrudescence of jihad in the twelfth-century Near East relied on intellectual and spiritual movements being translated into political ambition and action, a determining alliance between the pulpit and the battlefield that found concrete expression in the minbar(mosque pulpit) built by Nur al-Din at Aleppo in 1168. Adorned with inscriptions praising the jihad, it was, as its maker had intended, installed in the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem by Saladin on his conquest of the city in 1187.6

By 1098, when the western armies captured Antioch, the First Crusade could be seen as a continuation of traditional Byzantine border activity. No active indigenous Syrian tradition of united Islamic military response had survived centuries of coexistence. The arrival of the new Sunni Turkish zealots in the late eleventh century affected Syrian Muslims – Arab rulers or Shi’ite peasantry – more than the unbelievers. Only when the Christian army pushed south in 1098–9 did a novel threat become apparent, symbolized by the massacre of the inhabitants of Ma ‘arrat al-Nu ‘man in December 1098, an atrocity kept alive in the poems of exiled survivors: ‘why has destiny pronounced such an unjust sentence on us?’. As Frankish conquests increased, so did the number of articulate, displaced Muslim refugees available to tweak the consciences of Muslim rulers. In Damascus some time before 1109, the poet Ibn al-Khayyat, who had worked for the emirs of Tripoli, demanded an armed response: ‘The cutting edge of their sword must be blunted/And their pillar must be demolished’. After the fall of Tripoli to the Franks in 1109, its emir, Fakhr al-Mulk, settled in Bagdhad, where violent demonstrations by visiting Aleppan citizens in February 1111 successfully persuaded Sultan Muhammed to dispatch an army against the Franks. A generation later, Zengi’s circle included the poets Ibn al-Qaysarani, from Caesarea (taken by the Franks in 1101), and another Tripoli refugee, Ibn Munir, both of whom urged their master to recapture Jerusalem after his capture of Edessa. Later in the century, fundamentalist émigrés from Nablus made a suburb of Damascus a centre of holy war ideology and recruits. Articulate refugees goaded the public consciences of those who posed as leaders of the faithful with tangible results: in 1136 Zengi restored property in Ma ‘arrat al-Numan to its former residents or their heirs.7

Jihad rhetoric and action came partly in consequence of a religious revival, partly because it was good politics. The Shi’ite qadi (i.e. judge) of Aleppo, Ibn al-Khashshab, who organized resistance to Frankish attacks in 1118 and 1124, urged a principled stand against the infidel. During the campaign leading to the defeat of Roger of Antioch at the Field of Blood in 1119, Ibn al-Khashshab rode through the Muslim lines ‘spear in hand’ preaching the virtues of jihad, the novelty of such clerical interference causing some resentment. A generation later, such clerical cheer-leading would have seemed normal. Beleaguered Muslims in the front line naturally looked for aid from Baghdad, their appeals for military help deliberately couched in religious terms. The Aleppans’ protests of 1111 targeted Friday prayers in the sultans’ and caliph’s mosques, preventing the sermons and vandalizing pulpits, ritual symbols of political as well as spiritual power, in an overt challenge to authority. Sultan Muhammed reacted by sending Mawdud of Mosul to Syria for a second time. In 1129, faced by another Frankish threat, such tactics were repeated by Damascene merchants led by an Iranian fundamentalist preacher ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Shirazi.8

The academic response anticipated the political. The jihad’s greater prominence in religious and political discourse operated within a Sunni revivalism originating in Iran and Iraq, initially stimulated by the fiercely orthodox Seljuk converts and the need to integrate the new Turkish rulers into Islamic culture. Heightened religious and moral commitment found tangible expression in art, architecture and literature. Twelfth-century Syria slid from its cultural backwater into the Islamic mainstream, supported by the patronage of rulers, often parvenus eager to demonstrate their spiritual credentials by endowing new orthodox Sunni schools or colleges. Such a seminary or madrasa acted as a focus for the mediation of the spiritual into the secular. From the 1130s, new religious schools proliferated throughout Syria; Nur al-Din himself founded half of the forty or so built in his reign (1146–74). Their often lavish endowments and rich architecture witnessed a new religious cultural energy in which jihad supplied one strand particularly relevant to Syrian experience. Between 1099 and 1146, the only surviving inscriptions on public buildings anywhere in the Muslim world mentioning jihad come from Syria, such as that on the tomb of Balak, ruler of Aleppo 1123–4 and captor of Joscelin I of Edessa and King Baldwin II: ‘sword of those who fight the Holy War, leader of the armies of the Muslims, vanquisher of the infidels and the polytheists’. Another Aleppo inscription, praising Zengi in 1142, is couched in almost identical terms: ‘tamer of the infidels and the polytheists, leaders of those who fight the holy war, helper of the armies, protector of the territory of the Muslims’, titles that repeat those in an inscription on a madrasa in Damascus dated December 1138.9

Public expressions of idealism reflected growing Muslim awareness of the Frankish threat. Frontier warfare, justified by the ideals of jihad, provided useful employment for Zengi’s nomadic Turcoman levies as well as security for his conquests, but a new intolerance sprang from fear. In the aftermath of the Frankish attack on Aleppo in the 1120s the city’s Christian churches were converted into mosques. A blueprint for ideology and action had existed for more than a generation. In 1105, at the great mosque in Damascus, a legal scholar al-Sulami (1039–1106) had given public readings from his Book of the Holy War (Kitab al-Jihad) in which he urged moral reform (i.e. the jihad al-akbar) within Islam as the necessary preparation for a military reconquest (jihad al-asghar). Although possibly prompted by the threat to Damascus trade routes posed by the loss of Acre (1104), al-Sulami adopted a broad vision, placing the Frankish invasion in the context of eleventh-century Christian advances in Sicily and Spain and blaming Muslim failure to resist on disunity. Fearful of further Frankish conquests, al-Sulami understood that ‘Jerusalem was the summit of their wishes’. Such calls for pan-Islamic solidarity were not confined to the pulpits and studies of the Fertile Crescent. At about the same time as al-Sulami was preaching religious solidarity and moral rearmament in Damascus, the Almoravid conqueror of al-Andalus, Muslim Spain, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin reputedly launched an armada of seventy ships to liberate Jerusalem, only to see it founder in Mediterranean storms.10

Al-Sulami’s message of political unity and spiritual purity was translated into a political programme as a matter of convenience as much as Faith by rulers eager to carve out empires in the ruins of Seljuk control of Syria. Sultan Muhammed’s commitment to holy war, which ceased with his last expeditionary force’s defeat by the Franks of Antioch at Tell Danith in 1115, focused on restoring authority over the Muslims in the region more than driving the Franks into the sea. Thereafter, domination of Muslim Syria revolved first around control of Aleppo, then, after 1128, Damascus, a contest in which the Franks played a vigorous and by no means isolated role. For all his jihad rhetoric and posturing, Zengi’s interests drew him eastwards, away from the Franks. However, to construct viable coalition armies, talk of jihad became an obligatory mask for the realpolitik of diplomacy; thus Zengi stressed the ‘obligation of holy war’ when raising his force to attack Edessa. As ruler of Aleppo without Mosul, Nur al-Din was forced to concentrate on Syria and so employ the language of holy war while lacking adequate economic and financial resources to conduct one. The reality of Muslim revival lay in greater political stability and direction of resources. But academics and religious leaders, with access to the courts, administration and ears of the rulers, provided a respectable ideology for the ambitions of the Zengids and their successors. While only a united Muslim northern Syria could sustain a jihad, religious ideas conditioned the political elites and their propaganda to accept that, regardless of temporary politicking and opportunist truces, the Franks were an eternal enemy to be expelled, by the mid-twelfth century a dimension to the language of politics no Syrian Muslim ruler could ignore. However, events, not ideas, served as the most effective recruiting officer for the jihad, most of all the abject failure of the Second Crusade.


News of the fall of Edessa filtered through to western Europe in the summer and autumn of 1145, arousing little particular alarm. The papal Curia was well informed of eastern affairs; there had been crises before, some leading to calls for action, as after 1119, some not. Papal involvement in Syrian politics was complicated by the need to consider Byzantine responses. By the mid-1140s, Byzantine overlordship over Antioch had been reluctantly admitted by Prince Raymond, who had renewed his homage to the new Greek emperor, Manuel I Comnenus, in 1145. An Antiochene appeal for western aid could have been regarded by Manuel as undermining his claims, especially as the head of Antioch’s delegation to the west, Bishop Hugh of Jubail, had a history of opposition to the Greeks. The new pope, Eugenius III, elected in February 1145, could not afford to alienate Byzantium given his complicated and precarious position in Italy. His predecessor, Lucius II, had been killed in street fighting in Rome, which remained barred to the new pope except briefly over Christmas 1145. The rivalry between King Conrad III of Germany and King Roger II of Sicily, a longstanding enemy of Byzantium, further complicated matters. According to Otto bishop of Freising, Conrad III’s half-brother, an eyewitness at the papal Curia during November and December 1145, two eastern embassies were negotiating with Eugenius at the time: Armenian bishops over possible ecclesiastical union with Rome and ambassadors from Antioch seeking help for Prince Raymond over disputes involving the ruling family. As both touched relations with Byzantium, Eugenius needed to be wary. As Otto of Freising described it, news of Edessa scarcely dominated discussions; it is likely Eugenius had heard the news already.11 It may be that the pope’s decision to issue a new call to arms, couched in terms of aid for ‘the eastern church’, which could be taken to include the Greeks, was partly designed to mitigate the appearance of provocative interference in a sensitive Byzantine sphere of influence, allowing Eugenius to assert his authority without jeopardizing his wider diplomatic interests.

Eugenius III’s bull Quantum praedecessores, dated from Vetralla on 1 December 1145, contained an unequivocal statement of papal jurisdiction, including the power to grant full remission of sins ‘by the authority given us by God’ and ‘by the authority of omnipotent God and that of the Blessed Peter the Prince of the Apostles conceded to us by God’.12 In describing the temporal and spiritual privileges in detail, the bull provided a model for future papal exhortations. Eugenius recalled the First Crusade and the establishment of the Christian states in the east, before explaining how the fall of Edessa, with its attendant atrocities, threatened ‘the Church of God and all Christianity’. Repeatedly referring to the heroic example of their ancestors, Eugenius appealed directly to ‘those who are on God’s side, and especially the more powerful and the nobles’ to ‘defend the eastern Church’, a cause which would secure ‘your reputation for strength’. To those who undertook ‘so holy and very necessary work’, Eugenius offered the remission of all confessed sins, as instituted by Urban II; the church’s protection for their families and property; immunity from civil law suits begun after they had taken the cross; exemption from payment of interest on loans and debts; and the right to raise money by pledging land or possessions to churches or other Christians (by implication excluding Jewish bankers). To emphasize the redemptive, penitential quality of the enterprise, the pope, formerly of the austere order of Cistercian monks, stipulated sumptuary regulations,discouraging haute couture, colourful or fur-lined garments, gilded arms, hunting dogs and hawks. The loss of Edessa had been punishment for the sins of Christians; those embarking on its restoration must have regard for piety and efficiency not show. Eugenius III was restaking the papal claim to lead secular Christendom after years of schism and political weakness. In contrast to Urban II’s strategy in 1095/6, Eugenius’s bull and its reissue of 1 March 1146 were addressed to a monarch, Louis VII of France. By highlighting the response to Urban’s summons by ‘the most strong and vigorous warriors of the kingdom of the Franks and also those from Italy’, Eugenius may initially have envisaged targeted, local recruitment more reminiscent of Calixtus II’s plans in 1119 than 1096. He undertook no immediate general recruiting tour and, beyond approval and authorization, continued in a remarkably passive role. Leadership and organization were to lie elsewhere.


The pope was not alone in seeing aid for the Holy Land as a chance to combine a holy cause with the assertion of political status. The decision to issue Quantum praedecessores may have been influenced by knowledge that Louis of France would prove receptive. Louis VII (1137–80) was a young man in a hurry to emancipate himself from the tutelage of his father’s cronies and to redeem his early mistakes as king, not least his uneasy relations with leading ecclesiastics, including Bernard of Clairvaux and Pope Innocent II. Still only twenty-five, in 1145 Louis’s power within his kingdom was geographically limited, politically and ideologically heavily dependent on the church. By reputation pious and modest, it has been commented that ‘modern historians have generally thought that he had a good deal to be modest about’.13 In later life he was quoted as observing contentedly that, in comparison with the riches of fellow monarchs, ‘we in France have nothing but bread, wine and gaiety’, an early version of a characteristic, misleading French self-image.14 Such mellow reflection came with age, experience and repeated disappointment after a long career of energetic ineffectiveness. As a young man, the devout Louis acted with impulsive self-confidence, famously when, during a protracted feud with Theobald count of Champagne, he burnt down the church at Vitry in 1143, allegedly with hundreds of people inside. Two Second Crusade veterans who knew Louis suggested he had harboured a ‘secret’ desire to go to Jerusalem, whether as a knight or a pilgrim is not entirely clear.15 As part of the general reconciliation with Champagne and Bernard of Clairvaux in 1144–5, Louis may have toyed with the idea of a penitential pilgrimage. Apart from the Vitry incident, and talk of the unfulfilled Jerusalem vow of Louis’s elder brother Philip (d. 1131), Louis had incurred ecclesiastical censure over his oath to bar the archbishop of Bourges from his diocesan seat: the holding of the Christmas court in 1145 at Bourges itself may have assumed significance in this process of reconciliation.16The news of Edessa could have focused Louis’s intentions, and it is probable that Eugenius was aware of this when he issued Quantum praedecessores. Before he could have received the papal bull, Louis summoned the bishops and magnates ‘in greater numbers than usual’ to his Christmas crown-wearing at Bourges, where he broached the subject of the eastern enterprise.

The eastern expedition provided Louis with the chance to act as king of the western Franks in a manner not seen since the Carolingians. The three assemblies gathered to discuss the matter, at Bourges (December 1145), Vézelay (March 1146) and Etampes (February 1147), personally and symbolically emphasized his sovereignty by associating princes from across France with a specifically royal policy. In charters of departing crusaders from Rheims in the north to Auch near the Pyrenees, the campaign was recognized as King Louis’s expedition, ‘the royal army’.17 Louis’s former adversary, Theobald of Champagne, subsequently dated charters from the king’s crusade.18 The first west Frankish king to lead a foreign conquest for three centuries, on campaign Louis established lasting relationships with magnates that in later years helped make his court more central in French politics. Immediate political dividends included a royal census, a descriptio generalis, preparatory to the levy of a tax for the expedition that exempted ‘neither sex, nor order nor rank’; not a popular move, but if implemented offering the precedent of the king’s power to tax beyond his own tenants. A more limited, but onerous levy on churches caused painful negotiations and corporate resistance.19 Such extraordinary taxes recognized royal authority on a new level, as did his presence as crusade commander in areas outside his demesne lands. At Verdun and at Metz, where Louis mustered his large army in June 1147, his chaplain noted, ‘although the king found nothing there which belonged to him by right of lordship, he nevertheless found all subject (quasi servos) to him voluntarily.’20 This international adventure conferred on Louis and his dynasty the reality of national rule.

Much of this could only have been guessed at in December 1145. Beside all political calculation lay the king’s personal piety, widely attested throughout his life and especially on crusade. Initially, the magnates at Bourges remained unimpressed, despite an impassioned address on the Edessa crisis by Godfrey de la Roche, the opinionated, forceful and well-connected bishop of Langres, like the pope a former Cistercian abbot. Louis’s chief minister, Abbot Suger of St Denis, openly opposed the proposal, citing the dangers to which the king’s absence would expose France. Journeys to Jerusalem, in arms or not, were dangerous and Louis had no son. The Bourges meeting reached no conclusion beyond possibly appealing for guidance to Bernard abbot of Clairvaux, the bishop of Langres’s former superior, the most influential moral arbiter, political lobbyist and revivalist preacher of the time. The king’s own brother, Henry, only that year had taken his vows at Clairvaux. Bernard transformed the prospects, conduct and nature of the whole project.21

Bernard of Clairvaux’s decision to prosecute the crusade may not have been unexpected. The bishop of Langres was a kinsman and former colleague; the pope a pupil. Some collusion between king and abbot may have occurred before the meeting at Bourges. Some of those Bernard met during a tour of Languedoc in June and July 1145, such as the count of Toulouse, took the cross in 1146. Bernard’s own links with holy war and Outremer were intimate. Although declining to establish Cistercian houses in the east, for years he encouraged the settlement of another new austere French order, the Premonstratensian monks, in the kingdom of Jerusalem, interceding with Queen Melisende on their behalf. Count Hugh of Champagne, donor of the site of Clairvaux, became a Templar, as had one of Bernard’s uncles. Some years earlier Bernard had composed the De Laude novae militiae on the Templars’ behalf and had helped secure recognition for the order. He regularly concerned himself with men journeying to Jerusalem as pilgrims or warriors, although for those with a monastic vocation he regarded the cloister as preferable, persuading one crucesignatus to abandon the crusade for ‘something far better’, ‘that true Jerusalem’, the Cistercian order, and threatening his fellow monks and the order’s lay brethren with excommunication if they attempted to join the expedition east. Bernard was far from immune to the allure of Holy Land relics, receiving a piece of the True Cross from Patriarch William of Jerusalem (1130–45) and, in due course in 1153, being buried with a relic of St Thaddeus sent from Palestine.22 Bernard’s conspicuous spirituality, witnessed in his spare, ascetic almost frail frame, was allied with a tough, masterful clarity of intellect, eloquence and invective, making him an unnervingly effective platform orator as well as an irresistible personal advisor, at once an outstanding forensic debater, academic thinker, religious comforter, political operator and worker of miracles. As the refined intellectual aristocrat and fellow Cistercian Otto of Freising put it, ‘endowed with wisdom and a knowledge of letters, renowned for signs and wonders’, Bernard appeared ‘as a divine oracle’; an ideal recruiting agent for the crusade.23

The early months of 1146 saw intense diplomacy between the French court, Bernard and the papal Curia. Once his initial, possibly formal, reluctance was overcome, Bernard insisted that he would only preach the cross with full papal authorization and legatine power. Throughout his career, legality, due authority and obedience acted as cornerstones of Bernard’s temporal activities; in 1146–7 they provided him with the necessary means to discipline as well as direct recruiting operations. The inexperienced Eugenius, on the other hand, once more an exile from Rome, chose this moment to display the exaggerated fussy legalism of the chronically insecure by threatening to excommunicate the archbishop of Rheims for crowning Louis at Bourges at Christmas, a move hardly designed to encourage enthusiastic cooperation. In the end it took Bernard at his most schoolmasterly to tell the pontiff not to be so silly; the king’s goodwill and the expedition to Jerusalem were far more important than ruffled vanities or procedural niceties.24 By March, dispositions were complete. On 1 March the pope reissued Quantum praedecessores with minor amendments, chiefly tightening the clauses prohibiting luxury, a good Cistercian theme, and sent Louis VII a cross which he had blessed to wear. A new assembly of French magnates was called to meet at Vézelay in northern Burgundy on 31 March, Easter Day.

Bernard’s preaching at Vézelay assumed almost iconic importance in perceptions of the crusade in his own time and in subsequent centuries. The crowd gathered at the hilltop town was so large that, like Urban in 1095, Bernard preached outside the church, in the fields with their panoramic views across the Burgundian hills. Flanked on the platform by the king and other notables, Bernard used the papal bull to outline the need for action and the rewards on offer before adding his own impassioned appeal. Oddly, there survives no contemporary description, real or imagined, of what the abbot actually said as opposed to the psychological impact on his audience. Judging from his subsequent correspondence, Bernard may have argued that through the crisis in the east God had provided a unique offer of salvation. As he put it in letters to England, Lorraine and Bavaria, in return for fighting to secure the ‘land made glorious by His miracles, holy by his blood… in which the flowers of His resurrection first blossomed’ (a theme particularly suitable for Eastertide), God was putting himself ‘in your debt so that, in return for your taking up arms in His cause, He can reward you with pardon for your sins and everlasting glory’. Thus the cross became a ‘badge of immortality’, a ‘sign of salvation’. Turning from fighting each other, sinful malitia, to taking vengeance on the heathen, holy militia, ‘mighty men of valour’, ‘men of war’ were presented with a cause in which, paraphrasing St Paul, ‘to conquer is glorious and to die is gain’. The exchange was a ‘bargain’; for the small price of taking the cross, the return was full indulgence of confessed sins. It was no less than the ‘cause of Christ’.25

The combination of the emotional account of the Holy Land and the direct offer of salvation, couched in very simple sets of repetitive logic, proved highly effective. The audience at Vézelay went wild, so many demanding crosses that Bernard’s supply, probably made of wool, ran out, forcing him to tear up his own habit to satisfy them. Yet for all the eloquence and recorded enthusiasm, the events at Vézelay, like those at Clermont just over fifty years earlier, were hardly spontaneous. The success of any recruiting or fund-raising campaign depended (and depends) on the message being familiar, the audience already receptive. The large and distinguished congregation at Vézelay had not been assembled by accident. They knew why they were there. The event had been carefully planned and meticulously orchestrated (even if, as one source mentioned, the platform for VIPs partially collapsed), Bernard bringing with him a ‘parcel of crosses which had been prepared beforehand’.26 Presumably staged after celebration of the Easter mass, withLouis sitting beside the preacher already wearing the cross given him by the pope, the essentially ritualistic and ceremonial nature of the occasion was evident.

Ritual embellished practical purpose. The Vézelay assembly demonstrated royal authority as well as crusade enthusiasm, the former feeding off the latter, one account even transferring the main address from Bernard to the king. Some of those not present were enjoined to follow the king of heaven as well as the king of France, a significant association.27 The laymen taking the cross alongside King Louis bore witness to the new royal embrace. Besides his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, brother, Robert of Dreux, and uncle, Amadeus of Savoy, count of Maurienne, came some of the grandest independent feudatories in the kingdom, Thierry of Alsace count of Flanders, a veteran of the Holy Land; Alfonso-Jordan count of Toulouse, the son of Raymond of St Gilles, born outside Tripoli in 1104; and Henry, son of Louis’s former adversary Theobald count of Champagne. The geographical reach matched the political: from central France, the counts of Nevers, Tonnerre and Bourbon; from the north, the counts of Ponthieu and Soissons and the lords of Coucy and Courtenay; from the Limousin and Poitou the lords of Rancon and Lusignan; from the Anglo-Norman realms, William of Warenne, earl of Surrey. Although not all embarked with Louis, by their presence at Vézelay they acknowledged his leadership, as one member of the assembly put it, by papal command, apostolico praecepto.28

After Vézelay, Bernard prepared for an extensive preaching tour, and diplomatic preparations began. Surprise, as at Bourges, led to meagre pickings. Local clerical and lay elites needed to be alerted to gather support and excite anticipation, Bernard’s arrival completing a process of engagement with the call to Jerusalem dependent on ties of family, locality and lordship as much as religious fervour. He was at Toul in May, but only in late July did Bernard begin a journey that took him to Arras and Ghent in early August, then in a loop through Flanders and the Low Countries in September and October before turning towards the Rhineland and the empire, returning to northern France early in 1147. By all accounts, including his own, he was extraordinarily persuasive: ‘towns and castles are emptied, one may scarcely find one man among seven women, so many women are there widowed while their husbands are still alive’.29 To inspiration Bernard added organization. Places he failed to reach, such as Brittany, England, Bavaria, Lorraine, Saxony and Bohemia, received letters or messengers, sometimes with copies of the papal privileges that the abbot insisted were the central selling points of the recruitment campaign. The network of the Cistercian order, which had helped propel Bernard to international prominence in the first place, proved central, providing many important ecclesiastical crucesignati. Indefatigably determined to contact as many people as possible, Bernard made the crusade his, even if professional cloistered humility prevented him from actually joining the expedition, leaving clerical leadership to other, as it happened, distinctly less able colleagues.


If the French were the first to be approached, numerically and politically the most significant recruits came from the German empire. For six months from late summer 1146, the imperial lands, including northern Italy, became the focus of preaching and recruiting. Eugenius III wrote to encourage Italians to take the cross.30 After his swing through Flanders Bernard himself spent late October 1146 until mid-January 1147 crisscrossing western Germany, beginning in the central Rhineland at Worms (c.1 November) before turning north to Mainz and Frankfurt, where he met Conrad III, then south to Basel and Constance (12 December), before returning northwards again to attend the imperial court at Christmas in Speyer (24 December to 3 January), returning to Worms and finally taking in Cologne (9 January) and Aachen (15 January), before arriving on 18 January at Liège, which he had left three months earlier. This represented frenetic activity over hundreds of miles in midwinter. With the exceptions of his time at Mainz and Frankurt in November and at Speyer over Christmas, Bernard rarely spent more than a night or two at any one place, in contrast to the more stately progress of Urban II through France in 1095–6. No doubt conducting Cistercian business as well, given this hurried if extensive itinerary, Bernard’s crusade preaching operated as the sharp edge of a wider campaign of information and exhortation prepared by letters and emissaries, with Conrad III taking the cross at an emotional ceremony at Speyer on 27 December forming the centrepiece. As notable as the recruits Bernard secured were those who took the cross without the abbot’s personal touch, such as Welf VI of Bavaria, at his own estate of Peiting on 24 December, or, further east, King Ladislaus of Bohemia, the margrave of Styria and the count of Carinthia or the large gathering at Regensburg in February 1147 run by Conrad and Bernard’s representative, the Cistercian abbot of Ebrach.31

By his German trip, Bernard was able to retain control of a recruitment process. Twice, in late October 1146 and late January 1147, he passed near the monastery at Huy founded after 1099 by Peter the Hermit, the memory of whose remarkable but disastrous expedition remained green. On the first occasion Bernard was in pursuit of another rabble-rousing evangelist, Radulf (or Raoul or Rudolph), whose preaching threatened to confuse the plans of pope and abbot. Radulf, another Cistercian, once possibly a hermit, had undertaken a hugely popular preaching tour of the Rhineland, from Cologne to Strassburg, in the summer and autumn of 1146. Although attacked by the archbishops of Cologne and Mainz and demonized by Bernard and most subsequent commentators, some remembered Radulf fondly for his sanctity and humility, ‘a splendid teacher and monk’.32 In Hainault, he may have received support from the Benedictine abbot of Lobbes. Even the fastidious Otto of Freising admitted Radulf’s true monastic profession, his effectiveness in recruitment and his popularity, reserving his disdain for his lack of scholarship and message of violence against the Jews.33 Initially, at least, Radulf may not have been far outside the pale of licensed preachers. Like many charismatic twelfth-century holy men, including Bernard, Radulf established himself as an arbiter of social behaviour outside the formal political and religious hierarchies: two of Bernard’s main criticisms of Radulf concerned his ‘unauthorized preaching and contempt for episcopal authority’. Otto of Freising noted disapprovingly how Radulf’s preaching against the Jews encouraged men to rebel against their lords, who generally appeared willing to protect local Jewish communities.34 Even Bernard’s condemnation of Radulf’s anti-Semitic propaganda focused narrowly on its theologically misguided incitement to murder and its reprehensible display of ambition and arrogance.

Radulf’s demotic anti-Semitism was expressed in a simple argument. In summoning men to take the cross to fight the Muslims abroad, he drew the same parallel that had been drawn in 1096, as a Jewish eyewitness recalled: ‘Avenge the crucified one upon his enemies who stand before you; then go to war against the Muslims,’ or, as Otto of Freising put it: ‘the Jews whose homes were scattered throughout the [Rhineland] cities and towns should be slain as foes of the Christian religion’.35 Such approaches were not the unique preserve of ‘barking’ demagogues (the phrase of one of Radulf’s victims, Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn). Overt anti-Semitism dominated the academy of western Christendom in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, often expressed by those unmoved by practical or communal resentment or fear. The monks, not the townspeople, of Norwich invented the Jewish blood libel of William of Norwich in 1144 to raise funds for their priory. Not all intellectuals could keep their dislike and prejudice separate from their academic detachment. Writing in 1146 or 1147 to Louis VII, Abbot Peter the Venerable of Cluny argued a point very close to Radulf’s; if it is a meritorious act to fight enemies of Christianity in distant lands why are Jews allowed to live undisturbed in the heart of Christendom? If Muslims were detestable, how much more were the Jews? In profiting from Christians, even the church, through usury, they polluted Christendom. Abbot Peter was careful to follow the theologically orthodox line that Jews should not be killed but, he insisted, they should be punished as enemies of Christ. While Christians were being taxed for the crusade, why not the Jews?36 Peter’s letter mirrored the social and financial resentments, heightened by crusade preparations, on which Radulf played so effectively. Ephraim of Bonn identified the persecution of the Jews specifically with the preaching of the cross, which wrecked the normally peaceful relations between the communities of the Rhineland. Radulf, Peter the Venerable and Otto of Freising all noticed the association of Jews with other enemies of Christ. Bernard of Clairvaux, ‘a decent priest’ in Rabbi Ephraim’s grateful memory, while rejecting simple and violent analogies, lacked sympathy or more than legal tolerance, stating:

The Jews are not to be persecuted, killed or even put to flight… The Jews are for us the living words of Scripture, for they remind us always of what our Lord suffered. They are dispersed all over the world so that by expiating their crime they may be everywhere living witnesses of our redemption. Under Christian princes they endure a hard captivity… when the time is ripe all Israel shall be saved [i.e. converted]. But those who die before will remain in death. If Jews are utterly wiped out, what will become of our hope for their promised salvation, their eventual conversion?37

Radulf’s robust populism represented the obverse of Bernard’s refined passion, his message a product of the mass appeal to avenge the injuries done to Christ’s heritage by the ‘enemies of the cross’ (a phrase used by Bernard and Eugenius). Although the focus of official censure, Radulf did not operate in isolation. Attacks on Jews may have begun in Mainz as early as April 1146. With the heaviest persecution in the Rhineland in the autumn of 1146, Jews in Würzburg suffered from a possibly unrelated blood libel in February/March 1147 and a rabbi at Ramerupt in Champagne was beaten up, his house looted and the Torah scroll desecrated in the spring probably of 1147 by French crusaders perhaps on their way to join the king’s muster at Metz. Three other massacres were recorded by Ephraim of Bonn a quarter of a century later, although it is unclear whether they occurred in France or central Europe. In England, the new Jewish communities, planted since the Norman Conquest with royal approval, needed and received the king’s protection.38 Bernard’s encyclical letter inter alia condemning Jewish persecution acknowledged a potentially widespread problem. Anti-Jewish motifs found extended circulation. The crusaders at Ramerupt were reported as having deliberately, almost ritualistically, inflicted five wounds on the head of Rabbi Jacob, jeering as they did so: ‘Thus we shall take vengeance on you for the crucified one and wound you the way you inflicted five wounds [i.e. the stigmata] on our god.’ A song composed in France in 1146 that closely echoed official crusade propaganda contained exactly the same image of the Jews, to whom God gave his body at the Passion and Crucifixion, wounding Him in five places.39

The scale and course of the Rhineland assaults provoked by Radulf differed from the 1096 pogroms. The secular and ecclesiastical authorities provided more consistent and competent protection for the Jewish communities, encouraged, perhaps, by the proximity of King Conrad. The Jews themselves appeared cannier in their own defence. Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn was thirteen in the autumn of 1146, living in Cologne, when he, his family and neighbours with members of other local Jewish communities, took refuge in the archbishop of Cologne’s fortress of Wolkenburg.40 The archbishop was well paid for his charity, as was his castellan. Similar precautions were followed across the Rhineland, as were Jewish payments to Christians of protection money. Radulf progressed from Strassburg to Cologne, whipping up enthusiasm for the crusade and violence against the Jews in equal measure. By the time Bernard caught up with him at Mainz in November 1146, Radulf had established himself as a local celebrity, Bernard attracting local hostility when successfully browbeating him to return to the cloister (presumably by the threat of something much worse, probably temporal punishment by the king under whose protection the Jews lay). Unlike 1096, the impetus to attack the Jews came not from the local nobility, who seemed to have provided shelter, but from crucesignati and ‘the poorer segment of the population who derive joy from things of no consequence’.41 Church, town and village authorities attempted to maintain order, at a price, and even justice: one Christian murderer of Jews near Cologne was punished by having his eyes gouged out, dying soon after. The archbishop of Mainz complained directly to Bernard of Clairvaux about Radulf, perhaps suggesting the abbot’s responsibility.42 But in common with 1096, economic jealousy and financial anxiety fuelled the ferocity of the attacks at a time when converting capital into cash had become a major concern for crusaders, especially as Eugenius III’s bull that excluded legitimate Jewish banking, by also prohibiting interest repayment by crucesignati, discouraged loans by bankers of any faith without lucrative material collateral.

If the violence appeared more random than in 1096 and the perpetrators less well connected, the horrors were real enough. Some reported large numbers of Jews seeking the king’s protection as far away as Nuremberg to avoid the Christian fury.43 Rumours circulated of massacres of hundreds of Jews; opportunist killings of men, women and children proliferated. Rabbis, synagogues, religious ceremonies and Torah scrolls became targets. Forced baptisms led to suicides as well as murder. In late summer 1146, Simon of Trier, returning from a trip to England, was caught by a mob at Cologne; on his refusal to abjure his faith, his head was severed from his body by being squeezed in a winepress. For a fee, the civic authorities returned the body and the remains of the head for Jewish burial.44 Others drowned rather than receive baptism in the local rivers; those who submitted returned to their faith once the Christian militants had passed. After Radulf’s removal, sporadic outbursts of violence continued until preaching ceased, when communal relations were restored. In contrast with England where the Jewish communities were of relatively recent origin and, on this occasion, peace reigned, areas with long-established Jewish communities had proved most susceptible to prejudice and persecution. The Rhineland had become a centre of Jewish settlement and business but also inter-faith dialogue and dispute. One of the most famous medieval Jewish converts to Christianity, Hermann ‘quondam Judaeus’, i.e. the former Jew, had been born c.1107 Judas Levi of Cologne, where, in 1172, he rose to be a canon in the church of Sta Maria ad Gradus. Judging from his autobiography, as with many zealous converts Hermann may not have been sympathetic to his former co-religionists and relatives in their sufferings in 1146. Yet his career demonstrated contact, communication and occasional respect, Hermann arguing that conversion of the Jews would, like his own, happen through love not force or dialectic.45 Few, anywhere in Christendom, were listening.

One of those most affected by the Rhineland disturbances was King Conrad III. Jews and their property were royal charges and undisciplined recruitment and violence threatened his own plans for the crusade, the main purpose of Bernard’s mission to imperial lands. The formal story of Conrad’s reluctance to commit himself when he first met Bernard at Frankfurt in November 1146, his continued reluctance at the Christmas assembly at Speyer overcome by an electrifying sermon by the abbot, conceals a carefully orchestrated process begun many months earlier which culminated in Conrad taking the cross on 27 December. It is unlikely that Radulf’s tour, beginning in northern France but soon directed at the Rhineland, was accidental or, as some have suggested, determined by the need to run away from the pursuing Bernard, nor that Bernard’s own evangelism had no prospect of substantial dividends. His itinerary suggests a long-planned meeting with Conrad at Frankfurt in November, his subsequent journey south to Constance received royal encouragement and his attendance at Speyer was anticipated. If startling in its success, Bernard’s preaching tour was no surprise, hardly coming, as one local monk piously maintained, out of the blue, ‘as if from Heaven’.46 It is barely conceivable that Conrad’s army of many tens of thousand could have been prepared to leave for the east by May 1147 if its leadership had only been settled five months before. One guest at Speyer was an ambassador from Byzantium, responding to a secret embassy earlier in the year from Conrad to Emperor Manuel, conducted by the bishop of Würzburg, on which the crusade, the subject of negotiations between Manuel and the French since the spring, almost certainly featured.47

Politics as well as ritual lay behind Bernard’s oratory. In mid-1146, the tensions within the German nobility and between the empire and its eastern neighbours, especially Hungary, precluded Conrad’s personal involvement in the eastern adventure. Bernard’s visit was closely associated with attempts to engineer peace within the empire. Taking the cross could act as a focus for honourable resolution to domestic conflict under ecclesiastical supervision and guarantee. At Frankfurt in November, Bernard mediated a dispute between Count Henry of Namur and Albero of Trier, joining the crusade forming part of their reconciliation. On his visit to Constance in December, Bernard made contact with the circle of Conrad’s chief domestic opponent, Welf VI, a move that led to Welf taking the cross on 24 December. In the hyperbole of the chronicler Otto of Freising, ‘suddenly almost the entire West became so still that not only the waging of war but even the carrying of arms in public was considered wrong’.48 By the time Bernard reached Speyer for Christmas 1146, it may have been clear to Conrad that his involvement was required to complete this unifying process by providing him with a share in the honour and privileges of a crucesignatus.

Conrad held a unique position among the monarchs of the west. By now in his fifties, an intermittently successful general and monarch caught in unpropitious times, he had previous experience of fighting in the Holy Land. His two military expeditions east, in 1124 and 1147–8, suggest, as with Thierry of Flanders’s four visits (1138, 1147, 1157 and 1165), a more than formal engagement with the needs of Outremer and the appeal of holy war. No other western medieval monarch campaigned twice in the Holy Land. The German empire possessed a strong tradition of holy war, on its borders, as part of internal feuding and, since 1096, in the eastern Mediterranean. Despite a lack of prominent settlement in Outremer, no cultural or emotional barrier needed breaching, no introduction to an alien concept was required. The German crowds that flocked to hear Bernard were as primed and receptive as those further west. Conrad’s elaborately staged assumption of the cross operated to a familiar pattern, a public ritual that emphasized a procedure of conversion and submission to the will of God, each participant following the choreography of a well-oiled religious ceremony. Ritual provided expression for religious and political messages as theatre. Even with interpreters in southern Germany, Bernard’s message transcended language, not least when, as at Speyer, it was delivered in the context of the Eucharist. During mass on 27 December, Bernard, ending his sermon by listing the material benefits bestowed on the king, adopted the voice of God: ‘O man, what is there that I should have done for you and did not?’ Responding to this familiar call to reject worldly priorities, amid loud cries of excited religious fervour, Conrad fulfilled the ceremonial fiction of sudden conversion, declaring: ‘I am ready to serve Him,’ before receiving from Bernard both the cross and a holy banner conveniently placed on the altar. Significantly, Conrad was accompanied in taking the cross by his nephew Frederick of Swabia.49 This was not a quixotic act. The old, dying duke of Swabia, Conrad’s brother, bitterly resented the king enrolling his son as his absence might jeopardize the family holdings. That was the point. Only if as many of the great feudatories of the Empire as possible accompanied the king or, by virtue of taking the cross, were compromised if they stayed behind, could Conrad ensure both the success of the crusade and the security of his realm.

To confirm the political solidarity behind the enterprise, Conrad and Bernard’s representative, Abbot Adam of Ebrach, presided over another crusade mass at Regensburg in February 1147, where Conrad’s half-brother, Henry Jasomirgott, duke of Bavaria and margrave of Austria, and the bishops of Regensburg, Freising and Passau took the cross with a large press of recruits including notorious thieves and footpads, perhaps attracted by the prospect of legal immunity if not amnesty. One participant recalled the careful preparation, ‘all present had been aroused by previous report’, his subsequent insistence that everyone had taken the cross ‘of their own accord’ satisfying canonical requirements if not historical accuracy.50 The adherence of Henry of Bavaria revealed the irenic uses of the crusade: he was now a fellow crucesignatus with the disgruntled and dispossessed pretender to his duchy, Welf VI. Conrad’s crusade, like Louis’s, embraced family, friends and foes and offered support for a sometimes beleaguered status. During his stay in the east, Conrad, although never crowned emperor, added the imperial ‘semper augustus’ to his titles, perhaps in response to his association with the Greek emperor or, even, a nod to the revived interest in the so-called Sibylline eschatological prophecies of the Holy Land and the Last Emperor. The image of the tall, well-built Conrad rescuing the slight, frail Bernard from an adoring mob during the Diet of Frankfurt in March 1147 by picking him up and carrying him out of the crowd provided a less cosmic but no less potent opportunity for royal association with the great forces of Christendom.51


A flurry of conferences and assemblies early in 1147 settled the timing and routes for the crusaders. While at Regensburg securing the Bavarians, Conrad sent ambassadors to discuss plans with Louis and Bernard at Chêlons-sur-Marne in early February, prior to the French deciding on their strategy and arrangements for the king’s absence at a large council at Etampes beginning on 16 February. Conrad followed suit at a diet at Frankfurt on 13 March, also attended by the tireless Bernard hot foot from Etampes. By late March, a fresh round of meetings acknowledged the presence north of the Alps of the pope. Eugenius III, making a virtue of his expulsion from Rome by its radical commune, had set out from Viterbo in January, travelling via Lucca and Vercelli to Susa, where on 8 March he discussed the crusade with Louis VII’s uncle, Amadeus of Savoy, thence through imperial Burgundy to Lyons (22 March) and into France, reaching Dijon by the end of the month, where he was met by German ambassadors eager to arrange a meeting between the pope and Conrad in Strassburg. Rejecting the German overtures, Eugenius turned aside to Clairvaux (6 April), perhaps to relive his youth there, certainly to be fully briefed by his old master, before proceeding to Paris with King Louis, celebrating Easter (20 April) at St Denis. There, on 11 June, the pope presided over an elaborate ceremony marking Louis’s formal departure. From St Denis Louis marched towards his muster at Metz in late June. The pope, his role as diplomatic facilitator and legitimizing observer complete, remained in France and Lotharingia for another year. Conrad meanwhile spent Easter at Bamberg, a city especially associated with the recently canonized Emperor Henry II (1002–24) and his attempts to extend Christianity (and his empire) eastwards, before moving towards the Danube via Nuremberg and Regensburg, whence he embarked eastwards in late May.52

The involvement of Conrad and the Germans may have influenced the French plans. After taking the cross in March 1146, Louis had explored different options for his journey east. Conrad, King Geza of Hungary, the Emperor Manuel of Byzantium and King Roger II of Sicily were each consulted over passage, supplies and support, suggesting that no immediate decision had been made between the land route via the Danube and the Balkans and a sea route via southern Italy. There was even talk of the French preparing their own fleet, perhaps to shadow any land army (as Richard I of England was to organize for his crusade in 1190), although as Louis controlled no ports himself this would have required negotiation.53 The response to French requests, received during the summer of 1146, appeared to be universally positive, leaving the choice of route open. The likelihood of active and substantial German participation delayed any decision until the assembly at Etampes in February 1147 just after Conrad’s arrangements had been communicated to the French at the Châlons conference. It is sometime argued that Louis had decided in 1146 to accept the offer of transport by sea from Roger of Sicily, only to be deflected by German involvement. Yet the Franco-Byzantine exchanges of 1146 indicated that no such decision had been reached. After a long and possibly heated debate, the assembly at Etampes decided on the land route via Byzantium.54

Although with hindsight condemned by some as misguided, this option presented a number of advantages. For the bulk of the French contingents, including the largest, from Flanders, and the king’s, the land route was the most accessible and the cheapest, as the troops could be supplied en route by local markets and, in enemy territory, by forage. Given the difficulties in raising cash from their property, this may have appealed to most crucesignati. Although the prospect of travelling in the wake of the large German armies raised concerns over inadequate local provisions, it offered certain benefits; on their march the French found a number of new bridges constructed by the Germans in front of them.55 Most French nobles had no experience of the sea, many would never have seen it, the logistics and finance involved in hiring a fleet being wholly unfamiliar. Transport of horses by sea presented further complications: those Rhinelanders, Flemings and English who did travel by sea via the Iberian peninsular in 1147 may have carried few if any horses with them, relying on local stocks when they fought on land. It is instructive that the count of Flanders chose to travel by land. Of those with access to Mediterranean sea ports, only some, like the count of Toulouse, sailed directly to the Holy Land; others, led by the counts of Auvergne and Savoy, travelled via Italy and the short ferry crossing from Brindisi to Durazzo before crossing the Balkans to Constantinople.56 The Sicilian offer presented political difficulties. Roger II threatened German ambitions in Italy and Byzantine power in the Balkans and the central Mediterranean. Even if his offer to Louis was not simply a cover for an assault on the Greeks, Roger’s participation risked alienating Conrad and arousing Manuel’s justifiable suspicion for no obviously overwhelming benefit, suspicions confirmed by the Sicilian refusal to take any part in the crusade once their offer of transport had been declined. Mindful of Roger’s disobedience to the papacy, the ubiquitous Bernard of Clairvaux may have tilted the balance against Roger. Despite his innovative taxation, Louis himself may have feared the cost of accepting the Sicilian proposal. By placing himself so completely into the hands of another ruler, one renowned for ruthlessly pursuing his own self-interest, Louis’s independence could have been compromised. The year’s delay in deciding meant the sea option would now have jeopardized coordination with the German armies. At root, perhaps, lay the fear that the sea route was too risky, too difficult for so large a landlubber army. By contrast, the land route was familiar in nature if not geography and, significantly for an adventure self-consciously undertaken in the shadow of past triumphs, had been sanctified by the heroic achievements of the First Crusade.57 The discussion at Etampes possibly concealed a decision already taken: negotiations with Manuel I had progressed far, the emperor, and possibly the pope, assuming the land route, although this may merely represent the success of French diplomats in keeping their powder dry. In this context, Louis’s much-derided decision appears thoughtful and pragmatic. Unlike his later critics, notably his crusade chaplain Odo of Deuil, Louis did not know the future.

The assembly at Etampes concluded its business by appointing regents for France, led by Abbot Suger of St Denis, appropriate for the crusade’s leading critic, and fixing the muster for departure at Metz on 15 June to fit Conrad’s plans and the delays since Vézelay in organizing the French contingents. Louis’s formal leave-taking of his kingdom provided spectacular theatre. Held to coincide with the annual Lendit Fair at St Denis, 11 June, with the streets around the abbey church crowded with visitors, the ceremony began with Louis visiting a Parisian lazar house, a sign of humility, charity and, with its reference to the mystic royal power of healing, regality. On arrival at the recently rebuilt St Denis (parts of which still survive), before the pope, Abbot Suger, the monks and a crowd of family, courtiers and notables, and beneath newly commissioned panels of stained glass depicting the heroics of the First Crusade, Louis prostrated himself before the altar, kissed a relic of the patron saint, finally receiving from Suger the Oriflamme, the vermilion banner mounted on a gold lance that under Louis’s father, Louis VI, had become the official royal ensign, and the pilgrim’s scrip from the pope, visual confirmation of the three elements of his enterprise: penitential pilgrimage; holy war and national honour. Proceedings ended with the king and a few (male) companions dining with the monks in their refectory.58 This elaborate show paraded the special relationship of the French monarchy with the papacy and between St Denis and the king, providing a ceremonial expression of leaving the kingdom in the hands of the saint and the abbot, the king becoming an associate member of the monastic community. The personal and political meaning of Louis’s holy war was thus carefully spelt out for the crowds to witness and later to relate.

Conrad III also faced tricky decisions, mainly provoked by his fissiparous nobility. A general, formal peace to which all the nobility were committed by oath lay at the centre of Conrad’s political strategy for the crusade. At a crowded Imperial Diet at Frankfurt on 13 March, Conrad’s ten-year-old son, Henry, was accepted as heir and crowned as joint king to legitimize the regency government headed by Abbot Wibald of Stavelot, later of Corvey. The land route for the crusade was announced, the muster fixed at Regensburg in May, the presence of Bernard of Clairvaux easing agreement. Henry the Lion, the young duke of Saxony and nephew of the disgruntled crucesignatus Welf VI, claiming his lost Bavarian patrimony, allowed himself to be fobbed off by Conrad who ‘postponed a decision until his return and persuaded him to wait peacefully’.59 Other nobles from Saxony were less easily brushed aside. Refusing to join the eastern expedition, they saw an opportunity to elevate political expansion across their frontier with the Wends into a holy war by incorporating it into a general scheme of anti-infidel militancy, ‘to take vengeance on the pagans’, in Bernard’s words, an argument not far removed from that used against the Jews in the Rhineland a few months earlier. Given Conrad’s main aim of political harmony and his penchant for seeing the crusade as reflecting honour on his realm, the Saxons received a sympathetic hearing. Binding Saxon expansionist raiding into the larger holy war and its penumbra of sworn peace offered the added advantage of providing occupation for Henry the Lion. Using his legatine authority, Bernard accepted the Saxon proposal as legitimate, granting the participants all the trappings and privileges of the Jerusalem journey, except that the crosses they wore ‘were not simply sewed to their clothing, but were brandished aloft, surmounting a wheel’. The other difference lay in the objective, again according to Bernard, of the ‘wiping out or, at any rate, the conversion of these people’.60 Neither genocide nor forced baptism was canonically legal. However, some argued that these regions had accepted Christianity from missionaries in the previous decades and so could be regarded as apostates, thus action against them was, as in the Holy Land, a matter of reclaiming lost Christian territory, theoretically defensive. To erase any doubts, during his stay at Clairvaux in April 1147, Bernard persuaded Eugenius III to issue a bull legitimizing the Wendish adventure, conversion and all, and the grant of Jerusalem privileges, conveniently placing it in the somewhat wishful context of both the Holy Land expedition and attacks on the Muslims in Spain.61 As far as Conrad was concerned, the Baltic campaign did not materially weaken his eastern force, while it directed some otherwise possibly troublesome nobles into taking out their acquisitive instincts beyond the empire’s frontiers. The importance of this was underlined by the presence in one of the raiding parties of the regent Wibald of Corvey. Despite the official ecclesiastical gloss, and the presence of a gaggle of bishops, there was little edifying in the motives or conduct of the war against the Wends and, as Wibald confessed, it failed.62

King Conrad’s crusade mobilized or neutralized the power brokers of the German empire. With him were staunch supporters based on his family and household: his half-brothers Duke Henry of Bavaria and Bishop Otto of Freising; his nephew, Duke Frederick of Swabia; and his chancellor Arnold of Wied; and allies such as Frederick of Bogen, advocate of Regensburg. Alongside them was his arch-enemy Welf of Bavaria. No less impressive was the geographic spread, not only men from Franconia, Swabia and Bavaria, but Saxons, such as Count Bernard of Ploetzkau, and Lorrainers under the bishops of Metz and Toul (brother of the count of Flanders) and the count of Monçon, and the contingent led by the bishop of Basel, the fruits of Bernard’s visit in December 1146. Joining this German coalition came the kings of Bohemia and Poland as well as the counts of Styria and Carinthia. Although the Lorrainers defected to, for them, the more congenial French at Constantinople, this gathering represented the firmest practical demonstration of the reach of German imperial power north of the Alps for almost a century.63 The wider context of the king’s leadership of Christendom in alliance with the pope was witnessed by the papal legate, Theodwin, Cardinal of St Rufina, the Curia’s German expert who had helped engineer Conrad’s election as king in 1138.64 In recruitment, leadership and organization, Conrad’s expedition received important support throughout the German church. Viewed in the perspective of German and imperial politics, Conrad’s eastern adventure temporarily resolved domestic political tensions while making manifest his grander claims to world leadership. The febrile optimism of the summer of 1147 contrasted with the subsequent dull disillusion of defeat was well captured by one of the campaign’s leaders and close royal ally, Otto of Freising:

And so, when the rigour of the winter cold had been dispelled, as flowers and plants came forth from the earth’s bosom under the gracious showers of spring and green meadows smiled upon the world, making glad the face of the earth, King Conrad led forth his troops from Nuremberg, in battle array. At Regensburg he took ship to descend the Danube and on Ascension Sunday (1 June) he pitched camp in the East Mark near a town called Ardacker… He drew after him so great a throng that the rivers seemed scarcely to suffice for navigation, or the extent of the plain for marching… But since the outcome of that expedition, because of our sins, is known to all, we have purposed this time to write not a tragedy but a joyous history, leave this to be related by others elsewhere.65

Except in the eyes of his own apologists, Louis VII’s international prestige fell short of Conrad’s. Yet, as with Conrad, the extent of recruitment and active political involvement of the leading provincial magnates encouraged his role as the driving force behind this eastern policy and, more generally, as king. The blend of pious show, military exertion and administrative direction in providing men, money, command and strategy provided Louis with a unique opportunity to establish himself and his dynasty. The muster roll of French lords who travelled east with the king testified to the potential political dividends. While the counts of Toulouse and Nîmes sailed independently from ports on the French Mediterranean coast, most of the rest of the kingdom was represented in Louis’s great army: Flanders, Soissons, Bar, Ponthieu, Nevers, Tonnerre, the Bourbonnais, the Auvergne, Meaux in Champagne, Mâcon in southern Burgundy and Vienne in imperial Provence; the lords of Nogent in the Seine valley, Rancon and Lusignan in Poitou and Magnac in the Limousin. With these lords came their retinues and dependants, in considerable numbers in the case of Thierry of Flanders. The core of support rested with the king’s affinity; his brother Robert count of Dreux and La Perche; his formidable wife Eleanor, duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, who presumably secured the Poitevin and Limousin contingents: Geoffrey of Rancon, later notorious for causing the near-annihilation of the army in Asia Minor, had entertained Louis and Eleanor on their honeymoon.66 The presence of women provided a notable feature of the Second Crusade. Apart from Eleanor and her household ladies, the counts of Flanders and Toulouse travelled with their wives and the statutes agreed by the northern European fleet at Dartmouth in May 1147 assumed the same for members of that force.67 In the French king’s army, the household clerks, led by Bartholomew, the chancellor, and his personal chaplain, the monk Odo of Deuil, a coming man seconded from the abbey of St Denis, were joined by some ecclesiastical heavyweights, such as the bishops of Arras, Langres and Lisieux, the last two both claiming legatine authority, Godfrey of Langres partly on the ground of his close association with Bernard, having been his prior at Clairvaux.68 The canon lawyer, classical scholar and acerbic wit Arnold of Lisieux contested Godfrey’s pretensions, famously describing him as ‘like the wine of Cyprus, which is sweet to taste but lethal unless diluted with water’. Neither behaved well, attracting gossip that they lined their pockets from alms given in return for absolution by sick and dying crusaders. Their bickering, while contributing little to the smooth running of the campaign, ignored the legate actually appointed, Guy of Florence, cardinal of St Grisogono, a man of some bureaucratic ability later displayed in Outremer after the end of the crusade, but on the march fatally hampered by his lack of fluency in French. Without Bernard, none took the role of Adhemar of Le Puy on the First Crusade.69 Nonetheless, the dynamism that propelled so many disparate political, personal and clerical groups towards the east under the king’s Oriflamme testified to a sense of secular, even national as well as religious identity. Although able to speak German and holding land in the empire as well as France, Thierry of Flanders journeyed with King Louis.70 Among those of the king’s personal bodyguard killed around him in the desperate hand-to-hand fighting in the Cadmus mountains were knights from across France but also William of Warenne, earl of Surrey, a pillar of the Anglo-Norman establishment.71 Under the sign of the cross new bonds of loyalty could be forged.

The popularity of the enterprise helped ensure the relatively easy agreement over the grand strategy of the holy war. Heavy recruitment, across France, western and southern Germany, the Low Countries, southern England, parts of Danubean central Europe, reaching northwards to Scotland and, for the Wendish campaign, Denmark, rested on piety, idealism, loyalty to lord or family and communal enthusiasm transmitted along the arteries of social and economic exchange. Religious values found expression in secular analogies directed at various propertied elites. One set of verses composed in 1146/7 talked of a tournament between heaven and hell.72 Bernard articulated the cultural aspirations of arms-bearers by praising their reputation for courage and of merchants in terms of an unbeatable bargain.73 Concentric circles of contact produced substantial contingents. The economically linked networks within the Rhineland or Flanders or Normandy or East Anglia combined with an outer ring of commerce in the Narrow Seas to produce the fleet that gathered at Dartmouth in May 1147. The new community of Cistercian abbeys, Bernard’s own power base, supported older secular and ecclesiastical focal points of recruitment. So did the Templars, another new order that played a significant part planning and on campaign. Templars negotiated for Louis VII in Constantinople in 1146; they acted as the king’s bankers; and later held the French army together in Asia Minor during the grim weeks in January 1148. Bernard of Clairvaux’s own close Templar links were shared with crucesignati such as the Anglo-Norman patrons of the Templars Saher of Archel, one of the commanders of the Dartmouth fleet, and Roger of Mowbray.74 The unanimity between secular and religious authorities in promoting the expedition as spiritual profit or social responsibility contrasted with the political and ecclesiastical divisions within western Christendom in 1096. Whereas Urban II’s call was clearly partisan, Bernard’s transcended political barriers and boundaries, only a few religious radicals distrustful of the church’s overt involvement in the world joining with the Roman commune and Roger of Sicily in openly standing aloof. Unlike 1096, potential crucesignati were supported by ceremonial and legal procedures, recognized inQuantum praedecessores, which, if not always familiar, demonstrated the progress in ecclesiastical discipline, hierarchical communication and canon law achieved in the fifty years between Clermont and Vézelay, backed by the cultural penetration of the story of the First Crusade in French and German vernacular literatures.

From the North Sea to the Mediterranean, recruits conformed to Quantum praedecessores, raising money on their property, in particular from religious houses, with the permission of relatives and overlords. In the increasingly competitive land market of the twelfth century, such guarantees by the king, local count or bishop were as necessary as was the compliance of interested family members, relicts and heirs who often needed firm persuasion to honour the deals of deceased crusaders. The attractive provisions regarding church protection and immunity from civil law suits required similarly careful management. In November 1146, the bishop of Salisbury had to be reminded by the pope that church jurisdiction did not extend to land disputes originating before the defendant took the cross. Even so, the popularity of the crusade with thieves, noted by Otto of Freising, may not have been coincidental.75 The emotional or spiritual dimensions behind the legal framework emerged fitfully. In contrast to papal letters and chronicles, references in monastic land charters to taking the cross or to preaching are rare. Some charters, but not a majority, related the donations or mortgages to remission of sins; ‘love and fear’ apparently moved one Poitevin, Raynard rusticus, the countryman.76 However, large numbers of non-combatant or otherwise militarily incompetent pilgrims did travel with the German and French armies, giving the enterprise a dogged if inconvenient revivalist tinge that drained efficiency and resources on the march and in battle. For aristocrats and arms-bearers, the imperative to translate property into cash generated expediency. Bishop Godfrey of Langres pawned gold and silver vessels from his cathedral church while promising restitution to a suspicious chapter.77 Acquisitive religious houses skilfully played the market. In the face of royal demands for tax, the monks of Fleury protested a lack of cash, offering a miscellany of precious candlesticks and thuribles instead, yet at the same time provided money to local worthies in return for pledges of property.78 The business could be highly lucrative, in both the short and long term. The English abbey of St Benet Holme in Norfolk made an effective profit on its deal with Philip Basset of Postwick of a minimum of 133 per cent spread over seven years, the frowned-upon usury hidden here as ubiquitously elsewhere behind the fiction of mutual gifts.79 The cost of crusading is difficult to underestimate. Reiner von Sleiden sold outright part of his allodial (i.e. freehold) patrimony to the abbey of Klösterrad, near Aachen.80Dozens of land charters record landowners raising sums many times (three in Philip Basset’s case) their annual revenue; they also chart those who failed to return.

The elaborate organization of the Second Crusade matched its vast human and geographic scale. The expeditions of the kings rested on the collaboration of socially, financially and politically distinct military households of the great nobles, each with their own regional and personal identity, cohesion and loyalties. However, where the armies of 1096 retained their separate regional identities to the end, Conrad and Louis, through deference and convenience, imposed an element of unity, providing, for better or worse, field leadership and chairmanship of the baronial high command. As the papally sanctioned chief organizers, they conducted the preparatory diplomacy; negotiated with local rulers during the march; set the schedule of departure and muster points; and supplied men and money. Both Conrad and Louis possessed continuing access to large funds, either cash in their own coffers or sums held on account by third parties such as the Templars. Once in Palestine in the spring of 1148, Conrad was able to reassert his authority after a disastrous journey by taking troops into his pay while Louis, using his assets in France, presumably including his church tax, as collateral, borrowed heavily from the Templars in the east; during the stumbling march across Asia Minor Louis repeatedly bailed out his impoverished nobles, knights and infantry.81

The geographic, political and social diversity of recruitment challenged coherent mustering, leadership, strategy, structure and timing. Yet most of the land and naval contingents for the east embarked between April and June 1147, arriving together, despite contrasting vicissitudes, a year later in the Holy Land. Planning, not chance, lay behind the musters at Dartmouth in May 1147, Regensburg the same month or Metz a month later; the adherence to the German force of Ottokar of Styria at Vienna in late May or early June; the arrival of the Anglo-Norman contingent to join Louis at Worms in late June; or the secondary French muster at Constantinople in October, where Louis waited for the counts of Maurienne and Auvergne and the marquis of Montferrat and those who had left the main army at Worms to travel via Italy, the Adriatic and the Balkans. The mechanics of such extended coordination included, from the early spring of 1146, extensive correspondence linking the major participants with each other and with those through whose territory any expedition could expect to pass: Byzantium, Sicily, Hungary, the Christian rulers of the Iberian peninsular. Bernard of Clairvaux acted as head of a central secretariat as well as attending, in person or by agents and proxies, all the summit meetings between the main crusade leaders. On his preaching tour in 1146 Bernard contacted figures in the Flemish crusade leadership, including Count Thierry and Christian of Gistel, commander of those from Flanders and Boulogne who assembled at Dartmouth.82 In the Rhineland, Bernard encountered civic and ecclesiastical authorities involved in raising and organizing troops, including the archbishop of Cologne, one of whose priests later wrote an eyewitness account of the siege of Lisbon. Another who sent home a description of the Lisbon campaign, the priest Duodechin, came from Lahnstein on the Rhine, which Bernard had either visited or passed by in the second week of 1147.83

Behind direction and strategy lay the armies’ structure. The authority of the kings should not be exaggerated. Both French and perhaps to a greater degree German forces threatened to dissolve into their princely and baronial constituent parts although holding together long enough for adversity to compel unity. Political advantage, lack of alternatives, the comradeship of shared experience and hardship contributed to cohesion. Yet Louis VII failed to impose disciplinary ordinances on his nobles, his chaplain acidly commenting: ‘because they did not observe them well, I have not preserved them either’. Louis’s ordinances, promulgated when his army mustered at Metz, were designed ‘for securing peace and other requirements on the journey, which the leaders secured by solemn oath’.84 A precisely similar process led the leaders of the disparate contingents at Dartmouth to swear to obey mutually agreed statutes regulating the exercise of criminal and civil justice; sumptuary rules; the behaviour of women; the mechanics of corporate discussion, worship, and distribution of funds; and solving disputes between groups and leaders. Such disciplinary statutes were familiar features of medieval warfare, Richard I insisting on them in 1190 during his crusade. The commanders at Dartmouth in 1147 had in effect entered into a coniuratio or societas coniurata, a sworn association, a commune. Unlike the sworn communal statutes of Metz, those of Dartmouth retained their force when disputes emerged between the regional groups at critical points before and after the siege of Lisbon.85 Later on his march to the east, Louis managed to establish a sworn fraternity under which his army agreed to be ruled by the Templars.86 The readiness of the French king and the leaders at Dartmouth to create sworn communes testifies to the lack within the armies of a common legal system or political authority. Moreover, some crusaders lived outside ties of noble clientage. Across north-western Europe, urbanization had thrown up towns in which corporate identity demanded separate legal recognition. One 1147 contingent comprised of Londonienses, Londoners whose commune had only six years earlier decided the fate of the English crown by siding with King Stephen to prevent the coronation of his cousin, the pretender Matilda.87 Over the previous half-century, towns and cities across the Rhineland, the Low Countries and northern France had sought rights of self-determination and justice; some of the charters granting these rights echoing the Dartmouth statutes. Sworn agreements became necessary in the absence of other political bonds, a circumstance regularly repeated on polyglot crusades. As an English writer remembered a century and a half later, the Dartmouth crusaders ‘are by alliance/Sworn among themselves and are not retained’.88 Neither the lasso of fealty nor pay held such a force together, comprising recruits from the Rhineland, the Low Countries, northern France, southern England, East Anglia and Scotland. As striking as the urban elements in the Dartmouth (and the other) expeditions appeared the willingness of secular lords to submit to such structures, even if, in the heat of battle, the agreed rules got broken, as by the Count of Aerschot and Christian of Gistel at the fall of Lisbon.89 Experience of administering local public rights may have familiarized such lesser aristocrats to sworn associations to keep the peace; alternatively the commune may have evoked the legacy of ecclesiastical peace leagues. To view medieval Europe as hidebound by social and economic hierarchy, called by some the feudal system, ignores a perennial feature of public life which the theoretical and occasionally actual non-hierarchical nature of crusading highlighted. Sworn bonds of association were familiar and habitual. On the day they set out on crusade, at the entrance to the forest at Evry between Auxerre and Troyes in southern Champagne, Milo, lord of Evry-le-Châtel, and his knights bound themselves together with oaths to join the king’s expedition.90 Such associations can be found in similar circumstances on later crusades and are reminiscent of the fraternity formed to pay for siege engines at Antioch in 1098. Thus, beside the necessities of survival, the imperatives of enthusiasm, the community of family, friends and companions, the crusaders in the armies of 1147 were assembled and glued together by a network of mutual oaths: to the church in taking the cross; to lords and paymasters; and to each other. Time and unimaginable hardship were to put these bonds under fearful, often fatal, strain.


8. Europe and the Near East at the Time of the Second Crusade and Bernard’s Preaching Tour 1146–7

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