God, Gold, or Glory: Norman Piety and the First Crusade

God, Gold, or Glory: Norman Piety and the First Crusade

By Samuel Andrew Bartlett

Master’s Thesis, University of North Florida, 2008

Abstract: Recent trends in crusade historiography depict the Frankish participants of the First Crusade as acting out of piety, while their Norman counterparts remain as impious opportunists. This thesis challenges this prevailing point of view, arguing that the Norman crusaders met the same standard of piety as the Franks. To support my theory, I looked at four different facets on the question of Norman piety, dividing them up into chapters of my thesis. In the first chapter, there is a brief discussion of the current portrayal of the Normans in modem crusade historiography. In the next chapter, I established what piety meant and how it was demonstrated by Christians of the 11th and 12th centuries. This includes an examination of relevant monastic charters, which provide evidence that the Normans had strong ties to the Papacy prior to the expedition to the East. The third chapter is a short summary about the developments leading to the First Crusade, and the standard of piety set by Pope Urban II. In the fourth chapter I examine the chronicles of the First Crusade and their characterization of the crusaders, both Norman and Frank, to see if the crusaders met the pontiff’s standard.

I conclude that the primary accounts depict the Normans as no different from their Frankish co-religionists, with both groups acting out of piety as well as ambition. The actions of a Norman knight, Bohemond, and a Frankish crusader, Raymond of Toulouse, exemplify this fact. The comparison of these two, as well as the rest of the crusade leaders, demonstrate that the Norman crusaders were driven by a complex and sometimes conflicting mix of pious and secular motivations, no different from their Frankish counterparts.

The armies of soldiers fighting in the First Crusade in response to Pope Urban II’s call to retake Jerusalem were composed of a variety of cultural groups from Western Europe. The argument over what motivated these men to become armed pilgrims, to travel long distances to strange lands, to fight and most likely die, began with the accounts of the eyewitnesses and continues to the present day. Early on the distinction was made between the pious Franks and the materialist Normans. Some Medieval chroniclers portrayed the Norman crusaders as interested only in amassing land and power, rather than fulfilling their religious vow. Even in recent historiography, the traditional interpretation of the Norman role in the First Crusade is not one of piety, but rather of opportunism – to use the conflict as a springboard for expansion into Byzantine and Muslim lands. This depiction is in stark contrast to the ongoing reexamination of the Frankish crusaders, who some crusade historians see as having a deep religious motivation. The Normans remain as the standard bearer of the pre-revisionist interpretation of crusader motives – for gold and glory, but not for God. However, examination of the evidence does not bear this distinction out. Instead of greed, a pattern of pious acts emerges performed by the families of the prominent Norman crusaders or in the case of Bohemond of Taranto, the crusaders themselves. The Normans who took up the cause for crusade were as conventionally pious as the Franks and other Europeans, exposing the falsehood of their historical portrayal as impious opportunists.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of North Florida

Click here to read more about the First Crusade

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