crusades-art - 7/25/94
"The Political Crusade" by Mistress Nicolaa de Bracton of Leicester.
NOTE: See also the files: crusades-msg, heretics-msg, p-relig-tol-msg,
Islam-msg, pilgrimages-msg, religion-msg, relics-msg.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefanšs Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
This one was in last year's Pennsic book (the one you get at the gate),
so if it looks a bit familiar....
The Political Crusade
--Nicolaa de Bracton of Leicester
To most thirteenth century Europeans, taking crusader's vows would be
completely natural. Publicly (usually in church), the potential
_crusignatus _ would pledge to support the Church's efforts in the
Holy Land, and sew a linen cross to his or her garment. These vows
could be taken at any time (the Holy Land was continuously in need of
aid in these, the declining days of the crusades) and by anyone: rich
or poor, man or woman, layman or cleric. This was in decided contrast
to earlier practice in which all but knights were actively discouraged
from taking the cross. One's reasons for taking the vows could range
from an act of loyalty to a lord preparing to embark for the Holy Land
to an act of penitence assigned as partial retribution for crimes.
Needless to say, everyone who took such vows did not make the trip to
Outremer. Very few women made the journey. We have, of course, the
famous story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who accompanied her first
husband Louis VI on crusade; of Eleanor, Countess of Leicester, who
accompanied Simon de Montfort as far as Sicily before stopping to give
birth, and of Eleanor of Castile, Edward I's queen, who actually had a
daughter born in Acre. But these women were exceptions. Clerics,
especially those charged with duties to a parish or diocese, were also
discouraged from actually going. The poor could usually make the
journey only if they were attached to some lord's retinue. What these
folk were encouraged to do was give money to support the crusading
efforts. They received the same protection as other _crusignati _--
indulgence from sins, special papal protection, and the like. The
survival of a fair sized body of literature, music, and art relating
to the crusade is ample proof of the depth to which the idea of the
Crusade permeated society by the thirteenth century.
However, SCA society is somewhat more refined; most of us would
blanch at the idea of anything resembling a religious war (my friends
with Islamic personae would probably not be thrilled at that
prospect). It is little known, however, that not all who took the
cross did so in relief of the Holy Land or against heretics. In
England twice and in Sicily once we may find examples of "Crusades"
which under their religious veneer hide essentially political conflicts.
In 1216 England was in chaos. At the death of King John many of his
barons were in open revolt due to his successful attempt to gain papal
annulment of the provisions of Magna Carta, which had entailed doing
homage to the Pope for the kingdom of England as a papal fief. John
had then taken the cross. London and a large portion of southeast
England were in the hands of the rebellious barons and their allies,
French forces under Prince Louis (later Louis VIII). The heir to the
throne, Henry III, was nine years old. Upon his coronation, Henry
took the cross, and the royalist forces sewed white crosses onto their
clothes. The Pope now had a direct interest in English affairs. He
declared that the royalist forces were indeed "soldiers of Christ" and
likened the rebels to Saracens. Papal registers are explicit in their
reference to the crusade "in defence of the King of England"
Contemporary sources use crusade imagery to depict the resulting
battles, in which the French are driven out of England and the
rebellious barons are eventually brought back into the fold.
In the late 1250's comes another example of this type of crusade.
Unlike the English example, in which one's vows to go to the Holy Land
could not be redeemed by participating in the suppression of the
revolt, the Pope in this instance allowed those who had taken the
cross to redeem their vows in Sicily, where Manfred, the illegitimate
son of Frederick II (whose policies had threatened papal power in
Italy), now ruled as king. Few were willing to engage in such an
overtly political war against such a strong opponent, however. The
crown was first offered in 1252 to Richard of Cornwall, brother of
Henry III, who refused it on the grounds that actually taking control
in Sicily was impossible. Henry III was later enlisted in this task,
being promised the crown of Sicily for his son Edmund and the
commutation of his crusader's vow to a papal-sanctioned holy war
there. However, he was required to assume responsibility for the
enormous papal debt, which immediately caused an uproar in England and
insured that Henry would never complete the task. It was left to the
French, who starting in 1264 and under much more reasonable terms
succeeded in expelling Manfred and installing Charles of Anjou,
brother of Louis IX, as king.
We must return to Henry, because here we find our third "political
crusade". Henry's demand for funding for this "Sicilian Enterprise"
led directly to a baronial revolt (reminiscent of the baronial revolt
which followed John's demands for funds for ill-advised wars in
France). To make a long story short, after seven years of attempted
reform the baronial party (which came to be led by Simon de Montfort)
was defeated by the royalist forces at the Battle of Evesham. In this
case, we have evidence that the forces of both sides had taken the
cross: a fair number of the English clergy, who loathed the Italian
papal curia and its attempts to interfere in English affairs,
supported Montfort and had promised his forces remission of sin, while
the royalist forces had received papal sanction to preach a crusade
against the Montfortians and were likewise promised absolution. It
appears that the royalists wore a red cross on each shoulder, while
Montfort's wore a single white cross on the right shoulder. Who were
the "real" crusaders, then? The question is not one of religion; both
Henry and Simon de Montfort had reputations as pious men. It seems
that by this time the idea of crusades against other Christians whose
political policies one opposed had become commonplace and that the
practice of seeing one's opponents as "enemies of God and Christian
unity" had become well established.
In the SCA, we don't go on crusades; but we do go to War. In many
ways going to Pennsic or Estrella is like going to the Holy Land
without all the risk. It is far away (or at least for most of us it
is), requires months of planning, features dazzling bazaars filled
with all manner of merchandise, hot, steamy days, and nights spiced
with storytelling and revelry, and a chance for the fighter to win
glory on the field of battle. However, these are certainly not wars
against the Saracen infidel. Perhaps it can be seen as a political
crusade of a sort (albeit a rather civil one)-- those of us who are so
inclined might take the vow of the crusader and redeem it in the field
battle or the archery field, or by giving alms (rattan? duct tape?
beer?) to help a few fighters go where we ourselves do not wish to.
In this way we might bring alive an important part of the culture of
the Middle Ages.
Lloyd, Simon. _English Society and the Crusade, 1216-1307._ Oxford 1988
____________, T "Political Crusades" in England, c. 1215-17 and c.
1263-5', _Crusade and Settlement_, P.W. Edbury, ed., Cardiff, 1985. 113-9.
Powicke, Maurice, _The Thirteenth Century_. 2nd edition, Oxford, 1962.
copyright 1994 by Susan Carroll-Clark, 53 Thorncliffe Park Dr. #611,
Toronto, Ontario M4H 1L1 CANADA. Permission granted for
republication in SCA-related publications, provided author is credited
and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.
Copyright © Mark S. Harris (Lord Stefan li Rous)
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