Deus Volt—God Wills It! Primary Source eText

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Pilgrims arriving in the Holy Land in response to Pope Urban IIs call for the First Crusade. Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission. Pilgrims arriving in the Holy Land in response to Pope Urban II's call for the First Crusade. Published by Gale Cengage © Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission
Pope Urban II calling the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095. Archivo Iconografico, S.A./Corbis. Reproduced by permission. Pope Urban II calling the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095. Published by Gale Cengage © Archivo Iconografico, S.A./Corbis. Reproduced by permission

Excerpt from "Urban II: Speech at the Council of Clermont 1095."
Speech given by Pope Urban II; Reprinted in Source Book for Medieval History; Edited by Oliver J. Thatcher and Edgar HolmesMcNeal; Published in 1905

Excerpt from "The Decline of Christian Power in the Holy Land, 1164: Letter from Aymeric, Patriarch of Antioch toLouis VII of France" (1164)
Originally written by Aymeric, Patriarch of Antioch; Reprinted in "Letters of the Crusaders," from Translations and Reprints from theOriginal Sources of European History; Edited by Dana C. Munro;Published in 1896

It is important to remember that the Crusades got their start by the written and spoken word. The emperor of the Byzantine Empire in the late eleventh century, Alexius I, wrote to the pope in Rome asking for help against the threat of a new Muslim power in Asia Minor, the Seljuk Turks. Pope Urban II then spoke forcefully to church leaders and to the nobles of Europe on several occasions, in favor of a holy war to the Middle East. In return for going on such a Crusade, the soldiers of Christ would be forgiven their past sins. This was a strong encouragement to the knights of Europe. Urban II also told of atrocities, or cruel acts, supposedly committed against the Christians of the Holy Land by the Muslims. His speech at the Council of Clermont in 1095 was particularly influential in gaining public support for a holy war of Christianity against Islam known as the First Crusade (1095–99). Of course, Urban II was only one of many church leaders to call for Crusades. Later came the works of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who preached the Second Crusade (1147–49), and Pope Innocent III, who preached the Fourth Crusade (1202–04), among others.

There were numerous calls for help from the Holy Land in addition to the first letter from Alexius I of the Byzantine Empire. The patriarch of Antioch, or leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church in that city, wrote to the king of France, Louis VII, in 1164 to complain of the weakened power of the Crusader states that were created after the victorious First Crusade. Aymeric, the patriarch of Antioch, explains in his letter the political and military situation in the Crusader states almost twenty years after the failure of the Second Crusade. The Crusaders were battling a new force in the region, the Muslim military leader Nur al-Din, who had conquered all of Syria and was then moving into Egypt to bring that rich state into his growing empire. The Crusader states, especially the Kingdom of Jerusalem, had their eyes on Egypt as well, not only for its natural resources but also to avoid being caught with strong enemies completely surrounding them. The defeat of Crusader armies in 1164 by Nur al-Din and his general Shirkuh had further weakened the Christian position in the Holy Land, and Aymeric was appealing to Louis VII, one of the leaders of the failed Second Crusade, in the hope of receiving aid from the West. Such aid, in the form of the Third Crusade (1189–92), would have to wait until after the disastrous fall of Jerusalem in 1187 to the new Muslim military leader, Saladin.

Things to Remember While Reading Excerpts about the Christian Call for a Crusade:

  • Speeches and documents produced by church leaders, such as the pope, were heard and read by a small minority of the people of Europe. The message of the Crusade was spread to the common people by local preachers, such as Peter the Hermit, a wandering preacher who attracted thousands to his outdoor meetings.
  • Peter the Hermit was, in a way, too successful with his preaching, for he inspired the "People's Crusade," which took off from Europe for the Holy Land for the First Crusade before the regular armies set sail. These untrained forces, which included entire families, were filled with a desire to do God's will, and to escape several seasons of poor harvests in Europe. At least twenty thousand joined Peter's forces, and most were killed either on their way to Constantinople, where the First Crusade was gathering, or just outside Constantinople, where the Turks cut down this untrained crowd.
  • The tales of atrocities committed against Christians in the Holy Land also inspired other Crusaders, such as the German leaders Emich of Leiningen and Volkmar, to begin their Crusade closer to home, killing Jews throughout Germany.
  • The First Crusade was the only successful Crusade for the Christians. They captured Jerusalem and were able to establish a Christian foothold along the shore of the eastern Mediterranean with four Crusader states, the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Principality of Antioch, and the Counties of Tripoli and Edessa, that created a Crusader presence in the Middle East for the next two centuries.
  • The Crusader states in the Holy Land were completely surrounded by unfriendly Muslims. The Christians were able to survive by a mixture of military might and smart dealings with competing Muslims groups. They took advantage of the divided Islamic world of the twelfth century by making treaties with, for example, the ruling dynasty in Egypt, the Fatimids, against the Syrian Muslims led by the Turkish Zangid line.
  • No treaties could save the Crusader states, though, when the Muslims began uniting under strong leaders, such as Zengi and his son, Nur al-Din. These Turkish Muslims took the Crusader state of Edessa in 1144, an action that spurred the Second Crusade. But with the defeat of that Crusade, it was clear that the balance of power had shifted in the Middle East. The Crusader states were in need of more and more support from Europe, support that was not always available.

Excerpt from "Urban II: Speech at the Council of Clermont, 1095"

Most beloved brethren: Urged by necessity, I, Urban, by the permission of God chief bishop and prelate over the whole world, have come into these parts as an ambassador with a divine admonition to you, the servants of God.… Although, O sons of God, you have promised more firmly than ever to keep the peace among yourselves and to preserve the rights of the church, there remains still an important work for you to do. Freshly quickened by the divine correction, you must apply the strength of your righteousness to another matter which concerns you as well as God. For your brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help, and you must hasten to give them the aid which has often been promised them. For, as the most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George. They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire. If you permit them to continue thus for awhile with impurity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them. On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ's heralds, to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. I say this to those who are present, it is meant also for those who are absent. Moreover, Christ commands it.

All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested. O what a disgrace if such a despised and base race, which worships demons, should conquer a people which has the faith of omnipotent God and is made glorious with the name of Christ! With what reproaches will the Lord overwhelm us if you do not aid those who, with us, profess the Christian religion! Let those who have been accustomed unjustly to wage private warfare against the faithful now go against the infidels and end with victory this war which should have been begun long ago. Let those who for a long time have been robbers now become knights. Let those who have been fighting against their brothers and relatives now fight in a proper way against the barbarians. Let those who have been serving as mercenaries for small pay now obtain the eternal reward. Let those who have been wearing themselves out in both body and soul now work for a double honor. Behold! on this side will be the sorrowful and poor, on that, the rich; on this side, the enemies of the Lord, on that, his friends. Let those who go not put off the journey, but rent their lands and collect money for their expenses; and as soon as winter is over and spring comes, let them eagerly set out on the way with God as their guide.

Excerpt from "The Decline of Christian Power in the Holy Land, 1164: Letter from Aymeric, Patriarch of Antioch to Louis VII of France"

Aymeric, by the grace of God, patriarch of the holy Apostolic See of Antioch, to Louis, illustrious king of the French,—greeting and Apostolic benediction.

It would be fitting that we should always write joyful tidings to his royal majesty and should increase the splendor of his heart by the splendor and delight of our words. But the reverse has ever been our lot. The causes for tears, forsooth, are constant, the grief and the groaning are continuous, and we are unable to speak except of what concerns us. For the proverb says: "Where the grief is, there is also the tongue and hand." The deaths of the Christians are frequent and the captures which we see daily. Moreover, the wasting away of the church in the East afflicts with ineradicable grief us who, tortured internally even to our destruction, are dying while living in anguish of soul, and, leading a life more bitter than death, as a culmination of our miseries, are wholly unable to die. Nor is there anyone who turns his heart towards us and out of pity directs his hand to aid us. But not to protract our words, the few Christians who are here cry out to you, together with us, and implore your clemency, which with God's assistance is sufficient to liberate us and the church of God in the East.

And now we will tell you of all the events which have happened to us. In the Lent which has just passed, a certain one [Nureddin] of the men who are about us, who is held as chief among the Saracens, and who oppresses our Christian population far more than all who have gone before, and the leader of his army [Schirkuh], having gotten possession of Damascus, the latter entered Egypt with a great force of Turks, in order to conquer the country. Accordingly, the king of Egypt, who is also called the sultan of Babylon, distrusting his own valor and that of his men, held a most warlike council to determine how to meet the advancing Turks and how he could obtain the aid of the king of Jerusalem. For he wisely preferred to rule under tribute rather than to be deprived of both life and kingdom.

The former, therefore … entered Egypt, and favored by certain men of that land, captured and fortified a certain city. In the meantime the sultan made an alliance with the lord king [Amalric] by promising to pay tribute each year and release all the Christian captives in Egypt, and obtained the aid of the lord king. The latter before setting out, committed the care of his kingdom and land, until his return, to us and to our new prince, his kinsman Bohemond, son of the former prince, Raymond.

Therefore, the great devastator of the Christian people, … collected together from all sides the kings and races of the infidels and offered a peace and truce to our prince.… His reason was that he wished to traverse our land with greater freedom in order to devastate the kingdom of Jerusalem and to be able to bear aid to his vassal fighting in Egypt. But our prince was unwilling to make peace with him until the return of our lord king.

When the former saw that he was not able to accomplish what he had proposed, full of wrath, he turned his weapons against us and laid siege to a certain fortress of ours, called Harrenc, twelve miles distant from our city. But those who were besieged—7000 in number including warriors, men and women—cried loudly to us, ceasing neither day nor night, to have pity on them, and fixed a day beyond which it would be impossible for them to hold out. Our prince having collected all his forces, set out from Antioch on the day of St. Lawrence and proceeded as far as the fortress in entire safety. For the Turks in their cunning gave up the siege and withdrew a short distance from the fortress to some narrow passes in their own country.

On the next day our men followed the enemy to that place and while they were marching … battle was engaged and they fled. The conflict was so disastrous that hardly anyone of ours of any rank escaped, except a few whom the strength of their horses or some lucky chance rescued from the tumult. Those captured were our prince [Bohemond III], the count of Tripoli [Raymond II], … and some of the brethren of the Templars and Hospitalers who had come from the county of Tripoli with the count. Of the people, some were killed, others captured; very few escaped; men, horses and weapons were almost entirely destroyed.

After the slaughter of the Christians the Turks returned to the … fortress, captured it, and by compact conducted the feeble multitude of women, children and wounded as far as Antioch. Afterwards they advanced to the City, devastated the whole country as far as the sea with fire and sword and exercised their tyranny according to their lusts on everything which met their eyes.

God is witness that the remnant which is left us is in no way sufficient to guard the walls night and day, and owing to the scarcity of men, we are obliged to entrust their safety and defense to some whom we suspect. Neglecting the church services, the clergy and presbyters guard the gates. We ourselves are looking after the defense of the walls and, as far as possible, are repairing, with great and unremitting labor, the many portions which have been broken down by earthquakes. And all this in vain, unless God shall look upon us with a more kindly countenance. For we do not hope to hold out longer, inasmuch as the valor of the men of the present day has been exhausted and is of no avail.…

Above all, the only anchor which is left in this extremity for our hope is in you. Because we have heard from everybody of your greatness, because we have understood that you, more than all the other kings of the West, always have the East in mind.… And it is our hope that by your hand the Lord will visit His people and will have compassion on us.

May the sighings and groanings of the Christians enter the ear of the most high and incomparable prince; may the tortures and griefs of the captives strike his heart. And, not to make our letter too long, lest we should waste away in this vain hope and be for a long time consumed by the shadow of death, may his royal majesty deign to write to us and tell us his pleasure. Whatever we undergo by his command will not be difficult for us. May our Lord Jesus Christ increase in the heart of the king the desire which we desire, and may He in whose hand are the hearts of kings enkindle that heart! Amen.

What happened next…

The papacy, or office of the pope, continued to promote Crusades throughout the twelfth century and into the thirteenth. With the Second Crusade and Third Crusade, the church was a strong supporter of the Christian warriors. In the beginning of the thirteenth century Pope Innocent III, asked for another holy war against the Muslims in the Holy Land. But the Fourth Crusade (1202–04) was one of the great tragedies for the Crusader movement. Proclaimed and blessed by Innocent III, that Crusade never went to the Holy Land but instead attacked the Christian city of Zara on the Yugoslavian coast and then moved on and sacked the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, another Christian city, though part of the Eastern Orthodox faith. Innocent excommunicated, or expelled, the disobedient Crusaders, but he later had to accept the fact of this invasion and actually used the victory in Constantinople as an excuse to try to spread the western, or Latin, church rites and traditions over the "Latin Empire of Constantinople" that the Crusaders had formed. But these efforts failed, and the schism, or separation, of East and West was only made worse. Such church-sponsored Crusades came to an end with the Sixth Crusade, which the German emperor Frederick II mounted without much religious sponsorship. The need for church propaganda was taken out of the Crusader movement, replaced with the more material concerns of expansion of empire. And for this, a professional army was needed.

Did you know…

  • Officially, the pope was the only one with the proper authority to call a Crusade, but many small expeditions and several full Crusades were proclaimed by people who were not church officials, such as the German emperor Frederick II at the Sixth Crusade (1228–29). By that time the idea of a Crusade had become one more area of competition between the pope and secular, or nonreligious, rulers.
  • As the Crusades proceeded, the papacy became more professional in spreading the word to the faithful. No bull (official pronouncement) was made for the First Crusade. Instead, it was left to local preachers to talk up the movement. By the Second Crusade matters had become more authoritative, with an official letter from the pope explaining the need for the Crusade and listing the privileges of the Crusaders. These privileges included, besides the indulgence, a guarantee to protect the lands of the Crusaders while they were away fighting and sometimes even a cancellation of bad debts, or money owed but not yet paid back. By 1181 the preparations for Crusades had become formalized in the papal bull known as Cor nostrum, which was published in all churches and announced by the priests.
  • In 1198, in preparation for the Fourth Crusade, a general executive office was set up by the pope for the "business of the cross," as it was described at the time. Freelance preachers had also come into the business by this time, roaming the countryside and preaching the Crusade.
  • By the thirteenth century the church had established a system to spread the word of a Crusade to every corner of the West.

Consider the following…

  • What appeals and information did Pope Urban II use to persuade the faithful to go on the First Crusade? Were these emotional or rational arguments, or were they a mixture of both?
  • The propaganda for the First Crusade came both in the written word and in the spoken word. Give examples of both types.
  • Discuss some of the ways in which the Catholic Church spread the word of the Crusades.

For More Information


Mayer, Hans Eberhard. The Crusades. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Munro, Dana C., ed. "Letters of the Crusaders." Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1896.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan, ed. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Thatcher, Oliver J., and Edgar Holmes McNeal, eds. A Source Book for Medieval History. New York: Scribners, 1905.

Web Sites

Fordham University. "The Decline of Christian Power in the Holy Land, 1164: Letter from Aymeric, Patriarch of Antioch to Louis VII of France." Internet Medieval Sourcebook. (accessed on August 4, 2004).

Fordham University. "Urban II: Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095, According to Fulcher of Chartres." Internet Medieval Sourcebook. (accessed on August 4, 2004).