Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image and Identity

28th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies

Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 29-30, 2008

Jace Stuckey, Quantum praedecessors: The Memory of Charlemagne’s Crusade in the Twelfth Century

The important role of the concept of precedent in the era of the crusades became quite clear before the Second Crusade when Pope Eugenius III issued his now quite famous crusading Bull Quantum praedecessors in December of 1145.  Although addressed to Louis VII, the king of France, the Bull reached a wider audience and was used by the Church to inspire and persuade men to take up the cross.  One of the primary themes of the document is to evoke the memory of the First Crusade and the many perceived successes of that venture.  In it, he cited the deeds and sacrifices of Western Christians and “especially the most strong and vigorous warriors of the kingdom of the French… [who] not without much shedding of their own blood but attended by divine aid, freed from the filth of the pagans the city [of Jerusalem].”  He goes on to cite the importance of “sons” following in the footsteps of their “fathers” who had taken up the cross before them. 

Although Charlemagne is not mentioned specifically in this document, this is the context in which he appears in early crusading sources and ultimately how he is remembered in the twelfth century.  The earliest writings concerning the First Crusade and even some that predate the initial campaign depict Charlemagne as a kind of proto-crusader.  His legendary connections to the Holy Land became closely connected to crusading memory and ideology throughout in the early and mid twelfth century.  Most prominently, Charlemagne’s alleged crusading activities appeared in sources immediately following the First Crusade – he is cited as an ancestor of the crusaders, he was said to have built the road the crusaders traveled and in the most dramatic account was thought to have actually come back to life to participate in the First Crusade.  In addition, with the conquest of the Holy Land, one chronicler emphasized that it was Charlemagne’s descendant that was made king of the newly established Latin kingdom of Jerusalem.
In this paper, I will analyze the ways in which the Charlemagne legend was adapted by various authors as a proto-crusader.  In the process of writing about the early campaigns and working with an already well established legend, the memory of Charlemagne’s past deeds, both real and legendary, were constructed through the lens of crusading and ultimately transformed into actual crusades themselves.  In this context, he immediately became the model or exemplar for chroniclers and historians who were writing about the crusades.  Charlemagne’s legendary crusading experience was not just memorialized into the collective memory of twelfth century society, but used as a rhetorical and didactic device by writers to indicate status and legitimacy.  Essentially Charlemagne became one of the most important praedecessors that authors could insert in their works.


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