Human thought is rarely homogenous, and it should come as no surprise that there were differences of opinion in the 11th-century about the First Crusade that Pope Urban II instigated in 1095. These naysayers came in different forms—criticisms were raised about the spiritual worth of pilgrimages; the idea of holy war was questioned; and, less ideologically, political opponents of Pope Urban II decried the pontiff’s action as an improper use of papal influence. Of these groups, the most active opposition at the time of the First Crusade came from the pope’s religious rivals in Europe, who reportedly went out of their way to denounce the pope and harass the crusaders.
In the mid-and-late 11th century, there was a dramatic breach in the alliance between the Roman Church and the Holy Roman Empire. Ruling the empire for these tumultuous years was, Emperor Henry IV (r. 1054/1056-1106), who ascended to a kingdom when he was four years old, and was placed atop an empire when he was six. The child-emperor’s early reign was dominated by his mother, Agnes, who did nothing to ingratiate her son to the Roman popes. Instead, she helped prop up an antipope named Honorius II (r. 1061-1064). By the time Henry IV came of age in 1065, his mother had been forced into a convent and the antipope Honorius II was ousted, nevertheless the relationship between Henry and the popes had already been poisoned.
Over issues such as divorce, remarriage, and especially the investiture of bishops, Henry IV and an increasingly independent Roman Church would clash with growing intensity. By 1076, Henry IV and the Roman pope (then Gregory VII, r. 1073-1085) were openly denouncing each other. On the one hand, the emperor was calling for Gregory VII to be deposed, whereas the pope excommunicated Henry IV and encouraged rebellion and schemes against him. In 1080, the feud became all-out war—Henry IV propped up Archbishop Wibert of Ravenna as the anitpope, Clement III (r. 1080-1100), and invaded Italy to dislodge Pope Gregory VII. After years of warfare, Henry captured the city of Rome in 1084, ejecting Gregory and installing Clement III in his place. Gregory VII died in exile, as did his successor, Pope Victor III (r. 1086-1087). At the beginning of the pontificate of Pope Urban II (r. 1088-1099), Rome was still occupied by Henry IV and his antipope, Clement III. Yet, through skillful politics, Pope Urban was able to regain Rome in 1093, only two years before he sparked the crusades.
As the antipope Clement III had only been recently ejected from the city of Rome, some of his agents and supporters were still present in Italy when Urban II instigated the First Crusade in 1095. At that time, Clement III and his own faction naturally opposed it. Fulcher of Chartres (c. 1059-1127), a crusader and cleric firmly in support of Urban II, reported that Clement III openly, “disparaged the acts of Urban as vain” (Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres, 1.5.4). The war of words apparently became more physical, however, as prospective crusaders began encountering Clement’s supporters on roads and in cities.
Fulcher of Chartres, the aforementioned chronicling crusader, joined the crusader army of Count Robert Curthose of Normandy, Count Robert of Flanders and Count Stephen of Blois. They made their way to Italy, intending to be ferried across the Adriatic Sea at the port of Bari. During this journey through the Italian landscape, Fulcher claimed to have had quite a nasty run-in with mobs of people who supported Clement III and therefore were hostile to the crusaders. The chronicle stated, “When we entered the Church of Saint Peter, we met, before the altar, men of Wibert, the pseudo-Pope, who, with sword in their hands, wrongly snatched the offerings placed on the altar. Others ran up and down on the roof of the church itself, and from there threw stones at us as we were prostrate praying. For when they saw anyone faithful to Urban, they straightway wished to slay him” (Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres, 1.7.2). Such was the strange and divided state of the church at the start of the First Crusade. Pope Urban II died in 1099, ironically breathing his last before messengers could bring him the news that the crusaders had captured Jerusalem. His rival, Clement III, died one year later in 1100.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (The Departure of the Crusaders, painted by Victor Nehlig (c. 1830-1909), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Smithsonian).
- Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres, translated by Martha McGinty (1941), in The First Crusade edited by Edward Peters. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971, 1988.