Innocent III's Papal Influence over the Fourth Crusade

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Innocent III's Papal Influence over the Fourth Crusade

Research Paper

Brandon Rosty
The Crusades-HIST-239
Prof. Moran Cruz

For much of history, the papacy has been viewed as a driving force behind

the Crusades, the papacy of Innocent III being a particularly good example. Ever since

the days of Gregory VII from 1073-1085, and his early ideas of Crusades, and Urban II’s

call for the First Crusade in 1095, the papacy has served as an instigator of plans that

have often gone awry. The Fourth Crusade is the perfect example of this. Following his

election to the papacy, Innocent III, or Lothar of Segni, began preaching a message of

crusade to once again take back the Holy Sepulcher. What would follow his calls for

crusade was a series of setbacks that would culminate not in the recapture of the Holy

Land, but the sack of Constantinople. What was the actual extent of Innocent III and the

papacy’s influence in this crusade? How could the papacy control the events of a foreign

venture from Rome? Was Innocent III’s inability to control the crusaders a contributing

factor to the failure of reaching the Holy Land? The extent of Innocent III’s influence in

the Fourth Crusade must be investigated to gain a sense of how and why the crusade

transpired as it did.

Innocent III can be credited as the sole source for the Fourth Crusade, as he

himself called for the crusade. Innocent first mentioned the idea of crusade to the

patriarch of Jerusalem following his ascension to the papacy in January of 1198, when he

announced his intention to strive to deliver the Holy Land from the infidels. By August

1198, Innocent had officially proclaimed the Fourth Crusade and declared himself the

crusade’s leader. Innocent took the precedent of personal involvement of the pope from

his predecessor, Gregory VII, who hoped to have Emperor Henry IV defend Rome, as he

worshipped at the Holy Sepulcher. Innocent lacked such protection of Rome and

widespread interest in his crusade to actually attain personal leadership over the

crusading army. This may have been a pie in the sky expectation of Innocent's, but the

Holy Father did wish to someday lead the crusade into the Holy Land. Innocent’s call to

crusade was such a mastery of imagery and holy undertones that many described its tone

as that of a sermon devoted to the seizure of Jerusalem. Unlike his predecessors,

however, Innocent III signaled his intent to manage the crusade through the assistance of

two papal legates, Cardinals Peter Capuano and Soffredo. His official call to crusade, his

pursuit of leadership of the crusade, and his attempt at micromanaging the crusade

through papal legates demonstrate Innocent III’s strong early involvement in the Fourth

Crusade. His devotion toward the capture of the Holy Land raises the further question:

how did a crusade that underwent much early planning from the papacy, go so far off


In the early preparations for the Fourth Crusade, Innocent asked that“ All

towns, as well as counts, and barons, should provide crusaders for two years at their own

expense according to their resources.” Innocent left out kings, further illustrating his

intent to keep this crusade under papal control. Innocent also offered indulgences for

taking the cross as Geoffrey of Villehardouin explained, “all those who take the cross

and serve God for a year in the army would be free from all sins they had committed and

confessed.” A key provision to his indulgences and his call to crusade

was the expectation that the crusaders would travel largely at their own expense. This

would cost Innocent dearly in his army’s ability to execute their crusade. Innocent

pursued many means by which to finance the crusade, such as imposing the first church-

wide crusade tax on all clerics, but this would do little...
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