Post-classical history

The Fourth Crusade


‘Ehud’s Sharpened Sword’1

Two decades after Richard I left the Holy Land in 1192, James of Vitry, prominent preacher, intellectual, monastic patron and ecclesiastical insider, future bishop of Acre and cardinal, was drumming up support for a new expedition to the east. His message was simple and uncomfortable. As long as Jerusalem remained under infidel occupation, all faithful Christians had an unavoidable moral duty to help regain Christ’s patrimony, in the same way that vassals were legally obliged to help their secular lords, except that God’s service transcended law and offered eternal rewards. The task was clear. But, he asked, where now was the zeal of the Old Testament heroes Mattathias, the Maccabees, Phinehas, Shamgar or Samson? ‘Where is Ehud’s sharpened sword?’2

By this time, during the preaching of the Fifth Crusade after 1213, such rhetoric was standard. It reflected in detail the theology of James’s master, Pope Innocent III, which gave a new precision to a universal concept that equated service to God with crusading. For Innocent, the trials of the Old Testament Israelite heroes were of contemporary relevance not just oratorical resonance. ‘Wounds that do not respond to the healing of poultices must be lanced with a blade.’ Fighting for God was the ‘servant’s service’ to his Lord, a test of faith ‘as gold in a furnace’ which determined salvation or damnation, not just for warriors but for all Christians. For Innocent the crusader was ‘following the Lord’, his ‘service to Jesus Christ’ regarded in quasi-liturgical as well as feudal terms. It was imperative that all Christians were able to join this ‘war of the Lord’. In his great crusade encyclical Quia Maior of 1213, Innocent tellingly refashioned the central crusading text from Matthew 16:24: ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me’: ‘To put it more plainly: “If anyone wishes to follow me to the crown, let him also follow me into battle, which is now proposed as a test for all men.”’3 The elevation of the Holy Land war into the epitome of Christian devotion rested on the unique plenary indulgences offered to participants, access to which Innocent wished to extend to non-combatants. In turn, this depended on the emotional and psychological pull of the Holy Land, a place where God ‘accomplished the universal sacrament of our redemption’,4 a sanctified space that provided inspiration on all four levels of contemporary scriptural exegesis: literal, the site of the historical events of the Old and especially New Testaments; allegorical, as a representation of the Church Militant; moral (or tropological), a metaphor of the inner life and struggle of the soul; and mystical, an image of paradise.

These categories existed beyond clever theological dialectic, or even the formalized pleadings of preachers, evangelists and recruiting agents. The German lyric poet Walter von der Vogelweide numbered among his patrons Dukes Leopold V (d. 1194) and Leopold VI of Austria (d. 1230), whose combined crusading experience covered the Third, Fourth and Fifth Crusades, as well as campaigns in Spain and Languedoc. Walter’s Palestine Song illustrated this fourfold potency of the Holy Land, attractive to the sinner as the place of God’s incarnation where earth and heaven touched and, as such, the rightful possession of Christianity:

Now my life has found a purpose,
for my sinful eyes behold
that pure land and very country,
of which glorious things are told.
This has been my prayer of old:
I have seen the place which God
in a human form once trod.

Many a rich and splendid country
have I seen, but of them all
you deserve the highest honour,
where such wonders could befall.
That a maid to birth could bring
one who was the angel’s king –
was not this a wondrous thing?

Christians, Jews and also heathen
Claim this land as rightly theirs.
May God make our cause to triumph
by the threefold name he bears.
All the world has come to fight,
but to us belongs the right;
God defend us by his might!5

Such commitment required direction, focus, organization and explanation if the obligations of service were to be translated into effective military, material or devotional action. Preachers such as Gerald of Wales and James of Vitry described this process as a form of conversion. Innocent III referred to Holy Land crusaders as having ‘converted to penance’. The Cistercian chronicler Gunther of Pairis (d. c.1210) described his abbot, Martin, ‘converting many to the militia of Christ’ at Basel in 1201. Another Cistercian, Caesarsius of Heisterbach, in his Dialogus Miraculorum(c.1223), placed his discussion of crusading under the heading ‘Concerning Conversion’ (De conversione). Caesarius and James both likened becoming a crucesignatus to entering a monastic order, crusaders in general, not just those who had taken vows in the military orders, constituting a distinct religio.6 In the two decades after the Third Crusade, this construction of crusading and the realization of Innocent III’s theology of God’s war were given ceremonial and administrative substance by the development of specific ecclesiastical institutions. Coupled with the political consequences of the Third Crusade and a newly confident papacy after Innocent’s accession in 1198, these turned ideology into regular church practice.


Lothar of Segni was elected pope on 8 January 1198, taking the name Innocent III. The nephew of Clement III, he had been associated with the Roman Curia since the late 1180s, a cardinal since 1190. Trained in theology at Paris and, probably, law at Bologna, aged only thirty-seven, Innocent revivified the papacy. His immediate predecessors had tended to be cautious, experienced old men – Celestine III had lived into his nineties – seeking to protect rather than promote or extend papal interests. The three pillars of Innocent’s pontificate were the assertion of papal authority – he popularized the title ‘Vicar of Christ’; the development of spiritual and ecclesiastical reform though evangelization and canon law; and prosecution of the crusade, which incorporated both.

Innocent regularly described crusading as the negotium crucis, the business of the cross, or, more pointedly, the negotium crucifixi, the business of the crucified, specifically Christ but also, by analogy, all Christians.7 In a theological work written before his election as pope, c.1195, De miseria humane conditionis (Concerning the misery of the human condition), the young Cardinal Lothar, explained, ‘the just man “denies himself” crucifying his body on the cross of its own vices and lusts so that the world is crucified to him and he to the world’.8 The metaphor of the cross – or, as Innocent saw it, its spiritual reality – ideally suited the crusade projects. In some circles they became synonyms. Caesarius of Heisterbach was one of a long line of theorists and propagandists who usedcrux transmarina and crux cismarina to describe crusades to Outremer and in Europe. The absence of a formal canonical word defining the activity, as opposed to its participants (crucesignati), did not prevent the emergence after the Third Crusade of a vernacular crusade vocabulary based on the cross: the verbs croisier, croier/croisé in northern French (langue d’oil); the nounscrozeia, crozea and crozada in southern French (langue d’oc).9 Taking the cross was, after all, the earliest ceremony that distinguished this form of religious activity, invented by Urban II. Now, a century later, the Latin term crucesignatus became firmly entrenched, a consequence of the insistence on the image of the cross in crusade propaganda and exhortation after 1187. This chimed theologically with the emphasis on the wider personal commitment of the faithful Christian servant of the Lord, who bore a cross in imitation as well in honour of Him. A contemporary (c.1200) English liturgy for the ceremonial adoption of the cross listed its virtues in this vein: ‘an especial means of assistance, a support of faith, the consummation of his (the crusader’s) works, the redemption of his soul and a protection and safeguard against the fierce darts of all his enemies’.10 As military ensign, mystic symbol, badge of penance, talisman or charm, no icon was more potent. Although ubiquitous in liturgy and as a public Christian symbol, worn equally by the non-crusading religious orders, members of confraternities or reformed heretics, the cross, with its particular association with the Jerusalem, lent the crusade an almost infinite plasticity of application, association, meaning and metaphor while retaining its precise central point of reference.

Innocent III established an institutional framework within which his crusading theology found concrete expression, even if much of his construction rested on earlier foundations. There was little absolutely original in his policies. He was a codifier as much as an innovator. Nonetheless, Innocent’s contribution could be regarded as a sort of creation. The bull Quia Maior of 1213 and the decree Ad Liberandam of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, contained a set of coherent legal, liturgical and fiscal provisions that brought together a range of previous expedients to form the basis and model for future crusades. Earlier propaganda themes were rehearsed: service to God; the offer of salvation; charity to oppressed Christians; the Holy Land as Christ’s patrimony; a test of religious devotion.11 The apparatus of inducement was given a new clarity, putting an end to a century of papal obfuscation, hesitation and reluctance to define whether the crusade indulgence remitted the sin or the penalty of the sin. Through the power vested by Christ in the pope, full remission of all orally confessed sins (annual oral confession was to become mandatory for Roman Catholics at the 1215 Lateran Council) were granted to those who took the cross and campaigned in person; to those who sent and paid for proxies to fight in their stead; and to those proxies. Those who provided matériel, donations and alms for the crusade were to receive an indulgence proportionate to their contribution, picking up an idea canvassed as early as 1157 by the English Pope Hadrian IV and repeated by Innocent himself in 1198.12 Consonant with his desire for military effectiveness and his theology of the Lord’s war, Innocent, extending and clarifying a precedent set by Clement III, invited ‘anyone who wishes’ to take the Cross ‘in such a way that this vow may be commuted, redeemed or deferred by apostolic mandate when urgent need or evident expediency demand it’. The means of redemption was payment. Vow redemption helped alter radically the funding of crusading, the manner in which the cross was preached, the methods of recruitment and planning, and even the reputation of the exercise itself as the system became vulnerable to charges of ‘crosses for cash’.

Characteristic of Innocent III and his fellow Paris-trained ecclesiastics was the practical and social application of theology. Financing the crusades formed a part of this. In 1199, Innocent unsuccessfully attempted to levy a compulsory fortieth on clerical surpluses to pay for mercenaries for the crusade.13Quia Maior suggested a voluntary aid, with equal lack of response, so the decree Ad Liberandam imposed a three-year tax of a twentieth on the church to be collected by centrally appointed papal officials. Equally practical were the restatements in 1213 and 1215 of the temporal crusader privileges of immunity from taxes and usury to Jews, moratorium on debts and general church protection for the crusaders and their property. While bishops were to enforce some of the provisions, the secular arm was called upon to police those against Jewish credit collection. Secular individuals and communities were encouraged collectively to supply warriors, as in 1198. Following a similar injunction of 1199, special chests were to be deposited in parish churches to receive indulgence-earning almsgiving for the Holy Land, visible reminders of a permanent obligation.

These material considerations were balanced by the organization of penance and preaching more systematically than before to ensure the negotium crucis became a permanent feature of lay devotional life, ‘to fight in such a conflict’, Innocent proposed, ‘not so much with physical arms as spiritual ones’.14 Special prayers and liturgical devices had been instituted by Gregory VIII and Clement III. Within the liturgy of the Cistercian Order in the 1190s prayers for crucesignati and ‘pro terra Ierosolymitana’ were introduced. Bidding prayers and clamor now included the needs for the Holy Land.15Quia Maior provided for monthly penitential processions throughout Christendom, accompanied by preaching, fasting and almsgiving. A new intercessory ritual was added to the daily service of the mass between the Kiss of Peace and the reception of the Communion. In addition to a specially composed intercessory prayer calling for the restoration of the Holy Land, this included the familiar crusading Psalm 79, ‘O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps.’ The rite underlined the association of the crusade as a physical public duty and personal spiritual obligation with the mass. Confession, penance and the mystical presence of Christ Crucified (transubstantiation was another dogma accepted by the 1215 Lateran Council) provided an appropriate ceremonial as well as spiritual context for, as the intercessory prayer of 1213 put it, the liberation of ‘the land which thine only-begotten son consecrated with his own blood’. A few years later, masses for the Holy Land were marked by the ringing of a bell during the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.16 Such formal rituals acted within the wider process of crusade evangelism, to which Innocent gave clear direction by constructing an elaborate network of crusade preachers in every province and diocese of western Christendom under the direction of papal-appointed legates. In these ways, the cause of the Holy Land became a habitual feature of the parochial liturgical round in ways it had not been before 1187. The business of the cross was the business of Christianity.

This had extensive practical consequences. Until the Third Crusade, application of crusaders’ privileges had lagged behind the rhetoric of holy war in establishing recognized, coherent conventions. Given the infrequent nature of large-scale wars of the cross, this was unsurprising. This changed with the enormous convulsion of 1187–92, when tens of thousands of crucesignati were recruited in all parts of western Christendom. The implications did not end with the Treaty of Jaffa. The failure to recapture Jerusalem embedded the recovery of the Holy Land into western European politics, with hardly a year passing without an attempt to mobilize a new expedition somewhere in Christendom. The human detritus of the Third Crusade included not just those who departed on that campaign, with their relicts and dependants at home, but also the substantial numbers ofcrucesignati, who for reasons of accident, poverty or convenience had failed to fulfil their vows in the first place. Church authorities repeatedly attempted to insist on the performance of crusade vows, a problem that had dogged every expedition; the First Crusaders at Antioch in January 1098 had complained about the backsliders at home, threatening them with excommunication. After the Third Crusade, the problem appeared endemic. Celestine III in 1196 and Innocent III in 1200 and 1201 addressed the issue by instructing local ecclesiastical authorities to force compliance on pain of excommunication, to persuade lapsed crucesignati to send proxies, or, in Innocent’s instructions, to allow the poor and infirm to redeem their vows.17 Lists of defaulting crusaders drawn up by the Third Crusade veteran Hubert Walter, from 1193 archbishop of Canterbury, reveal the social range of the business of the cross as well as some of its attendant problems. In a list of forty-seven names from Cornwall, local artisans featured prominently – miller, blacksmith, tanner, tailor, cobbler, etc. – as well as four or five women crucesignatae. Crusaders may have lacked social elevation, but they needed legal freedom and economic substance. This social profile was repeated in a similar list from Lincolnshire, where the main cause of non-fulfilment was poverty. Such evidence confirmed the need for central funding Innocent III had identified in 1199 when he proposed the clerical crusade tax.18 These lists of English crusaders, paralleled in the records of secular government, reveal two important features of crusading at the end of the twelfth century; its wide social embrace and, in common with governments across Europe, its increasing bureaucratization.

The efficacy of crusading always depended on the alliance of ecclesiastical authority with secular power. Alongside the institutionalization of crusading in the devotional life of the west, governments became involved in securing the temporal status and privileges of crusaders in addition to their traditional role in organizing and conducting the military expeditions. Crusaders’ temporal privileges were consolidated through the circumstances of the Third Crusade, which required secular authorities to recognize and protect the various immunities enjoyed by crucesignati if they were to be effective. Famously, church protection of one crusader’s property, Richard I’s, despite loud papal concern, proved futile in the face of the ambitions of Philip II and Richard’s brother John in 1192–4. Temporal privileges regarding property, civil and criminal litigation, debt and interest repayment, fiscal exemption and the disposal of assets, relied on the cooperation and active support of lay power. Indeed, much of the surviving evidence for the operation of such privileges comes from the records of secular justice and administration. The basic principle behind crusader privileges that withdrew the crucesignatus from a purely lay condition involved its acceptance by lay courts and lords. It was their responsibility to establish case by case claims by individual crusaders to protection and immunities and, frequently, to restrict or define these in accordance with local custom and effective justice or administration. For instance, it was of considerable practical importance that a secular legal inquest at Rouen in 1205 acknowledged that a croisé enjoyed similar legal status to a cleric.19

The Third Crusade set the pattern. Gregory VIII’s bull Audita Tremendi provided an inadequate guide to tax and debt immunities. Angevin and Capetian royal ordinances on the Saladin Tithe and debt clarified how the exemptions would work. Interest payments supplied a particularly sharp problem. The crusader’s exemption from interest on loans protected his goods and his state of Grace from usury while simultaneously destroying his creditworthiness and hence limiting his ability to fulfil his vow and thus his access to the means of Grace. As a result, some thirteenth-century crusaders voluntarily waived this exemption. The assembly of prelates and barons at Paris in March 1188 established detailed rules in an attempt to stabilize the banking system, avoid a flood of litigation and prevent debtors taking the cross simply to escape their obligations. Although subsequent papal decrees on crusaders’ immunities became more precise, the gap between ecclesiastical theory and secular practice persisted. A French royal ordinance on crusade financial and legal exemptions and privileges of March 1215 declared the intention of safeguarding the ‘law and customs of Holy Church and similarly… the law and customs of the kingdom of France’.20 Secular approval was vital for the system to work, as many of the crusader’s privileges directly affected lay judicial procedures. Thus in 1204 the English justiciar Geoffrey FitzPeter intervened in a case of mort d’ancestor (determining the right to inheritance) because the defendant was crucesignatus.21 Across western Europe secular courts had to recognize crusaders’ immunity from certain civil and non-capital criminal law suits, the postponement of their cases and the standing of their attorneys. Legal and chronological limits had to be determined and modified; in England the so-called crusaders’ term, during which the privileges were effective, was set at three years in 1188 but was regarded by some lawyers fifty years later as five years or indefinite.22 Tax collectors needed instructions to exempt crusaders’ property and methods to establish who they were. On local justices and policing agents, such as sheriffs in England, fell the responsibility to implement the church’s protection of crusaders’ possessions and families.

The potential domestic repercussions of a decision to take the cross could be considerable. For some, crusading offered lasting advantages. The development of proxy crusaders, while expensive for the non-combatant crucesignatus, benefited the representative often with more than the cost of passage, equipment, travel expenses and wages. To secure proxies’ services, added incentives or bribes were provided, usually land, which then remained in their family’s ownership. As all crusaders were ipso facto legally free, if a landowner chose a possibly easily persuadable unfree tenant to perform his vow, this would imply, at the very least, manumission (i.e. being set free) for the proxy. Hugh Travers, an English servile tenant manumitted as a Jerusalem proxy in the early thirteenth century, was released servile dues and allowed to hold his previously servile tenure as a free tenancy, a move that enabled his descendants to thrive in an increasingly competitive agrarian land market.23 More widespread benefits accrued to those who provided cash or materials in return for gifts, leases, mortgages or sale of property.

While Innocent III’s programme of extending social access to the crusade indulgences further integrated the activity into society, there were casualties far removed from the battlefields of the cross. Improvident or unlucky crusaders could inflict lasting damage to their patrimonies through debt or alienation. It was no accident that so many preachers’ anecdotes concerned wives trying to prevent their spouses from taking the cross. Although many women took the cross, accompanied expeditions and bequeathed funds for the Holy Land in their wills, crusaders’ wives stood to lose income, status, livelihood, even life itself. Ironically, Innocent III, who elsewhere strongly promoted the ideals of Christian marriage, crucially diminished the rights of women married to crusaders. Traditionally, in canon law, conjugal rights operated with complete equality between the partners, neither having the right unilaterally to deny the other. In theory, before Innocent III, putative crusaders required the permission of their wives to go. Innocent relaxed this provision, effectively giving permission for wives to be abandoned without their consent. Crusade widows, metaphorical and actual, especially if they held or guarded property, were potentially very vulnerable. The protection of the courts often failed to prevent land being stolen, still less offer compensation for any financial hardship consequent on the crusader’s absence. Although a crusader needed his wife’s consent to any land deals that involved dower land set aside to provide for her widowhood, for obvious domestic reasons such permission was regularly forthcoming, exposing that property to the depredations suffered by the rest. Illicit deprivation or expulsion from family land were not the worst outcome. William Trussel left his English lands on crusade in 1190. Six weeks later his wife was murdered by his bastard half-brother and her body flung into a nearby marl pit.24 Property rather than passion was the likely motive. Contrary to modern fantasies, it was not a chastity belt that a crusader’s wife required (in any case an invention of the seventeenth century) but a good lawyer or a strong guardian.

The proliferation of evidence from the decades after 1187 showing the penetration of crusading into the interstices of social and cultural life reflected the increasing acceptance of written record keeping in politics, administration and the law. Yet it also charted genuine developments in how the business of the cross was presented, operated and perceived, in organization, preaching, liturgical prominence and social penetration. This process did not cease with the pontificate of Innocent III. New theories reconciling the holy war of the crusades with the just war categories of the canon lawyers became increasingly fashionable after 1216. Preaching grew more systematic and standardized, with a proliferation in handbooks and manuals on how to do it and what to say coupled with the emergence as a standing army of evangelism of the new orders of friars, the Dominicans and Franciscans, founded in the second decade of the thirteenth century. As members of orders that held no possessions, begged for their sustenance (hence the name Mendicants) and, while living in communal houses, conducted an active ministry in the outside world, the friars were, in theory at least, ideally suited as preachers. Crusade finance was transformed by the increase in the income from vow redemptions, donations, alms and legacies as well as by regular clerical taxes for the cause. By the mid-1270s, all western Christendom was divided into collection regions. Stronger and more settled central governments were able to mobilize more coherent state responses, even to the extent of levying lay subsidies for the crusade, as in France in 1248 and England in 1270. Recruitment, as a consequence, was based on more professional, contractual and mercenary lines, the link between taking the cross and military service no longer inevitable or essential. To be a crucesignatus could denote spiritual status, not physical activity. Indulgences were applied even more extensively, to include sermon audiences or congregations, crusaders’ non-crucesignati family members and even, on occasion, deceased relatives. Within a century, indulgences were sold directly to the faithful. Although abuses were inevitable, this institutionalization was not so much a racket as an expression of managed commitment.

Few of these developments were untouched by the legacy of Innocent III, who saw the crusade with moral and religious reform – sabbatarian (i.e. Sunday observance), anti-usury, anti-materialist – as central to his mission. They were the reasons he announced for summoning the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.25 All the great crusade preachers of his reign combined the call of the cross of holy war with that of personal penitence and a return to Apostolic poverty, the way of Christ in public arms and private devotion. The ordinances contained in Quia Maior and Ad Liberandamdemonstrated a world view allied to administrative details that exerted an extraordinary hold over succeeding papal legislation, even if their lack of precise definition of the canonical status of holy war or the exact relationship between taking the cross and the actual vow may have continued to trouble academics. By equating the crusade with his general moral agenda rather than confining it to a narrow, military or foreign policy, Innocent left the papacy and church free rein to use the mechanics and language of preaching, recruitment, cross, vow, indulgence, temporal privileges, alms, taxation and redemptions. No longer simply a matter of marching or sailing to Palestine, the crusade found itself a more pervasive role in Christian society paradoxically at the same time as its exclusiveness, some might argue distinctiveness, was diluted.


The enforced revival of active crusading in the east after 1187 encouraged the application of wars of the cross elsewhere, as it had in the early years of the twelfth century and again during the Second Crusade. Propaganda, recruitment and rounding up vow shirkers for the Holy Land scarcely ceased, keeping the crusade and the associated sense of Christendom in crisis prominently in view. Other frontiers seemed to demand attention. The success of the north African Berber Islamic reformist political sect the Almohads since the 1150s, and especially under Ya‘qub (1184–99), in annexing much of Muslim southern Spain and driving back earlier Christian advances, reached a climax in their defeat of Alfonso VIII of Castile at Alarcos in 1195. In 1193, Celestine III had authorized a crusade to bolster Iberian resistance. Similarly in the Baltic, in 1195 Celestine associated the crusade and its privileges with attempts to conquer and colonize Livonia (roughly modern Latvia) by Saxon entrepreneurs, adventurers and blood-stained penitents directed by Archbishop Hartwig II of Bremen (1185–1207) and his protégé Berthold, soi-disant bishop of the Livs.26 The precedents for such extensions of the crusade reached back a century in local practice and found legitimacy in the decrees of the First Lateran Council(1123) and Bernard of Clairvaux at the Diet of Frankfurt (1147). The Third Lateran Council of 1179 had sidled towards a further extension involving Christians, not just infidels. Decree XXVII offered plenary indulgences to those who were killed helping local bishops fight Cathar heretics in southern France or mercenary companies who were terrorizing and devastating whole regions ‘more paganorum’, like pagans. Those who joined up for these campaigns and did not die were to receive only limited indulgences, although they and their goods were to be placed under the same church protection as those who visited the Holy Sepulchre.27 Innocent III developed these precedents into an unambiguous programme of religious warfare on all fronts.

However, the Holy Land retained its primacy of concern and effort. Innocent ascended the papal throne in January 1198 just as a major crusade to the east was at the point of disintegration, its failure providing the new pope with the casus belli for a new endeavour. The German crusade of 1195–8, for all its modest achievements, provided a model of nation-based expeditions followed regularly over the next century, as the political impediments to assembling international campaigns led by more than one monarch mounted. In 1194, after the death of King Tancred of Sicily, the German emperor Henry VI conquered the kingdom in the right of his wife Constance, being crowned king at Palermo on Christmas Day 1194. As king of Sicily as well as Germany, Henry’s rhetoric sketched universal pretensions. His policies now developed a number of facets in which the crusade featured: good relations with the papacy in order to secure papal acceptance of his schemes for a united hereditary monarchy in Germany and Italy; the assertion of German imperial leadership of Christendom in the manner of his father Frederick Barbarossa; and traditional Sicilian interests in Byzantium and the central and eastern Mediterranean. In pursuit of all of these, during Easter week 1195, Henry privately took the cross from the bishop of Sutri. This allowed him, in the fashion of Louis VII at Vézelay in 1147, to present himself at a diet held to proclaim a new crusade at Bari on Easter Day (2 April) already a crucesignatus.28

At Bari, as a sign of his commitment and an incentive to recruitment, Henry announced that he would pay for 1,500 knights and 1,500 sergeants for a year; the knights were to receive thirty gold ounces (Troy weight) and provisions for themselves and two servants; the sergeants ten gold ounces. To pay the 5,000 gold pounds (Troy) needed for this, Henry demanded a tribute from the new Byzantine emperor, Alexius III, who had deposed and blinded his brother, Isaac II, on 8 April 1195. This formed part of Henry’s deliberate bullying of the Byzantine emperor, attempting to extract promises of material assistance for the crusade as well as restitution for Sicilian losses during the wars of the 1180s and, more pertinently, damages for those of Frederick Barbarossa in 1189–90. Henry’s new power gave substance to his diplomatic belligerence. Alexius submitted to the bullying and, after failing to get political support for a general property tax, fell back on appropriating ecclesiastical alms and bullion, apparently amounting to over 7,000 pounds of silver and a much smaller quantity of gold. This highly unpopular levy was known derisively as the ‘Alamanikon’ (i.e. German tax).29 Arrangements for its delivery were in hand when news of Henry’s death from one of his recurrent fevers (28 September 1197) halted payment. However, these negotiations with Byzantium charted a clear western attitude to Byzantium and the eastern crusade. As well as the tax, the Greeks were asked to provide their own help for the Holy Land in conjunction with a western expedition, their past reluctance noted and present hesitation or opposition cited as grounds for a possible future invasion. The assumptions and attitudes of the leaders of next great eastern crusade, in 1202–4, boasted a long pedigree.

Right up to his death, Henry had closely supervised recruitment, helped by papal legates and local bishops authorized by Celestine III in July and August 1195 to preach the cross throughout Germany as well as in France and England.30 At a series of diets at Gelnhausen (October 1195), Worms (December 1195) and Würzburg (March 1196), crusaders enrolled, preparations were put in train and plans agreed. Departure from Germany was set for Christmas 1196 for muster at southern Italian and Sicilian ports, in particular Messina, in time for the next spring or, at the latest, autumn passages to the Levant. To avoid unnecessary conflicts of jurisdiction in the east of the sort that dogged the Third Crusade, as well as demonstrating high imperial prestige, at Gelnhausen Henry agreed with envoys from Cyprus to accept the homage of Aimery of Lusignan, who had succeeded his brother Guy as ruler of the island in 1194, in return for a crown. Beyond natural aspiration, Aimery may have wanted such an alliance to protect him from Byzantine attempts to reconquer his island. Shortly after, a similar deal was struck with Leo II of Cilician Armenia. If in the event unrealized, this extension of German imperial authority almost to create a new eastern empire possessed wide implications, not least for the cohesion of the Christian states of the Levant and for Byzantium, now increasingly surrounded by Henry’s satellites. Henry’s rhetoric of universal empire was acquiring reality. Within Germany, Henry signalled his control of the enterprise by sitting for hours in Worms cathedral while crucesignati took their vows. Whatever the canonical niceties, the initiative and direction of this war of the cross belonged not to the pope but to a secular ruler with extremely elevated ambitions in which leadership of the crusade formed only a part.

In geographic extent and aristocratic involvement if not in actual numbers, recruitment matched that in 1188–9. The core contribution came from the imperial household and the emperor’s allies. Such was the dominant appearance of Henry VI that a thirteenth-century Outremer observer imagined he promised to pay the expenses of all the German crusaders.31 When the emperor’s notoriously feeble health and his still uncertain grip on his new southern kingdom persuaded him not to lead the expedition in person, he appointed as commanders the imperial chancellor, Conrad of Querfurt, bishop of Hildesheim, and the imperial marshal, Henry of Kalden, who had led the embassy to Constantinople in 1195. Clerical leadership was provided by Archbishop Conrad of Mainz and Archbishop Hartwig of Bremen, a holy war enthusiast who in 1195 persuaded Celestine III to initiate one against the Livs on the river Dvina. Both their dioceses had previously been centres of crusade support. The leading lay crusaders tended to come from western and southern Germany including Duke Henry of Brabant, Henry the Lion’s son Count Henry of the Rhine Palatinate, Duke Frederick of Austria, the dukes of Dalmatia and Carinthia and the landgrave of Thuringia. Many of them were heirs to family crusading traditions and a significant proportion had only succeeded to their titles in the previous five years or so. They may have felt they had something to prove beyond the customary appeal of the cross or the attraction of doing what their ruler wanted. Other former centres of crusade enthusiasm in the Rhineland or the northern river valleys contributed extensively. Lübeck apparently sent 400 citizens.32 The scale of the operation was reflected in the time and varied routes taken for the muster in Italy and Sicily. Some contingents that had probably travelled from southern Germany by land left for the east as early as March 1197. The duke of Brabant reached the Holy Land in the late summer, probably August. However, a northern fleet of forty-four vessels carrying possibly many thousands of recruits under Henry of the Palatinate and the bishop of Bremen, only reached Messina in August after its long voyage around the Iberian peninsular. This combined with the emperor’s paid troops to form the main body of the expedition that sailed from Messina for Acre early in September 1197. A distant observer, Arnold of Lübeck, claimed it carried 60,000 crusaders. It may have been a quarter or a fifth that size, but still constituted a substantial force. While a contingent under the bishop of Hildesheim stopped off in Cyprus to crown Aimery, the bulk of the fleet reached Acre on 22 September.

For once, a western crusade appeared in the Holy Land when it was needed. The truce of 1192 had expired and, twelve days before the main German force arrived, Henry of Champagne had died in a bizarre accident when he fell out of an open window while reviewing troops at his palace in Acre. Already the Ayyubid chief, Saladin’s brother al-Adil, was on the move. The death of Saladin in March 1193 prompted a decade of internecine feuding within his family. This was won by al-Adil, who, from his original base in northern Syria and Iraq, managed to supplant his nephews in Damascus (1196), Egypt (1200) and Aleppo (1202). In 1197, al-Adil was quick to respond to a raid into Galilee by the early German arrivals under Henry of Brabant, driving them back to the suburbs of Acre before swinging south to besiege Jaffa. It was the relief force for Jaffa that Henry of Champagne was inspecting when he met his death. Days later the port fell, imperilling the fragile status quo established in 1192. However, once the full German expeditionary force had assembled after 22 September, it was agreed to strike northwards to the ruins of Sidon and the Muslim base at Beirut rather than attempt to recover Jaffa immediately. This made immediate strategic sense, taking advantage of the recovery earlier in the year of Jubail further up the coast; cooperation from Bohemund III of Antioch, whose son, the future Bohemund IV, was now also count of Tripoli; and help from the Pisans and Amalric of Cyprus, anxious about the pirates operating out of Beirut. Led by Henry of Brabant, in the absence of a Frankish ruler now in temporary overall control, the Christian forces, after taking possession of the rubble of Sidon, occupied Beirut in late October. The land bridge from Tripoli to Tyre and Acre was restored.

Security for these coastal ports was less certain. Al-Adil’s response to the earlier German raid into Galilee had demonstrated even Acre’s vulnerability to a hostile hinterland. Before any attempt on Jerusalem, the Germans, on the advice of the local baronage, decided to consolidate the Christian position in western Galilee by attacking the castle at Toron. After initial success, the siege, which began on 28 November 1197, got bogged down. The proximity to Acre and Tyre of the German army both at Toron and before, on the Beirut campaign, may have carried a political dimension. The death of Henry of Champagne had once again opened the question of the succession to the throne of Jerusalem. His widow, Isabella, now had three young daughters, two by Henry; the eldest, Maria, daughter of Conrad of Montferrat, was still only five. Isabella, a veteran of three marriages but still only in her twenties, remained the legitimate queen. Some proposed a marriage to a local nobleman, the seneschal, Ralph of Tiberias, but the Germans, supported by the military orders and the chancellor, Joscias archbishop of Tyre, advocated the recently widowed Aimery of Cyprus. The attraction of a union of Cyprus and Jerusalem was compelling in economic, military and political terms, especially given the tensions between the two since 1192. Personally, Aimery possessed experience, close family connections with the Jerusalem nobility (his late wife’s Ibelin first cousins were Queen Isabella’s half-brothers) and had recently become a client of the German emperor. A united Cypriot–Jerusalem kingdom under German overlordship offered prospects of entrenching Hohenstaufen imperialism across the Mediterranean, thereby providing a permanent conduit of aid for the Holy Land without necessarily compromising the jealously promoted rights of the indigenous nobility, Italian cities or military orders. The presence of a large German army reinforced this optimism. Joscias of Tyre, who successfully negotiated Aimery’s acceptance of Isabella’s hand and the Jerusalem throne in October 1197, may also have reflected on these cross-Mediterranean advantages.33 He had been Jerusalem’s leading ambassador to the west in the desperate days after Hattin.

In January 1198, Aimery married Isabella and was crowned king of Jerusalem. The same month, the archbishop of Mainz crowned Leo II in Cilician Armenia. Yet the Hohenstaufen grand design was already defunct. The sickly Henry VI had died at Messina on 28 September 1197, leaving only an infant son, Frederick, not yet three years old, and a restless, fissile and violent inheritance from the Baltic to the Tyrrhenian Sea. Another casualty of Henry’s death was his crusade. On hearing the news, and faced by the prospect of a Muslim counter-attack, the Germans raised the siege of Toron on 2 February, effectively ending the German crusade. The Franks of Outremer with their new monarch preferred accommodation with al-Adil to any further provocation or grand gestures. Beirut gave them a useful bargaining chip, as well as an important compensation for the loss of Jaffa. Aimery secured a renewal of the truce in July 1198 until 1204. The conquests of 1197 were to stand on each side, al-Adil with Jaffa; the Franks with Beirut, which was given to Aimery’s new brother-in-law, John of Ibelin, later known as the ‘Old Lord of Beirut’. Impotent in the Holy Land, the leaders of the German army were anxious to return home to cope with the new political uncertainties. Apart from the capture of Beirut, which remained in Christian hands until 1291, the installation of Aimery as king of Cyprus and then king of Jerusalem, and of Leo II as king of Armenia, the German crusade flattered to deceive. Even the opportunity created by Ayyubid division proved counter-productive, as al-Adil increased his reputation as the strong man of the region who faced down the western infidels. Henry VI may have hoped his patronage of the fledgling military order of Teutonic Knights, for whom he obtained papal privileges in 1196, would provide a permanent magnet for German support for the Holy Land, but the failure of the crusade prevented any major expansion of its position for a generation.

The immediate future of Outremer, at least until the expiry of the 1198 truce, seemed to rest with diplomacy, internal consolidation and only tactical military excursions against hostile neighbours rather than general confrontation. In the west, the chances for a new mass crusade to the Holy Land faced serious impediments as the political balance promised by Henry VI’s imperialism collapsed. Germany slid into civil war over a disputed succession. Italy resumed its fractured insecurity. The Spanish kings were fully occupied with the insurgent Almohads, while the kings of France and England continued a twenty-years’ war (1194–1214) over the Angevin inheritance. The election of Innocent III in January 1198 did not obviously alter these political realities. However, the new pope preferred to set, not follow, the patterns of Christendom’s public and private lives.


In letters sent across Christendom dated 15 August 1198, Innocent III called for a new crusade to the Holy Land. Specifically, he cited the withdrawal of the Germans after the capture of Beirut and the fears of a Muslim counter-attack. As if to signal a more energetic papal regime, Innocent combined heightened rhetoric, an awareness of past failings and a desire to control organization. The communal endeavour was emphasized by appealing to nobles and cities to provide enough armed men. The troops were to serve for two years on the eastern campaign. Preaching was instituted.34 One papal legate, Peter Capuano, was to try to impose a five-year truce in the war between Richard I and Philip II, which had been continuing ever since Richard’s release from Henry VI’s prison in 1194. Another, Soffredo, cardinal priest of St Praxedis, was to travel to Venice to investigate transport. The plenary nature of the indulgences, offered through the mercy of God, was more explicit. Its clarity found its mark in the memory of at least one who answered the call, Geoffrey of Villehardouin, marshal of Champagne, who described it simply as ‘remission of any sins they have committed, provided they have confessed them’.35 The only element of obviously wishful thought in Innocent’s appeal lay in the proposed deadline for muster and departure, set for March 1199. However, from its inception to its ragged and bitter conclusion in 1205, most things that could go wrong for Innocent’s crusade did. The Fourth Crusade, as it is now known, became the most controversial of them all, provoking Steven Runciman’s famous Philippic: ‘there was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth Crusade’.36

The reason for the notoriety of the Fourth Crusade lay and lies in its outcome, the conquest of large tracts of the Christian Byzantine empire after its capital Constantinople had been sacked by the crusaders in April 1204. Yet Innocent’s intention had been to reverse the hung verdict of the Third Crusade and the disappointment of the German expedition in Palestine, not revive Henry VI’s threats to the Greeks of 1195–6. Byzantium inevitably figured in Innocent’s calculations, as it had to in those of all planners of major eastern crusades since 1095. However a hostile assault on Constantinople formed no part of the original papal scheme. Innocent’s motives, as revealed in his bull of August 1198, in so far that they embraced considerations beyond the need to recover all of the Holy Land, concerned his promotion of papal authority, in the operation of the crusade itself and in his interference in secular politics to achieve it. There was no mention of Byzantium in the 1198 or subsequent bulls for the enterprise. The controversy surrounding the Fourth Crusade revolves centrally around the issue of intent. If the violent capture and barbaric pillage of Constantinople and the subsequent dispossession of the Greeks were crimes, were they the result of deliberate malice, conspiracy or a series of accidental decisions that led to unforeseen although consciously embraced consequences? Was the destruction of Byzantium murder, manslaughter or even self-defence?

Immediately, crusade recruitment proved another damp squib. It is sometimes argued that Innocent III wished to exclude reigning monarchs from commanding his crusade. The bickering during the Third Crusade presented a clear warning of potential difficulties, while Henry VI’s crusade appeared to contest papal authority itself. Yet Innocent’s eagerness to resolve the political conflict between Philip II and Richard I, prominent in the bull of August 1198, indicated an understanding that the financial and political resources of rulers offered the best chance for a successful crusade. It was less the success of papal planning than the failure of papal diplomacy and continuing international instability that threw the burden of military leadership on counts, not kings. Peter Capuano’s mission to France served to irritate rather than pacify. By turns tactless, ingratiating and sanctimonious, Cardinal Peter, a notably effective preacher, seems to have combined the Gladstonian manner of addressing individuals as if they were public meetings and the Disraelian habit of laying on emotion with a trowel. In December 1198, when Peter suggested to Richard I that the king might agree to a truce with Philip II, Richard was so infuriated at being lectured at that he threatened the legate with castration.37 Richard’s unexpected death in April 1199, from a crossbow bolt wound suffered while besieging a rebel castle at Chalus in the Limousin, and the subsequent succession crisis in the Angevin lands that lasted until Philip II’s treaty with King John at Le Goulet in May 1200, further precluded royal involvement. The only benefit the crusade derived from this long crisis lay with those lords who found themselves on the wrong side of events and were thus open to recruitment for a conveniently good cause 2,500 miles away.

The preaching campaign promised to be more efficient. A chain of authority reached from the pope to legates, local ecclesiastical hierarchies and specially appointed preachers with the powers to conscript deputies, including monks and canons. The problem lay not in the message but the promotion and reception. In November 1198, Innocent pulled off a public relations coup by enlisting the charismatic French evangelist Fulk of Neuilly, who already enjoyed a large popular following for his brand of austere moral rearmament.38 A parish priest of imposing bearing, a notorious gourmand, Fulk had honed his rhetorical skills during a stay at the sophisticated theological schools in Paris, where the pope as young man may have encountered him. Despite this elite training, Fulk affected the common touch in his career as an itinerant holy man. He made his reputation in the late 1190s preaching a return to apostolic virtue, the practice of simplicity and poverty and a rejection of outward signs of corruption such as usury, luxury and sexual licence. He attracted stories of miracles based on those found in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles: healing the sick; curing the blind, dumb and lame; exorcism; reforming prostitutes; and escaping from chains and prison. Although covertly something of an establishment figure himself, Fulk – and his admirers – cultivated the figure of the prophet apart, John the Baptist or even Peter the Hermit. This carefully fashioned image of plain-talking fearless pursuit of the truth and redemption, so useful for a professional evangelist, was greatly enhanced by his well-publicized encounter with Richard I. He accused the king to his face of pride, avarice and sensuality, drawing Richard’s neat riposte: ‘I give my pride to the Templars; my avarice to the Cistercians; and my sensuality to the Benedictines.’39 Fulk lacked shyness; in mock humility and floods of tears he told an audience of Cistercians in 1201 that he had personally signed up 200,000 crusaders, a preposterous claim, but one that reflected a possibly necessary self-belief. In the words of his contemporary eulogist and fellow preacher, James of Vitry, Fulk was a star (‘stellam in medio nebule’).40

As such, Innocent was evidently keen to harness his fame, popularity and promotional ability to the crusade. Fulk embodied Innocent’s attempt to integrate the war of the cross into the wider reform movement, loosely described as Apostolic Poverty. Fulk’s appointment as a preacher of the cross in November 1198 allowed him free rein, not least in choosing his own evangelizing lieutenants. His crusade preaching took him to Flanders, Normandy and Brittany as well as his home region of the Ile de France.41 A measure of his impact is the indelible impression his preaching left in the memories of contemporaries. Two crucesignati who wrote accounts of their experiences, the grand Geoffrey of Villehardouin, and a Picard knight of modest means, Robert of Clari, both opened their histories of the Fourth Crusade with Fulk’s preaching. To emphasize the importance of Abbot Martin of Pairis near Basel in preaching the cross, his panegyrist Gunther took pains to associate him with Fulk’s mission. Yet the tangible results of Fulk’s preaching were elusive, at least in regard to enrolling lords and property owners on whom the success of any expedition depended. No important recruits came forward for another year, by which time Fulk’s appeal may have faded.

Despite Innocent III’s theology of redemption and the Lord’s War, aspects of the alliance of Apostolic Poverty with crusading jarred. Robert of Clari noted that, as well as preaching the cross, Fulk had collected ‘much wealth to be carried to the Holy Land overseas’, presumably in the form of alms and donations, as encouraged by the papacy. James of Vitry’s account is less innocuous and more revealing.

[Fulk] began amassing a great sum of money from the alms of the faithful which he had undertaken to pay out to poor men who took the cross, both soldiers and others. But through avarice or other base motive, he did not make these payments, and from that time, by God’s hidden judgement, the power and influence of his preaching swiftly declined. His wealth grew, but the fear and respect he had commanded fell away.42

According to James, following these charges of embezzlement, his reputation shot to pieces, Fulk slunk away into retirement and death. In fact he continued to play an important, if only iconic, role, at least in observers’ memories.

He was not the last evangelist to find preaching and the crusade a corrosive mix. In the sermons of many of the Paris-trained moralists who promoted Innocent III’s crusades, the concentration lay as much, occasionally more, with the redemptive and reforming dimensions of the message than with the military or material. One of those Fulk recruited to preach the cross, Eustace abbot of St Gemer de Flay, after preaching tours of England in 1200 and 1201 was remembered for his vitriolic attacks on illicit trading and breaches of the Sabbath rather than for his urging of holy war.43Fulk’s difficulty lay in a series of potential conflicts and contradictions between his usual stance against usury and the requirements of the crusade. Insistence on the rejection of usury (i.e. credit) and the abandonment of wealth in favour of the rigorous vita apostolica presented aspirant crusade contributors and participants with material and moral quandaries. Fulk found himself preaching poverty and the evils of money, which he was simultaneously salting away. Whether he was actually corrupt hardly mattered: as always, there were fellow clerics eager to cast the first stone. Fulk had built his name on perceptions; he lost it the same way. Yet, despite the whiff of scandal, his efforts were remembered as seminal. It may have been no coincidence that some of the areas he toured in northern France, including Flanders, produced large contingents of crusaders. Both the Champenois Villehardouin and Picard Robert of Clari stressed Fulk’s probity; perhaps they had heard the stories of embezzlement. Despite the rumours, Fulk remained attached to the crusade venture until his death in May 1202, attending on the crusade leaders at Soissons in May 1201 and addressing the General Chapter of the Cistercians, an order heavily involved in the preaching campaign, in September the same year.

Despite the claims made by and for Fulk, most recognized the guiding hand of Pope Innocent behind the charismatic French preacher. Whatever success the preachers enjoyed, in 1198–9 the crusade hardly progressed publicly, not least because of Innocent’s difficulties. Fulk’s own travails indicated one of Innocent’s problems: money. In December 1199, with his proposed deadline long past and no prospect of royal involvement, the pope proclaimed a tax on clerical profits of a fortieth (2.5 per cent) in order to pay ‘for the upkeep of fighting men’.44 To try to forestall resistance to this novel demonstration of papal authority, he promised the levy would create no precedent, an indication that Innocent’s conception of papal power still lacked general consensus. Hiring paid troops on crusade was not a new idea. Conrad III had done it in the Holy Land in 1148, as had both Philip II and Richard I on their arrival in 1191. Richard had paid for his fleet and its sailors. Henry VI had provided wages for a mounted regiment at least 3,000 strong in 1195. If, as James of Vitry reported, Fulk of Neuilly was raising funds to pay soldiers, then Innocent had recognized the need for such a pool of men and money from the start. Finance and mercenaries were to lie at the centre of how the Fourth Crusade operated and developed.

In 1198–9, Innocent’s eastern schemes were taking time to coalesce. Elsewhere, grants of crusade privileges, as against the Livs renewed in 1198, cost little, the burden of action being taken by locals. The wars in France and Germany were partly responsible for the delay in the Holy Land enterprise. More pressing were political difficulties in Italy, where a German adventurer and former imperial steward, Markward of Anweiler (d. 1202), was attempting to carve out a territory for himself from the lands of his former master Henry VI in southern Italy and Sicily. Innocent as guardian of the rights of Henry’s infant son Frederick II, sought to organize resistance. In January 1199, he toyed with the idea of granting Holy Land plenary indulgences to those resisting Markward on the mainland. By November, perhaps as a last resort when it appeared that Markward and his Muslim allies had Sicily at their mercy, Innocent offered Holy Land indulgences to those prepared to fight the invaders, in part because he professed to regard Markward’s ambitions as a hindrance to the Palestine project. War in Italy and Sicily clearly influenced arrangements for any crusade to the east, if only by denying crusaders safe passage to ports and access to transport. The effect of Innocent’s grant is hard to judge. It does not appear that the other central crusading features of preaching and giving the cross were employed, even though the conflict has been called the first ‘political crusade’.45

Besides distracting the pope from the eastern question, the wars in Italy and Livonia confirmed Innocent’s inclusive interpretation and use of the holy war of the cross. His theology was in place. Preaching had begun to raise the consciousness of the faithful. The bull of August 1198, coming so soon on the heels of Innocent’s accession and the end of the German crusade, had confirmed a near-permanent position for Holy Land crusading in the ecclesiastical and religious polity of the western church. However, to convert ambition into action required the initiative not of the pope, legates and clergy alone or even the masses enthused by crusade evangelists. To get anywhere, Innocent’s new crusade, as he had admitted in his bull, relied on the commitment and leadership of the secular rich and powerful.

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