Preaching the Crusade (J. Flori)

Author of numerous works on the Crusades, historian Jean Flori focuses with his new book (Preaching the Crusade) on the religious aspect of these religious pilgrimages, and more particularly the motives of all those who participated in the Crusades, and the preached. Too often still today, the tendency is to consider these war expeditions as solely enterprises of conquest, motivated by the lure of profit and territory. However, it is difficult to understand the Crusades if one considers that the religious factor was only a pretext ...

At the origin of the Crusades: the holy war

The subtitle of the work, "Communication and propaganda", provides information on the angle chosen by Jean Flori. After having tried to define the crusade in a previous essay (The cross, the tiara and the sword), the historian is interested here in the preaching of the crusade, how popes and preachers were able to persuade tens of thousands of people to take up arms to reconquer the Holy Land, then to protect it.

Nevertheless, the author opens his essay with “the ideological foundations” of the crusade, ie the origins of the holy war. For this, he essentially takes up his previous work, which can be found in particular in Holy War, Crusade and Jihad: Violence and Religion in Christianity and Islam (Seuil, 2002). In summary, we can say that he traces the origin of the holy war to the theories of Saint Augustine, with an evolution until the 11th century, in particular certain expeditions of the Reconquista (Barbastro, 1063), sometimes considered as pre -crossades. On the other hand, and it is fortunate, Jean Flori does not dwell on jihad, which he deals with extensively in the work cited above (we will advise on the subject, M. Bonner, Jihad: origins, interpretations, combats , Téraèdre, 2005).

These ideological bases laid down, the historian does not yet enter directly into the subject. He returns to the origins of the crusade, or its premises, by evoking in particular the motivations of the papacy in relation to the Byzantine Empire, in the context that we know to be tense, and not only since the famous schism of 1054. The author dwells here on the role of Gregory VII, but also recalls the impact of the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher by Caliph Al-Hakim in 1009, even if we know that it was ultimately quite minimal. in the motivations of the crusade, which was not preached until almost 90 years later ... However, Jean Flori is perfectly right to assert that the growing importance of the pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher (and to Jerusalem) in the 11th century century weighed in the future preaching of the First Crusade.

The following chapter is an extension of the previous one, focusing on relations with Byzantium, as well as on the role of Peter the Hermit, which would go back even before the call of Urban II.

Preach the crusades

The rest of the book uses a more classic plan. Chronological, it also covers, for the most part, the unfolding of the “canonical” crusades, academically speaking, even if we know that the debates continue on the definition of the crusades (see for that the account of The cross, the tiara and sword). Obviously starting at the call of Urban II, it concludes with the Eighth Crusade, that which sees the death of Louis IX, future Saint-Louis.

For each part, Jean Flori shows the role of preachers and popes in what he calls a “propaganda” of the crusade, first to persuade the pilgrims to go and liberate the Holy Land, then, more complicated, to that they defend it once Jerusalem liberated in 1099. Among these men, if of course we retain Urban II, Bernard of Clairvaux or Innocent III (who benefits from an entire chapter), we (re) discover other fundamental personalities of this period, among which Henri d'Albano, Martin de Pairis, Jean d'Abbeville or Gilbert de Tournai.

In addition to the role of these men, the historian tries to show the evolution and the mutations of the ideology of the crusade, and the mentalities of the time. Because the crusade is preached in contexts that differ greatly between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. The reasons for leaving for the Holy Land, or for defending it, therefore evolve over time and according to the context.
We will focus in particular on the chapters concerning the so-called “children's crusade”, and on the last two, devoted to the crusades of Louis IX. Jean Flori has the good idea not to confine himself to France and the papacy, he also studies the ideology of the crusade among the English or even in the Empire, with in particular the always fascinating character of Frédéric II Hohenstaufen.

As often with Jean Flori, the work is enriched by an imposing bibliography, but above all by numerous documents such as letters and speeches by Urban II, encyclicals or papal bulls, documents classified by crusades. A real plus to salute.

Dense, this essay can be read quite easily, without necessarily having to follow the order, even if it is completely logical and clear. Certainly, for those who know the other works of Jean Flori, there may be some repetitions. We can also debate the analyzes and conclusions of the historian. But someone interested in the Crusades can hardly miss it.

- J. Flori, Preaching the Crusade, 11th-13th century. Communication and propaganda, Perrin, 2012, 526 pages.

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