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The Chivalric Ideal in the First Crusade

As Pope Urban II called for troops to initiate the First Crusade, the chivalric ideal was at the heart of many who stepped forward. Many aspects of the chivalric ideal can be found in the birth of the First Crusade. What truly happened during the military/religious operation was a mixture of chivalry and madness.

During his speech, Urban called for the “faithful and … zealous” of the knights to take up their armor. This was perfect for those that held the idea of chivalry close to heart. This idea was one that embodied romance, war, and piety. The First Crusade was the perfect opportunity for these knights to act on the idea and make it real.

Many poems were originating that combined piety and violence in romanticized acts. These poems appealed to Medieval ladies and knights. Unattainable love along with feats of valor with the perfect amount of religious piety made up the stories and dreams of chivalry. Yet, there was little opportunity for the chivalric ideal to leap from the world of literature and song and become real. Urban gave them that chance.

Urban called for the romantic, protective nature of the knight as he asked that they “guard on all sides the flock committed to you.” The chivalric knight that protected the pure and innocent was being asked to do it under the auspices of the First Crusade. There were fellow Christians needing to be rescued in the Holy Lands. The knights that Urban called for were described as “prudent, provident, modest, learned, peaceable, watchful, pious, just, equitable, and pure.”

Every knight needed a goal and someone to protect. Under the First Crusade, Urban gave the knights that goal by telling of the Christians who were threatened in the East by the Muslims. Taking back the Holy Lands from the infidels and saving their fellow-man was a goal that was pure and holy. Urban described to them how “the sword, pillage, and fire” was used against the righteous Christians who needed a protector. There was no better way to fulfill the role of chivalry.

What began as the chivalric ideal quickly turned into something dark and unholy. On the way to the Holy Lands, the knights let the thirst for blood lead the way. The First Crusade “massacred Jews in the Rhenish cities and abused and robbed the Balkan peoples whose lands they crossed.” Urban had called for the knights to rescue Christians from the Muslims in Byzantine and Jerusalem. The knights took it upon themselves to kill anyone who could be conceived an enemy in any light and anyone who stood in their way of glory and riches. Raymond d’Aguiliers version of the capture of Jerusalem revealed the lack of mercy the crusaders exhibited as they “continued killing the enemy until they were worn out, and they kept the spoils obtained from the rest, even of those whom they did not kill.”

The chivalric ideal of violence mixed with piety was achieved. The degree of violence was more than most would have dreamed from chivalry. Urban called the chivalric knights to come forth and conduct a quest under the authority and approval of God. The idea of saving the innocent as they obtained their own land and riches cinched the deal. The First Crusade was the epitome of the chivalric ideal in the beginning. Whether or not it continued that ideal throughout the crusade is a matter of opinion and how much one has to gain from it.


Cantor, Norman F. The Civilization of the Middle Ages, New York: Harper Perennial, 1994.

Fulcher of Chartres, “Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095,” Internet Medieval Source Book, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2-fulcher.html (accessed March 9, 2011).

Raymond d’Aguiliers, “The Siege and Capture of Jerusalem, “ Internet Medieval Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/raymond-cde.html (accessed March 9, 2011).

Robert the Monk, “Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095,” Internet Medieval Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2a.html (accessed March 9, 2011).

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