Innocent III's Papal Influence over the
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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Clari, Robert De, and Edgar Holmes McNeal
Cole, Penny J. The Preaching of the Crusades to the Holy Land, 1095-1270. Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, 1991. 81-83. Print.
Gress-Wright, David Richard
Joinville, Jean, Geoffroi De Villehardouin, and Caroline Smith. "Chapter 1: Preparations for the Fourth Crusade." Chronicles of the Crusades. London: Penguin, 2008. 1, 16-21, 61-68, 391-398. Print.
O 'Brien, John Maxwell
Packard, Sidney Raymond. "The Crusades." Europe and the Church under Innocent III,. New York: H. Holt and, 1927. 82. Print.
Queller, Donald E
Sayers, Jane E. Innocent III: Leader of Europe, 1198-1216. London: Longman, 1994. 171-175. Print.
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[ 3 ]
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[ 7 ]. Joinville, Jean, Geoffroi De Villehardouin, and Caroline Smith. "Chapter 1: Preparations for the Fourth Crusade." Chronicles of the Crusades. London: Penguin, 2008. 1. Print.
[ 16 ]. Gunther, and Alfred J. Andrea. The Capture of Constantinople: The Hystoria Constantinopolitana of Gunther of Pairis. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1997. 38-39,57-77, 90-91. Print.
[ 19 ]. Clari, Robert De, and Edgar Holmes McNeal. "The Text." The Conquest of Constantinople. New York: Octagon, 1966. 38-42. Print.
[ 25 ]. Gress-Wright, David Richard. The Gesta Innocentii III: Text, Introduction and Commentary. N.p.: n.p., 1981. Ch. 84. Print.
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