Exempla and lineage: Motives for crusading, 900-1150

Exempla and lineage: Motives for crusading, 900-1150

Robert H. Bouskill

M.A. Thesis, McGill University (1996) 


From 900 to 1150, major institutional and political changes took hold in Europe. with the advent of the castellans and consolidation of the agnatic noble family, new terms of reference were deployed by writers to reflect these changes. Contributing to tha militarization ‘of the aristocracy were exempla and descent myths in house histories and hagiography. Public recitation of this literature thus familiarized the arms-bearer with his heroes, nourished his martial piety and motivated him to defend his patria. Patria also carried an anagogical significance: the heavenly Jerusalem. This permitted its earthly counterpart – Palestine and the literal Jerusalem to be incorporated into this concept of patria. With the unforseen taking of Jerusalem in 1099, clerical chroniclers in France took the opportunity to cast the pilgrimage and victory in epic terms, reverting to the use of certain conventions of epic intended to motivate arms-bearers in the twelfth century and beyond to defend the Holy Land.

The First Crusade is fixed in our collective historical awareness as one of the most significant events in European history. Every imaginable aspect of the crusade has been investigated by historians. One of the most interesting is that of motivation. Why did people go on the First Crusade? The following thesis is a contribution to the current discussion on the issue of what motivated people to go.

The Gesta Francorum is the earliest known account of the First Crusade. As the Gesta circulated throughout French territories in the early years of the twelfth century, clerical writers saw in it a crude account of an event that was considered by them to be nothing short of miraculous, and which has come to be dubbed the First Crusade. These writers took the Gesta, written by a knight from southern Italy, and reworked it so as to offer a more appropriately adorned, Christian account. The Gesta was theologized to meet the standards of the religious literary traditions then prevailing in French lands.

Click here to read this thesis from McGill University


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