The Crusades: The Council of Clermont
Feudal Europe’s Great Mass Migration
The Council of Clermont was a mixed synod, or council, of church officials and high ranking Catholic laity in November, 1095 in Clermont, France.
The Origins of the Council of Clermont
In 1095, Alexius I Comnenius, the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire dispatched heralds to Western Europe. Their mission was to request military assistance for the Byzantine Empire, which was slowly losing ground to the Seljuk Turks of the Ottoman Empire.
The Byzantines’ plea for assistance was received by Pope Urban II, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, who was attending the Council of Piacenza at the time. He sent messengers to all of the bishops and cardinals in France, instructing them to attend a meeting at Clermont, and to bring the most important nobles with them.
The council was attended by more than 300 senior church officials and high ranking secular nobility. Even though the Council of Clermont was called by the Pope to raise an army, the situation in Eastern Europe was the last item on the Council’s agenda.
On Nov. 27, the Pope declared bellum sacrum, or holy war, against the Muslim Turks in the Holy Land for invading the Byzantine Empire.
The Historiography of the Council of Clermont
There are six main primary sources that record the Council of Clermont. The first is Gesta Francorum, written by an unknown author, which apparently influenced other major documents pertaining to the Council of Clermont. These include the accounts written by Fulcher of Chartre, Robert the Monk, Archbishop Baldric of Dol and Guibert de Nogent. Pope Urban II also makes references to the Council of Clermont in a letter written immediately afterward.
According to Fulcher of Chartre, Pope Urban addressed various issues of importance to the church at the time, as well as the need to assist the Christians in Eastern Europe. “They have occupied more and more of the land of those Christians and have overcome them in seven battles.”
Robert the Monk also wrote about the Council of Clermont. According to Robert, the Pope claimed that those who chose to participate in the Crusades would receive remission for their sins. Robert wrote that the Pope’s emphasis was the recapture of the Holy Land and not aiding the Byzantine Empire.
Around the same time, Baldric, also wrote an account of the Council of Clermont. “It is less wicked to raise your sword against Saracens,” he wrote. Baldric wrote that one of the Pope’s aims in encouraging the Crusades was to channel the violence of European knights into something constructive and to keep the knights from fighting each other. Baldric also asserted that the Archbishop of Puy had been selected in advance by the Pope to lead the Crusade.
Of the six primary source documents that have survived, regarding the Council of Clermont, only two are known to been written by eyewitnesses. The first is an account written by Guibert de Nogent. He asserted that, while the retaking of Jerusalem was not specifically mentioned in Pope Urban’s address, the recapture of the Holy Land was the first priority of the Crusade.
Pope Urban made a final general appeal to the knights and nobility of France. It is believed that this appeal was made with the foreknowledge that Raymond IV of Toulouse was already preparing an expedition to the Holy Land, in anticipation of the Pope’s declaration of holy war against the Turks. Nobody present at the Council knew what they had set in motion. The Pope was expecting a few companies of armed knights. Instead what he got was a tide of humanity, in the form of the People’s Crusade.
Works CitedInternet Medieval Source Book. Pope Urban II’s Speech to the Council of Clermont. Feb.13/09
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