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Excerpt from Annales Herbipolenses (1147)
Originally written by an anonymous annalist in Würzburg; Reprinted in The Crusades: A Documentary History; Translated by James Brundage; Published in 1962

Not everyone was convinced by the preaching for a holy war against the Muslims. There were those, as recorded by the following anonymous fifteenth-century historian of the German city of Würzburg, who saw other motives in this call to arms. Clearly, not every knight who "took the cross" and went off to fight the Muslim was a devout, or faithful Christian. Many went for individual profit, for new adventures, or just to escape boredom. Of course, the longer the Crusades lasted and the higher the cost in terms of lives and material, the more critics there were to the Crusader movement. And an unsuccessful mission, such as the Second Crusade (1147–49), as criticized in this excerpt, brought out even more negative opinion.

Things to Remember While Reading an Excerpt from Annales Herbipolenses:

  • The rise in power of Zengi, the Turkish Muslim governor of Mosul, and his taking of the Crusader state of Edessa in 1144 led to the call for a Second Crusade.
  • The medieval French clergyman Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preached this Crusade in Europe. One of the most powerful and influential church figures of the twelfth century, Saint Bernard also had many enemies inside and outside the church.
  • The Second Crusade was led by the king of France, Louis VII, and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. The German emperor Conrad III also brought about twenty thousand troops, but he was defeated by the Muslims almost immediately.

Excerpt from Annales Herbipolenses

God allowed the Western church, on account of its sins, to be cast down . There arose, indeed, certain pseudo prophets, sons of Belial , and witnesses of anti-Christ , who seduced the Christians with empty words. They constrained all sorts of men, by vain preaching, to set out against the Saracens in order to liberate Jerusalem. The preaching of these men was so enormously influential that the inhabitants of nearly every region, by common vows, offered themselves freely for common destruction. Not only the ordinary people, but kings, dukes, marquises , and other powerful men of this world as well, believed that they thus showed their allegiance to God. The bishops, archbishops, abbots , and other ministers and prelates of the church joined in this error, throwing themselves headlong into it to the great peril of bodies and souls.… The intentions of the various men were different. Some, indeed, lusted after novelties and went in order to learn about new lands. Others there were who were driven by poverty, who were in hard straits at home; these men went to fight, not only against the enemies of Christ's cross, but even against the friends of the Christian name, wherever opportunity appeared, in order to relieve their poverty. There were others who were oppressed by debts to other men or who sought to escape the service due to their lords, or who were even awaiting the punishment merited by their shameful deeds. Such men simulated a zeal for God and hastened chiefly in order to escape from such troubles and anxieties. A few could, with difficulty, be found who had not bowed their knees to Baal , who were directed by a holy and wholesome purpose, and who were kindled by love of thedivine majesty to fight earnestly and even to shed their blood for the holy of holies.

What happened next…

There was enough blame to go around after the failure of the Second Crusade. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, however, was not apologizing for his role in promoting the Crusade. He blamed the Crusaders themselves for its failure. But the negative results of this Crusade had large consequences. The church, after all, had put all its resources into the mission and had their most powerful speaker, Saint Bernard, put his full energy and reputation into it. Kings also had supported this Crusade, unlike the First Crusade, in which only minor nobles led the battle. Still, it was a terrible failure, and the Muslims not only had scored major victories but also had gained self-confidence in their holy war against the Christian Crusaders.

Despite continued church support and propaganda for more Crusades, there was a widespread reaction against crusading as a large-scale movement, and there were no more major Crusades for forty years. With the defeat of the Second Crusade the appeal of the Crusader movement weakened. No longer did Crusaders go to stay in the Crusader states. Instead, they went almost as pilgrims, or religious travelers, fighting the "infidel," gaining a cleansing of their sins, and then returning to their homes in Europe. No amount of propagandizing could bring back the energy and blind faith witnessed in the first two Crusades.

Did you know…

  • Recruitment, or getting an army in the field, was a major goal of propaganda for the Crusades.
  • The church tried to discourage the elderly, women, children, and the sick from going on a Crusade. But they were not always successful in this effort. The People's Crusade of 1096, the Children's Crusade of 1212, and the Crusade of the Shepherds in 1251 were all examples of Crusader preaching that was too successful and inspired gangs of untrained people to fight the Muslims. Usually, these Crusades ended in tragedy for the participants.
  • Knights, or noble soldiers, were the most important recruits for the Crusades. These mounted soldiers on horseback did most of the fighting, but there were many nonmilitary participants to bring along as well. Priests and other church officials were needed to pray for the soldiers before battle and at death; merchants were important to keep the armies supplied with food and arms; surgeons, youths to take care of the horses, and sailors to transport the armies were also necessary for a well-run Crusade.
  • Kinship was an important tool of the recruiter. Sons often accompanied their fathers, brothers went with brothers, uncles and nephews took part together.
  • The ties of lordship were also important in gathering an army. If a noble decided to go on Crusade, for example, then many of those in his circle or who were dependent on him also went. Thus it was important for the church to reach out to the higher nobility of kings, princes, and counts. By winning one, many might follow.

Consider the following…

  • Explain how public opinion in Europe affected the progress of the Crusades.
  • Discuss three reasons the writer of the excerpt from Annales Herbipolenses gave for men joining the Crusades. Which do you feel was the strongest motivation? Why?
  • Discuss some of the negative results (from the Western point of view) of the failed Second Crusade. What do you think the Muslim victory in that same Crusade did for the spirit of the Islamic fighters?

Cast Down: Fall on hard times.

Pseudo: Fake.

Belial: Satan, the devil.

Anti-Christ: In Christianity, a person who represents evil on Earth; a false Christ or an unbeliever in Christ.

Constrained: Persuaded.

Vain: Useless, meaningless.

Saracens: Muslims.

Marquises: Noblemen with a rank between duke and count.

Bishops, Archbishops, Abbots: Church officials of various ranks.

Prelate: A church official of high rank.

Lusted: Had a strong desire for.

Novelties: New or unusual things.

Straits: Conditions.

Merited: Deserved.

Zeal: Enthusiasm.

Hastened: Moved quickly.

Baal: A false god.

Kindled: Aroused, inspired.

Divine: God-like.

For More Information


Brundage, James, trans. The Crusades: A Documentary History. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan, ed. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Web Sites

Fordham University "Annales Herbipolenses, s.a. 1147: A Hostile View of the Crusade." Internet Medieval Sourcebook. (accessed on August 4, 2004).

"The Second Crusade." The ORB: On-line Reference Book for Medieval Studies. (accessed on August 4, 2004).