Access is Power: Financing the Second Crusade in France
By Chris McFadin
Paper given at the First Annual International Conference on Information and Religion, Kent State University (2011)
Introduction: Let me begin by saying that as a medievalist, I am very happy to be in the company of such a diverse group of scholars. I would like to first offer some introductory comments on medieval land ownership. Then I will suggest an explanation for why historians have been slow to use land charters as a primary source for the history of the crusades. After setting the stage for the Second Crusade, I will then discuss some of the disputes that arose between monks and crusaders regarding property lines. And finally, I will conclude by arguing that access to and control over the written word—the ability to read and write—determined the outcome of many of these disputes.
Medieval notions of land ownership differ widely from our own. In twelfth-century France, landowners demonstrated their possession of land by using it, just like the generations before them. How did they determine where one person’s property ended and another person’s began? Land charters, wills, and other descriptive sources indicate that landowners subscribed to an ambiguous notion of property lines. For instance, two neighbors might share a property line demarcated by a large rock. The edges of rivers, ponds, and lakes, the base of a mountain or a hill, or even the edge of a forest, could all serve as meeting points between two property owners.
How did families remember these boundaries from generation to generation? One way of doing this involved firmly implanting it in a young person’s memory. Several land charters indicate that families brought their children to the property line, told them what determined the property line, and then immediately inflicted a small amount of physical pain. By associating the property line with a traumatic experience, many parents hoped that their children would clearly remember where the family’s land ended. Given the importance of land and maintaining the family’s possessions over the long term, it is unsurprising that many parents repeated this practice for a number of years.