3 Reasons Pope Urban II Started The First Crusade

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The First Crusade lasted from 1096-1099 and was started by Pope Urban II delivering a speech at the council of Clermont in 1095. Depending on who you ask this could have been the most successful speech ever given in medieval Europe or the worst. This article aims to clarify the 3 reasons why Pope Urban gave his now famous speech at Clermont in 1095 which started the First Crusade.

There are 3 reasons why Pope Urban II started the first crusade. First, Pope Urban used the Crusade to reinforce Papal authority over medieval Europe after the Investiture Controversy. Second, Pope Urban II used the crusade as an outlet for European knights to fight someone besides themselves. Third, the First Crusade gave Urban II power over the Byzantine Empire.

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Without further ado, here are the 3 reasons why Pope Urban II started the First Crusade.

Pope Urban Used The First Crusade To Reinforce Papal Authority Over Medieval Europe After The Investiture Controversy

One of the main reasons why Pope Urban II started the First Crusade was because he needed to reinforce Papal authority over medieval Europe.

In 1076 the predecessor to Pope Urban II, Pope Gregory VII, engaged in a fierce power struggle with Henry IV the Holy Roman Emperor. This power struggle was surrounding the right for the pope to promote and install bishops which were in theory outside the monarch’s power.

For nearly 400 years the Pope held authority to install quasi-independent bishops which only reported to the Pope. These bishops provided a network of resources for Papal authority and also in many ways undermined the local monarch’s powers.

When Pope Urban came to power in 1088 he needed to cement power over the Holy Roman Empire. The best way to do this was to issue a papal wide call to arms which mobilized a massive papal army.

Of the ‘primary’ sources that historians have of Pope Urban II’s speech it appears that the main goal of Urban was to unite the western of Europe under Papal authority.

As such one of main reasons why Pope Urban II started the First Crusade was because was looking to cement Papal authority over western Medieval Europe.

Pope Urban Used The First Crusade A Way To Force European Nobles To Stop Fighting Amongst Themselves

Another reason why Pope Urban II started the First Crusade was because across medieval Europe knights were fighting among themselves.

The society of medieval Europe during the middle ages involved 3 classes of people. First, those who pray: the clergy. Second, those who work: the peasantry. Third, those who fight: the knights and monarchy.

While the clergy and peasantry were relatively stable and ‘self-sustaining’ the nobility had to fight among themselves for resources. Early on in the medieval era this was ok as there was plenty of land. However, as nobles would have children and divvy out their land a demand for more land would be needed.

This would result in several internal mini ‘wars’ across Europe. Naturally the peasantry and clergy did not like this.

Pope Urban used the First Crusade as a way of directing these professional soldiers away from European lands. There was no better target than the ‘lost’ city of Jerusalem.

Upon the ‘success’ of the First Crusade much of the nobility of Europe that did not have a guarantee of lands would secure land in the levant through Crusade.

Modern historians call this the “consecration of violence” which officially marks the call to Crusade during the medieval era. Pope Urban’s idea here was to direct all the knight’s and nobles’ attention away from Europe which would allow for stability to grow under the papal church.

As such one of the main reasons why Pope Urban II started the First Crusade was because it forced the European Nobles to stop fighting amongst themselves.

The First Crusade Gave Pope Urban II Power Over The Byzantine Empire

The final reason why Pope Urban II started the first crusade was because he wanted to both reconnect and gain some degree of power over the Byzantine Empire.

The Byzantine Empire had fragmented away from the Western Roman Church in 1054. This event is called the Great Schism of 1054 and it was centered around political power between the powerful Byzantine Empire and the Roman West.

Shortly before the Council of Clermont where Pope Urban II would give his speech he would attend another Papal council, the Council of Piacenza. Among those who attended this council was a group of ambassadors from the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus.

This group of ambassadors would pass along a message that the Byzantine Empire was failing to prevent the advancement of the Seljuk dynasty. Historians don’t know much about this message but it appears to have been significant enough to force Urban to call for an immediate call to arms during that council.

Pope Urban would seize this opportunity to both unite the two churches as well as obtain power over the Byzantine Empire. If he could successfully call the First Crusade Pope Urban II would obtain significant bargaining power over the desperate Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus.

As such one of the main reasons why Pope Urban II started the First Crusade was because if he was successful he would reunite the eastern and western church under his power.

Conclusion

There you have it; an entire article going over the 3 reasons why Pope Urban II started the first crusade.

Crusade history is a fascinating subject. We still have almost no idea what went on or why so many people showed up to go on the First Crusade. There are still several battlefields that historians have never found either. Prospective graduate students can make an entire career out of studying just the crusades.

Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the internet.

Further, you can check out some of the other articles below.

Sincerely,

Nick