Crusading, an "act of love"

"Upon leaving for the crusade, very many property owners made substantial donations to the church, in return for ready coin with which to finance their involvement on the expedition. These transactions were recorded and churches and monasteries preserved the charters throughout the centuries, being ever diligent on such matters.


Methodologically, the inclusion of such charters in a discussion of the First Crusade is unfaultable; the database created as a result of research into donation charters is extremely valuable. By the mid 1990s, for the period 1095–1131, it comprised 549 men and women who definitely took the cross, 110 who probably did so, and 132 who might have become crusaders. Insofar as such a database helps reveal the geographical and familial networks of the nobles who participated in the First Crusade, charter evidence is a welcome addition to the crusading sources. But their use as the key evidence in refuting the popular notion that crusaders were greedy knights, who cloaked their desire for booty in a pretended piety, is problematic.

Essentially, the argument in favour of seeing the motivation of the crusaders as primarily spiritual consists of three observations based on the charter evidence. Firstly, the cost of going on the crusade was shown to be extremely high; four times a knight’s annual income. The enterprise was not ‘cost effective’. Secondly, the proportion of second sons going on the crusade was demonstrably low. Therefore the theory that those who had no other prospects were the main driving force behind the crusade was rejected. Thirdly, the charters are consistent in expressing a deep concern for the salvation of their soul and a love of Christ.

The core of the ‘act of love’ position rests on the point that, in the absence of material motivations, the professed piety of the first crusaders must be considered to be the best guide to their outlook. Those who set forth on the First Crusade did so out of love of Christ and their neighbour."

This blog quotes a section of the book The Social Structure of the First Crusade by Conor Kostick (2008), which is available at Brill Leiden/Boston via This is an open access title distributed under the terms of the cc-by-nc License, which permits any non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. Illustration shows Pope Urban II preaching the crusade. Source Wikimedia Commons

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