The Origin of the Second Crusade

Siege-of-Damascus-Second-CrusadeThe Origin of the Second Crusade

George Ferzoco

The Second Crusade and the Cistercians (1992)

In seeking to establish the formal origin of the Second Crusade, one finds that in Vetralla on December 1,1145, Pope Eugenius III issued the crusading bull Quantum praedecessores.l Here, the pope addresses himself to France’s King Louis VII, his princes and all the faithful living in his realm. Eugenius recalls the efforts of Franks and Italians who, inspired by his predecessor Pope Urban II, took Jerusalem from the Moslems. The pope beseeches Louis and his men to recapture the city of Edessa (present-day Urfa, Turkey), which recently had been taken by the Moslems. In return, Eugenius promises ‘ecclesiastical protection of those family members, goods and possessions left behind by the new crusaders; he also declares the protection of debtors who participate in the crusade. The pope establishes some norms of behavior which must be followed by all who take the cross: expensive clothes, dogs and falcons are forbidden. To those who respond to this call, the pope grants the remission of sins.

Such are the basic facts contained in the crusading bull. Surrounding this small island of historical certainty, however, is a sea of discordant historical narration and interpretation concerning the initial events of this crusade.2 For example, Ephege Vacandard, Irenee Vallery-Radot, and Virginia Gingerick Berry are among those who have written that the bull had no effect upon the court summoned by King Louis VII to Bourges for Christmas 1145. Two present the matter rather cursorily: Vacandard, in his biography of Bernard, says that the bull did not arrive in the hands of Louis (before Christmas, at least).3 Vallery-Radot simply says that the bull was not issued until March 1, 1146; clearly he, like Andre Seguin, confuses the issue of Quantum praedecessores with that of the later bull commonly referred to as Quantum praedecessores 11.4Berry’s position is not unlike that of Vacandard. She states that the French nobles approached Bernard of Clairvaux for advice some time after the Christmas court, and that this would indicate that the court had not received the bull, for if the pope’s letter had indeed reached its addressee, it would seem natural for the French to have made immediate contact with the pope himself and no one else.5 In contrast to the above positions stand those expressed by historians such as Eugene Willems, Steven Runciman and Joshua Prawer, who simply assert that Louis had indeed received the bull by the Christmas 1145 assembly.6


The cause of such diverse interpretations and presentations of the same historical “fact” is, in the end, to be found in these historians’ readings of the original sources. We have at our disposal two important primary sources which contain details concerning the origin of the Second Crusade: Otto of Freising’s Gesta Friderici primi imperatoris and Odo of Deuil’s De profectione Ludovici septimi in orientem.7 If these two works are to be viewed as chronicles of precisely the same events, they conflict far more than they complement each other, and such apparent conflict has been the cause of the differences in recent historical accounts.

What is it that Otto and Odo appear to tell us about the origin of the Second Crusade? According to Otto, Louis told some of his nobles of his secret desire to go to Jerusalem. He asked for their advice, which was to call upon Bernard for his opinion. The abbot of Clairvaux counselled the princes to seek the advice of the pope. Eugenius, after receiving the embassy from the French court, seized the opportunity to call for a new crusade, and issued Quantum praedecessores. Not long afterward, Bernard preached successfully to so many people that a general assembly was called for Vezelay, at which Louis and many other French nobles took the cross from Bernard.

Odo’s account, unlike that of Otto, does not begin before the Christmas 1145 assembly. It is at Bourges that Louis first revealed to the bishops and magnates of France his fervent desire to go to the Holy Land. Godfrey, the bishop of Langres, spoke of the importance of a crusade to retake Edessa. But the audience remained unswayed, so it was decided that they would all meet again in a few months in Vezelay. Soon Louis sent messengers to the pope, who sent them back with letters concerning the launching of the crusade. The pope realized he would be unable to be present at Vezelay for the initial blessing of the crusade, and delegated the task to Bernard, who so brilliantly succeeded in his role that he was forced to tear his own garments in order to provide crosses to the many who wished to participate in the crusade.8

Both accounts begin with Louis revealing his secret desire, but apart from this, the conflicts between these two accounts are striking. However, if the events they narrate are viewed in a different context, they may be seen to fit each other very closely indeed. This newfound correspondence can be noticed once it is assumed that theGesta and the De profectione do not always deal with precisely the same historical events. Reconstructed, the history of the origin of this crusade loses much of its apparent confusion and abruptness. This reconstruction is effected by considering Otto’s account of Louis’ first meeting with his princes as taking place prior to the Christmas 1145 assembly, instead of actually being that same assembly.

According to this viewpoint, sometime before December 1145, Louis had for some time been anxious to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, on account of an unfulfilled vow made by his late brother Philip. The king summoned some of his princes and asked for their advice.9 Together they called upon Bernard for his opinion. Bernard’s response was that his own opinion should not decide the issue, and that the nobles should turn to the pope himself. Acting upon Bernard’s advice, an embassy was sent, and Eugenius, wanting to follow the example set by his predecessor Urban II in calling a crusade to spread the Christian faith, consented to the request. He granted Bernard “the authority to preach and to move the hearts of all”, and wrote a letter to Louis and his princes. This letter was the crusading bull Quantum praedecessores,issued on December 1, 1145.

From this point, the narrative may be followed sensibly if one shifts to Odo’s chronicle. At Bourges on December 25, 1145, Louis, solemnly wearing his crown, “revealed for the first time to the bishops and the magnates of the realm, whom he had purposely summoned in greater numbers than usual for his coronation, the secret in his heart.”10  It should be stressed at this point that when Otto mentions Louis revealing his secret, it is to some of his princes (“quibusdam”) and not, as Odo relates, to his bishops and magnates, and also not in greater numbers than usual (“generalius solito”).

Odo continues his narration by telling how the bishop of Langres, Godfrey de la Roche, formally spoke to the assembly concerning the sack of Edessa and the oppression of the Christians who lived there. He urged his audience to aid their fellow Christians by fighting on their behalf for Christ, the King of all mankind; this was to be accomplished by fighting under Louis, their temporal king.

Due to political considerations (and also likely because no response had yet been received from the pope following the embassy described by Otto), no immediate action on the crusade was taken. It was decided that less than three months later, all were to reassemble at Vezelay, on the Sunday before Palm Sunday. Those present at Vezelay, who would receive divine inspiration during the last two weeks of Lent, would then proceed to take the crusading cross on Easter Sunday.

Soon after the Bourges assembly, Louis sent messengers to Pope Eugenius in Rome, who sent them back home “bearing letters sweeter than any honeycomb”. According to Odo,

[these were letters] which enjoined obedience to the king and moderation in arms and clothing, which promised those taking the easy yoke of Christ the remission of all sins and the protection of their wives and children, and which contained certain other provisions that seemed advisable to the pope’s holy wisdom and solicitude.11

This description would indicate that the letter in question is Quantum praedecessores II, written by Eugenius on March 1, 1146. Odo explicitly refers to the pope’s command regarding “moderation in arms and clothing”; as Erich Casper and Peter Rassow have demonstrated, the only significant difference between the two crusading bulls is that the second stresses moderation in clothing and is the only bull which demands that no attention be given to “gilded or silvered arms”.12

Due to great political instability in Rome, the pope was unable personally to launch the crusade by granting its initial blessing at Vezelay. It is for this reason that he formally delegated this task to Bernard. And it is at the Vezelay assembly that the separate accounts of Otto and Odo may be seen to converge.

The above presentation of the crusade’s origins from late 1145 to March 1146 almost completely removes the seeming discrepancies between the accounts of Otto and Odo. As to why Odo would not have mentioned the pre-Christmas events narrated by Otto, it may be argued that one of Odo’s intentions in presenting his chronicle is to portray Louis as positively as possible. Accordingly, the opening event in the De profectione spotlights the French king in a dramatic setting as the sole initiator of this grand and holy project. The account, if it had told of the deliberations which necessarily would have taken place before an event such as this, would be less appealing to Odo’s readers (and less in keeping with the author’s narrative strategy).

This is not to say that what Odo explicitly recounts is untrustworthy, despite his propagandistic approach to the episode. On the contrary, as Virginia Gingerick Berry declares, the De profectione “is the only history wholly devoted to the subject, and is the most important single source of information for the Second Crusade.”13 Odo had a privileged position in observing the activities of the French crusaders: he was, after all, the chaplain of the king himself. Given that Otto did not have such a vantage point, his Gesta cannot serve as a final court of appeal in establishing the facts concerning the crusade’s origin when his account differs from that of Odo.

The single point which seems to remain most problematic in reading these accounts concerns the role of Bernard of Clairvaux. Otto states that Bernard was granted the authority to preach the crusade at the time Quantum praedecessores was issued. Furthermore, after presenting the text of the bull, Otto says:

[Bernard] made no misuse of the authority of the Apostolic See that had been granted to him. He valiantly girded himself with the
sword of the Word of God; and when he had aroused the hearts of many for the expedition overseas, finally a general assembly
was summoned at Vezelay . . . .14

Thus Otto makes it very clear that the summoning of the general assembly at Vezelay was due directly to Bernard’s successful and persevering preaching. And since this preaching resulted in calling the Vezelay assembly, it would have to have been accomplished before Christmas 1145; Odo makes it very clear that the summons to Vezelay was made at the Bourges Christmas assembly.

Concerning this, one should note that it seems that no contemporary chronicle mentions Bernard as present at the Christmas assembly; in particular, Odo makes no reference to Bernard’s presence at Bourges. As it is virtually inconceivable that Bernard’s presence at the Christmas court would have been passive or unnoted by the primary sources, it is reasonable to assume that Bernard was not there. Furthermore, in all probability, Bernard did not preach the crusade before Easter 1146. No such sermons exist today, and, with the sole exception of the Gesta, such preaching is not mentioned authoritatively by any contemporary chronicles.

The most damaging evidence against Otto’s assertion regarding Bernard’s preaching comes from the pen of Bernard himself. As he grew older, Bernard spoke more freely of his desire to remain in the cloister. Around the end of 1143, just two years before the issue of Quantum praedecessores, he had written to Peter the Venerable, saying:

I have decided to stay in my monastery, and not to go out, except once a year for the general chapter of abbots at
Citeaux . . . . I am broken in body and have a legitimate excuse for not going about as I used to.15

More to the point, early in 1146, pressured by those who wanted him to support openly and to preach the Crusade, Bernard wrote to Pope Eugenius, tersely stating his wishes:

. . . if anyone suggests to you that more might be put on me, know that as it is I am not equal to supporting what I carry.
Inasmuch as you spare me, you will save yourself. I believe that my desire never to leave my monastery is not unknown to you.16

It is obvious that with the passage of time, Bernard felt ever more determined to be a monk – a stable, contemplative monk – and no more “the chimaera of his age”.17As a monk, he deeply loved his monastery; indeed, it is no overstatement to say that he loved Clairvaux like a spiritual Jerusalem.18

Most historians of the Second Crusade appear to have neglected both these letters and this aspect of Bernard’s mentality. Some have added useful considerations which have not been taken up here; for example, Giles Constable says that prior to the pope’s command to preach, Bernard did not become involved with the crusade due particularly to canonical restrictions with regard to preaching by the regular clergy.19

However, Hans Eberhard Mayer’s account appears to rest solely upon perceived political motives. He states:

Understandably enough the abbot of Clairvaux was not at all inclined to support an expedition which looked as though it might have been instigated by the king. This would have meant that control over the crusade had been taken out of the hands of the Church. The papacy would have to face a considerable blow to its prestige if it could not maintain its position as overlord of the crusading movement. Bernard therefore tried to give the initiative back to the pope. He declared that he could not consider so important a question without first consulting the pope.20

Certainly Bernard would have considered the situation’s political aspects. But Mayer’s presentation would seem to be inaccurate insofar as it places politics as the basic factor in Bernard’s considerations concerning the crusades.

Bernard’s view of himself with regard to papal authority both during the early optimistic weeks of the crusade and after its tragic failure remain constant. This fact underlines the necessity of examining Bernard’s motivations as an aid to determining the course of events before Easter 1146. On May 1 of that year, Bernard wrote to the pope, reporting the tremendous success in gaining crusaders: “towns and castles are emptied, [and] one may scarcely find one man among seven women, so many women are there widowed while their husbands are still alive.” This report is immediately preceded, however, by the statement: “You have ordered and I have obeyed, and your authority has made my obedience fruitful”, clearly indicating the pope as the cause of such success.21

Similarly, even after the crusade’s failure, Bernard wrote in the De consideratione of his bewilderment at the negative outcome: “We rushed into this, not aimlessly but at your command, or rather, through you at God’s command.”22 It is likely this statement which led Mayer to state:

Bernard’s self-defense always ended with his taking cover behind the commission to preach the crusade which he
had received from the pope. That he should try to evade responsibility for the crusade after it had failed reveals a
side of his character which is not very attractive.23

Such a judgment gives little weight to the fact that Bernard tried his hardest “to evade responsibility for the crusade” before it began and even while it was generally held to be so very successful. Ultimately it is the character and actions of Bernard which provide the key to resolving the evasive historical problem of just how the Second Crusade had its origin: an origin marked by the very confusion that would characterize its events and doom it to failure.24

End Notes

1. The text of the bull is in Otto of Freising, Gesta 1, pp. 55-7 (Eng. ed.: Otto of Freising, Deeds, pp. 71-73 & Brundage, Documentary, pp. 86-88).

2. The following examples are representative of positions taken in accounts of the origin of the Second Crusade; they clearly are not intended to include all scholars or publications.

3. Vacandard, vol. 2, p. 275.

4. Valldry-Radot, p. 319; Seguin, p. 394.

5. Berry, p. 468.

6. Willems, p. 124; Runciman, vol. 2 (1952), p. 252; Prawer, Histoire, vol. 1, p. 347.

7. On the present subject, see Otto of Freising, Gesta 1, pp. 54-58 (Eng. ed.: Otto of Freising, Deeds, pp. 70-74). For Odo’s chronicle, see: Odo of Deuil, De profectione, pp. 6-11 (Eng. tr. also in: Brundage, Documentary, pp. 88-90).

8. “Et cum earum fascem praeparatum seminasset potius quam dedisset, coactus est vestes suas in cruces scindere et seminare” (Odo of Deuil, De profectione, p. 8).

9. ” . . . Lodewicus dum occultum Hierusalem eundi desiderium haberet, eo quod frater suus Philippus eodem voto astrictus morte preventus fuerat, diutius protelare nolens propositum, quibusdam ex principibus suis vocatis, quid in mente volveret, aperuit” (Ono of Freising, Gesta 1, p. 54, lines 11-15). For a complete study of Louis’ motivation see: Grabois, “Louis VII”.

10. “In natali Domini praecedenti [that is, the Christmas before the Easter 1146 assembly at Vdzelay] cum idem pius rex Bituricas cuiiam celebrasset, episcopis et optimatibus regni ad coronam suam generalius solito de industria convocatis secretum cordis sui primitus revelavit” (Odo of Deuf, De profectione, p. 6).

11. “Rex interim, peivigil in incoepto, Romam Eugenio papae super hac re nuntios mittit. Qui laetanter suscepti sunt laetantesque remissi, referentes omni favo litteras dulciores, regi oboedientiam, armis modum et vestibus imponentes, iugurn Christi suave suscipientibus peccatorum omnium remissionem parvulisque eorum et uxoribus patrocinium promittentes, et quaedam alia quae summi pontificis sanctae curae et prudenti visa sunt utilia continentes” (Odo of Deuil, De profectione, p. 8).

12. For the text of Eugenius’ second crusading bull, see: Rassow & Caspar, “Eugens III”. For an Eng. tr. of the bull, see also: Riley-Smith, Idea & Reality, pp. 57-59.

13. Odo of Deuil, De profectione, p. xx.

14. ” . . . Bernhardus abbas venerabilis concessa sibi apostolicae sedis auctoritate non abusus gladio verbi Dei fortiter accingitur, ac excitatis ad transmarinam expeditionem multorum animis, tandem curia generalis aput Verzelacum Galliae oppidum, ubi beatae Mariae Magdalenae ossa recondita sunt, indicitur. . .” (Ono of Freising, Gesta 1, p. 58, lines 2-7).

15. “Decretum est mihi ultra non egredi monasterio, nisi ad conventum abbatum Cistercium semel in anno . . . . Fractus sum viribus, et legitimam habeo excusationem, ut iam non possim discurrere ut solebam” (Bernard, Opera, vol. 8 (1977), letter 245, p. 99, lines 14-15, 18-19; tr.: Bernard, Letters, pp. 375-76).

16. ” . . . si suggestum vobis a quopiam fuerit de me amplius onerando, scitote vires mihi non suppetere ad ea quae porto. Quantum mihi, tantum parcetis et vobis. Propositum meum monasterium non egrediendi credo non latere vos” (Bernard, Opera, vol. 8, letter 245, p. 136, lines 16-19; tr.: Bernard, Letters, p. 396). Vacandard (vol. 2, p. 276, n. 2) suggests this letter may have been written soon after Louis’ emissaries left to consult the pope.

17. This celebrated phrase was coined by Bernard in describing himself: “Clamat ad vos mea monstruosa vita, mea aerumnosa conscientia. Ego enim quaedam Chimaera mei saeculi, nec clericum gero nec laicum.” (Bernard, Opera, vol. 8, letter 250, p. 147, lines 1-3). On this, see: Fracheboud.

18. See: Bernard, Opera, vol. 7 (1974), letter 64, pp. 157-58; here he equates Clairvaux with Jerusalem.

19. Constable, “Second Crusade”, p. 224.

20. Mayer, Kreuzziige, pp. 97-8 (Eng. ed.: Mayer, Crusades, p. 94).

21. ” . . . mandastis, et oboedivi, et fecundavit oboedientiam praecipientis auctoritas. Siquidem annuntiavi et locutus sum, multiplicati sunt super numerum. Vacuantur urbes et castella, et paene iam non inveniunt quern apprehendant septem mulieres virum unum, adeo ubique viduae vivis remanent viris” (Bernard, Opera, vol. 8, letter 247, p. 141, lines 16-20; tr.: Bernard, Letters, p. 399).

22. Bernard, Opera, vol. 3 (1963); see p. 411, lines 8-9 (tr.: Bernard, On Consideration, p. 48): “Cucurrimus plane in eo, non quasi in incenum, sed to iubente immo per to Deo.”

23. Mayer, Kreuzziige, p. 109 (Eng. ed.: Mayer, Crusades, p. 105).

24. Research on this subject was begun during course work in the Master of Arts program of the History Department of Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. This work was developed in: Ferzoco, esp. pp. 20-35, 121-27; and this has since been elaborated. I would like to acknowledge gratefully the generous support and advice I have received from Professor John Gilchrist, who was my director of studies at Trent.

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