Papal Protection and the Crusader

Flanders, Champagne and the Kingdom of France, 1095-1222

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Danielle E. A. Park
  • Suffolk, UK: 
    Boydell & Brewer Publishers
    , February
     254 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In the United Kingdom, young scholars must often complete a dissertation within a very short time frame and quickly turn it into a book. Despite these time limitations, Danielle Park’s first monograph largely delivers what its title promises. Park traces the origins, form, and development of papal protection promised to crusaders and utilizes regional studies of the high nobility and royalty to evaluate how effective this pledge was in practice. She distinguishes between the promise of protection granted to crusaders (which extended to their property, moveable and immoveable, and to their families) from that granted to pilgrims (typically restricted to pilgrims’ persons and the possessions they carried). She rightly highlights the interlacing of spiritual and temporal concerns that led individuals to become crusaders and their relations and allies to support this endeavor; she posits that crusade-specific protection formed a powerful motivation for some to take the cross or, at the very least, enabled their departure.

Following a venerable tradition in crusading historiography, Park presents Urban II’s declaration of what would become known as the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont as a radical departure from previous practice; Urban granted the first crusade indulgence and extended the Peace and Truce of God to the persons and the family and possessions of those who took the cross. The novelty of this institution required some adept legal rationalization (outlined in chapters 1 and 3). Following historians Jonathan Phillips and Ane Bysted, Park portrays Eugenius III as proactively setting or mandating policy (particularly through his clarification of the duration of the protection offered as extending from the moment individuals took the cross until their confirmed death or return). She counteracts the “Tyerman theory” that the crusades only became truly institutionalized post-Hattin (1187) by downplaying the innovations enabled by the responsive nature of Innocent III’s reformulation of crusading privileges and extension of the crusade indulgence to wider categories of participants in Quia Maior and Ad Liberandam, which set the tone for 13th century crusade privileges (205).

For Park, papal protection of crusaders was “not as amorphous, ambiguous, and unrealistic as … Bird and Tyerman have previously claimed” (211). She repeatedly opposes Aryeh Grabois’s assertion that papal protection was almost impossible to implement effectively (9, 211). Yet Park’s meatiest chapters convincingly depict the careful and rigorous attempts of departing noble crusaders to safeguard their possessions through the declaration of regional peace, settling of disputes, (re)issuing of laws, donations to monasteries, and appointment of qualified regents. This, to some, would indicate anxiety regarding the viability of papally proffered protection. Park does acknowledge that some, most spectacularly Richard the Lionheart, returned to find their absences exploited. She notes the limits of excommunication as a sanction and that the enforcement of protection depended on the “authority, tenacity, and personality of individual popes and regents,” but nonetheless asserts that this did not undermine the allure of crusader-specific protection (210-11). 

Unfortunately, Park disregards other evidence, such as the letters of crusade organizers including Gervase of Prémontré and Jacques de Vitry, who claimed that preachers would face difficulty in recruiting individuals due precisely to the lack of individuals on the ground empowered to enforce often-contested and ill-defined crusader privileges. Surviving sermons also stress the spiritual and physical protection afforded by the crusader’s cross to those who took it and their families, indicating that uncertainty lingered in audiences listening to crusading appeals. Park’s study also focuses on the highest ranks of the nobility: we are deprived of potentially useful comparative cases of ecclesiastics who took the cross and crusaders of lower social status. While the survival of evidence for these groups in earlier periods is scanty, Park’s chapter 6 extends into the pontificate of Innocent III and his successors, where evidence abounds in episcopal and papal registers. Similarly, her argument is somewhat artificially narrowed and neatened by the isolation of papal protection from other benefits granted to crusaders—remission of interest on loans and of penances imposed for arson and violence, trial in ecclesiastical courts in some matters, the ability to mortgage ecclesiastical benefices, flexibility in dispensation for consanguineous marriages, and so on.

Despite these limitations, Park provides a valuable portrait of the experiences of departing crusaders as they made a host of temporal and spiritual arrangements, and of the struggles and triumphs that their regents, many of them women, faced in their absence. She convincingly demonstrates that the departure of many male rulers from Champagne and Flanders did not create the opportunity for noble women and/or male heirs to rule but merely extended an already vigorous practice of co-rulership. Crusaders chose their wives (and in some instances male relatives) as regents because of their already proven capability as rulers, a legitimacy often bolstered by a deliberate display of co-rulership before the crusader’s departure. These chapters chart a sure course among the tricky shoals of the many interpretative issues surrounding charters, seals, donations, and chronical evidence.

However, one wonders if these chapters might be further enriched by a consideration of the ways in which crusaders combined temporal arrangements with spiritual ones. While Park rightly notes that the kings of France and England appointed panels which combined ecclesiastical as well as secular regents in recognition that both secular and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, administration, and penalties (excommunication and military force) were necessary to safeguard their realms, this reliance on ecclesiastical authority is less explored in her consideration of second-tier crusaders, even those for whom ample information exists, such as Henry the Liberal of Champagne. How did preparations for departure relate to patterns of noble sponsorship of religious houses (Anne Lester) and family memory and traditions of crusading (Nicholas Paul)? What were the spiritual and commemorative resonances of Philip of Flanders’s petition to have his remains and those of his wife buried at Clairvaux and his donation of a portable altar to Clairvaux (which he then borrowed back for his crusade) (175)? Likewise, how did rulers and their regents cultivate relations with the local bishops and monasteries who were essential for implementing the spiritual penalty of excommunication levied (or sometimes not) on violators of the promise of papal protection offered to crusaders? These and other questions raised by Park’s rich picture of the preoccupations, struggles, and triumphs of crusaders and their regents should provide further stimulus to the burgeoning field of the study of the impact of the crusades on the “home front” for years to come.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jessalynn Bird is Assistant Professor of Humanistic Studies at St. Mary's College.

Date of Review: 
July 3, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Danielle E. A. Park is lecturer in medieval history at the University of York.


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