Wills containing the final wishes and bequests of those dying while on crusade in the Latin East are among the earliest documents found in the monastic cartularies associated with crusading families in twelfth-century France. Many of these documents from the First Crusade are contained in the foundation narratives for many institutions, such as those found in the region of Chaise-le-Vicomte. Here, for example, the cartulary of Bas-Poitou records that Herbert of Thouars’ final words after he suffered a stroke at Jaffa, were instructions for enlarging the monastery through endowment.
Even after the First Crusade, wills and testaments remain the earliest aristocratic charters in some French regions. The earliest charter among the leading families of Brittany, for example, is the testament of André II de Vitré, written while he was on Crusade in Jerusalem. It was composed at the behest of his companions – the Bishop of Lydda, Gerald de Rideford, and other members of the Temple – in 1184 before he marched to relieve the besieged Krak des Chevaliers. The document records André’s debts and the peace agreements concluded with his neighboring lords, as well as the arrangements he made to ensure the penance of his soul. He ordered that any who had suffered from the destruction he had wrought in both his personal feuds and in the service of the English King be repaid in full.
Testamentary documents also survive from the thirteenth century, with an increasing number written in the vernacular instead of Latin. Many of these texts filtered back to Western Europe from Acre, which was an active documentary center and pilgrimage locale, as well as home to the Military Orders, Italian merchant communities, and the courts of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Among these are the remarkable testamentary rolls of Count Eudes of Nevers, which account for all the bequests the Count’s executors made on his behalf, and the will of Hugh de Nevill, an English Knight who made donations to local charities and parishes in Acre for the remission of his sins.
The largest modern collection of testamentary material, however, comes from documents relating to the Hospitallers. Compiled by J. Delaville Le Roulx in the late nineteenth century, this text contains testaments of crusaders and pilgrims who lay sick and dying in the Hospital and decided to donate a portion of their estate to the order. Hospitaller statutes dating from the twelfth and thirteenth century suggest the order was well prepared for this eventuality. The statutes stipulate that after admittance to the Hospital and a short tour guests should be given an opportunity to make their testament in the presence of a Hospitaller, who then would discuss the good works of the order. Naturally, many did donate, such as Count Henry I of Rodez, whose last will sets out provisions for the stability and succession of his lordship in France as well as sizable donations to the order.
M. Chazaud, “Inventaire Et Comptes De La Succession d’Rudes, Comte De Nevers (Acre, 1266),” Mémoires De La Société Nationale Des Antiquaires De France (1871): 164–206
J. Delaville Le Roulx, ed., Cartulaire General De I’Ordre Des Hospitaliers De Saint Jean De Jerusalem, 1100-1310, 4 vols. (Paris: E. Leroux, 1894)
M. S. Guiseppi, “On the Testament of Sir Hugh De Nevill, Written at Acre, 1267,” Archaeologia or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity 56 (1899): 351–370.