The Origin of the Second Crusade

The Origin of the Second Crusade

By George Ferzoco

The Second Crusade and the Cistercians, edited by Michael Gervers (New York, 1992)

Introduction: 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. 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. 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). 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 II. Berry’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. 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.

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. 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

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